Designing with Nature for Wellbeing
Pints With Planners is a great podcast published by the Oregon Chapter of the American Planning Association, aimed at demystifying urban planning. I recently listened to this loosely-structured forum that is geared to make you feel like you’re sitting in a pub having a great conversation with Steve Nygren and the hosts. Steve is the founder and CEO of Serenbe, a wellness community created as a model to demonstrate that preserving 70% of greenspace interlaced with agriculture, housing, and retail is not only economically viable, but the future of community wellbeing. This episode focused on Steve’s experience in the founding of Serenbe, and how he has become a thought leader in meaningful and innovative community design in the spirit of Ebenezer Howard and Ian McHarg. Steve’s passion shines through this wide-ranging conversation recorded in the summer of 2018 in Denver.”
I thought that this would be a great follow-up piece to share with you on the heels of our recent blog series about what senior living can learn from New Urbanism. If you don’t have time to listen to the 1 hr. 20 min. podcast, here are a few of my key takeaways:
- “Aging is nothing but a chance to do more of what you do better.” In Steve’s 7th year of retirement from the hospitality industry, he launched the Serenbe initiative.
- In the land development process, there are always obstacles to overcome. In this case, Steve stressed the importance of really listening, understanding the other parties’ ways of thinking, and helping them to get with they need, reaching their goals. They had property rights folks, land speculators, generational farmers, and everything in between. They were able to bring this diverse group of 500 property owners together (40,000 acres) and craft a consensus-driven plan. Today, there are over 65,000 acres in the Town of Serenbe. The key was harnessing the “Threshold of Passion”. Folks realized “it’s not about me”, it’s about bringing people together around a common vision (and food). They formed the Chattahoochee Hill Country Alliance, crafting a plan that balanced preservation with density – and it was passed unanimously by the County Commission.
- We can learn a lot from rainfall – every drop of rain eventually makes its way downhill to the river. But we tend to put it into pipes, and our cities turn their backs on the riverfront rather than embracing it. We should be designing with nature, not superimposing our development patterns onto it.
- Steve draws a distinction between what he calls an ornamental landscape and an edible landscape. At Serenbe, they use lot of edibles in their landscape. How cool to stand at a crosswalk and pick a few blueberries!
- In the English Village system, the buildings don’t follow the road. They used this pattern in Serenbe.
- The prevailing belief was that anyone was entitled to develop one home on an acre of land. They built on this premise, and placed that density into 1/3 of the land mass, preserving the rest.
- Financial institutions view the world through the rear view mirror – it took some creativity (and guts) to finance the deal.
- Overcome fear by developing a thought process of reason.
- A study by the Urban Land Institute validated the increased value of residences fronting golf courses – but only a handful of those folks played golf. The value was in the open space. Why not do the same with the natural landscape?
- Transferable concepts that apply:
- Providing connections to nature – especially at the pedestrian level
- Combining parks and stormwater management (for cost savings, quality of life, and an increased tax base)
- Incorporating an edible landscape
- Grazing as part of the landscape
- Last Child in the Woods – read it! (Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder)
- Community starts with “accidental collisions” – meeting a neighbor by the mailbox. Plan and design for these to happen.
- Incorporate dignity and high design into affordable housing (not simply charity). Rural Studio at Auburn University is a good example – they incorporate energy efficiency into low-income housing. “Living large in small spaces.” And, don’t overlook the importance of Accessory Dwelling Units such as over-garage apartments for rental income or mother-in-law suites.
- We have a Health & Wellness problem in America. Not many are articulating it beyond energy and water (LEED). Check out the Global Wellness Institute. Also the Children and Nature Network.
- Finally, check out the work of Tim Beatley, Founder and Director of the Biophilic Cities Project
I hope this whets your appetite. Check out the full conversation with Steve Nygren on Pints for Planners here (Episode #9 on Master Planned Communities).
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Brad Smith Associates, Inc. is a mold-breaking exterior planning and design firm serving the aging services industry. Our approach puts people first, focusing on their unique needs while cultivating a deep sense of community. That is done by using a rational problem-solving method, infused with Imaginality™, combining the five key components of PLACE-Creation into our designs:
Planning - Applied foresight to achieve your project goals
Lifestyle - Delivering a better result for people by understanding their needs and lifestyles
Aesthetics - The aesthetics of a property speak to the "brand essence", greatly affecting marketing.
Community - a sense of meaning, identity and belonging for the people living there
Economics - informed decision-making on the front end during the design process can yield significant dividends on the back end (by reducing ongoing operations and maintenance costs).
We're landscape architects and planners by profession, and we love putting our talents to work to create value for you.For more info on the the value of nature and designing gardens that are actually used - based on research - you may want to download our e-book: