BioMosaics

SUMMARY: A Life-Cycle Balance Framework to Land Use Planning and Design

BioMosaics interactive planning is a mid level (i.e., building to human settlement) scale tool whereby participants plan land uses with the goal of balancing natural resource supply and sink functions (i.e., natural capital throughput) with basic human life support needs. The objective is to achieve a spatially defined, visible, accountable, long-term, natural capital-human resource use “balance” within the smallest possible boundary. Put as a question, can meeting basic human needs (i.e., sustenance level consumption) be balanced with the sustainable natural capital throughput within a given boundary whether it is a building, site, settlement, or region?
In short, BioMosaics are assemblies or aggregates of life cycle (temporal) land use patterns (spatial) that facilitate sustainable human behavior to meet basic human needs within the carrying capacity constraints of natural resources and life support services for all living species while simultaneously preserving or regenerating biosphere ecological integrity at building, local, and regional scales.

PROBLEM SPACE: Presently, “sustainable design” focuses on resource efficiency and reduced consumption by using “checklists” of green practices (e.g., LEED, US; Breeam, Canada; Casbee, Japan). For piecemeal approaches, however, gains at one scale are often significantly offset by losses at another. This is true even where exceptional green practices are promoted and practiced (e.g., municipalities with green building rating systems). Meanwhile, the global ecological impacts of human activity (e.g., climate change) continue to grow rapidly due to both total (population growth) and per capita (higher standards of living) increases in the consumption and appropriation of biosphere natural capital.

SOLUTION: We hypothesize that optimal life cycle spatial patterns and processes exist that provide for basic human needs while simultaneously maintaining,, and in some cases regenerating, ecosystems and the natural capital they provide. Furthermore, human habitats and settlements can be designed whereby the population not only meets its basic needs, but can “develop to express its fullest potential without adversely and irreversibly affecting the carrying capacity of the environment upon which it depends” (Ben-Eli). Our challenge is to develop holistic design and planning tools that can reveal, and allow us to employ, these patterns and processes.

Instead of a “green checklist” approach, we are proposing a life cycle, natural capital/human needs “balancing” model of design and planning. It stems from the concepts of “mass balancing” in industrial ecology (Ayres) and “appropriated carrying capacity” of ecological footprints (Rees/Wackernagel). Mass balancing accounts for all material throughputs in a system or industrial process and identifies mass flows which were previously not visible, unknown, or difficult to quantify. Ecological footprints quantify the amount of productive land appropriated by individuals, cities, regions, or nations, to support a given lifestyle. Neither of these ecologically-based conceptual tools has been integrated into green design or sustainable urbanism as an underlying principle.

Solution: Description and Implementation
BioMosaics utilizes six scalar entry points of operability within a hierarchical life cycle framework that enables a nested “Russian doll” type implementation. The six entry points range from the global scale used to set a base condition - the bio-geographical biome classification system - and progresses down to the smallest scale of everyday human activity. The consistency of the life cycle language, combined with an infinite grid framework, enables interscalar connectivity and a means of identifying diverse life support functions from nature’s producers (“sourcerers”) and consumers (“re-sourcerers”) for meeting human needs at all six scales. By defining tiles of spatial areas in an infinite grid manner, we provide a simple measurable approach between the sourcing and resourcing of any particular life support function.

The robustness of the information stems from a national IO/LCA, GIS model of material and energy flows for all recorded activity in all sectors of the U.S. economy. The economic data is linked to census data to allow information flows between scales from “global” to “per capita.” We can thereby use the most intimate scale of human behavior to affect the macro economic level where the activity of dishwashing, for example, can help determine the machine/human interface of dishwashing manufacturers.

BioMosaics interactive planning is a mid level (i.e., building to human settlement) scale tool whereby participants plan land uses with the goal of balancing natural resource supply and sink functions (i.e., natural capital throughput) with basic human life support needs. The objective is to achieve a spatially defined, visible, accountable, long-term, natural capital-human resource use “balance” within the smallest possible boundary. Put as a question, can meeting basic human needs (i.e., sustenance level consumption) be balanced with the sustainable natural capital throughput within a given boundary whether it is a building, site, settlement, or region?

