Since the 1970s, natural and social scientists initiated multidisciplinary research addressing practical problems related to the environment. For example, the United States and many other nations require an environmental impact analysis of the consequences of larger projects. Such analyses are often performed by multidisciplinary teams, with human ecology providing a common set of concepts among disciplines.
Human ecology can also assist community and regional planning. For example, the Phoenix, Arizona (USA) metropolitan region is well known for its rapid growth and its suburban sprawl. Much of the post-World War II development has occurred in a similar pattern of low-density, single-family homes that is highly dependent on the automobile.
Beginning in the 1990s, city officials sought to encourage different patterns of development for North Area which comprised 20% of the land within the city. Using corridor, path, and matrix principles from landscape ecology, 28% of the most environmentally significant areas in the 110 square mile North Area were preserved as open space. Through an analysis of current and potential residents, three future settlement patterns, instead of one, were suggested for the rest of the North Area. In suitable places along transportation corridors, greater urban density was recommended that included green ribbons of natural drainage. In other locations, a very low-density, low-impact rural desert settlement was suggested.
Since people in Phoenix are attracted to suburban development, suitable areas for such settlement were identified. However, a new form of desert suburban development was designed. This settlement would be aligned with natural drainage systems, preserve native vegetation and wildlife habitat, encourage the planation of native species, reduce the amount of impervious surfaces for roadways, use natural building materials with a local color palette, and keep building heights below the tree line (Figures 2 and 3).
Around the world from Arizona, Kenya is also experiencing a growing population and declining natural resources. A multidisciplinary team of Kenyan and Dutch researchers conducted extensive landscape and human ecology analyses which led the Green Town program. The motto of the program was 'make every town a green town'. In all, some 29 small towns across Kenya became involved in the effort which included considerable ecological training of local officials.
The Green Town program emphasized locally derived, sustainable designs. Shaded market areas were suggested as well as agroforestry practices to produce fuel and food. In addition to increasing fuel wood and food products, the agroforestry techniques reduced soil erosion and storm water runoff. The Green Town program suggested strategies for urban tree plantation as well as ways for individual homes to collect rainwater (Figures 4 and 5).
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