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Landscape Architect Questions "Extreme" Choices

Joplin, Mo. Was devastated by a tornado in May 2011. Rebuilding efforts began soon after, but a local landscape architect has questioned some of the choices made by a popular television show. Photo Credit: NOAA

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Matt Boehner, a landscape architect and member of the Prairie Gateway ASLA Chapter recently penned an honest appraisal of the Extreme Make Over: Home Edition efforts to help rebuild Joplin, Mo. after a devastating tornado ripped through that town earlier this year.

Boehner wrote, ''First, I will state that fully comprehending the physical and emotional loss that the families in Joplin and Duquesne have been dealt is beyond imaginable and I send my sincerest prayers and best wishes of good fortune on to each and every person and all others adversely affected by the May 22nd tornado.

As a landscape architect, we take an oath of integrity to protect the health, safety and welfare of our built and natural environments. I maintain this oath through a dedicated practice with clients through responsible planning and design, details, specifications, and a strong passion for education within the community through various volunteer activities.

As a volunteer on site with the recent ''7 Homes in 7 Days'' with Extreme Makeover Home Edition in Joplin, I was personally enriched to witness the miraculous efforts of thousands of people from all over the world joining together to help complete strangers take a few steps further in that healing process. I was also, professionally slighted, as there was a complete lack of erosion control or sediment fence, turf being placed on slopes greater than 3:1, and inappropriate plant material being installed to complete the ''themes'' of each home.

During a break, I wandered through the makeshift staging area for the landscape material; Desert Marigold, Red Fox Sedge, Mexican Petunia were just a few of the identification tags that caused my stomach to churn, but none more than that of Cycus revoluta, or Sago Palm.

I am not sure where to begin with how much this plant does not belong in Southwest Missouri. I spent several years in Arizona and Southern California and am very familiar with the Sago Palm, in fact, I used it quite often in commercial and industrial applications. Although common in some residential applications, its use is limited due to the well publicized information on the toxicity and the dangers it poses to pets and children.

Luckily in this case, the sago palms will brown out and die shortly after the first frost, which should be in a few weeks, so that danger may never be an issue. But, the majority of other inappropriate plant material and misuse of landscape materials not surviving to be around for the airing of the 2-hour special in January may even create a larger public relations issue between the families and the community.

Over the next few months, as redevelopment really begins on a larger scale, the rest of Joplin will look at these ''Hollywood'' homes as icons of recovery. However, if the majority of this new landscape is dead or dying within the next few months due to inappropriate selection and application, these seven homeowners may be viewed as ungrateful and irresponsible.

Are they expected to cover these costs or are they given an allowance? Turf grass and irrigation repairs alone could easily surpass a four-figure cost for each property. Will neighboring homeowners take more or less responsible steps in redevelopment? Will the city governments regulate the development to ensure quality and sustainability, or simply approve the minimum that code allows to just get rebuilt? Will another reality television show come in to ''Make it Right''? I am not sure there is an easy answer, as anyone that has experienced any loss knows that the healing process cannot come overnight by simply waving a wand or moving a bus. Physically, it may take Joplin and Duquesne years to recover; emotionally, it may never truly heal. Hopefully, with the help of the surrounding area, both will become stronger communities because of what happened on May 22nd, 2011 at 5:34pm.''

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December 14, 2019, 8:01 am PDT

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