Conservation-Based Development is a Return to the Land

Appreciating conservation-based development is to understand that we exist within something larger. Like a log being split, most development has torn us from our relationship with the land. Our natural environment not only provides the context for life, it is our largest and most important resource. 

For long-time, we lived close to the land and developed a regionally-specific architecture that was built in sympathy to the surroundings. We created commercial centers called towns and cities, and others chose to live on large plots to farm. As Americans became 2 car households, got central air-conditioning, the color TV, and personal computers we have become uncoupled, or split, away from real living on this planet. Maybe all these friendly robots are trying to kill us? They are certainly churning us into room-temperature, homogenized butter.
You might have noticed that last week I re-posted an article from several months ago. I needed to circle back and re-upload a core concept in understanding our place-based identities. Essentially, we all have the opportunity to influence the local realms we inhabit: our homes, neighborhoods, and downtowns. This blog centers on our roles to renew these places from the inside out. Core to this understanding is that our local, place-based identity is rooted in the land. Everything rests on it and we rely on it for everything.  Some of us live closer to it than others. 

Black Forest Village

Local Ecology Gives Life

Conservation-based development means interweaving new development into the fabric of the natural world in positive, synergistic ways. Looking beyond the local realms of our built environment and into the heart of the natural ecosystem is a noble ideal. This kind of stewardship was intrinsic during early settlement. We relied on the waterways and gardens to sustain us directly.

My grandparents had gardens, but nowadays we are less connected to providing for ourselves directly. Your local grocery store is a modern convenience that is unparalleled when compared to food procurement 100 years ago. How much more out of touch with the land will we become?  

Since the majority of us live in developed/urbanized settings, what kinds of action will strengthen our realms, and our identity? What are our options? Over the next few weeks, let's begin exploring some ideas and principles related to conservation-based development that can work for any sized community. We also need to look at the spaces in-between each realm. What are the systems that help each realm relate to one another?

Life in Town

Conservation-based development begins by optimizing existing resources, and so the formula for a Green Heart Town begins with the historic townsite. Instead of moving out to the green belts surrounding our communities, existing development and infrastructure should be taken advantage of first. Think of this as living "on the grid" if you will.  

One of the greenest life-choices you can make is living in an existing home and neighborhood. Because of our culture's consumer-centric nature, existing homes and neighborhoods have assets that are often overlooked. In most neighborhoods constructed through the 1960s, homes exhibit many features advocated by today's New Urbanism Movement. Older homes were on smaller lots and yielded a higher density per acre. They have front porches and low fences to invite neighborly interaction. They walkable to nearby schools, shopping, and other amenities. 

Unfortunately, not everyone is ready to think about revitalizing the original townsite’s historic district first. Why? The historic Main Street district is not revitalized either. This means the community may be stuck in the aftereffects of downtown disinvestment vacuum when businesses and our families began to relocate out further along new automobile routes. The question is not which, to begin with, because they must be both be considered simultaneously in planning efforts. Our historic commercial districts and their surrounding neighborhoods once thrived together and they can again. This all happens (1) property and  (1) decision at a time!

Next Time

We will dive into the idea of Infill Development in town. Learning about density, infrastructure and stewardship are themes that come to mind. In a later post, we will cross-over and work to persuade today's typical homebuilders that there is a better way to build for the masses. To get their attention, I plan to show them how conservation-based development can become much more profitable and a true tool to differentiate themselves as stewardship leaders in their communities. After all, shouldn't building professionals be accountable to sustain our community resources, and to elevate the quality of life? Many good ones already do.

I want everyone to see that there is a rational argument for conservation-based development at every scale of development - from a single home to a neighborhood, to downtown areas. Think about these (3) realms in your community and what part you play in each. 

Have a wonderful week!