American Society of Landscape Architects ASLA 2007 Student Awards
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Fig 2.2: The potential for the suburban yard is far greater than the mid-20th century aesthetic we perpetuate today.
Fig 3.9: Understanding the context and scale of impacts suburban yards have is important for homeowners if they are to raise their expectations for how their yards can function.
Fig 4.1: A checklist of best practices for suburban yards is useful for homeowners to assess where they can best invest to maximize their bottom line intent and for designers to design better functioning yards.
Fig 4.1: A checklist of best practices for suburban yards is useful for homeowners to assess where they can best invest to maximize their bottom line intent and for designers to design better functioning yards.
Fig 5.1: Case study site illustrating conventional suburban yard characteristics, such as large areas of lawn, ample paving, and ornamental planting beds.
Fig 5.4: Case study site with proposed landscape design embracing best-practice guidelines.



Living Lightly: Minimizing Impact and Maximizing Function of Suburban Yards
Mike Teed, Student ASLA
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Faculty Advisors: Ronald Kellett and Patrick Condon, ASLA

"Very realistic and useful, particularly for the private sector to communicate with clients. The visual side-by-side comparison was excellent. An important project that adds to the relevent body of research."

— 2007 Student Awards Jury Comments

Project Statement
This ought to be required reading for every suburban homeowner and residential landscape designer. The Living Lightly project presents a scorecard to evaluate suburban yards’ level of compliance with defensible ‘best practice’ guidelines. By employing the scorecard for design and management of suburban yards, Living Lightly clearly illustrates the potential reduction of environmental impacts and quantifies benefits for homeowners, including savings of time, money, and energy.

Project Narrative

Describe the Problem Researched
Single detached dwellings (suburban homes) make up over 57% of the Canadian housing stock, which represents a significant quantity of privately-held land for which homeowners are responsible. The choices suburban landholders make regarding their yards typically perpetuate the need for extensive resource inputs, create landscapes that support little ecological function, and compromise human and environmental health. The conventionally designed suburban yard is based on an unnatural aesthetic that is constantly at odds with natural processes, resulting in significant inputs of time, money, and energy for its installation and maintenance.

Relationships Investigated
To better understand the complex interrelationships within the ecosystem and our society, I dissected the suburban yard into some generalized functional categories, called landscape elements. The exploration of each landscape element included its context in the world in relation to complexity and scale, specific guidelines for minimizing impact and maximizing function, and a comparison of conventional and alternative options.

See Figure 3.9 in the images section for a sample graphic used to illustrate the contextual thinking for each landscape element.

Method of Inquiry Used
It was necessary to create a set of standards for best-practice design that could be applied to both existing sites and incorporated into the design process for future applications. I created two tools, a set of design principles and a scorecard, to achieve the structure required to evaluate and apply best practice guidelines for residential yards.

Six Principles
The six principles for a better suburban yard were created by drawing out explicit and implicit best-practice guidelines from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Landscape Guide for Canadian Homes and by analyzing ecologically and socially successful landscape designs and reverse engineering them to determine which priorities drive the designs. These priorities were then arranged into six categories.

Each category became a principle and was given a memorable title that alluded to the original best-practice guidelines. These six principles for a better suburban yard inform good landscape design and decision making.

Refer to Figure 5.8 for an example of how one of the principles was applied to the case study site

Suburban Yard Scorecard
The purpose of the scorecard is two-fold. First, the scorecard can be used by homeowners or designers to evaluate the existing condition of a suburban yard, seeing where the yard is manifesting best-practice guidelines as well as the site’s best-practice deficiencies.

Second, the scorecard can be used by those designing suburban yards to minimize the ecological and financial impacts and maximize the ecological and social functions of the site.

Refer to Table 4.1 in the images section for a portion of the scorecard

Results of Research
A conventional (existing) design was compared to a proposed design based on the six principles for better suburban yards and the suburban yard scorecard.

In the proposed design, installation cost and annual inputs of money, time, water, gasoline, fertilizer and pesticides were reduced significantly. Areas of lawn and impermeable surfaces were reduced and areas suitable for habitat, food production and natural stormwater infiltration were increased.

