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Code Green Part II

By Buck Abbey, ASLA, Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture Louisiana State University

Stephen Bourke, the public works, street, and landscape maintenance superintendent for Irvine, Calif., and his crew, have the task of keeping up the city's "Sustainability in Landscaping Ordinance."

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In last month's column, "Code Green, Part I," we discussed the trend toward greening community codes. Two points were made: 1) Cities seem to think greening the city involves only green buildings, specially buildings being designed to LEED standards. 2) Landscape components of a city are a large part of making a city sustainable. The column pointed out that sustainability-based landscape regulations can play a larger part in making a city's code book green.

Unfortunately, most authors writing about greening the codes do not mention city greening that landscape codes may provide. There is rarely any mention in any article about landscape preservation, sustainable landscaping requirements, nor environmental rebuilding, all of which can easily be contained within local codes. All three of these messages involving the planting of trees, shrubs, grasses and ground covers sustain the soils and clean storm water. Anyone who plants a tree in a garden knows that.

A community with ample open space, clean water, healthy and abundant viable urban forest is on its way toward green. Sustainability practices included within a community's set of building codes, and specifically within a community landscape code, can do much to reduce the carbon footprint, clean the air, moderate the climate and make a cleaner, fitter healthier place to live.

I will cite several examples of sustainable landscape codes that can assist a community to a sustainable future. These examples all contain reference to sustainability. These examples are exceptions, however, since the vast majority of community landscape codes contain no reference to sustainability.

In Seattle, projects receive points if the landscape plan preserves trees, installs green roofs, green walls and irrigation systems that reduce the use of potable water. This is the city council's green roof.

Green Laws Featuring Sustainable Practices

Irvine, Calif.--An example of one of the few sustainable landscape codes adopted in the United States is that of the city of Irvine, Calif. The code is noted as Title 5, Public Planning, Division, "Sustainability in Landscaping Ordinance." (Code 1976, ? V.G-100; Ord. No. 90-12, ? 2, 6-26-90). This particular ordinance is a supplement to the community's landscaping and urban forest ordinance. It is the intent of this ordinance to provide policy, guidelines, standards and procedures to obtain sustainable landscapes within the city. Irvine has adopted this ordinance to provide positive levels of carbon storage, oxygen productivity, recycling and reuse after all demands for energy, water, soil improvement and maintenance have been considered. To this end, the city has developed a Sustainable Landscaping Guideline Manual, a plan review procedure and permitting policy to help guide this initiative.

Irvine plants shade trees and buffers for parking areas. The other side of this walk is a large parking lot.

Citizens in the planned community of Irvine understand that the urban forest provides many sustainable ecosystem services. Sustainability in Irvine is based in part upon the Irvine Build Green Program in which the community is encouraged to use sustainable practices for residential and commercial land uses. A LEED-type rating system has been developed to help the city build a greener more sustainable future. Among these methods are practices directly affecting the landscape and the community urban forest. Examples include using recycled materials, waste diversion, minimize turf, treat storm water, reduce exterior lighting illumination, use reclaimed water, plant shade trees for shade in parking areas (one tree/four spaces), install a water efficient irrigation system, encourage bike riding and build a "California-friendly" landscape. It would be well worth your time to visit the city of Irvine Environmental Programs office at

Homestead, Fla.--The landscape code of Homestead, Florida is the first of a new class of landscape codes that directly confront sustainability. This code developed to rebuild Homestead following Hurricane Andrew has at its core the intent to "enhance, improve and maintain the quality of the landscape, and to promote xeriscape and the Florida Yards & Neighborhoods (FYN) program." It's known as "Florida-friendly" landscaping principles. These principles encourage landscape architects and sustainable gardeners to use local products and native plants that can be grouped by water requirements to conserve potable water. This code also promotes reduction in turf grass and lawn chemical use and spillage, both of which have impact on Florida waterways and fresh water supplies. Mulching, composting, recycling and waste reduction are also important practices. And finally, this landscape code heartens designers to provide "food, cover and habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife." On-site storm water management, energy conservation and urban forest canopy retention are other aspects of this site sensitive code.

A LEED-type rating system has been developed to help Irvine build a greener more sustainable future. These elms welcome visitors to the city civic center.

The landscape best management practices (LBMPs) in the Homestead code are a step in the right direction toward crafting sustainable landscape codes. It would be well worth your time to visit the Florida Sustainable Landscape Coalition website at to learn more about sustainable landscaping practices in Florida.

Seattle, Washington--Seattle is the number three-ranked sustainable city in the United States, according to Sustain Lane, an organization that ranks cities for sustainable living The Seattle codes reflect their leadership in livable cities. In addition to a community landscape code and tree ordinance, (Directors Rule 8-2007, Landscape Standards, 8.16.07, Land Use Code, SMC Title 23, Environmental Policies and Procedures, SMC Chapter 25.05) this community has adopted sustainability design requirements for neighborhood business districts within the built-up sections of the city.

Known locally as the "Green Factor" the code requires that landscape plans for development or redevelopment in commercial areas meet new landscaping requirements based upon sustainability and a rating system that evaluated a range of sustainable practices. This program, adopted in January 2007, requires landscape plans to address ecological function and aesthetic principles using point-based criteria to measure sustainability factors such as canopy coverage, permeability and visual access. The design is given points if the landscape plan preserves trees, installs green roofs, green walls and irrigation systems that reduce the use of potable water. Extra bonus points are awarded for the use of drought tolerant plants and for layering of plant materials across the property for increased visibility for pedestrians.

A sustainable city can be created if local codes are painted green and a rating system is created for calculating green. But it will take greening building codes and community landscape codes to make the truly sustainable city. A well-planned sustainable city of buildings, open spaces, parks, gardens and forest preserve will conserve natural resources, preserve the environment for future generations, create a more efficient economy and help prevent pollutants from entering the air, land and water.

Landscape codes must be redrafted to contain sustainability standards as seen in Seattle, Irvine and Homestead to assist with the greening of cities. Green building codes cannot do it alone.

City of Irvine, California, Sustainable Landscaping Policies
Design landscapes that conserve, recycle, and reuse resources.

  1. Conservation and efficiency in energy use.Water conservation and use of reclaimed water resources.Biomass and carbon storage and production of oxygen.Design with native plants with similar climate and maintenance needs.Designed landscape ecologies for optimum levels of micro-climate benefit.1Reduce energy demand for heating and cooling in buildings.Designed landscapes with high performance lawns.Incorporate organic soil management practices, composting, recycling. Minimum use of inorganic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides.Protect, preserve and enhance significant biotic resources.
  2. Educate residents about sustainable landscapes through activities and programs.

D.G. "Buck" Abbey, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at Louisiana State University, is LASN's Associate Editor for Ordinances.

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November 19, 2019, 10:22 pm PDT

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