Professional Landscape Design since 2004
Los Angeles/Portland/San Francisco/Las Vegas

Suburban Redesign

First Place ~ H.O.P.E.S. National Design Challenge

In redesigning suburbs to court ecology and community, this project tackles the fact that suburbs inadequately address the needs of people and land. The model created for this project is for adaptation and application to both retrofitting existing suburbs and re-conceiving as-yet undeveloped neighborhoods of this kind. It is ripe for configuration to either situation, a kit of parts.

Traditionally monotonous patterns that are irrelevant of ecological and human relationships force people into their cars and away from neighbors and the land under their driveways.

Suburban Ecological RedesignAvalon Villages was a new sixty-five acre suburb situated in northwestern Eugene, Oregon. This project connects the notion of place with suburbs as part of their transformation. Made without a center, it’s redesign suggests an alternative to the organization and use of land on the periphery of cities. The Model alters property and structure so as to un-bury the place from beneath the asphalt and employ its unleashed energy to connect with nature’s power of expansion and growth. What was once ignored by development becomes celebrated and thoughtfully used.

Suburban Ecological RedesignProgrammatic elements for the design spotlight environmental responsibility, community building, and the hybridization of housing and sustainable agriculture. The proposal focuses on four main goals. These are building community, integrating the local ecosystem with development, creating an identity for the site that connects it to neighboring amenities and defines it from similar neighborhoods nearby, and reducing driving time by providing more needs on-site.

Suburban Ecological Redesign Details of the Design
Community greens and plazas create places to develop deep relationships and spend time outside yet away from traffic. Gardens and efficiently layered plantings offering a variety of year-round plant foods buffer plazas from streets and homes. Fine gravel paths wind through these planted areas to plazas from each home, making all common spaces available to all residents. Tillers, lawnmowers, and other tools are stored in community sheds to reduce waste and cost for residents while building relationships based on sharing belongings and exchanging experiences.

Two village-types offer buyers and renters options related to automobile usage and commitment to stay.  An automobile-dependent village offers modified off-street parking in driveways by leaving out garages. Houses remain 1,475 and 2,030 square feet, adapted from existing Avalon Village homes with only the addition of a greenhouse on the south wall and the aforementioned removal of the garage. Size of greenhouses depends upon the length of the south wall and greenhouses do not necessarily replace garages. Property lines remain unchanged on street fronts but lot sizes are smaller to accommodate plazas and gardens in the center of each block with paths efficiently tying each house to these community greens.

As articulated by the Urban Land Institute, “Reducing lot sizes has a major impact on infrastructure and other costs without necessarily decreasing demand or homeowner satisfaction. According to surveys, residents are as satisfied with housing at six or seven units per acre as they are at three or four. Buyers are interested in higher density, but only if smaller lots are offset by first-rate amenities and public spaces.”

If residents of pedestrian villages own automobiles, they park in lots on the periphery and haul any packages home in shared carts similar to bike trailers.  900 square foot apartment buildings hold two or three units each to house students and individuals, while 700 and 900 square foot dwellings house 2 to 4 people comfortably. Three-foot thick straw-bale walls maximize interior area with window seating. Ceilings are 12 feet high, and green roof patios off a third story studio space maximize the vertical dimension. Each dwelling is equipped with a green house stretching along the south wall five feet deep and extending two stories. This adds roughly 100 to 200 square feet of day-lit interior space to the stated footage. Upstairs master bedrooms look out over interior trees.

A pedestrian village offers a similar walking experience to that of automobile-dependent villages. Paths carve out gardens and layers of food crops. The main difference is that the path system in a pedestrian village serves as the link between plazas and thus has more room to follow a more whimsical line.

The existing wetland parcels within and adjacent to the boundaries of the site lie unused and un-restored. A third objective in the proposal increases awareness and interaction with this natural resource by constructing a boardwalk that snakes around the periphery and through wetland plant communities that have been restored. Restoration is based on guilds that create a yield for wildlife.

Suburban Ecological RedesignEach dwelling is also equipped with a filtration system for gray water, or waste water from washing machines and kitchen sinks. For houses, a series of planted filtration pools lead into a pond supporting fish. On one exterior wall of apartment buildings, a framework of tanks and pipes channel waste water through communities of swamp plants that clean it before it dumps into a similar pond.

Suburban Ecological RedesignNarrower streets are defined by bio-filtration swales that extend the job of storm water purification from the wetland into the residential streetscape. In the community greens, landscaping is done with food-producing plant guilds that are also beautiful and provide shelter for wildlife.

“Many busy homeowners,” and certainly renters, “prefer homes without labor-intensive yards.”

Permaculture design additionally sets up a natural progression that will require little maintenance after initial inputs of labor and materials. Plants produce food for humans and wildlife. In place of the tall fence separating existing dwellings from the wetland, in the new villages bordering the wetland, hedgerows grafted on one side with wildlife food plants offer berries to humans on the other.

Suburban Ecological RedesignAdditional jobs done by plants in this proposal include attraction of beneficial insects such as pollinators and predators of pests, mulch production in place, and symbiotic drawing up of nutrients.

A centrally-located commercial node decreases automobile usage for residents living in both village types. The proposal allows residents to choose the bustle of basics like a video store, ice cream shop, laundromat, a restaurant, and several cafes or the peace and quiet of the villages. Businesses like a market grocery link to community activity in the gardens by selling produce grown by children. The surplus from the food production going on can be donated to organizations like Food For Lane County, in line with the Permaculture principle of giving away surplus. The commercial node  transforms the site into a place residents will inhabit because more of their basic needs and desires for something to do are met within walking distance from their homes. The large plaza surrounded by shops can support concerts and other public events while the functionality of this space is deepened with views to the wetland and access to the boardwalk and multi-use trail. Parking is provided for on the west side of the buildings, and bordering the wetland further west, four new apartment buildings accommodate those who require assisted living.