Design with Nature by Ian McHarg

Cities all across the world are realizing their mistake in covering up natural features to construct bigger and better communities. After decades of building over rivers and streams, dredging wetlands for lakes, and sprawling across prime agricultural land, we are finally seeing the devastating impacts. The solutions to these problems are already being implemented, quicker in some municipalities than others, but they have at least started to make progress unearthing the natural features that have long been suppressed under the concrete jungle.

Most cities are just now beginning to realize the benefits of nature (stormwater management, recreation, air quality, energy, etc), but Ian McHarg was writing about it many years ago. Design with Nature was a pioneering concept for its time. In 1969 McHarg wrote, "there is still only a small shelf of books that deals with man's relation to his environment as a whole..."

Much like McHarg, I could live in the countryside or the city, I find pros and cons to both. Most people see it as a choice between two options and lean towards one or the other (like my father who I don't think will ever leave the countryside). McHarg said "if we can create the humane city, rather than the city of bondage to toil, then the choice of city or countryside will be between two excellences, each indispensable, each different, both complementary, both life-enhancing. Man in Nature."

City planners seek to create the humane city through codes like landscaping minimums, tree and shrub requirements, plaza requirements, daylight/shadow restrictions, and a host of other tools. Developers see this as the city imposing unnecessary restrictions that cost them money without stopping to consider the environment we are trying to protect. If we consider nature in each development, the resulting effect is an urban city with a humane environment, one in which residents want to live.

This holistic approach to preserve and protecting natural ecology within our cities is demonstrated graphically in dozens of maps throughout the book. By overlaying information about slopes, soils, geology, and woodlands, McHarg determined the prime location for development that would both preserve the most important natural features without stopping development. Certain areas can "absorb degrees of development" better than others and we need to be thinking in this manner, rather than what land will sell the cheapest to make the best profit. It is this kind of thinking that has us spending billions of dollars now to undo the damage we inflicted decades ago.

Despite being almost 50 years old, this book has many important lessons about development and how to better map out the best locations that achieve all development goals. If we take a step back and look at the city as a place to live rather than a boundary with buildings inside we can map out a better future that combines both nature and urban amenities. We can create humane cities that bring more people back from the countryside.