WATER WETLANDS AND WILDLANDS:
Managing Landscapes for Humanity and Nature'
Mark T. Brown
Center for Wetlands
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida 32611
Nearing the close of 1989, we find ourselves at the cusp of a new decade and at the dawn of a new
age in the affairs of humanity. Increasingly we are coming to recognize that the affairs of one
individual...of each community, indeed, each country cannot be singly evaluated, but must be viewed in
the context of the whole. No longer is it prudent to assume that the affairs of humans are separate from
the working of the biosphere, or that the planet can take care of itself. Our numbers are too great and our
demands on the resources of the planet too numerous.
More than a decade ago there was an awareness on the part of many individuals that humanity
needed to begin to learn how to live within the biosphere in harmony with the cycles and processes of
nature. But somehow, much of that awareness dwindled in our headlong drive to exploit our resources
and to turn a profit. Little did we recognize that short-term profits did not make for long-term
sustainability. In the end we prolonged the inevitable and put off till tomorrow that which we must
do...nourish and support that which supports us. As we proceed toward the 21st century, the time is now
fast upon us to face the consequences of a lack of stewardship, and to reverse current trends in order to
prepare ourselves and the next generation for a world economy that has limits and a biosphere that needs
We are now confronted, more than ever, with a future of limited supplies of resources, dwindling
space, and a lack of biosphere buffering capacity to absorb the wastes of an ever increasing appetite for
growth. It is only a matter of time before we once again face fuel shortages and the realization that
everything we do requires a constant dependable supply of rich resources. Space (that is, good productive
land) is already in short supply in many regions of the globe, and in our country is in short supply for the
diminishing numbers of endangered and threatened wildlife species caught between developing urban
centers. The biosphere is full of our wastes; there is little room left for more smokestack emissions,
garbage dumps, or super fund sites. Can we continue at this pace without some thought to how we will
manage the planet?
Once again, we must begin to educate ourselves in sustainability, in doing more with less, and in
living within the cycles and processes of the biosphere instead of in spite of them.
What is required of us as educators is to develop a new educational paradigm. We must resurrect
our feelings of connectedness with the biosphere and educate the next generations in management, not
business management, but landscape management.
'Paper presented at the plenary session of the Annual Conference of the Council of Educators in
Landscape Architecture, Amelia Island Plantation, September 7-9, 1989
Today, at this conference for educators in landscape architecture whose theme is water, I'd like
to propose a new approach to living on the third planet, the water planet; and in so doing, develop with
you a curriculum for a SCIENCE OF THE LANDSCAPE. This new course of study should be what I term
a DESIGN SCIENCE. What better place to institute such a curriculum than in the niches within higher
learning devoted to landscape--the schools of landscape design? I believe it is a departure from the
traditional Landscape Architecture educational experience and that it will require a fresh look at what
has been the recent goals of Landscape Architectural education.
In my opinion, this curriculum for a Landscape Science should be:
* One that is grounded in the sciences
* One that teaches good stewardship and sustainability
* One that manages wholes instead of parts
* One that builds from the top down, instead of from the bottom up
* One that creates thinkers and problem-solvers, that is, generalists not specialists
* One that uses design as a toolfor solving the problems facing humanity in the 21st century
This new curriculum should be fashioned to train the next generation of designers to solve the
problems of the future and develop in them an ethic aimed at good stewardship. It is by no coincidence
that I suggest it be housed in the domain of landscape design, for the problems of the 21st century will be
increasingly within the domain and at the scale of LANDSCAPE.
In proposing such a curriculum, I am drawing upon the past two decades of research and teaching
that has lead to the inescapable conclusion that we do know how to take care of our planet, but have not
yet made the commitment to do so. I have been very fortunate over the past two decades to have had the
opportunity to observe the workings of the biosphere at many levels, from the ecosystem, to global
patterns of human settlement, from our own state of Florida to the Amazon and Papua New Guinea, from
New York City--the greatest coral reef on the planet--to the barrier reefs off the coast of Belize. At each
level, at each location, the problems are the same--some more visible than others, but always the same:
how to live right, how to balance humanity and nature. I have garnered a view of the biosphere that has
given understanding through comparison and has helped to develop some basic principles for developing
a vital sustainable partnership of humanity and nature.
As we have traveled throughout the globe, we have explored how best to fit humanity and nature
into the same landscape in a symbiotic fit. The result has been an increased understanding of how things
work, and an ever increasing set of principleswe feel are important prerequisites to good landscape design
What follows is a series of "one liners" that we have found useful; principles by which we are
approaching the complex task of designing sustainable interfaces of humanity and nature. As always we
take a top down approach, starting with the most general principles applicable at all scales of inquiry and
end with several, relatively site-specific design parameters.
