The Living Landscape, Second Edition: An Ecological Approach to Landscape Planning

The Living Landscape, Second Edition: An Ecological Approach to Landscape Planning

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by Frederick R. Steiner

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The Living Landscape is a manifesto, resource, and textbook for architects, landscape architects, environmental planners, students, and others involved in creating human communities. Since its first edition, published in 1990, it has taught its readers how to develop new built environments while conserving natural resources. No other book presents such a…  See more details below


The Living Landscape is a manifesto, resource, and textbook for architects, landscape architects, environmental planners, students, and others involved in creating human communities. Since its first edition, published in 1990, it has taught its readers how to develop new built environments while conserving natural resources. No other book presents such a comprehensive approach to planning that is rooted in ecology and design. And no other book offers a similar step-by-step method for planning with an emphasis on sustainable development. This second edition of The Living Landscape offers Frederick Steiner’s design-oriented ecological methods to a new generation of students and professionals.
The Living Landscape offers

• a systematic, highly practical approach to landscape planning that maximizes ecological objectives, community service, and citizen participation
• more than 20 challenging case studies that demonstrate how problems were met and overcome, from rural America to large cities
• scores of checklists and step-by-step guides
• hands-on help with practical zoning, land use, and regulatory issues
• coverage of major advances in GIS technology and global sustainability standards
• more than 150 illustrations.

As Steiner emphasizes throughout this book, all of us have a responsibility to the Earth and to our fellow residents on this planet to plan with vision. We are merely visiting this planet, he notes; we should leave good impressions.

Editorial Reviews

Planning Magazine

"What makes this more than just another weighty planning treatise is the intellectual energy expended in placing planning activities into an overall framework. It's not just one damn thing after another. ....Don't miss this wonderful work of synthesis."

"It is a must for landscape architects, engineers, or anyone involved in urban planning...Recommended."

— B. Rowe

Associate Professor of Urban Design, Politecnico di Milano - Danillo Palazzo
"Frederick Steiner demonstrates how an organized and clear model of ecological planning can be a useful tool for planners to deal with projects at different scales and with different natural and human components."
Choice - B. Rowe

"It is a must for landscape architects, engineers, or anyone involved in urban planning...Recommended."
Prof & Dept Head, Dept of Land. Arch.& Urban Plng, Texas A&M U - Forster Ndubisi
"The Living Landscape offers a thoughtful and excellent examination of how we can understand, analyze, and interpret the landscape as interacting physical, biological, and cultural systems. This book is unique because of the emphasis the author places on understanding the landscape in terms of relationships among these systems. The Living Landscape is a useful and timely contribution to the growing body of knowledge on ecological planning."
"It is a must for landscape architects, engineers, or anyone involved in urban planning."
"What makes this more than just another weighty planning treatise is the intellectual energy expended in placing planning activities into an overall framework. It's not just one damn thing after another. ....Don't miss this wonderful work of synthesis."

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The Living Landscape

An Ecological Approach to Landscape Planning

By Frederick Steiner


Copyright © 2008 Frederick Steiner
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61091-091-0



Conventionally the planning process is presented as a linear progression of activities. Decision making, like other human behavior, seldom occurs in such a linear, rational manner. Still, it is a logical sequence of activities and presents a convenient organizational framework. The common steps in the process include the identification of problems and opportunities; the establishment of goals; inventory and analysis of the biophysical environment, ideally at several scales; human community inventory and analysis; detailed studies like suitability analysis; the development of concepts and the selection of options; the adoption of a plan; community involvement and education; detailed design; plan implementation; and plan administration. This book is organized around these conventional topics—but with an ecological perspective. The chapters that follow cover most of the steps in the process.

Each chapter includes a "how-to" section for accomplishing the pertinent step, and a few examples where such activities have been successfully undertaken. For many of the chapters, various planning efforts undertaken in northern Phoenix, Arizona, are used to illustrate each step. The author has been involved in the Phoenix planning work for the past decade. Because this work is largely on the suburban fringe, and because ecological planning is also useful for more urban and rural areas, several additional prototypical efforts have been selected to illustrate the principles described and to compare them with the more conventional approaches to planning.

Before discussing each step, it will be helpful to first define a few key terms. It will then be necessary to provide a brief overview of traditional planning in the United States. The ecological planning method, the subject of this book, can then be described and the difference of its approach better understood.

Basic Concepts

Planning has been defined as the use of scientific, technical, and other organized knowledge to provide options for decision making as well as a process for considering and reaching consensus on a range of choices. As John Friedmann (1973) has succinctly put it, planning links knowledge to action. There is a difference between project planning and comprehensive planning. Project planning involves designing a specific object such as a dam, highway, harbor, or an individual building or group of buildings. Comprehensive planning involves a broad range of choices relating to all the functions of an area. Resolution of conflicts, often through compromises, is the inherent purpose of comprehensive planning. Environment refers to our surroundings. Environmental planning is "the initiation and operation of activities to manage the acquisition, transformation, distribution, and disposal of resources in a manner capable of sustaining human activities, with a minimum distribution of physical, ecological, and social processes" (Soesilo and Pijawka 1998, 2072).

