As part of learning about the complexity of environmental problem-solving in cities and suburbs, each semester students in Dr. Patrick Hurley’s “ENV-332 Urbanization and the Environment” course work with a community partner to examine their approach to a specific environmental problem. In the process, students are specifically asked to consider how the solution pursued by their partner meets the goals of biophilic design, a design approach that seeks to minimize the negative impacts of the environment on humans, while also making visible the diversity of ecosystem processes to people living nearby and creating space for diverse species of native flora and fauna to coexist with their human neighbors. Case study examinations of community partners and their projects requires students to analyze through interviews, field visits, and document analysis the specific strategies implemented by the community partner, including any associated actors, and how their approach improves the environmental quality of a given area for residents and to what extent the project potentially gives residents and nonhuman nature greater access to nearby ecosystems as a result. By completing case studies of real-world examples, students wrestle with the role that regulatory and land-use decision-making, considerations of public and private property, social-cultural dynamics, and budgetary and technical constraints as well as different design approaches play in shaping the inclusion of nature in everyday places where we live, work, eat, and recreate.
Sarah Becker, Cole Connelly, Heath Hidlay, Nick Kirk, Anna Lee, and Shawn Waldron
The Gwyneddere subdivision (off of Morris Road) in Upper Gwynedd Township is a suburban development constructed in the mid-1980s. The development is located in the Zacharias Creek, a subwatershed of Skippack Creek. The land on which Gwyneddere is currently located was formerly farmland, but is now characterized by single-family detached housing developments. This is a pattern that has repeated itself through much of Upper Gwynedd, with suburbanization in the township resulting in higher density development patterns than in nearby Worcester township.
Suburban housing developments are often interspersed with some open spaces, either owned and managed by the township or by a homeowners' association. In the case of Gwyneddere, the township owns key lands adjacent to and including small streams. Taking advantage of this land ownership, the township recently has undertaken diverse stormwater management efforts on these township-owned open spaces. At Gwyneddere and just off Morris Road, this management has predominantly taken the form of a stream realignment project and associated riparian buffer tree plantings. Both elements of this stream restoration are intended to reduce high sediment delivery and nutrient loads to the stream, minimize adverse stormwater effects, and mitigate flood risks to neighboring properties.
Information for the creation of this Story Map came from interviews with township officials, local residents, and non-profit representatives as well as through consulting state and federal agency websites related to stormwater issues in the U.S. Historical context about suburbanization came from academic works cited on the main Biophilic Suburbs Story Map.