Landscape Design Principles
The correct scale from which to view any problem is the next larger scale. The biosphere is
composed of systems within systems within systems like a series of chinese boxes. Each box, or system
is within the next larger and is driven by the energy sources and resources of the system within which it
is embedded. Analysis of a problem and designing a solution without taking one step back to view the next
larger system can result in missing the main driving forces and causal actions that ultimately dictate how
the system operates.
The biosphere is organized hierarchically, good landscapes should reflect a hierarchical
organization. Whether we speak of transportation networks, drainage networks, the hierarchical
distribution of cities in the landscape, or ecological food chains, there is an order which follows naturally
from the flows of energy and materials. Hierarchies of increasing complexity and spatial influence result
from successive energy transformations that develop energy chains where there are many low energy
components, and fewer and fewer higher energy components. Networks of cities, parks and wildlife
reserves, and urban land uses within cities need to follow a hierarchical distribution. There is an optimum
distribution of components for any given landscape that should be recognized at all levels of planning and
design. The question of one large park vs. many small parks, or one large city vs. many small cities within
a landscape begs the answer that they should be distributed hierarchically in a size class distribution that
results in having decreasing numbers in each successively larger size class category.
Isolation decreases overall system performance. The biosphere's hierarchy is composed of chains
of energy flow of increasing complexity from many small units to fewer and fewer larger units. Each is
connected, both within levels to components of like kind and between levels. When components are
isolated, less total performance is achieved since exchanges between components are no longer possible.
In landscapes dominated by humanity, developed lands often break linkages and the wild landscape
becomes a series of isolated refugia having no means of exchange from one to the other. In all landscapes,
the processes of convergence and divergence operate simultaneously throughlinkagesbetween and among
levels as a whole rather than isolated incidents, thus instead of thinking of the built environment as the
figure and wildlands as the ground, the reverse is more appropriate. In this way landscape fragmentation
Energy, space, and time are linked so that things having large spatial effect also have longer time
constants and greater energy. Ithas long been known thatwildland reserves designed to ensure survival
of large animals must be large in size. It takes a large area to absorb and process sufficient solar energy
to support these animals. Large cities must have larger support regions than smaller cities. Regional
shopping centers or parks cannot exist without sufficient populations for their support. The appropriate
size of any unit in the landscape is dictated by the available support region. In like manner, things with
long time constants (turnover times) have large spatial effects and have greater influence. High energy
components tend to be less frequent, have longer turnover times, and have larger spatial influence.
Production and consumption must be coupled in a symbiotic relationship of consuming actions
and recycle. There can be no consumption without production. Good regional patterns of human uses
(consumption) and productive process must be linked with recycle pathways where the "wastes" from
consumption are fed back and stimulate increasing production. To do otherwise, decreases total
performance; but more importantly it is not sustainable. Thisleads to good waste management from cities
where sewage is recycled in wetlands and agriculture and solid wastes are recycled and reused.
All landscapes have a unique energy signature; design within it or be prepared to fight it. An
energy signature is the particular combination of energy sources that "drive" and organize a landscape.
In the humid tropics, rainfall, sunlight, and winds predominate;while in a coastal location,waves and tides
are also important. Where rainfall is high and topography steep, landscapes are organized in dendritic
patterns of river flows. In all cases, good fit recognizes the signature and its resulting landscape
organization and designswithin the landscape constraints.The dominant energies of wind waves and tides
in coastal locations, for example, are such that prominent long lived ecological systems having great
accumulations of biomass are not possible. These locations require a different strategy, cheap structure
that can be easily moved and replaced. The structures of humanity in coastal locations should follow the
same design initiatives.
The best landscape restoration is that which amplifies normal successional patterns. Throughout
developed regions of the globe, we are being called upon to restore previously altered landscapes to some
productive capacity, often at great expense. Natural succession is the normal pattern of landscape
restoration, that follows some event that seriously alters landscape organization. Gaps caused by tree
falls, landslides, and tornadoes are common in many forested ecosystems and are quickly repaired because
they are relatively small and adequate seed source is readily available. Yet hurricanes, major wild fires,
and volcanos are not so common and are large in spatial scale. They require much longer periods of time
to repair because of a lack of seed source or uncharacteristic environmental conditions, or both.
Increasingly the 'gaps' created and abandoned by humanity are larger and larger in spatial scale and
require greaterattention to restoration actions that provide an adequate seed supply of sufficient diversity
to insure matches of species with environmental conditions.
