Sustainable Landscapes, step-3 Eco-cities, more than tree-lined streets!

Are you aware of your community’s eco-master plan? Most plans acknowledge exisiting ‘living green’ space and then, perhaps emphasize an ambitious tree-lined street campaign. While it is admirable community planners acknowledge exisiting green space and make an effort to further the development of tree-line streets, creating urban/suburban green is more than status quo or simply implementing a tree plantings program.


For an analogy, let’s compare the concept of greening an urban environment to branding a product. Branding is not advertising, public relations; a slogan, or a logo, or a website, or even a multi-media campaign; a tagline, or color palette; instead, it is a result of the synergy of all - as one consistent presence.


Similarly, urban/suburban living green is not simply acknowledging status quo or the additive component of an aggressive tree-lined street program nor is it front or backyard green space; or a curb, median, community or alley garden; or roof, balcony or container garden; or green-roof or trellis plantings exterior-wall green-building strategy; or a public park or tree-lined street; instead, it – urban/suburban green - is a result of the synergy of all - as one consistent presence.


So, how do we create urban green? Greening a community is and always has been the by product of individual commitment. In my first of five steps to sustainable landscape topics, I challenged you to make an eco-green commitment. Did you comply or are you still too big for your eco-boots,

Individually and collectively, we need to relate eco-awareness strategies acquired through participating in a rate-of-consumption test to ‘living green’ and make the commitment to create personal spaces: front or backyard green spaces; or roof, balcony or container gardens. Then, stepping outside of the confines of personal space, solicit the assistance of neighborhood civic groups or interested neighbors and commit to creating curb, median, community or alley gardens; or a roof or courtyard garden for shared space buildings.

Why make this effort? Each 50 by 50 square foot space whether planted with turf or other plant material or a mid to large size tree annually provides the air quality for a family of four. So, not only are you creating aesthetically pleasing habitats – eco-communities, your effort offsets the carbon atmosphere which plagues urban/suburban environments.  

On the other hand, as discussed in step-2, don’t limit effort to personal or neighborhood spaces, take it to work with you. Encourage employers to measure their eco-footprints, ( In my community, the Greater Richmond Area (GRA), we are fortunate to have the assistance of the James River Green Builders Council, In fact, an excellent example of a GRA ‘living green’ project is the renovated Capital Grounds. Although well-known for its preservation of historic features, the Capital project failed to receive recognition as possibly one of the largest green roof projects on the east coast. Newly construct underground structures provide for present-day urban use. A sprawling lawn, green roof, lessons the project’s environmental impact; and, a bonus is the fact this project occurred with limited impact on the area’s historical significance. In other words, the project illustrates ‘ultimate green’, providing for the present without sacrificing future needs.

Still, urban/suburban green is more than individual gardens or green building strategies. It foremost provides people habitats of such quality that they are enticed to use outdoor space. During a recent visit to Alexandria, I observed what I consider unusual phenomena. For, whenever I visit a city, I walk its areas. Camera in hand, I strolled through the urban renewal area of Alexandria’s Courthouse Square. Because it was near the close of a business day, I expected to see people exit the surrounding buildings and hurriedly walk toward nearby bus stops, free-ride trolley stops, the Metro System or Amtrak Station; but instead, they lingered.

Instead of making a bee-line for the nearest city exit, they congregate to sit in areas of the Courthouse Green. Relaxing, they appear to enjoy blooming atypical inner city landscapes. Instead of symmetrical low-maintenance plantings of evergreens, the areas were planted with heritage plantings: peony, iris, lavender, yarrow, roses and other fragrant perennials and shrubs.

Continuing my walk, I soon realized approximately located ever three to four blocks similar green areas exist. Some consist of artistic trellis structures adorned with meandering vines of layered fragrant blooms; and others, a mixture of outdoor shelters, water features and of course, the atypical heritage-plant landscape plantings.

Documenting the urban green, I took pictures of tree-lined streets; of curb, median, community and alley gardens; roof, balcony and container gardens; green-roof and exterior-wall trellis plantings, as well as multiple public parks – community green spaces. I saw the result of individual commitments that merged with neighborhood and commercial green effort. I saw urban green, a result of the synergy of all - as one consistent presence. For, I saw the result of a community planning strategy, eco-city -

Are you working with civic or business communities to insure your community’s urban/suburban green? What are you and/or your community doing to green the landscapes of America?

Author’s Note - In anticipation of the 2010 DC Green Festival, I’ve implemented a 5-step sustainable landscape program. A final step invites all to the DC Green Festival Saturday, October 23, from 12:30 to 1:15pm held at the Organic Gardening and Urban Farming Pavilion located in the DC Convention Center to hear my speech Gardening Green: the sustainable landscape. For details, see Green Festivals .


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