Messy Landscapes.

Status Quo decisions on landscape, lead to a reduction of biodiversity in the built environment–but it doesn’t have to be this way.  Key choices of species and maintenance routines can enhance wildlife and human connectivity as to increase biodiversity.   More and more uninformed land developers, business owners, property owners, and the economic inertia of “what works” leads to more and more habitat loss, high frequency maintenance (weekly) and upkeep fees.  Despite the dominance of neatness as a form of the care aesthetic, “messy” landscapes look attractive if people know the ecological function of what they are seeing, or if the landscape context indicates that the messy look is intentional.1

entry perspective

Ecosystem Restoration

Ecosystems are complex, fragile, resilient,seasonal and can offer services usually benefiting both humans and non-humans.  Ecological services include production of oxygen from carbon dioxide, pollination of plants, and countless other process that humans have not yet been able to recreate alone.

Ecosystem restoration is ideal for clients of landscape architects, commercial property owners and companies who pay for routine maintenance of turf grass with mowing, edging, and blowing of grass clippings.  These maintenance routines use gasoline/carbon emissions, create non-habitat areas,  produce air pollution with blowers, and create an non-sustainable “aesthetic” linked to the seduction of the American lawn.  Often these mowed lawns areas are never used beyond looking pretty.

Native and Invasive species

When considering what species to plant you can consult your regional wildlife center, wildflower center, or parks and wildlife management organization.  Also regional seed banks have formulas of seed mixtures that can be planted to create wildflowers or an artificial prairie.  Tallgrass restoration can eliminate mowing and weekly maintenance while attracting more desirable species.

Small Scale Landscape Restoration

Wildscapes and backyard wildlife habitats are ideal for residential property owners and home owners. With the intention of linking patches and corridors of habitats we can create a network of habitats.  These can allow displaced species to once again have the ability to inhabit the ‘original’ territories.

wildscape drawing_texas

Aren’t you tired of just seeing grackles, starlings, black birds, crows, pigeons, and buzzards?–these are common signs of a harsh urban landscape–and only these most adapted birds can survive.  Providing food, water, hiding places/cover, native plants and chemical reduction can be the steps needed to create a backyard wildlife habitat and reintroduce new and desired species into your area.

Code compliance

Various ways exist to work around the any infractions or fines that may come with a perceived “unkept” looking lawn.  The certified backyard habitat program allows home owners to create a certified wildscape, that creates habitat for birds and small wildlife, and insects (from the National Wildlife Federation).  This can save a home owner hundreds of dollars a year in mowing fees and create a more pleasant and inspiring landscape.

Applying for a variance to the code of keeping your lawn cut, can solve any city fees and complaints by others. This can be done by simply calling your code compliance office and inquiring about common infractions before it happens to you.

Security and Functionalism

With many companies worried about security, in terms of someone “hiding in the bushes,”  solar landscape lighting can be used to illuminate parking areas.  There are sustainable options that cost little upfront and keep utility bills down, all to create a beautiful landscapes that are MORE functional than the ubiquitous mowed lawns.  Growing food for humans is a way that increases functionality and creates a direct human link to the immediate environment, as well as any active human intervention that increases biodiversity.  Novel landscape designs that improve ecological quality may not be appreciated or maintained if recognizable landscape language that communicates human intention is not part of [that] landscape. 2

Biophilic Landscapes

Integration of human and non-human habitats can create a more pleasant, interesting habitat that signals a love of life or living systems, recognizing deep affiliations humans have with nature that are rooted in our biology.


1. Nassauer, Joan Iverson. 1988. The Aesthetics of Horticulture: Neatness as a Form of Care.  American Society for Horticultural Science. HortScience, vol. 23, no. 6, December 1988, pp. 973-977 <>

2. Nassauer, Joan Iverson. 1995. Messy ecosystems, orderly frames.  Landscape Journal [0277-2426] vol:14 iss:2 pg:161 -170

Designed Ecosystems

Why ecosystem design?

