Leveraging Landscape: Tools for Urban Resilience

Sourced from Urban Land Magazine


As climate-related disasters pose increasing effects, how can property owners, designers, and decision makers help reduce risk and bolster resilience? Landscape-based strategies are proving their value for mitigating short-term weather crises and alleviating chronic stresses. Such cost-effective solutions bring multiple benefits, but they require a new view of the functional role of landscape as a tool rather than decoration, as well as a thorough appreciation of the vulnerabilities inherent in each specific project and place.

Landscapes That Bounce Back

ULI’s 2018 publication Ten Principles for Building Resilience defines resilience as “the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, and more successfully adapt to adverse events.” Resilience stands alongside but distinct from sustainability: while sustainable practices can be viewed as the “software” of designing and building in ways that minimize use of resources, resilient design relates more strongly to the “hardware” of infrastructural and community frameworks.

Landscape architecture fosters resilience through site-sensitive approaches to land use planning, mobility networks, grading and flood control, water management, revegetation, and open-space design—in short, by integrating designed systems within the dynamics of natural systems.

In their 2013 book Landscape Infrastructure, SWA principals Ying-yu Hung and Gerdo Aquino illustrate how landscape can be leveraged as an instrumental part of the processes of city life. “Can landscape itself be considered infrastructure, when acting as a . . . network capable of moving people and supporting a variety of living systems?” Aquino asks. He and Hung argue that the answer is a definitive yes.

By addressing the interstitial spaces that underlie contemporary cities, such as drainage corridors and street systems, landscape-based infrastructure can augment traditional civil-engineered systems, foster health and wellness, and support resilience at a variety of project scales.

Designed to Flood

In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey dropped an estimated 27 trillion gallons (102 trillion liters) of rain on metropolitan Houston in less than a week. Floodwaters surged into the city’s signature open space, Buffalo Bayou Park, which initially retained the water. Once the water receded, the park was left with 40,000 cubic yards (31,000 cu m) of silt and debris. Yet within days, Houstonians were back on the trails, bike rentals had resumed, and restaurants had reopened for business.

“Buffalo Bayou Park has been a national model for resilience, surviving three major floods, including Harvey,” says Katharine Burgess, senior director of ULI’s Urban Resilience Program. “Cities across the country are looking to invest in flood infrastructure . . . that does double duty by improving quality of life and recreation opportunities, and increasing preparedness for extreme events.”

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