Note from Wayne. This entry was written by Betsey Krumholz of the Planning Commissioners Journal staff. Betsey was able to join me for three days in the Washington, DC, area.
Low impact development is not just about dealing with water as a byproduct, but effectively managing both the source and flow of water in the most efficient and effective way possible. Since the Environmental Protection Agency is in the business of reducing pollution and practicing sound environmental stewardship, it's only logical that they should practice what they preach "in their own backyard."
I met on Thursday afternoon at EPA's vast complex at 12th and Constitution with Anne Weinberg and Dov Weitman of the agency's Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds. Anne and Dov led me through the maze of agency corridors and out a loading dock door to the Ariel Rios South Courtyard. The space, until recently, was used only by delivery and trash vehicles. While trucks still deliver and collect tons of publications from the loading dock, a courtyard now provides EPA employees and visitors a delightful spot to eat lunch, or just relax -- along with an education in water management.
[photo above right shows the permeable concrete path leading into the courtyard]
What struck me first was how cool it felt. On a stifling afternoon, the garden area was delightful. As I stepped into the large (8,600 square foot) courtyard, Dov pointed out the material beneath my feet. One of the techniques encouraged in LID is the reduction of impervious materials in favor of reduced covered area OR using porous materials. The permeable concrete sidewalk allows rainwater to infiltrate the surface rather than run-off -– and it looks great! Permeable pavers are used near the bench, another porous option.
[as with all photos & illustrations on our blog, you can view a larger size image by clicking on it]
Walking on, Dov explained how the sustainable plantings and the “bioretention” cells (also called rain gardens) use an indentation in the bed to pool rain water for use by the plants, and to slowly infiltrate and fill the cistern, another LID feature. The cistern (below left) is as beautiful as it is useful, collecting run-off and circulating it through sprinklers when the garden needs watering. From lighting, to art features, to the creative use of old tools (as in the plant identification marker shown below), thought was given to both the function and form of this courtyard project.
Dov and Anne stressed EPA's interest in sharing information with communities and developers on low impact development -- not just what it can accomplish for the environment, but how beautifully LID projects can be designed.
endnote: My thanks to Neil Weinstein of the Low Impact Development Center for putting me in touch with Anne Weinberg and Dov Weitman. The non-profit Center was formed in 1998 to act as a clearinghouse for information, and to facilitate research, education and strategies (including demonstration projects) for low impact development.
p.s., for a look at how environmental principles can be integrated into a new building's design, see Wayne's post: It's As Green As It Gets.