Sustainability as currently practiced in the land development industry (whether it be the LEED program, the Sustainable Sites Initiative or any of the other sustainable metrics that are being proposed) is inherently flawed. None of these initiatives is truly taking a living systems approach.

In Anne Whiston Spirn’s commencement speech for the Conway School of Landscape Design, published in the spring 2011 issue of con’text, she talks about photography critic A.D. Coleman’s proposed set of guidelines for artists and photographers.  I find that many of Coleman’s guidelines hit at the heart of what it really means to be sustainable.  Coleman’s first rule is: ‘Stay put. Grow soil to feed you’, followed by her second rule: ‘Dig in your heels.  Do not accede to any system that would shunt you aimlessly, constantly from one context to another.  Such systems are hostile to your survival.  Develop versatility.  There are alternative means for supporting yourself.  Survive between the cracks.”  To me, Spirn’s take on Colman’s guidelines says it all about what is wrong with today’s sustainability movement; “Every place, like every person, is in the process of becoming.  One cannot possibly envision what the future of a place might be if one does not know the history of its development.  Designers and planners who do not know the trajectory that a place has been following risk failing when they intervene to change that course.”

Envisioning the future without knowing the essence of its place is not sustainable; it’s setting the table for ultimate failure.

Further Reading

Ecosystem Prosthetics: A Pier Review
Pandemic Pause
E+D Podcast with Keith Bowers: The state of ecology and design in landscape architecture
Living Infrastructure: Green is great, but alive is even better
Water, Equity, and Ecology in Urban Planning

More From This Author

Rewilding and the Musuem of Modern Art – Really!
Election 2016: Down, but not out…
Landscape Restoration in North Korea
“Will animals escape?” vs. “The need for species adaptation” – It’s all in the way you say it.
When Wetland Restoration Fails