Management has been defined as the judicious use of means to accomplish a desired end. It involves working with people to accomplish organizational goals. For practical purposes, many see the distinction between planning and management as largely semantic. The management of resources, such as land, may be a goal of a planning process. Conversely, planning may be a means of management. Ecosystem management is the deliberate process of understanding and structuring an entire region with the intention of maintaining sustainability and integrity (Slocombe 1998a, 1998b).

Land use is a self-defining term. One can debate whether a harbor involves land use or water use, but "land" generally refers to all parts of the surface of the earth, wet and dry. The same area of that surface may be used for a variety of human activities. A harbor, for instance, may have commercial, industrial, and recreational purposes. A farm field may be used for speculation and recreation as well as for agriculture. All human activity is in one way or another connected with land.

Landscape is related to land use. The composite features of one part of the surface of the earth that distinguish it from another area is a landscape. It is, then, a combination of elements—fields, buildings, hills, forests, deserts, water bodies, and settlements. The landscape encompasses the uses of land—housing, transportation, agriculture, recreation, and natural areas—and is a composite of those uses. A landscape is more than a picturesque view; it is the sum of the parts that can be seen, the layers and intersections of time and culture that comprise a place—a natural and cultural palimpsest.

The English word ecology is derived from the Greek word for house, oikos. The expanded definition is the study of the reciprocal relationships of all organisms to each other and to their biotic and physical environments (Ricklefs 1973). Obviously, humans are organisms and thus are engaged in ecological relationships.

The use of ecological information for planning has been a national policy since late 1969, when the U.S. Congress, through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), required all agencies of the federal government to "initiate and utilize ecological information in the planning and development of resource oriented projects." The act, signed into law by President Richard Nixon on January 1, 1970, is a relatively recent development in American planning. In spite of NEPA and other laws, ecological information has not yet been adequately integrated into the planning process. Although much more work will still be necessary to realize an ecological approach to planning, NEPA represents an important step. To begin to understand its importance, it is useful to quickly review the status of American planning.

The Traditional Framework of Planning in the United States

The function of land-use planning in the United States has been the subject of much debate. There are diverse opinions about the purpose of planning; that is, whether it is to achieve a specific physical project, or comprehensive social, economic, or environmental goals. The traditional role of planning in the United States is responsible for many of these divisions. In England, for instance, planning is undertaken as a result of strong statutes. Statutory planning gives English planners considerable authority in the decision-making process. In contrast, American planners generally have more limited statutory power than in England and other European nations.

There are several reasons for the differences between European and American planning. First, land is recognized as a scarce commodity in Europe and in many other parts of the world. In land-hungry Europe over the last century, public officials have been granted increasing planning powers over use of land (and other resources) through the governing process. In Europe, there is much concern about the quality of the environment, both in the older democracies of the European Union and the emerging democracies of Central and Eastern Europe. This concern has resulted in complex systems of planning that address a broad range of issues, including housing, recreation, aesthetics, open space, and transportation.

Another reason emerges from the origins of the United States. Thomas Jefferson and the other founding fathers were influenced strongly by John Locke, who viewed the chief end of establishing a government as the preservation of property. Locke, in his Two Treatises of Government, defined property as "lives, liberties, and estates" (Laslett 1988). Elsewhere, Locke wrote of the "pursuit of happiness." It was Jefferson who combined Locke's terms, "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." But it has been the view of property as possession, rather than Locke's predominant version—life, liberty, and estate—that has prevailed. The constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania states in Article 1, Section 1, that "all ... men have certain inherent and indefeasible rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of acquiring, possessing and protecting property." And the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution contains this clause: "No person shall ... be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation." To those in the new republic, who had fought against the landed elite of the mother country, property rights were seen as a fundamental freedom.

The Bill of Rights institutionalized the founding fathers' concern about private property rights. Their "Bill of Rights included no fewer than four separate provisions aimed specifically at protecting private interests in property," observes John Humbach (1989, 337). However, Humbach also notes that "private property exists to serve the public good" (1989, 345). The influential British utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham declared that "before laws were made, there was no property; take away laws and property ceases" (1887, 113). As a result, according to Humbach (and other legal scholars), "Property rights are a creation of laws, and the law of property must, like all other law, serve a public purpose" (1989, 345).

