Urban planning — with a wild touch

  Feeling overwhelmed by pell-mell developments that consume the landscape of your community? Two new books suggest a remedy — a variety of innovative planning methods, illustrated with plenty of maps, diagrams and photos.

Typical subdivisions are shaped around the "human context" — roads and schools, zoning, and the marketability of the lots and houses — but the "ecological context" should also be considered, say the authors of Practical Ecology for Planners, Developers, and Citizens. They explain how different styles of subdivisions, plunked down in different landscapes, have widely varying consequences for ecosystems.

The impacts of weeds, chemicals, artificial light and heat, and predation by dogs and cats reach beyond lot lines and roads, causing "edge effects." The authors offer suggestions to limit such effects, including pockets of "nature in the neighborhood" and trails designed to draw wildlife as well as people. They call for clearing land with a light touch and phasing in construction to give wildlife a chance to adapt. They also show how to evaluate degraded areas and restore wildness.

The second book, Nature-Friendly Communities: Habitat Protection and Land Use Planning, profiles 20 conservation-minded communities, ranging from King County, Wash., to Sanibel, Fla. Duerksen and Snyder describe each community’s programs in detail — regulations, staffing levels, funding sources, impact fees, partnerships with private businesses, and results on the ground.

Teton County, Wyo., for example, has a Natural Resource Overlay District, where developers must inventory the wildlife habitat their activities could affect, and development is banned within 150 feet of elk migration routes and spawning streams for cutthroat trout. Eugene, Ore., has a Wetland Buffer Overlay Zone, where rare wetlands coexist with carefully planned industrial development.

Both books are especially relevant in the West, the nation’s fastest-growing region. They’ll help you, your fellow residents, and local developers and leaders to make informed decisions about community planning.