nature + the city: some approaches

There are countless approaches planners and designers can take in the ever-important task of integrating nature into the urban fabric. Here I’ll highlight just a few.


Low Impact Development, or LID, seeks to shape the landscape in a way that controls storm water where it’s generated, using both natural and engineered features.

One example of LID in Charlottesville is Greenleaf Park’s rain garden off Rose Hill Drive. It employs native species and plants that attract wildlife as well as drought-tolerant plants at top of the slope and moisture-tolerant plants at the bottom. The plants and their root systems filter storm water that runs off roads and asphalt patches nearby. Here’s a video about the construction process, and below is a photo of the park.

Native species populate Greenleaf Park's rain garden in Charlottesville.

Native species populate Greenleaf Park’s rain garden in Charlottesville.

In addition to rain gardens, LID can take the form of bioswales, permeable pavement surfaces, subsurface retention and filtration facilities under parking lots and other swaths of pavement, treebox filters, rain barrels, green roofs, and smart landscaping design. See this website for specifics about these and other approaches.

wildlife corridor

When we build, we inevitably infringe on natural habitat. Habitat fragmentation has threatened the living and migration spaces of species around the world, so some cities and countries have made a concerted effort to build wildlife corridors that maintain ecological throughways around human development.

The Australian government has laid out a National Wildlife Corridors Plan that has resulted in structures like this wildlife bridge overpass in Queensland.


This photo shows Spanish design firm Aldayjover’s plan for a green corridor in Barcelona that includes an “agroforestry matrix.”


Wildlife corridors can span from the small, like a revegetated strip of key habitat along a stream, to the large, like Singapore’s Green Corridor Proposal, which connects key green spaces throughout the country along railway routes.

wildlife corridor


I conceive a greenway as a spine or a link of green space that connects natural areas throughout the city, often with bicycle and pedestrian access as well as plenty of vegetation and wildlife habitat. Greenways often capitalize on existing natural features like rivers and other waterways.

Manhattan’s extensive greenway system includes the Hudson River Park and the East River Park. I’ve run around the tip of Manhattan on these narrow park spaces that line the city and provide access to parks like Stuy Cove and Battery Island with its recently opened Teardrop Park. See the full map here.


Aldayjover’s plans to restore the famous Diagonal Avenue in Barcelona with a linear park call for a greenway that invokes city dwellers to slow down and interact with nature among rich biodiversity and atop underground public transit routes.


pocket park

A growing trend in urban space creation is the pocket park, or the park that’s small enough to be located within everyday neighborhood spaces. The idea is that people can have daily interactions with nature without actively choosing to disrupt their routines – they can stroll through a block of green space on their way home from work, for example, in addition to trekking to the larger central-city park on the weekend for a picnic. Pocket parks offer a chance for passive recreation, as opposed to the active recreation that tennis and basketball courts, tracks, and full-scale playgrounds in larger parks afford. Instead, pocket parks can be used for casual walking or simply sitting in a pleasant space. See my previous post for some questions about the goals and value of pocket parks.

This article highlights some of the pocket parks in my home city of Richmond – I’ll admit, some of these are so tucked away that I’ve never stumbled upon them!

Scuffletown Park offers horizontal space to stroll and picnic across from Strawberry Street Market in the Fan.

Scuffletown Park offers horizontal space to stroll and picnic across from Strawberry Street Market in the Fan.


Even if you didn’t know the name for it, you’ve probably been through an allee. French for path, aisle, or driveway, an allee in the context of urban nature is a line of trees or vegetation through which people pass. It can provide a degree of enclosure, which pedestrians enjoy, and it can serve to separate foot traffic from vehicular traffic.

Here’s a rather idyllic photo of an allee at Princeton in the fall.


This rendering of an allee comes from plans for Freshkills Park, a 2,200-acre park to be developed atop the former site of the Freshkills Landfill on Staten Island. After a fraught process of closing the landfill, the park will be the largest built in New York City since its most famous 19th-century counterpart, Central Park.

freshkills allee


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s