FOR RELEASE: Monday, March 31, 2008
Sustainable Suburbs: Professor’s New Book Creates Checklist for ‘Green’ Residential Development
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Barren landscapes of concrete and broken glass first inspired landscape architecture professor Carl Smith’s interest in sustainable residential design. “Pit houses” – cheap housing marooned in a sea of cement, built in the late 19th century for coalmine workers – helped him to appreciate the hedges, trees and plots of land that graced his own suburban neighborhood in Sheffield, England.
“Even as a small boy I could see that the design of housing has a pretty direct impact on people’s lives,” Carl Smith said. “We’ve got to provide a healthy environment where people can live and bring up their kids.”
Smith has made a major contribution towards that goal with the recent publication of his book, Residential Landscape Sustainability: A Checklist Tool (Blackwell Publishing, 2008). Coauthored with Andy Clayden and Nigel Dunnett, the book draws on extensive research to summarize a complex topic, and promises to be the go-to guide for landscape architects, architects and planners who want to design sustainable housing. The book’s clear prose, numerous charts and photographs make it an accessible text for students as well.
Topics range from time-honored planting strategies that provide shade and wind shelter to the latest techniques for storm water management. The authors carefully consider the environmental costs of various landscape materials, weigh in on the value of native and ornamental plants to achieve biodiversity, and make a strong case for investment in hike and bike trails, private gardens and communal green spaces.
“Recent studies show that pocket parks and communal hang out spaces can help gel communities,” Smith said. “They’re not a frivolous bit to add to a housing scheme, but fundamental to the long-term success of the development.”
The book’s most important contribution may be found in its appendix: a 34-page checklist that awards points for every aspect of sustainable residential design, from avoidance of plantings that might block passive solar gain to the provision of outdoor space for clothes drying, composting and vegetable gardening. The checklist has the potential to rate housing developments for sustainability much as the LEED rating system is used by the United States Green Building Council to assess buildings, but hasn’t been formally adopted, Smith said.
By compiling material previously scattered throughout numerous articles and books into a single checklist, the authors have provided an invaluable service for design professionals.
“It’s a way for landscape architects to assess their work, and can be used as a guide as you design,” Smith said. The list can be applied anywhere, though some components, such as appropriate plantings, would need to be fine-tuned for specific locales.
Though the book and checklist delve deep into particulars, Smith didn’t hesitate when asked to name the most important aspects of sustainable design. Multifunctional design tops his list: “Open spaces can be used for play, seating, an orchard, composting,” he said, ticking them off one by one. “A road is not just a conduit for cars, but a place where kids can play and people meet,” he added.
Trees rate high, as well.
“They provide so much value, but they’re often left out,” Smith said, because people fear damage to foundations, plumbing lines and other infrastructure. “Trees have to be thought about right from the beginning – where they’re going to go, how big they’re going to get and whether root barriers are needed.”
The importance of trees and multifunctional spaces are illustrated in the final chapter of the book, which presents two case studies of sustainable residential development. Though the Green Millennium Village in London and the Childwell neighborhood in Liverpool are not perfect models, numerous photographs underline the value of well-designed housing, plantings and open spaces that support the development of community.
“Ultimately, sustainable design is not about the environment, it’s about people,” Smith said. “I get a kick out of designing spaces where people are going to spend a significant amount of time.”
Smith earned a bachelor of science with honors in environmental science from the University of Lancaster and a master’s degree in landscape design and a doctorate in sustainable housing design from the University of Sheffield. Smith also holds a postgraduate Certificate in Urban Design from the University of Newcastle.
He is a Royal Chartered Landscape Architect and has practiced landscape and urban design throughout the United Kingdom. His projects have included master plans for towns, parks and greenways, and concepts and detailed designs for a wide range of public spaces.
Smith has written for several professional publications in Europe, including Landscape; Vista; Green Places and Sustain. He is also published in the Journal of Urban Design.
Smith was the School of Architecture’s 2007 Garvan Chair Visiting Professor. He joined the landscape architecture faculty in 2008.
Carl Smith, assistant professor, landscape architecture department
Kendall Curlee, director of communications