The Regional Design Process

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The regional design process starts with the gathering of information on the natural and existing patterns and conditions of the biomes and natural systems. The following are maps and illustrations that are helpful in visualizing how the region works and what sustainable relationships exist.


The natural systems map illustrates presettlement patterns. These established patterns were created by long-standing bioclimatic conditions, and they represent thousands of years of trial and error that created the present-day sustainable patterns. Virtually everything done every day is connected and reacted to and controlled by the environmental forces that created these patterns in these particular locations, including their diversity and uniqueness. These patterns were formed by natural conditions and represent an order that occurs naturally and for free; however, any

The ecological biomes of the planet are well adapted to large variations in renewable energy and materials, all powered by sustainable energies.

Natural Systems Map showing vegetation patterns that have adapted to changing conditions using the available sustainable energies (sunlight) and natural resources (water, soil) of the bioregion.

change to this pattern is expensive and will need constant maintenance. The order, form, and pattern is powered by sustainable free processes resident to the region.

The natural systems map illustrates the inherent value in understanding the tens of thousands of years of trial and error that produced the hydrologic, soil, and vegetation systems, powered by sunlight, that exist today. Combining land-use planning with knowledge of the natural sciences inspires a sustainable fit.

The following are regionally sustainable elements that inform design:

■ Climatic conditions: Climate is a reoccurring pattern of generalities and averages that relate to temperature, humidity, precipitation, and air movement. A climate is specific to conditions driven by solar and lunar cycles in concert with water, soils, and geology. Within any climate, there are times when human comfort can be achieved without mechanical intervention and times when it cannot.

■ Precipitation: Rain, fog, sleet, and snow supply water to the air, to the surface-water system, to soil saturation, and to groundwater storage. Water was the critical factor in starting the tremendous biological explosion that has led to today's biodiversity. Plato said that water got the least amount of care because it was so common. It is now generally agreed that water is the most critical of all resources, is in a state of decline, and is the ultimate limit to all growth and development.

■ Temperature: Most people refer to temperature when measuring the comfort in a given setting. Their level of comfort or discomfort is often directly related to the temperature in their environment. Although there are other factors, including psychology, typically comfort is a function of temperature, humidity, and air movement.

■ Humidity: The amount of water in the air is the culprit of many uncomfortable places. Because water is a big part of all biology and evaporating water has a cooling effect, the more water in the air (high humidity), the less evaporation and cooling. Humidity also is a factor in creating uncomfortable conditions in cold climates, because the water carries the cold temperature through clothing and building skins, finding drier interior air and then cooling it with evaporation, which is not desired in the winter.

■ Air movement: Wind, convection, and storms all create the movement of air that changes the condition of the place. If a climate is hot and humid, the small amount of dryness in the air can still remove perspiration if it moves across the skin rapidly enough, creating cooling. This wind-cooling effect is one of the reasons people live along the breezy coast in hot and humid areas.

■ Topography: Vertical variations in the landscape are helpful in creating potential energy storages. Gravity is one of the most significant sustainable forces. It can distribute water for free, and even stratification of microclimatic air temperature is related to its presence. Topography plays an important role in establishing patterns for smart places to develop—out of flood plains, away from coastal storm surges, and improved air circulation and movement.

■ Soils: When asked what would be the most critical piece of equipment he would take to colonize a planet, the astronaut John Glenn answered, "Soil." Soil consists of chemical and electrical components that took billions of years to develop. Full of biology, a cubic inch contains millions of nematodes. Although food crops and plants can be grown in water alone (hydroponics), it is soil and water that are sustainable and powered by natural cycles.

The natural systems map includes regional ecology, bioclimatic conditions, growth patterns, and conflicts. The following represent challenges to be answered by the regional-system researchers:

■ Learn how, when, and where the region's bioclimate is compatible with human development. Include comfort zones, location, sense of place, productive soils, disaster mitigation, and precipitation.

■ Learn how the regional ecosystems function and how the climate is compatible with human settlement, including food supply and region-specific job creation.

■ Learn the natural landscape, the water-management strategy, ecosystem management, and the creation, re-creation, or preservation of open space and green and blue infrastructure.

■ Learn potential strategies for habitat creation and regionally appropriate conservation zones and development controls.

■ Learn and map compatibilities, conflicts, and relationships between economic, social, and environmental systems.

■ Learn the regional energies and resources that can be exported and whether there is a regional energy system.

■ Learn the regional building, zoning, and design codes that support sustainable design.

■ Learn the percentage of human-settlement energies (e.g., heating, cooling, water, and food) that is supplied by the existing regional bioclimate and soils. Include precipitation, naturally occurring surface-water flows that are due to topography, and any regeneration of soils that is due to naturally occurring nutrient cycling—determine the missed opportunities.

■ Learn if the region can function during drought or blackout.

■ Learn the carrying capacity—that is, how many people, plants, and animals can be supported by the existing water crop and natural resources in the region.

A map of the same scale as the natural systems map can be used to establish the precipitation and water storage patterns. This precipitation over thousands of years, combined with the soils and hydrologic periods, created the ecological systems of

The Water Supply Map: Geohydrology. The legend shows average inches of rainfall. Precipitation is a spatially allocated supply with large variations.

The Water Supply Map: Geohydrology. The legend shows average inches of rainfall. Precipitation is a spatially allocated supply with large variations.

that landscape and biome. Changes to this balance will cause profound changes in the system. It may take decades to see these impacts, but they will come, and they will be very difficult and expensive to correct.

This precipitation study also has topographic information attached to it. All precipitation is spatial, meaning that over the region it lands in different amounts at different locations and at different times. This map illustrates the location of the largest amount of rainfall and compares it to development patterns. When development occurs, pervious surfaces are replaced by impervious ones—the groundwater recharge is, therefore, significantly reduced and flooding increases.

Elements to be included in this map are as follows:

■ Hydrological periods and seasonal quantities: highs, lows, and averages

■ Drought frequencies

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