E is for Ecology

September 27th, 2007

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The word “ecology” literally means the study of homes (“eco”= homes; “ology” = the study of). In common use, however, ecology denotes the environment that surrounds our human existence and how people interact with it.

Ecology was powerfully brought to public attention with the publication of Rachel Carson’s <i>The Silent Spring</i> in 1963, exposing the devastating effects of agricultural insecticides on wildlife and on the food chain. Six year later, landscape architect and planner Ian McHarg focused on how ecology can be taken into account in planning and design in his landmark book, <i>Design With Nature</i>.

With the establishment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, and the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (which required “environmental impact statements” for federally funded projects having significant impacts on the environment), ecological considerations became part of the everyday planning vocabulary.

It is logical that ecology should be integral to planning. The natural environment is the community’s birthplace. Terrain, soils and tree cover, underground water, surface streams, vegetation, and wildlife all form an interdependent unity of impact and adaptation. The goal of ecological studies, as applied to community and regional development, is to make the human impact on the elements of the environment mutually supportive and integrative with the whole, becoming one with the order of the natural world.

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