ASLA’s free online guide to Resilient Landscape Design

In an era when cities are ravaged by drought, flooding, wildfires, and more, infrastructure projects tend to get most of the attention when it comes to resiliency.

But good landscape design can be powerful, too. In September of 2016, the American Society of Landscape Architects, or ASLA, published an an online guide designed to help its members plan for, and even prevent, the worst.

We actually tried to do this a couple years ago, but found there wasn’t a wealth of cases to point to,” says Jared Green, ASLA’s senior communications manager who produced the guide. “Sadly—with so many disasters recently—seeing [Hurricane] Sandy and all the money put into rebuilding parts of New York—we went back to look at it again.

This time around, they found plenty of material to work with—in the form of landscape projects that successfully mitigated extreme weather purely by necessity. The projects worked in tandem with nature rather than against it.

Working with nature — instead of in opposition to it — helps communities become more resilient and come back stronger after disruptive natural events. Long-term resilience is about continuously bouncing back and regenerating. It’s about learning how to cope with the ever-changing “new normal.”

As events become more frequent and intense due to climate change, communities must adapt and redevelop to reduce risks and improve ecological and human health. It’s also time to stop putting communities and infrastructure in high-risk places. And we need to reduce sprawl, which further exacerbates the risks.

Resilient landscape planning and design offers a way forward for communities. We can now use multi-layered systems of protection, with diverse, scalable elements, any one of which can fail safely in the event of a catastrophe.

Many communities have attempted to find a single solution to disasters through heavy-handed infrastructure projects: walls to keep out water, power plants to cool cities. But working with nature to create multi-layered defenses provides several co-benefits.

For example, constructed coastal buffers, made of reefs and sand, can also provide wildlife habitat and recreation opportunities; urban forests made up of diverse species clean the air while reducing the urban heat island effect; and green infrastructure designed to control flooding also provides needed community space and creates jobs.

The goal of resilient landscape planning and design is to retrofit our communities to recover more quickly from extreme events, now and in the future. In an era when disasters can cause traditional, built systems to fail, adaptive, multi-layered systems can maintain their vital functions and are often the more cost-effective and practical solutions.

In an age of rising waters and temperatures and diminishing budgets, the best defenses are adaptive, like nature.

This guide is organized around disruptive events that communities now experience: drought, extreme heat, fire, flooding, landslides, and, importantly, biodiversity loss, which subverts our ability to work with nature.

The 6-part guide includes numerous case studies and resources demonstrating multi-benefit systems as well as the small-scale solutions that fit within those:

  1. Biodiversity Loss
  2. Drought
  3. Extreme Heat
  4. Fire
  5. Flooding
  6. Landslides

The guide also explains landscape architects’ role in the planning and design teams helping to make communities more resilient.

See Guide to Resilient Landscape Design & image credit.

See related Fast Company article.

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