Green design is everywhere these days, though there is a long way to go before it is the ubiquitous, normal way of doing business that it one day will be, as working in a business needs a lot of attention from customers to workers, so having the right HR support can be essential on managing employees successfully. My aim here is to focus on the plain, straightforward meaning of what the words “ecosystem design” imply–the design and building-growing of ecological systems.  “Ecological design” has come be a synonym for green design, covering everything from solar collectors on the roof to sustainably harvested wood for floors. We’ll stick closer to biological systems, not that I have anything against solar collectors. We’ll be exploring the science of ecology–how living organisms organize themselves in space and time–as the basis for design, in John and Nancy Jack Todd’s provocative phrase.

But we won’t be too pure about it. In the broader sense we’ll also cover the design of human habitats as ecosystems, and the “ecology of mind” (Gregory Bateson) that links the natural and human worlds.

note to self: need to proof read

Humans can use the technology they know to create sustainable outcomes that involve not only respect for nature but also a pragmatic action about it, not be afraid to change existing conditions (nature) or develop it into something useful, where the idea of leaving it alone for preservation’s sake can do more harm than good. These statements are rooted in the state of the world as it is now, not in nostalgia for a nature that does not exist. First, Second, Thrid Natures, we have destroyed first, second is all we have left and unless all we want is rats, pigeons, and black birds, we better make better environments.


There becomes an “essential conflict whenever major social changes affect technology” (and nature), yet barriers are dissolved when societies work at solving problems. Andrew Feenburg is helpful to distinguish between economic exchange and technique, when there are times conflict results in an exchange, a trade-off occurs and hierarchies are established; but as Andrew Feenburg states “technical advances are made to avoid such dilemmas by elegant designs that optimize several variable at once,” an ecosystem is such an elegant design, doing many things at once, and helping us solve problems.12

Designed Ecosystems: The Expansionist’s View, Socio-Environmental Aspects in Sustainability…

>Jordan Parker Williams

Society, Nature and Technology

Position Paper III

5 December 2006


In this position paper I am concerned with how the meanings assigned by our culture define social and environmental aspects of sustainability, and how we might begin to redefine the relationship between the two.  First in this position paper I will examine deep ecology vs. shallow ecology: the two in terms of their respective perceptions of “humans vs. nature,” then  address the issue of degradation of the earth via resource scarcity vs. ecological scarcity: how they “frame the problem.” Then look at the “social ecology” of nature, finding a more expansionist view point of sustainability that embraces a view of social and environmental aspects as connected and cooperative. Then proposing humans as “tools of nature,” creating a world where humans can be free to design their ecosystems to be ecosystem-like and ideas of a “perfect untouched nature” do not deter humans from doing so. [1] *

In “Green cities, Growing cities, Just Cities” author Scott Campbell states that planners need to reconcile the conflicting interests of “grow[ing] the economy as a measure to distribute wealth more evenly/fairly, and stop degrading ecosystems.” [2] Oftentimes social and environmental aspects of sustainability tend to not compliment each other, one is traded-in for the other, and it begs the question:  Is there a better way to perceive or handle the two, one that would help in designing our world?  We need to take a look at how to not pit these aspects against each other, changing our views of each and their values that we assign to them could do exactly what Campbell proposes in reconciling conflict.


The environmental or bio-centric perspective that Nature is at the center and humans depend on it for knowledge, inspiration, and survival is representative of a ‘deep ecologist’ view; although this perspective is flawed by its inherent dichotomy—humans and nature, and nature as something unchanging, needing to be preserved.  The social ecologist or “shallow ecology” perspective is that people start from an assumption, often unexamined, that human beings are the central species in the Earth’s ecosystem, and that other beings and parts of systems are of less importance or value.  In its extreme manifestations, shallow ecology views other beings and features of the Earth as resources for human use, and fails to see their intrinsic value or their value to each other.  The dichotomy within each of these view points—that there is separation of nature and humans, flaws there universality and allows for exclusion of one group.  This separating of the groups creates hierarchies within each group, allowing for marginalization of one group over the other, instead of a view of equality and interdependence.


This concept of separation brings question to mainstream sustainability’s energy efficiency foothold, which is based in the idea of resource scarcity for dealing with degradation of the earth.  This is mainly because the resource scarcity viewpoint does not encourage humans to re-describe their role as humans in the environment, in resource scarcity the most eco-friendly person is still a consumer.  However, I do endorse energy efficiency and resource conservation because right now we are having a hard time producing energy (brownouts/increasing energy costs), so yes, I do endorse energy efficiency and resource conservation but we can do more.

