“what if every single act of design and construction made the world a better place?”
For the most part, every time we build a new structure we diminish the opportunities for life and make the world more sterile, less resilient and less beautiful. I don’t think it has to be that way. In fact, my belief is that through careful design, rooted in deep principles of ecological design that we can create places that enrich rather than degrade – creating conditions that not only don’t diminish the prospect for life, but create more opportunities and greater ecological health for more species, not just our own. It is possible for us to be a generous species, creating habitat for ourselves and countless others, big and small at the same time.
In the Living Building Challenge I ask “what if every single act of design and construction made the world a better place?” This is the ideal to which I hope to achieve with my own project at Heron Hall.
While ‘natural areas’ seemingly surround my site, it is in fact a story of great disruption. The site has been logged many times over the last century and the soil greatly disturbed. Many decades ago the hydrology of the site was greatly disrupted when the Corp of Engineers built Point White Drive and cut off water flow. Invasive species nearly completely took over as well. In the nineties however the previous owner had a vision to completely transform the area and its ecology and to pay for it using development rights – a highly visionary goal.
It took him nearly a decade (its easier to destroy a wetland than build one) but he got approval to build an estuary and create an underpass to the beach to restore the hydrology and once again create the tidal exchange so critical to plant and animal life. He gave up highly valuable waterfront property to do so – unheard of on the island. The work was funded by the department of transportation as a wetland mitigation project and now is so successful as habitat that people assume its natural. He then worked with the Fish and Wildlife Service to restore Shel Chelb Creak as a future home for salmon breeding (whenever the bay is clean enough again) and to further improve the hydrology.
The large beach that hundreds of people use each year and assume is public, was his and is in fact privately owned – but instead of posting ‘do not trespass signs’ like most beachfront owners do on the island, he wrote in permanent public access so that everyone on the island can come to the water and reconnect with nature. I now own a piece of that beach and together we welcome the public to have ‘Rights to Nature’ as outlined in the Living Building Challenge.
Finally, he sold further land to the Parks and Rec department to create a beautiful south facing park facing the beach and wrote in a trail easement across his property to connect the park and beach to a larger trail system on the island. All of this was the single vision of a private citizen, done with little fanfare and recognition. My project is merely the next part of this restoration and regeneration process. My site design will be developed using a mix of permaculture principles for areas where food production is planned – but the rest of it will be restored using native indigenous vegetation and vegetation designed to increase the community of wildlife present on the site. As the soils are currently poor, using our composting toilets and composting from food waste we plan on building soil and increasing the health of the site over the next few decades.
The end goal is simple – to be a loving steward of this little slice of land, so that when I’m done there is greater biological diversity and a thriving community of organisms all around us – and hopefully I will have instilled in my children the same love and passion for the natural world as I have.