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Urban Agriculture Redux

With a blanket of snow on the Mosaic site we figured all would be quiet on the landscape front until spring. However, we learned that we had underestimated the urban agriculture requirements for Living Building Challenge, so we hunkered down with the nice folks at EcoAmmo to find a way forward.

What we learned is that the Living Building Challenge requires 30% of the site to be devoted to urban agriculture pursuits Unfortunately, we realized that once the building, parking and pedestrian circulation areas were taken out of the site area we were left with only 32% – meaning that our challenge was rethink the landscape approach so that most or all areas in some manner contributed to the urban agriculture imperative.

One of our first responses was to look at substituting fruit trees – apples, pears, plums – throughout the site. This looked promising, particularly in the parking area, since the tree canopy calculation would offset the asphalt areas underneath – until we realized that fruit dropping on cars might not be terribly desirable. We were able, however, to substitute fruit trees within and along walkway areas to offset these spaces.

We were also able to introduce fruit trees within turf areas. We also investigated the use of clover, particularly in lower activity spaces, as an alternative to grass. This concept, borrowed from permaculture, fixes nitrogen and contribute to overall plant health in adjacent areas without the need for supplementary fertilizer.

Planting areas can be easily converted to an edible approach by substituting fruit bearing shrubs, and exploring the introduction of perennials which have traditional uses related to medicines, teas, etc. One of the areas we will have limited opportunity to rethink will be aquatic plantings placed along the storm water pond adjacent to the daycare courtyard.

Our biggest opportunity (and challenge) is in rethinking the remainder of the site – which we had previously designed as an central parkland fescue prairie landscape. We had originally focused our efforts on creating reasonably authentic plant communities (grasses, wildflowers, some shrub planting) over maximizing urban agriculture opportunities. Now we are looking at the potential for these same plants – as well as new plants – which contribute to the imperative.

Clearly, we see the prairie landscape as supporting a whole and healthy ecosystem on the Mosaic site. The prairie landscape will set down roots which stabilize and enrich the underlying soil, and prairie wildflowers will attract pollinators that will benefit trees and shrubs on the site. We are busy identifying and introducing plant materials that have traditional uses – such as teas, grains. We envision opportunities throughout the growing season for individuals and groups to forage on the site to harvest specific plants for their intended use. In a landscape where each interconnected and intertwined plant has a different use this would also be a great opportunity for education on plant identification and use.

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Peter Spearey

Peter is an award-winning landscape architect with twenty years experience exploring how thoughtful design can shape engaging, authentic and sustainable places within the northern landscape. Peter’s practice merges placemaking and sustainable urbanism, and is informed by an excellent understanding of municipal planning processes; a practical, creative and collaborative approach to design; and a commitment to technical excellence supported by ongoing professional development.

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