The origin of human existence documents the hunter-gatherer model, where living off of the land was the means to survival – a concept mostly understood by today’s westernized population through Netflix and Planet Earth documentaries. The emergence of farming, stemming from the need to mass produce food as populations grew, can be traced back to 9,500 B.C.E. with the domestication of rice in China and pigs and sheep in Mesopotamia. Fast forward to the Green Revolution, a time occurring between the 1930s and late 1960s when agricultural production increased worldwide due to research and development. During that time, mass production from the land was made possible due to regulated irrigation systems paired with fertilizer usage and advancements of machinery. Just as the Green Revolution impacted many for the better, a simultaneous awareness of the mass consumption of land and more thoughtful use of land through informed planning gained momentum.
Food and other consumer products are constantly becoming more accessible and mass produced. The trade-off is that it is sometimes unclear precisely where the food we eat and products we use come from, and how their production impacts natural resources and land. Shouldn’t we know where life’s necessities originate, be aware of our footprint, and attempt to contribute to a more sustainable world? As landscape architects and designers, we are aware that industrial farming and land development activities can have adverse impacts such as deforestation, soil desiccation, and ecosystem irregularity.
Completely eliminating mankind’s footprint is not realistic, especially considering half of the world’s population lives in cities. However, the need is greater than ever to implement design strategies and practices that protect and regenerate the environment while providing for the requirements of an always expanding global population. Sustainable development must be derived from a recipe of creativity, relevance, and incorporation of the existing environment. Examples include green roofs that reduce storm water runoff and heat island effect, natural ventilation to lower energy needs for air conditioning and the use of locally sourced building materials. Locally supported agriculture and chef’s gardens can supply kitchens with fruits and vegetables, while providing an enticing element of the landscape. In rainy climates, rainwater capture and reuse has proven to be a valuable way to reduce or even eliminate the use of municipal potable water, without requiring reductions in water use by occupants.
The landscape architecture community aims to increase awareness of sustainable land and resource use through forward thinking planning and design practices. While population growth and land use for development is inevitable, our interactions and interface with the environment do not have to be detrimental. Sustainable planning and design practices can mitigate the human footprint to seamlessly mesh new developments with their surroundings, thus benefitting end users.