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Urban Ecological Design and Restoration: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach

Liz Clift, MFA

On Thursday, March 31, the Colorado Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLACO), the Central Rockies Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration (CeRSER), and the Denver Botanic Gardens (DBG) hosted the Urban Ecological Design and Restoration Symposium at DBG’s York Street gardens.
 
The symposium featured talks by Marion Hourdequin, an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Colorado College who, with David G. Havlick, edited the book Restoring Layered Landscapes: History, Ecology, and Culture; Keith Bowers, founder and president of Biohabitats; and Rick Bachand, Environmental Program Manager for the City of Fort Collins. Following the presentations, the three speakers participated in a panel discussion moderated by Tina Bishop, a founding partner of Mundus Bishop.
 
Hourdequin’s presentation focused on restoration of landscapes with complex socio-ecological histories. She highlighted the restoration of former military and weapons-making sites, including Rocky Mountain Arsenal, a 15,000-acre National Wildlife Refuge only a few miles northeast of downtown Denver. Hourdequin pointed out that despite the complex socio-ecological history of the site, black-footed ferrets were recently re-introduced to the land. Many of the refuge’s visitors, as indicated in one recent survey, didn’t even realize the history of the wildlife refuge. Hourdequin also spoke about a chapter in her book by Martin Drenthen, who proposes absurdist artwork in locations such as Rocky Mountain Arsenal as a way to acknowledge “the problematic nature of the past human activities, such as the production of chemical weapons.”
 
Keith Bowers illustrated a variety of ways, via projects led by Biohabitats, that urban ecological design could fit hand-in-hand with restoration. He talked about biomimicry as a way to incorporate ecological design through both restoration ecology and landscape architecture, and how this can be done with both form and function – and that even if not well versed in biomimicry, landscape architects and restoration ecologists may still benefit from following these processes. Bowers opined that in many urban environments, there is very little nature left, and for this reason, monitoring can be especially crucial. He reminded the room that once the project is on the ground only 20% of the work is done – monitoring and maintaining the project remains a crucial component to success.
 
Bachand illustrated perspectives on restoration through descriptions of personality types in environmental design, and he provided as a case study his work with a team to restore the Poudre River. Bachand identifies as having a Type A personality, which serves him well in paying attention to detail – but is less useful when Mother Nature decides to throw a curveball. Flooding occurred shortly after the restoration project had been completed, and created a sandbank which Bachand’s Type B personality co-workers deemed would be great for beach volleyball – or a relaxing day lounging on the beach!
 
During the panel discussion, Hourdequin, Bowers, and Bachand were asked to define urban ecology and to talk about their vision for future cities. To some extent, each panelist responded that urban ecology must take into consideration that people and the non-human environment are going to interact – and that we must stop seeing people as separate from the environment. Hourdequin emphasized that we should consider nature and culture intertwined. Bowers pointed out that ecological processes happen from a natural standpoint, and we must consider how these processes flow into, and interact, with people. Future cities should be built with these ideas in mind.
 
The presentations and panel discussion were followed by a happy hour, where guests had a chance to mingle with each other, the presenters, and event sponsors.
 
The event was coordinated by Chris Loftus, RLA, a landscape architect with Great Ecology, and Casey Cisneros, Land Stewardship Manager for Larimer County Natural Resources. Tim Hoelzle, Vice President of Technical Services at Great Ecology emceed the event

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