For more details of research results, refer to performance comparison tables 5.1 through 5.4 in images section

Conclusions Concerning the Significance of the Results
Comparing the conventional design to a best-practice design reveals evidence that supports a correlation between the scorecard score and the installation cost and annual inputs. As the scorecard score approaches 54/54, there is a significant reduction in installation cost, and annual inputs of time, money, water, fuel and chemicals.

Individuals make choices about their yards. The ecologically-inspired manner of decision making explored in Living Lightly, when multiplied across thousands of suburban yards, will result in a significant reduction to the strain that the suburbs have on our human-designed infrastructures and our natural resources.

Comparisons with Past Research
An important consideration for the value of this body of research is locating it amongst existing documents that are also attempting to guide green design.

Landscape Guide for Canadian Homes (2004) Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation
Many of the “Living Lightly” guidelines and scorecard questions are based on the guidelines of this CMHC document. Calculations for annual maintenance inputs of conventional vs. proposed designs are based on another CMHC document entitled, “Definitely in My Backyard: Making the Best Choices for You and The Environment” (2000).

Site Design Manual for B.C. Communities (2003) Patrick Condon, Joanne Proft, Jacqueline Teed
This publication establishes a context for basing best-practice design, reviews the outcomes of several community design charettes, formulates design guidelines and provides a so-called “sustainability checklist” for assessing communities as to how well they meet said guidelines. The format of this checklist has been borrowed and adapted in this project to present the “Living Lightly” suburban yard guidelines in a scorecard that can be used to evaluate designed and built suburban yard landscape scenarios against the principles and guidelines of this document.

The LEED for Homes Pilot Checklist, (unpublished) US Green Building Council
This checklist allocates a maximum total of 14 available points for site sustainability out of a possible project total of 108. Living Lightly will focus only on the site and therefore will go into much greater detail of site sustainability than will LEED for Homes.

Smart Scorecard for Development Projects (2002) Will Fleissig and Vickie Jacobsen
This document’s purpose is to evaluate design of proposed communities to encourage adoption of Smart Growth principles. There is some overlap of the Living Lightly project with the Smart Project Scorecard in the areas of site design and environmental quality however Living Lightly dives into greater detail about the reasons why and the specifics of what.

Applicability to Landscape Architecture Practice
The key component of this project that may contribute to the work of residential landscape designers is the suburban yard scorecard. This checklist may aid in the design process or for the evaluation of existing suburban yards based on generally agreed upon best practice guidelines. The suburban yard scorecard suggests appropriate directions for creating healthy yards with minimal impact and maximum ecological function.

The Need for New or Further Research
Future applications of this project could have the impact on suburban yard design that LEED is having on buildings. With the suburban yard scorecard developed for this project as a starting point, the scorecard should be refined through the input of numerous academics and industry professionals who could contribute their experience and knowledge to create a consensus on all aspects of the scorecard; number and wording of questions, presentation style, etc. A subsequent goal would be to use the scorecard as a checklist that would inform a LEED-type rating system for suburban yards. The potential would be to assign a relative value to each of the scorecard questions, based on their degree of importance in minimizing impact and maximizing function of suburban yards, similar to the way the LEED rating system defines and evaluates ‘green buildings’ and awards them a certification or silver, gold, or platinum status.

Adapting the LEED approach to suburban residential yards would likely promote integrated, environmentally conscious site design and raise awareness of the benefits of designing for minimal impact and maximum function.


Fig 5.8: One of the six principles for better suburban yards applied to case study site.
Fig 5.5: Elevations through proposed design showing best-practice guidelines applied to case study site.
Table 5.1: Area takeoff breakdown of conventional vs proposed designs.
Table 5.2: Installation cost breakdown of conventional vs proposed design.
Table 5.3: Scorecard results for case study site comparing the existing conventional design with a proposed design which incorporated the scorecard into the process.
Table 5.4: Comparison of annual inputs required for the conventional vs best-practice design on the case study site.
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