Urban Design Without Ecological Risk
A Texas environmental design team argues that exploration of
our native flora, not acquiescence to invasive exotics, represents the real
“Brave New Ecology.”
By Mark Simmons and Heather Venhaus, ASLA
Courtesy Jane Sebire/Pollen Photos
In his recent article, “Brave New Ecology” (Landscape Architecture, February),
Peter Del Tredici, a plant scientist at the Arnold Arboretum, suggests that in
urban environments native species rarely offer suitable options, and a plant’s
geographic source is less important than its ability to establish and thrive in
this unforgiving environment. He bases his argument on three assumptions:
composition of urban landscapes has been permanently altered, and
horticultural use of exotic species does not represent a threat to
ecological stability or function. Further, the use of invasive plants is
in many ways preferable (in his terms, “sustainable”) because they require
little or no resources or management to grow in the urban setting.
underlying concepts and science of ecological restoration represent a
misguided idealism that has minimal application in urban landscape design.
plants have little place in urban design because the site characteristics
have often been so dramatically altered from their original state that
natives cannot thrive.
Here at the Landscape Restoration Program at the Lady Bird
Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas, we argue that Del Tredici’s
approach, if adopted, represents a lost opportunity for urban designers to take
advantage of our rich, underused native floral diversity and to apply the
growing scientific understanding of ecosystem form and function to project
design. The true challenge to urban designers who pursue ecological
sustainability is not only to strive for designs that require fewer inputs in
terms of water, fertilizer, and maintenance, but also to consider the effects
that plant selection will have both on and off their project site.
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