Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Greenbuild Recap: Mannahatta & the Mtigwakki

Greenbuild 2010 started today in Chicago and I attended a seminar featuring my former employers, Bill Browning and Chris Garvin of Terrapin Bright Green, as well as James Patchett from the Conservation Design Form and Eric Sanderson of the Wildlife Conservation Society.  I can objectively say that it was a fascinating panel centered around Mr. Sanderson's book Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York. One of the main reasons I applied to the Biomimicry program was to learn more about ecology, so Mr. Sanderson's career as a landscape ecologist is very interesting to me. 

The thesis of "Mannahatta" centers around the reconstruction of Manhattan ecology to when it was first discovered by settlers.  Based on research, Mr. Sanderson layers the native ecological systems and the current grid of concrete and steel in order to discuss the habitat needs of previous and current occupants.  Food, water, shelter, and reproductive resources create a habitat be it for humans or other animals.  He also discusses the need for meaning in our existence and how that makes a habitat a home.

Mr. Browning applied this information to a project he worked on where a building was unknowingly built over an indigenous stream in Manhattan over seventy years ago, so massive sump pumps were employed over the building's lifespan to remove this ground water to the storm sewers.  By recognizing the native ecological footprint of the site, the owners can now use this information to make use of this clean, cool water to replace existing potable and non-potable uses, saving money and resources. 

Mr. Patchett gave a stirring account of the habitats that native plants cultivated when they were indigenous to the area but now that humans have "broken the botanical law" by polluting these habitats, they are no longer able to thrive.  In particular, he spoke of the rhizosphere, the 6' or so below the surface where roots hold water in native landscapes, that has been destroyed by development and advocates for responsible land management.  He believes strongly that "water is everything" and restoring the water cycle to its previous balance it is the key to ecological restoration. 

My favorite quote from the session:

"When we try to pick out anything by itself we find that it is bound fast, by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the Universe."  - John Muir

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