Integrated Designs Enhance Public Landscapes

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Regardless of the scale, public projects represent complex systems. Projects that typify public landscapes include parks, plazas, playgrounds, streetscapes and rights of way, and an assortment of institutional and municipal uses. These built environments respond to myriad criteria—they must overcome tight budgets and schedules, satisfy agency standards and stormwater requirements, reduce short- and long-term resource consumption, minimize life-cycle costs, and maximize durability. They must also offer safety, comfort, beauty, and recreation to their inhabitants. The successful realization of these objectives is inextricably linked to the respective design team. Designs that exhibit environmentally responsive and socially responsible solutions rest at the intersection of discipline specialties—infrastructure, building(s), landscape, and art. This collaborative confluence is referred to as integrated design. By blending the technical and creative expertise of a project team, integrated design nurtures ideas that exceed narrow standard solutions.

Stormwater management is a primary concern within an integrated team structure. While always solving for proper system function, safety, durability, and maintainability, the primary considerations of integrated stormwater design also include aesthetics, resource conservation, design unification and clarity, and the potential for social programmatic use(s). These additional concerns broaden the reach of every integrated stormwater feature; they create opportunities to insert valuable ecological and humanistic function(s) into any project. The overall objective is to develop a complex, rich, and unified landscape that offers clients and stakeholders a range of diverse experiences exceeding those allowed through solely prescriptive and/or myopic approaches to stormwater management.

As defined for the purposes of this discussion, the term integrated design not only refers to interdisciplinarity and collaborative discourse, but also references the numerous physical and programmatic layers designed into a project. Integrating multiple functions into a stormwater feature adds value—fiscal, environmental, and social. The following text outlines three associated areas of integrated design.

Program Integration
Integrating various uses into a single site is achieved through the development of strategic site partnerships. Site partnering maximizes use(s) while minimizing input(s). These partnerships represent a variety of programmatic and administrative arrangements developed from a mixture of private and/or public sector entities. One example of this partnering strategy is a shared-use agreement. This mutually beneficial relationship allows the partners to jointly choreograph facility programming (i.e., sports fields or parking lots) to serve shared functionality (i.e., institutional/commercial functions during the day and private use in the evenings or weekends). The dual usage afforded through these agreements proactively alleviates water-quality issues by quieting development demands for similar facilities and reducing overall areas of impervious surfacing and associated runoff.

Resource Integration
The physical and programmatic consolidation of uses also represents a dramatic reduction in overall consumption and waste. The following list highlights many of the potential benefits that an integrated stormwater approach may have on the development of healthy and sustainable sites.

    • Reduced capital expenditures:
      – Decreased demand for land acquisition and associated development
      – Reduced onsite land consumption through consolidated utility:
      * Eliminates large retention/detention facilities whose footprints are usually characterized by oversized,
      fenced ponds consuming large areas of land—a quickly dwindling and valuable urban commodity.
      * Conversely, integrated stormwater features (i.e., rain gardens) can satisfy various functions—they
      treat stormwater, provide required vegetative buffering, enhance aesthetics, create wildlife habitat,
      and augment interpretative and/or curriculum activities.


  • Reduced land disturbance:
    – Increased conservation of open space due to the intensified recreational programming of
    preexisting and predeveloped land(s), resulting in
    * Habitat and watershed preservation within existing naturalized areas
    * Passive recreational opportunities within existing naturalized areas
    – Decreased infrastructure demands (onsite and citywide) due to the effective stormwater
    function of undisturbed, naturalized areas



  • Reduced petrochemical consumption and release:
    – Decreased gasoline use and emissions; including:
    * Construction operations (diesel fuel)
    * Maintenance operations (small-stroke engines)
    – Decreased demand for fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides
    – Decreased demand for bituminous paving



  • Reduced water inputs:
    – Increased ability of plantings to survive drought events
    * Use of native and adapted plants
    * Use of compost-amended soils to enhance moisture retention,
    promote root development, and provide slow-release, organic nutrients
    – Decreased need for automated irrigation
    * Irrigate through establishment period only
    * Hydrozoning



  • Reduced water throughputs:
    – Increased stormwater retention and infiltration
    – Decreased surface runoff and a reduction of concentrated flow(s)




Cottage Grove Park, Seattle, WA. Rain gardens integrated into the right of way sustainably manage runoff from adjacent parkland and street.
(Photo courtesy of Cascade Design Collaborative Inc.)
Puget Boulevard Commons, Seattle, WA. This integrated rain garden feature serves a variety of simultaneous functions, including water quality, site beautification, wildlife habitat, outdoor classroom (passive and active laboratory), and landscape buffering.
(Photo courtesy of Cascade Design Collaborative Inc.)
Fern Hill Elementary School, Tacoma, WA. Visible collection and conveyance systems can be used to enrich social, recreational, and educational experiences.
(Illustration courtesy of Cascade Design Collaborative Inc.)

Functional Integration
Integrating sustainable site features highlights natural processes invites “hands-in-the-dirt” learning and provides expanded academic and social opportunities. Employing multiple low-impact development (LID) strategies adds yet another dimension to the look, feel, and function of a site’s overall stormwater management system. A few of the LID features that are gaining increased traction in the design and development communities are:

    • Rain gardens: bioinfiltration and bioretention functions


  • Natural drainage systems (NDS)



  • Tilled compost turf method (TCT)



  • Rainwater catchment systems: cisterns and rain barrels



These specialized stormwater features provide community members with outstanding opportunities for interaction, in-depth discussion, and active learning related to environmental processes. Associated social and cognitive features/functions may include, but are not limited to, the creation and/or use of:

    • Outdoor learning environments


  • Interpretive elements



  • Real-time observation



  • Hands-on experimentation



  • Wildlife habitats



  • Functional, self-sustaining landscapes



  • Region-specific processes



  • Microclimates (sun/shade, topography, hydrology, and plant communities)



Through the use of these specialized programmatic features, additional areas of detailed inquiry may be undertaken by professionals, academicians, students and/or laypersons:

    • Water table fluctuation/hydraulic head


  • Total suspended solids (TSS)



  • Turbidity



  • Rate of infiltration



  • Associative plant and animal communities (topographic and hydrologic regimes)



The visible integration of infrastructure, building, and landscape highlight natural and constructed stormwater collection and conveyance systems. Successfully integrated stormwater designs foster a healthier appreciation of a locale’s unique environmental processes. This is achieved through a physical design that allows various hydrologic functions to remain clearly visible and openly observed. These visible systems invite exploration and conversation and, therefore, facilitate a better understanding among the resident public. The following queries can be used to quickly assess the applicability of proposed integrated stormwater features:

    • Does the design utilize/emphasize unique local environmental patterns and/or processes: site, watershed(s) or region?


  • Does the design offer ongoing programmatic benefit(s): social, psychological, cognitive and/or physical?



  • Does the design utilize site conditions for learning opportunities—either implied or explicit: interactive features, interpretive elements, or curriculum incorporation?



  • Can users visually and/or physically access the features during inclement weather events (when they are the most interesting)?



  • Does the design respond to different states of precipitation and/or the hydrologic cycle?



  • Have the project owners (and staff) been directly involved with the development of any/all integrated stormwater features to increase their initial understanding and appreciation for each feature’s composition, function and care?



In total, integrated design solutions offer holistic alternatives that advance stormwater management beyond the realm of standardized regulatory requirements. This process produces economical, innovative, and engaging stormwater solutions because the process nurtures a culture of interdisplinarity, embraces localized environmental processes, and celebrates the deep connections between our social and physical environs. SW_bug_web

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