Building with Nature

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Published on: Aug. 2, 2008

Last revision: Dec. 8, 2010

Who hasn’t heard someone reminisce about the good old days of hunting quail and rabbit in a field that is now a shopping mall, or finding crawdads in a creek that now runs in a pipe?

Many of us dream of escaping to the country, to rural views of meadows and trees, and a chance to enjoy the sounds of birds and frogs rather than passing traffic. Yet when we move there, we bring the things we are trying to escape with us.

We find ourselves still surrounded by roads and houses, perhaps more widely spaced but with expanses of monotonous mowed grass. The peaceful spot in the country we dreamed of is filled with the buzz of lawn mowers and weed-eaters all weekend long.

This dilemma is not new. Societies have tried to strike a balance between the built and the natural environment since the first village was created. We needed to beat back the wilderness to build safe, convenient, comfortable places for people to live, but our conquest often meant eliminating natural habitats, or confining them to small parks, which led to a host of environmental problems, including flooding and stream erosion.

However, a new approach brings together conservation and development in ways that benefit people and nature. This approach is known as conservation-friendly development.


Conservation-friendly development incorporates sustainable design, low-impact development and green building to create living space that is more in harmony with nature. The following principles drive the new approach.

  • Avoid consuming natural habitat by promoting infill development and redevelopment to make better use of existing developed areas.
  • Conserve sensitive or important natural resources, such as streams, wetlands and remnant prairies. These resources improve the quality of life within the development.
  • Preserve open space and green corridors for wildlife habitat and human enjoyment and recreation. Connect these areas to create a system of greenways across neighboring developments, communities, counties and even states.
  • Recognize that trees, streams and other natural features are essential infrastructure for a community and need investment and maintenance to provide the most benefit.
  • Minimize changes to natural soils, drainages and topography, and if they have changed, seek to restore their original function.
  • Encourage the use of energy-efficient, renewable or reusable technologies such as green roofs and geothermal heat pumps.

Best Management Practices

A conservation-friendly developer often implements proven techniques, known as Best Management Practices. The following are a few examples:

Conservation cluster design.

Clustering buildings on smaller lots allows the remaining land, usually environmentally sensitive habitat, in the

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