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How do Land Use and Development Practices Affect the Environment?

Where development occurs and how developments are planned and built have very significant consequences to natural resources and the environment. Habitat can be lost or fragmented as important areas are converted from forests, grasslands, or wetlands to residential, commercial, or industrial uses. The functioning of natural systems can also be disrupted.

Relationship of Impervious Cover to Stream Health - High degree of impercious cover associates with poor stream health. Source: Center for Watershed ProtectionWith natural features and natural drainage patterns, most of the rainfall in a watershed will seep into the ground, replenishing the ground water table. With large expanses of impervious surfaces, instead of infiltrating into the ground, storm water runs across the ground and discharges in a very short time into streams and rivers. This increases peak flow amounts and peak flow velocities. These high flows degrade the stream channel, scour the stream bottom and erode the stream banks, and degrade water quality – sediments and other pollutants picked up as the storm water runs across the ground are delivered directly to the stream. The result is the water becomes increasingly polluted, and the health of aquatic communities declines.

By giving careful consideration to where development occurs, city and county officials and developers can plan projects that will protect sensitive areas and direct growth and development to areas best suited for industrial, commercial, and residential uses. Property owners and developers can also help protect natural resources by giving sensible consideration to how developments are planned and built. Conservation Development is an approach for development that seeks to protect and preserve natural resources from development impacts. Conservation site plans are prepared reflecting existing site topography, soils, vegetation, natural drainage patterns, and other landscape features. Conservation development sites may feature common open space and clustered compact lots. Conservation development also integrates storm water Best Management Practices (BMPs) throughout the site to protect and restore natural hydrology, prevent flooding, and protect habitat and water quality.

Sustainability has many definitions but the basic principles and concepts remain constant: balancing a growing economy, protection for the environment, and social responsibility, so they together lead to an improved quality of life for ourselves and future generations. Common use of the term "sustainability," in the context of modern environmentalism, began with the publication of the World Commission on Environment and Development report, Our Common Future, in 1987. This report characterized sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

As it is applied to the built environment (buildings, roads, communities), Sustainable Development encompasses the concepts of conservation development and Low Impact Development (LID), and incorporates additional consideration of how sites and buildings affect natural resources and the environment. For example a sustainable development project may feature energy-efficient buildings, and/or the use of recycled and non-toxic materials in construction.

An additional focus is being built into the Conservation and Native Landscaping Awards Program beginning in 2005 is to recognize developments which bring to life the principles of Conservation Development and Sustainable Development. Projects can be nominated for recognition using the web link provided below.

Evaluation Criteria

The criteria that will be used to evaluate conservation development projects nominated for 2005 awards will be the Principles and associated implementation checklists outlined in the document, "Sustainable Development Principles for Protecting Nature in the Chicago Wilderness Region." The eight Principles cataloged in this document are as follows:

  1. Promote infill development and redevelopment where transportation facilities and utilities already exist in order to minimize the development of open lands, such as natural areas and farmland. Encourage development that is compact and contiguous to existing community infrastructure.
  2. Locate and plan new development in ways that protect natural resources and habitat and provide buffers between sensitive natural areas and intensive use areas.
  3. Use the development process to enhance and restore streams, wetlands and lakes, and to enhance their potential as recreational and aesthetic amenities.
  4. Preserve permanent open space as an integral part of new development to both protect critical natural areas and to provide opportunities for recreation and environmental education. Design developments to create open space linkages to adjacent and regional natural areas so that nature exists not as islands but as connected habitat.
  5. Recognize the value of water as a resource and manage it to protect downstream water bodies and wetlands, prevent increased flooding, preserve groundwater resources, and maintain natural hydrology.
  6. Minimize changes to natural topography, soils, and vegetation to preserve land, water and soil relationships that are essential for sustaining plant and animal habitat. Where sites have been previously altered, attempt to restore natural conditions to the extent possible.
  7. Establish procedures that assure the ongoing management of natural areas within developments as part of an overall strategy for achieving sustainability.
  8. Design development to achieve the broader sustainability of human and natural communities, including the social and economic dimensions of sustainability.

The full document, "Sustainable Development Principles for Protecting Nature in the Chicago Wilderness Region" can be viewed and/or downloaded via the web link provided below. Please note a site does not need to be exemplary in terms of all eight of these criteria in order to be eligible for recognition. Projects which are superior in terms of two or more of the criteria will be considered for recognition.


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