BioMosaics uses information dense cells or tiles that are viewed in gaming terms as icons representing the life cycle stages of source, process, use, and re-source - and five different life support topics – air, water, food, energy, and materials. Each tile represents an amount of land determined by the scale designated on the game map layers (playing board).

Implementing the game requires understanding and following a set of rules or principles that are used as guidelines in making decisions regarding human uses of land. Following is a set of game principles used in early focus group sessions.

Trimtabs
Minimum resource use while leveraging maximum results through performance feedback linking the micro environment of human behavior up the life cycle ladder to affect macro policy (as well as product design); typically requires integration (see below)

Life Cycle Ladder
The nesting continuum of life cycle performances from the micro (human life cycle activity) to the macro (national scale of 12M+ businesses) each effecting the contents of next scale performance

Basic Human Needs
Assumption that basic physiological human needs must be fulfilled before other human needs can be met (Maslow and others), ergo, in order of survival significance, the basic human needs are: clean air, clean water, healthy food (soil), adequate energy, and accessible materials (shelter)

Life Cycle Footprint
Land resource use of any life cycle activity from source to resource of a material or product - 1) source, i.e., resource extraction, 2) process and/or manufacture, 3) use, i.e., installation, use, and maintenance, and 4) re-sourcing, i.e., reuse, recycling, or remanufacturing - and the transport that occurs between each stage

Life Cycle Balance
Life cycle performance comparing sourcing phase (source, process) and the resourcing phase (process and reuse)

Carrying Capacity
Minimum amount of productive land required to support one person

Lifestyles
Average, Conservation, and Sustainable lifestyles are modeled and per capita benchmarks for productive land appropriated for human uses are calculated for each lifestyle. Default definitions: conservation 50% less than average and sustainable 25% less (a factor four reduction) than average.

Icon Cells/Mosaics
Life cycle representations of a particular life support technology enabling all participants to easily grasp and use land based technology concepts

Boundaries and scale
The finite spatial limits of performance (the dimensions of tiles relative to a certain scale provides the basis of performance calculation)

Infinite Grid Projection
Method of subdividing or aggregating land uses in ever smaller or ever larger units using the GIS projection method referred to as quad grid equal area projection.

Integration
Overlapping of life support functions within a given life cycle footprint (e.g., roof-mounted solar photovoltaics can generate electric power and harvest rainwater within the same spatial footprint)

Attainment of balance is determined by the ratio of the amount of basic life support the land is supplying verses that needed by humans within the given boundaries. The objective is to achieve a natural capital-human land use balance with the least impact and most ecological regenerative potential. The question “can human consumption be balanced with the sustainable output of the natural resources within a given site boundary” might not be as important a question as “are we aware of the degree of imbalance we are causing once we permanently alter the landscape?”

The results from testing the game with an eco-village focus group were both informative and disturbing. While the participants, all of whom were well educated and environmentally oriented, were able to easily understand the game's procedures, they were surprised at the results which defined “sustainable” in irrefutable spatial and life-cycle terms. The discovery that their "eco-village" required reliance on resources well beyond their physical boundaries despite their intent to be “self-reliant” was a powerful statement of how disconnected people are to their "ecological footprint.”

Connecting life support technology to the land from which our resources originate is the core of the BioMosaics game. It attempts to demonstrate that life support technology is rooted within the character and potential of a particular place. Particular technologies for our gaming simulation represent a small sampling of what we need in our BioMosaics land use development tool kit.

Solution: Financing and Next Stage of Development
Two parties will share financial support and three parties will share next stage development responsibilities. CMPBS, a non-profit research organization, will provide matching funding to BFI from the Kendeda Foundation. CMPBS will also act as the principal project manager for next stage (i.e., pilot testing) development. HDR Architecture and Engineering, a private business with A/E offices nationwide, will solicit public and private contracts to beta test BioMosaics with municipal and corporate clients. HDR will provide professional sustainable design, architecture, civil engineering, landscape architecture, and planning services. The Land Design Institute at Ball State University will provide academic oversight and commit educational resources to test the feasibility of integrating BioMosaics into landscape architecture and land use planning curricula.

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