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Civic Ecology---Village Green/Green Village | Congress for the New Urbanism

Civic Ecology---Village Green/Green Village

A cluster of comments emerged as a common theme about simple ways to win support for environmentally-sound projects. Subtle signals can completely alter the way developers, homebuyers and nearby residents view a proposed project, sometimes dissolving stiff resistance as though a critical threshold had been reached.

This can be done through language and physical design.

Dennis Carmicheal conveys the ‘intentionality’ of intact ecosystems using contrasting man-made design features. This seems to allay the common response/objection that a roadside or wooded patch is somehow uncared for or disordered or uncontrolled if left to its own devices. People pick up on the fact that it’s supposed to be like that-—naturally occurring or not—-and that they can accept.

For example, a pathway running through a restored prairie—-if lined by a strip of manicured turf grass-—can appeal to an ingrained aesthetic that needs a little separation to get closer to nature. It harvests appreciation for the actual prairie, even if it’s not the total experience favored by the prairie enthusiast.

In another case, Carmichael renamed a curving swath of forest “Woodland Park Square” (retaining the resource in Woodland-Park-the-development) and created a civic space within an ecologically intact village "green." To erase the human-woodlot boundary, Carmichael installed a raised walkway using industrial-grade steel grating, laid out at right angles. The sharp contrast between the undisturbed forest floor and the orthogonal walkway indicates the project's environmental principles to casual visitors. The material pulls people into woods and asserts they belong within nature—and how.

The developer’s response to this twist on the traditional town square? Hesitant. “I don’t know . . . it’s kind of scruffy.” Carmichael’s retort: “It’ll save you money.” “OKAY!”

Subtle can’t always replace blunt talk.

But it can overcome NIMBYism. Dave Yacco recounts a project where proposed density encountered resistance. Instead of selling dwelling-units-per-acre with parks tacked on to mitigate impact, Yacco inverted the relationship. Reconfiguring the project as a series of interconnected green spaces leading from a newly permeable project boundary on one side to the nearby Metro Station on the other led to a different 'sales' approach.

"It's no longer a dense development, now you're building a park system with housing embedded in that framework."

Resistance from neighboring homeowners melted away--the permeability offered immediate access to parks and transit station--and promptly raised property values by $100,000.

Subtle adjustments in language, design, and the fiscal equation can change public perceptions overnight. As Michael Pyatok says, "it’s not dense, it’s cozy." Density is defined as so many dwelling units per acre, but "I really design 25 cozy per acre."

Designing perceptions of impact, amenity, coziness, and density can influence physical design and lead to consensus.

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