By doing more I mean to pay attention to what contemporary design does not, the valuable processes that the bio-sphere of earth give us on a daily basis. This represents another mode in which sustainable design can take a foothold, in ecological systems, designing buildings that are in tune with the environment and actually increase bio-diversity.  This way of building can have a greater affect on our future, because we can always find ways to make more energy–making species and ecological systems is much harder and complex.  Yet the great ecological framework/network in which we lead our lives, is becoming increasingly frail, its ability to regenerate is being damaged by war, consumption, careless design, negativity, etc.

This lack of ability for the biosphere to regenerate itself leads to a lack of the ability to ‘clean’ the earth of toxins, pollutants, carbon absorption, regulate climate–things that we need more of as we produce more impact via pollution, consumption, etc–all ever-increasing.  So what is the problem–that we consume? I think that is a bad way to look at it, since we need to consume to stay alive as humans, rather I think the problem is that we do not understand the value of bio-diversity in our built environment, this is partially because over the years ecosystems have been labeled as messy and challenging (man vs. nature idea, civilization and wilderness concepts–both false dualities).  Further more, the appearance of many indigenous ecosystems and wildlife habitats violates cultural norms for the neat appearance of landscapes, and we fail to recognize the values of producing oxygen, transform nitrogen, creating habitat, and absorbing carbon, toxins, and pollutants.[3] So the problem with consuming is that it usually lowers ecological diversity and creates more pollutants, but what if we had a balanced world, where the pollution created was mediated and filtered by plants and non-humans and ecosystems, then consuming (which we do a good job at) would be more okay.  This implies that the problem is not resource scarcity but ecological scarcity.  We need to create buildings with the mindset of creating ecosystem-like structures and systems that actually increase biodiversity of a locality.[4] This will produce cleaner places for people, a balanced earth–one that has capacity to absorb pollution which is associated with excessive resource exploitation, which in turn re-describes the role of humans in the environment from consumers to nature propagators.


In a speech to the Bioneers in 2000 William McDonough states we should “leave bigger footprints not smaller ones, but our footprints should be wetlands,” this implies how humans can become “tools of nature.”[5] Author Steven Kellert in Building for Life brings another aspect to the concept of ‘doing more,’ where in his critique of resource scarcity he states that stopping degradation of the earth is not enough,  calling out the importance of the relationship between humans and the biosphere, “though admirable, … [the resource scarcity paradigm] needs to be extended to include a greater emphasis on human experience, incorporating the recognition of how much people’s physical and mental well-being depends on their contact with nature.”[6] This pulls its weight from the concept of biophilia hypothesis, which purports that it’s the interaction with nature that proves most beneficial to humans, even if it is just representation of nature, or artificial, or second nature, or third nature;[7] just like Latour’s ANT (actor network theory) whose strength comes from ‘heterogeneously assembled actor networks of human and non-human entities.”[8] Much like Haraway suggests that nature (environmental) and social realms are contingent and artifactual constructions that emerge from the practical interactions of humans and nonhumans in the distributed, heterogeneous work processes of technoscience.’[9]

In The Cultivated Wilderness author Paul Shepheard’s epilogue points to our construction of nature as something separate but reasons that our separation is out of an admiration:

The wilderness is not just something you look at; it’s something you are part of.  You live inside a body made of wilderness material.  I think that the intimacy of this argument is the origin of beauty.  The wilderness is beautiful because you are part of it.[10]

David Demeritt in What is the Social Construction of Nature? refers to many types of view points of nature, Demeritt notes when using the metaphor of the construction of nature “some use it in a nominalist vein to denaturalize ‘nature’ as always conceptually and discursively mediated, others in a more literal, ontologically idealist way to suggest that natural phenomena are literally built by people, while yet others use the construction metaphor to explore the ways that the matter of nature is realized discursively or through networks of practical engagements with heterogeneous other beings.”[11] I would identify with a phenomenological discursive construction where, “we exist primordially not as subjects manipulating objects in the external ‘real’, physical world, but as beings in, alongside and toward the world’, opposed to “merely a descriptive phenomenology concerned with disclosing empirically the preconceptions and social interactions necessary to construct a social problem as such.” [12] This point of view combined with a “seeking to diagnose the effects of those constructions and thereby also to change them”, leads to a phenomenological discursive constructive philosophy.[13]

