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Broken Trunk

What makes an Eco Park

Eco Parks are large, connected landscapes with high nature conservation and environmental protection ambitions.  They are parks which use ecological landscape features to reduce watering and other maintenance while enhancing wildlife and human values.  Eco Parks serve as a vehicle for reconnection, and for developing the systems understandings necessary for creative and resilient problem-solving.

An Eco Park is not just about preservation, but also about restoring nature conservation and a large-scale transformation of both the social and environmental landscapes.  Creating an Eco Park begins with an inventory and a tailor-made management plan submitted to local, provincial, and/ or national authorities for termed agreements, depending on location.


We live in a world where biodiversity, environmental justice, climate change, habitat protection, and sustainable economic development are both social and environmental needs.  When urban eco parks are ecologically designed landscapes, they can create a fertile piece of cultural and educational ground in which sustainability can take root and spread to neighboring communities and to generations beyond (Boland, 2001).  


Even though parks developed out of a worldview that sets nature and culture in opposition to each other, they can be managed as systems to help citizens function at their best.  Most parks are not very ecological, being based on the English pastoral landscape model, planting and maintaining a non-native and non-adaptive landscape at great expense where it isn’t at home.  


Although the four categories of urban parks (Pleasure Grounds, Reform Parks, Recreation Facilities, and Open Spaces) may look “natural”, sweeping green lawns that require huge inputs of water, fertilizer, pesticides, fuel, and labor are not sustainable, self-replicating, or ecological landscapes.  Non-native plant species have a more finite life span, demanding high maintenance and frequent replanting (Malpas, 2011).  


If instead we tend land from the perspective that humans are part of the integrated ecological reality -  that people belong in nature - parks can help us break down the dichotomy between nature and culture.  They can become a frame within which social and natural processes are allowed to generate and maintain the form itself.  Eco parks speak to what is unique and valuable about a site and a region, where:

  • Landscapes have ecological value

  • Ecological design reduces resource inputs and waste outputs.

  • Eco parks allow us to see and interact with the ecological riches that formal parks hide.

  • Ecological and social concerns are in increasing conflation;  modelling new expressions of the human relationship to nature provides solutions to both ecological and social problems and concerns.


In Sweden, Eco Parks must ecologically conserve at least 50% of the total area; the remainder can be open to forestry and other sustainable uses.  Swedish Nature Reserves are generally 50 to 200 hectares, while Eco Park size averages at about 5000 hectares → legally binding Eco Park agreements with federal government → wetland restoration, conservation burning, natural reforestation → responsible management of hunting, fishing,  foraging, and other harvesting → 


Evaluation of Success as an Eco Park:

  1. What types of habitat are on the property?  What is their relative ecological value?  

  2. How can the park encourage (or require) sustainable human behaviours and well-being?  Reduce car dependency?  Boost diversity of livelihoods? 

How can the Eco Park:

  1. Follow the adopted eco park plan?

  2. Measure achievement of plan objectives?

  3. Protect old forest and other more-intact ecosystems?

  4. Preserve and enhance habitats (including human) e.g. alvar, escarpment, maple-beech climax forest, meadow, wetland, savannah?  

  5. Preserve the “right to roam” where special area rules are clearly identified, and people can move freely provided they take into consideration rules protecting animals and plants?

  6. Enhance cultural and biodiversity?  

  7. Evolve towards efficiency and self-sufficiency (on-site re-use, recycle, refurbish, energy production)? 

  8. Integrate with surrounding cultural and ecological fabric so as to solve larger (up to global) problems?  

  9. Avoid (non-adaptive?) exotic species?  

  10. Actively compost/ manage wastes?  Minimize hazardous and electronic waste?  Be a destination for re-use prep and supply?

  11. Design structures for building and resource efficiency?  

  12. Pave and path with natural, permeable materials to allow percolation and groundwater recharge?  

  13. Grow or forage on-site the foods needed on-site?  

  14. Irrigate to reflect average annual water usage and canopy density?  

  15. Minimize outdoor lighting, and power it with bird-friendly alternative energy? 

  16. Design the landscape to encourage people to use their whole bodies rather than just their eyes?  

  17. Pay continued attention to fitness and sports, contemplation and appreciation of nature, community building and celebration, culture and art?  

  18. Design in the fundamentals of:  integration with the surrounding environment, enhancing the visual setting, preserving the environment and respecting the existing habitats?  

  19. Source most project materials on-site?  

  20. Clearly delineate public and private spaces?  

  21. Unify and strengthen the research community?  

  22. Principles for a sustainable process of intervention and integration?  

  23. Employ simple design and management that takes advantage of natural site features and minimizes impacts on the natural environment?  

  24. Design new environments, renovate drainage ways, revitalize water flow corridors, and reintroduce appropriate vegetation to filter runoff and sustain the ecological diversity?

  25. Design for topography/ grade, drainage, soil type, exposure, soil stabilization?

  26. Employ an environmentally-responsive design process that considers the relationships between building sites, energy production/ access, topography, and other local elements?

  27. Favour clustered, interconnected, infrastructure development to leverage future initiatives?

  28. Reinforce natural wildlife corridors and habitat diversity?

  29. Create attractive shared open spaces to strengthen identity and visibility?

  30. Minimize irrigation and maintenance needs?  E.g. bottom-watered container gardens

  31. Incorporate sustainability measures into the fabric of in-season and off-season social life?

  32. Prioritize unique or threatened ecology over commercial interests?

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