The best restoration projects are those that ecologically engineer natural succession through amplifier
actions. Establishing seed refugia from which seeds may once again spread to reclaim denuded
landscapes, or 'attractors' that attract seed-carrying wildlife, or other mechanisms that increase the
number and diversity of seeds are examples of amplifier actions to ultimately increase the speed and
potential diversity of successional processes.
Good design is good ecological fit. Ecological fit results when both the affairs of humans and the
processes of nature exist in a symbiotic partnership where both benefit from the existence of the other.
Development projects that exploit resources, feedback nothing, or dump waste products in quantities or
concentrations too great for environmental assimilation detract from environmental values and lower
overall sustainability. In other words, landscape designs, housing developments and regional patterns of
cities and connecting highways that ignore their environment will not compete in the long run with those
that do since more total work is achieved in patterns of good ecological symbiosis. Good ecological fit
leads to the following corollaries:
1. The use of native vegetation and ecosystem patches instead of exotics in ornamental plantings
2. Vegetative buffers between developed areas and sensitive ecological communities
3. Development design that minimizes runoff instead of engineering systems to handle
4. Development that does not increase fragmentation of wildlands by designing parallel instead
of perpendicular to linear landscape elements
5. Small-scale, on-site wastewater treatment instead of regional waste treatment plants
Good engineering is ecological engineering." Ecological engineering is engineering that resultsfrom
appropriate mixes of technology with ecological processes. The ecological processes dominate, while
technology plays an amplifier role. Sewage recycled through wetland ecosystems, constructed wetlands
for stormwater management, forested streams in place of drainage ditches and swales, and so forth are
examples of ecological engineering. Characteristics of ecological engineering are as follows:
1. Small in scale
2. Low in energy intensity
3. Renewable and self-sustaining
4. Increases ecological productivity instead of replacing it
These principles and others (that may be less relevant for the moment) need to be taught in a
unified program of study designed to educate the next generation of landscape planners and managers.
In summary, I would like to outline how this program might be structured and how it might fit within a
graduate program in Landscape Design.
A Graduate Program in Landscape Design Science
Currently, if a student wanted an educational experience that would prepare him/her for a career
in landscape management he/she would, for the most part, have to design it and face serious obstacles
related to cross discipline encounters. The course of study is spread throughout the university in
numerous departments which all claim a portion of the biosphere as their turf. As a result, the student,
if he/she is lucky enough to study across several disciplines, comes away with a compartmentalized view
with no unified understanding of humanity and nature. What is needed is a formal course of study having
several core courses in the home department with the remaining course work much like a chinese menu
that can be adapted to the individual needs of the student. The student then chooses from a known list
of courses from across campus that will round out the educational experience received in the home
department in the hopes of becoming a generalist with a unified view of the biosphere. This course of
study should be at the graduate level, and should lead to a Masters of Science in Landscape Design.
The undergraduate who comes to this program should have a well-rounded education in the earth
sciences, humanities, and basic graphic skills. Those that come out of an undergraduate Landscape
Architecture curriculum that is heavy on design but light in the sciences, should articulate to increase their
science fluency. Those with no graphics and design fluency should articulate in that area. It is important
to realize that it is not a course of study that leads to the professional degree in Landscape Architecture,
but one that parallels the existing degree tract, and may share some courses, but results in a student
prepared to quantitatively analyze ecological and landscape systems and manage the interfaces of
humanity and nature. This is not to say that existing programs should be radically altered to accommodate
different objectives. Prudence would suggest that offering this program as an option would make more
sense. As a graduate program it would increase the potential population of students from which to draw
The key to developing a unified understanding of humanity and nature in the program is a core
course or two in what might be called systems ecology, or as Buckminister Fuller was fond of saying, "a
course in the operating instructions for spaceship Earth." This course is a course in principles that
provides the structure upon which all the various subjects can be hung and unified. It should provide the
unification by illuminating the organization and wholeness of the biosphere, rather than its
Design should be explored as a tool, more for solving problems and managing landscapes, than
as a means of creating aesthetic objects. Not that aesthetics does not have an important place, only that
the emphasis is placed on problem solving. Through design training and a strong background in additional
applied science course work at the graduate level, the student is prepared to develop a masters thesis
related to some relevant applied research topic.
I propose this new curriculum to you today out of a sense of frustration. A frustration born out
of the recognition that the need for a unified course of study in environment that is aimed at developing
a cadre of educated individuals who are capable of dealing with the immense task of living on the water
planet is going unfulfilled. There is an incredible need for landscape scientists that have the scientific and
design training to monitor the environment, understand its status and trends, and design solutions that
increase productivity, close the loops of recycle that will stop the poisoning of the biosphere, and lead to
a sustainable future for us, our children, and our children's children.
Thank you for your attention.