Green Amongst Gray: A Sanctuary from Sprawl
Winter 2019 - EAS 590 - Principles of Ecological Design - Taught by Joan Nassauer.
An ecological solution for a 40-unit public housing development at 490 S. Maple Road in Ann Arbor, MI.
What does it mean to "not feel like public housing"? And what happens when a community is designed with ecological functionality and climate resiliency as guiding principles? Those living in public housing often experience an uninspiring copy-paste design aesthetic, limited access to green space, and are situated in landscapes without the mentally restorative capabilities of nature. The goal of this 40-unit public housing community design went beyond "not feeling like public housing", but also sought to support numerous ecological functions and resilience to climate change. As a result, residents of this proposed community will live in a space where different flowering shrubs are the namesake of buildings which they adorn. Every unit has not just a front walkway, but a shared backyard, buffered by woody edges. Buildings are arranged to maximize backyard enjoyment with significant sun exposure during the summer for games, barbecues, and outdoor lounging. In addition, the centrally located community center with a multi-functional lawn and garden space offers a strong sense of community with a place to gather, while buffering residences from the proximity of Kroger. Planting areas and gardens within the site feature different communities of native plants, aesthetically grouped to give a consistent year-round color-guided experience. Combined with the attractive and adventurous curving brick pathways, residents have an experience with wildness, even if curated, along every path they choose to take. The two 'Floral Rest Spots' provide residents with quaint botanical detours, while the 'Native Gateway Gardens' welcome visitors and residents in with a lush wave of diverse flora.
Ecologically, 490 S. Maple serves as a model for maximizing resiliency and sustainability through intentional building layout and diverse array of green infrastructure, and functional plantings. The placement of trees, especially the southwest woods, provide a protective wind buffer to homes as storm intensity and frequency will increase with climate change. Stormwater is treated differently based on water quality and different places on site. For cleaner runoff, like that coming from rooftops, water is infiltrated back into the soil into one of three rain gardens. For lower quality stormwater, such as that which falls onto pavement and passes through the parking lot, water will be piped to an existing neighboring retention pond. Through extensive plantings, native woody and herbaceous species help to not only sequester substantial carbon into plant biomass and soil, but also solidify 490 S Maple Rd as a stepping stone habitat amongst a neighborhood of otherwise low quality matrix. With the I-94 corridor to the west, and urban forest matrix present to the east through residential Ann Arbor, this community will be ideal as a stop-over refueling site for flying wildlife. And lastly, with efficient use of one way streets and building placement, blacktop and impermeable surfaces are limited, improving water quality, reducing resource use, and creating a more restorative experience.