In terms of impact on the environment, there is no better choice than to move into an existing house, build a vertical addition if necessary, and renovate with reused, repurposed, green materials. You will be surprised what great opportunities sometimes await at your local Habitat for Humanity store, your neighbor’s curb on the eve of the garbage pick-up, or at the local road construction project.
However, all of this will be to no use if your (usually very environmentally-conscious) heart is set on a sparkling new home, with all the conveniences of modern life in a beautiful natural area. While green construction offers great moral relief with its new methods and materials, could you ever forgive yourself for being a part of a new suburban development?
You are hardly alone in this predicament. More and more people wish to live near unspoiled natural resources. With nature appreciation comes the need to figure out how such community can grow and not destroy the very features that attracted people in the first place.
What usually happens in a traditional development? The land is plowed clean and flat – exclusively for the ease and speed of the construction process. The roads and parcels are planned according to the law of maximizing profit, with no regard to solar orientation, existing marshes and native growth. New landscaping is comprised of vast expanse of grass, with a couple of young trees and bushes stuck in it like poor little orphans. Conventional retention basins look nothing like a natural marsh, lake or pond they struggle to resemble, with bare borders and muddy, algae-filled water.
It is a truly apocaliptic scenario for any environmental mind.
But is there a way to reconcile the interests of the developers, new homeowners, and environmentalists? Is it possible to establish sustainable development practices and protect natural resources? Solution seems to be in low-impact development (LID), a type of smart growth that conserves green space and promotes natural stormwater management through various topography and wetland plants.
Conserving natural terrain protects soils from disturbance and compaction. In a development it can be accomplished by concentrating structures into smaller areas and reducing roadway surfaces. This results in larger permeable area and limits the velocity and amount of water that must be handled by the end-of-pipe water treatment facilities. At the same time, preserved open space and natural areas, rich with old-growth native vegetation, can be used for recreation, visual aesthetics, and wildlife habitat.
Replacing impervious road, parking, driveway and patio surfaces with permeable pavement could further reduce runoff by allowing water to move through it into the ground below.
As an alternative to curb and gutter systems, vegetative swales may be installed along residential streets, highways, or parking lot medians. Swales slow runoff and promote infiltration conveying cleaner water to the stormwater basins. In place of large, bare-shored, muddy ponds, separate localized detention areas such as eye-pleasing bio-retention basins and rain gardens could be used to collect stormwater and slowly filter it into the soil.
LID practices clearly show that runoff treatment components do not have to be just a regulatory requirement. They can become highly appreciated landscaping amenities for homeowners, developers and environmentalists alike.
New homebuyers are no longer attracted to the clone-minded suburban areas and the pressure of lawn-care enforcement. Low-impact developments are definitely more attractive and often can be less costly than traditional land use designs. Most of the developers already understand that. Those who don’t are not the ones you want.