The initial public purpose for the new nation was the settlement, or the resettlement by mostly European immigrants, of the American subcontinent (Opie 1998). However, when Jefferson (who had written the Declaration of Independence) and the others who authored the Constitution rode to Philadelphia on horseback or in carriages from their Virginia estates, their Pennsylvania farms, or their New England towns, they traveled through a seemingly endless expanse of woodlands, rich farmlands, and rolling pastures graced by fresh, clear creeks and rivers, abundant game, and pristine coastlines. In Philadelphia they were concerned foremost with protecting human rights and freedoms. Even the most foresighted of the framers of the Constitution could not have envisioned the environmental and social crises that subsequently accompanied the industrialization and urbanization of America.

The U.S. Constitution, however, does give the states and their political subdivisions the power of regulation. Police powers, which provide the basis for state and local regulation, were derived by the states from the Tenth Amendment, which reads: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

The states, in the use of police powers, must consider the Fifth Amendment because the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the "taking clause" is embodied in the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and hence applies to the states. In addition, state constitutions contain taking clauses, some with rather interesting twists. For instance, Article 1, Section 16 (the Ninth Amendment) of the Washington State Constitution states: "No private property shall be taken or damaged for public or private use without just compensation having first been made" [emphasis added]. A person's private use of property cannot damage the property of another person in Washington State.

Given this constitutional backdrop, the federal and several state legislatures have slowly but steadily increased statutory authority for planning. In addition, the courts have consistently upheld land-use regulations that do not go "too far" and thus constitute a taking. In addition, courts have supported some restrictions on the use of environmentally sensitive areas, such as wetlands, floodplains, and the habitats of endangered species. However, planning remains a fragmented effort in the United States, undertaken primarily by powerful vested business interests and sometimes by consent. Planning by consent, which depends largely on an individual's persuasive power, has caused several adaptations on the part of American planners. These adaptations can be broken down into two broad categories: administrative and adversary.

Administrative planners are realists who respond directly to governmental programs either as bureaucrats in a city or regional planning agency or as consultants. Successful administrative planners build political power in the city or metropolitan region where they work. They administer programs for voluntary community organizations and health, education, and welfare associations designed to support the political–economic structure of the nation-state. They may also administer transportation or utility programs deemed necessary by the same structure. By building political power, administrative planners serve the power structure of the city or region. The result is that often the unempowered groups in an area suffer. Poor people suffer the most, bearing the brunt of the social costs, when planners and others administer the programs of the status quo.

Adversary planners are idealists and respond to issues, such as those resulting from social or environmental concerns, often as advocates for a certain position. They usually work outside the power structure, forming new coalitions among the previously unorganized in order to mobilize support for their cause. Often advocacy planners work for veto groups—ad hoc organizations opposed to a controversial project or proposal such as a highway, a high-density housing complex, a factory, or a landfill. Advocacy planners also work for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), neighborhood planning committees, and community associations.

The rights of people have a deep-seated heritage in American history, from the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights through the Thirteenth and Nineteenth Amendments and to the labor, civil rights, and women's movements. Human rights have been the important issue for one group of advocacy planners called by various terms including community organizers, adversary planners, and change agents. In Reveille for Radicals, Saul Alinsky (1946) best articulated the philosophy for the latest crest of this movement, which began to ebb when Richard Nixon cut off funding for a variety of programs created during the 1960s. Many of the social programs created during the 1960s were concerned with making basic changes in the urban power structure. The programs were a result of the civil rights movement and the attention brought to the poor living conditions in urban ghettos by the riots that occurred there. The withdrawal of the federal commitment to domestic human rights programs begun by President Nixon continued through most of the 1970s, except during the presidency of Jimmy Carter. During the Ronald Reagan administration, the social programs that had been created during the 1960s were almost completely dismantled. The emphasis on "privatization" and "state and local control" for addressing social issues continued during the 1990s in the United States, as well as in some European nations.

With the passage of the NEPA, the Congress of the United States put into motion the machinery for the protection of the environment by setting forth certain general aims of federal activity in the environmental field, establishing the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), and instructing all federal agencies to include an impact statement as part of future reports or recommendations on actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment. Subsequent regional, state, and federal actions—such as state environmental policy acts, land-use legislation, and the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA)—have furthered this commitment.

As with the heritage for human rights, these environmental measures are deeply rooted in the American tradition. Laced throughout the social criticism of Henry David Thoreau, the novels of Mark Twain, the poetry of Walt Whitman, the photography of Ansel Adams, the films of John Ford, the art of Georgia O'Keeffe, and the music of Woody Guthrie is the love for nature.


Excerpted from The Living Landscape by Frederick Steiner. Copyright © 2008 Frederick Steiner. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Frederick Steiner is Dean and Henry M. Rockwell Chair, School of Architecture, University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of several books, including Human Ecology: Following Nature’s Lead and The Essential Ian McHarg (Island Press).

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The Living Landscape, Second Edition: An Ecological Approach to Landscape Planning 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
manirul01 More than 1 year ago
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