FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – A visionary handbook for designing low impact development, created by the University of Arkansas Community Design Center, has garnered a second national award.
The book Low Impact Development: A Design Manual For Urban Areas won a 2011 Award of Excellence in Communications from the American Society of Landscape Architects. This award category recognizes publications, journals and books on landscape architecture with honor awards and one top award for excellence. The manual will be featured at the 2011 ASLA Annual Meeting and Expo in October in San Diego, and in the October issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.
The Community Design Center is an outreach program of the Fay Jones School of Architecture.
This manual also won a 2011 Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design from The American Institute of Architects, as well as a 2010 Unique Contribution to Planning Award from the Arkansas Chapter of the American Planning Association. It was a finalist for the Environmental Design Research Association’s 2011 Great Places Book Award.
The jury called the manual “beautifully composed and very accessibly written” and “clear, brilliant, attractive, useful, and pertinent. All young people should read this – boy, does it communicate.” It is already a required text in some university engineering courses nationwide.
The Community Design Center and the university’s Ecological Engineering Group developed the book under a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission.
Low impact development is important because the first hour of urban runoff from rainfall often has a contamination index far higher than that of raw sewage, said Steve Luoni, design center director and a Distinguished Professor of architecture. Conventional “pipe-and-pond” engineering uses streets, catch basins, underground pipes, curbs and gutters, and detention basins to transfer polluted runoff to another site. Low impact development is an ecologically based approach to manage rainfall on-site through a vegetated treatment network, contributing back to the natural hydrological cycle.
Design center students and staff spent two years researching, writing and designing the 230-page manual. “The intent was to communicate about a rather unglamorous and complex topic to a lay audience and make a difference in how development is conducted,” he said.
To do that, they knew it had to be graphic. Drawings and visual information have a power in the public sphere that designers often underestimate, he said, particularly when dealing with contentious issues. “Designers develop graphics, models and other visual information to forge a consensus or an understanding, where words, covenants and legislation don’t work,” Luoni said.
The manual’s unique contribution to the general topic lies in its advancement of low impact development from a set of single-lot level facilities or rain gardens to a highly distributed landscape network deployed at neighborhood, municipal and regional scales.
“Places of all scales, even the regional, can be retrofitted and developed as an urban landscape network offering high livability standards,” he said. “We’re bringing technologies that were applied in agricultural and suburban contexts – that are land rich – to an urban context.”
The center worked with the Ecological Engineering Group to develop the manual’s lexicon and the six treatment types outlined. This is the first book to devise a menu of the 21 technologies that function as building blocks of a distributed treatment network. “One issue in low impact development is there’s not agreement on the vocabulary throughout the literature being produced,” Luoni said.
This manual discusses deploying these technologies at four different scales: building, property, street and open space. Cities and regions also have roles regarding infrastructure and ecosystems. This manual goes beyond a single property, reaching the level of utility. “Everyone who develops property has a role, and no role is too small,” he said.
For instance, the Community Design Center and its partners worked with the city of Fayetteville’s Environmental Committee to introduce low impact development legislation as a municipal code. Most cities don’t allow these kinds of facilities or this technology to be implemented in public rights of way, Luoni said. In the spring of 2010, Fayetteville became one of a few cities in the country to permit low impact development facilities in public rights of way.
Individuals can retrofit their property by creating xeriscaped lawns that don’t require irrigation or pesticides, and are self-supporting, even in drought-like conditions, once the landscape is established. “Typically, we see landscape as ornamental or decorative. But you have to see plants as infrastructure with amazing capacities to detoxify pollutants,” Luoni said. “A burgeoning industry is being built around the numerous bioremedial functions in plants called phytoremediation. A plant is like a pipe. And that’s a real conceptual leap for people.”
The ASLA award recognizes the collaborative effort involved in the book – among ecological engineers, architects, landscape architects and environmental planners. The premise of the book was to make concepts accessible among disciplines, experts and lay audiences. “We’re trying to affect broad-based decision making processes at different scales, from homeowner to municipalities to the state and within larger environmental organizations,” Luoni said.
Publication of the manual was sponsored by state agencies and regional nonprofits, including the Arkansas Forestry Commission, Beaver Water District, Community Foundation of the Ozarks, Stewardship Ozarks Initiative, Ozarks Water Watch with Upper White River Basin Foundation, National Center for Appropriate Technology, U.S. Green Building Council, and the Illinois River Watershed Partnership.
The recognition gives book’s sponsors greater credibility, as they use it as part of their advocacy platform, to educate the public and to change policy, he said. The Arkansas Natural Resources Commission also purchased 1,000 books for distribution in Arkansas for educational purposes. About 300 of those were given to architecture and landscape architecture students in the school.
The book is in its second printing, having sold more than 4,300 copies since its July 2010 publication. The manual is available in local and national bookstores, including Barnes and Noble (at www.barnesandnoble.com) and by contacting the Community Design Center directly at 479-575-5772.
Steve Luoni, Director, Community Design Center
Fay Jones School of Architecture
Michelle Parks, Director of Communications
Fay Jones School of Architecture