In Against Nature, Steven Vogel says nature is dynamic and always changing, contrary to the idea of man vs. nature where the idea of preservation is put to the idea of nature, rather than a view point where humans can change nature for the better, using our judgment and choice.  Vogel agrees that humans have responsibility to manage themselves and the earth, the human condition extends beyond being human, “to see socially constructed nature as something for which we are literally responsible.” [14]

In “We have Never Been Modern,” Bruno Latour points out that we have not separated ourselves from nature, our process of ontological being is linked with our politics, nature, and culture; creating a world where we hold nature up not for just being sacred, not for being separate, not for being rare, not for being unchanging, but for being part of us.


There becomes an “essential conflict whenever major social changes affects technology” and nature, yet barriers are dissolved when societies work as solving problems, when these conflicts eventually are resolved.  Andrew Feenburg is helpful to distinguish between economic exchange and technique when resolving conflict he gives the example: when there is an exchange, conflict results in an a trade-off creating hierarchies or an adversarial point of view; but as he states “technical advances are made to avoid such dilemmas (trade-offs) by elegant designs that optimize several variables at once,” an ecosystem is such an elegant design, doing many things at once.[15] Humans can use the technology to create sustainable outcomes that involve not only respect for nature but also a pragmatic action about it, not be afraid to change it or develop it into something useful, where the idea of leaving it alone for preservation’s sake can do more harm than good.   We can design ecosystems to be healthier, more contingent to absorb our pollution and impact on earth.  These statements are rooted in the state of the world as it is now, not in nostalgia for a nature that does not exist.  By re-defining the role of humans in the environment, or shall I say of the environment, from consumers to propagators we can better accomplish our big goals of saving the Earth, by making it a better Earth.


[1] William McDonough, “William McDonough at Bioneers 2000,”, accessed Novemeber 16, 2006.

[2] Scott Campbell,  “Green Cities, Growing Cities, Just Cities: Urban Planning and the Contradiction of Sustainable Development,” in APA Journal (Summer 1996): p 296-312.

[3] Messy Ecosystems,

[4] Ken Yeang, Ecodesign: A Manual for Ecological Design. (London : Wiley, 2006).

[5] William McDonough, “William McDonough at Bioneers 2000,”, accessed Novemeber 16, 2006.

[6] Steven Kellert,  Building for Life: designing and understanding the human nature connection. (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2005): p 96.

[7] Stephen R. Kellert, The Biophilia Hypothesis. (Washington, DC: Island Press, 1993).

[8] David Demeritt, “What is the ‘Social Construction of Nature.’ A topology and sympathetic critique,” in Progress in Human Geography 26 (6): p 767-790.

[9] David Demeritt, “What is the ‘Social Construction of Nature.’ A topology and sympathetic critique,” in Progress in Human Geography 26 (6): p 767-790.

[10] Paul Shepheard, Cultivated Wilderness: Or, What is Landscape? (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press 1997)

[11] David Demeritt, “What is the ‘Social Construction of Nature.’ A topology and sympathetic critique,” in Progress in Human Geography 26 (6): p 767-790.

[12] David Demeritt, “What is the ‘Social Construction of Nature.’ A topology and sympathetic critique,” in Progress in Human Geography 26 (6): p 767-790.

[13] David Demeritt, “What is the ‘Social Construction of Nature.’ A topology and sympathetic critique,” in Progress in Human Geography 26 (6): p 767-790.

[14] Steven Vogel, “Introduction,” in Against Nature: The Concept of Nature in Critical Theory (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), p 1-12.

[15] Andrew Feenburg, “Subversive Rationalization: Technology, Power, and Democracy,” in Technology and the Politics of Knowledge, Andrew Feenburg and Alastair Hannay, Eds., (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1995).

12. Feenburg