Nature Integrated Design

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WMTP Tree Protection Project

Raising Awareness of Nature-Integrated Design Principles

Showing How to Successfully Balance New Infill Projects With Improved Tree Retention

WMTP is educating community leaders, agency staff, and local developers about nature-integrated design principles that can be applied to the site planning of new developments, whether infill multi-family housing, large commercial projects, or new public facilities. The goal is to provide an alternative to the too-common design process of developers cosmetically applying landscaping around the periphery of an already-designed building and hardscape.

Affordable infill housing is needed in our community. WMTP agrees and supports that goal 100%. But pitting trees versus more housing is unnecessary. Infill development can support COB’s Urban Forestry Management Plan goals and Climate Action Plan. Nature-integrated design — together with improved zoning and infill ordinances — is one proven way to do that.

Nature-integrated design embeds nature sustainably throughout a project, not just as window dressing. It goes significantly further than merely preserving (or offseting) any wetlands or critical lands that are present at a site.
Sometimes it’s also referred to as “green architecture” or “biophilic design.” Several cities around the world have fine examples, such as Paris and Singapore to name a few. Some architects now even specialize in this kind of design approach. It doesn’t have to result in exotic-looking, expensive buildings. It can be simple, mindful site planning that accommodates significant natural features that are already on a project site — such as existing mature trees.
Here in Bellingham, it can be a potent way to successfully balance infill project goals with improved tree retention goals. The two goals are not mutually exclusive! Pitting one against the other is unnecessary and distorts what can be achieved for our community.
Nature-Integrated Design Principles
Nature-integrated design is created by holding several intentions early in a project’s design process, such as…
— Prioritize the living. Assess the biological, ecological — and now climate! — value inherent in a site so that smart choices can be made about what to preserve and enhance. If necessary, move/trade development to a different site rather than razing superb natural assets.
— Be smart with footprints. Put nature’s beauty and legacy at the heart of the design by carefully locating — and shaping — building footprints to preserve major natural assets, such as significant trees. Keep buildings outside of the “drip line” so trees can thrive long term. If needed, dial down a higher-density footprint to avoid a squeezed, “maxed-out” site plan that eliminates any possibility of major tree retention.
— Build habitat value. Provide nature corridors to adjacent ecologically sensitive areas, when present. On-site, establish multi-level native landscapes that provide ecological/habitat value rather than the usual monoculture ground cover punctuated by a few ornamental trees and bushes. (Bleh!)
— Explore tradeoffs. Work with local planning departments to explore how a retaining major trees (or other major natural assets) — beyond what’s normally required — may earn credits or variances to setbacks or other requirements.
— Think user-based design. People are part of nature, too. Integrate landscape into the architecture (i.e. on rooftops, terraces, balconies) if possible. Orient built spaces away from traffic, noise or other chaos to create a more peaceful environment to live or work in.
It’s Imperative To Take a Better Design Approach
Will it cost more to build such projects? Sometimes, yes. But, as we begin to accumulate fine examples in our region of such an approach, developers may discover that nature-integrated design adds desirability, livability, and value to a project, thereby compensating for at least some of any additional costs.
Under the pressure of pervasive growth, we must all work together in every way possible to improve the climate resiliency, equity, livability and health of our community
We hope policymakers will realize we should not diminish our significant urban trees and forests in the name of rapid growth. We can do better than having just protected parks, Greenways and lakes as “green refuges” within an otherwise hardscape-dominant city. Nature should be threaded everywhere, including in higher-density developments. To fail in this only diminishes our community.

Volunteer Opportunities

Want to help in our tree protection advocacy? Even if you only a have a few hours available per month, please contact us if you have the time and interest! !

Related Links/Resources

City of Bellingham’s Urban Forestry Management Plan webpage
City of Bellingham’s Climate Action Plan webpage

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Whatcom Million Trees Project

Bellingham, WA, USA
(360) 319-1370

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