Site Assessment    

Each property must be evaluated on an individual basis to determine the opportunities and constraints allowing for various sustainability systems. What I mean by systems would include primarily advanced Permaculture systems and rainwater catchment systems.

Any property regardless of its site characteristics can use less water by implementing any of the water saving techniques and "smart irrigation systems".

In order for us to be good environmental stewards for our own piece of land, we must look at what has been done to the natural landscape upon which our house is built.

We all live in different regions, each with their own environmental characteristics that form the opportunities and constraints within which we can become stewards of the earth. Some of us live in rural areas where the impact on the environment is much less than the urban areas. Let’s compare the major differences between rural areas and urban areas.



Lower population densities 

Fewer planned developments 

More natural open space 

Fewer commercial developments 

Not as much pavement, highways 

More indigenous populations of wildlife 

Zoning tends to be less restrictive 

Usually has areas where people living in the cities escape to, relax and get back to “nature” 

Slower lifestyles, less traffic, more farming 

Can sometimes be remote with limited access to resources, utilities and other people 





Higher densities of populations 

More freeways, streets, concrete and pavement 

Less natural open space 

Abundance of commercial and industrial development 

Wildlife habitat encroached upon by development 

Government priority typically favors development, more housing and growth 

More impact on groundwater resources 

More reliance on inter-state energy sources 

More psycho-social anxieties due to the higher populations, i.e. crime, competition and a consumer driven society 


An urban subdivision often has no natural habitat left over after the grading and infrastructure improvements are installed. Even if the zoning laws are in place to conserve open space, sometimes open space requirements can be met by creating green parks with grass and play areas rather than truly conserving natural habitat.

The typical result is that the average homeowner is given a property with a piece of land where all the natural vegetation is gone, thus forcing the homeowner to create that which they lost if they choose to do so. Many homeowners choose to create a human needs focused landscape that is rich in manmade structures, exotic plants, excessive water use and which is no more than an extension of their indoor living environment. This is simply human nature. Not everyone shares the values of the eco-friendly consumer who buys a piece of property untouched by developers and carefully sites their home to protect the environment with minimal impact.

In urban areas, the lifestyle of choice often accepts the destruction of natural areas by rationalizing the close access to nearby streams, fishing and the mountains…The priority is placed on the needs of human society and the use of nature is at its mercy for protection or destruction. We go to sleep at night knowing there are sufficient National Parks and Forests that are preserved in perpetuity for humankind and future generations.

But there are those of us who do not sleep at night and are concerned about the wonton destruction of natural areas containing natural resources, wildlife and watersheds. We are torn between our selfish motives and our yearning to be one with Nature although we allow our fellow neighbors to exercise their Constitutional rights to develop private property because, heck after all, “everybody needs a place to live”…

If we are fortunate enough to live on a piece of land where there are still remnants of natural vegetation and habitat, we can work with our site characteristics and recreate a rich ecosystem in which we can cohabitate and be good environmental stewards. As we do our own part on our own land, we as a community will improve the overall ecology of our regions and become teachers to other communities who are still learning the wise ways of environmental stewardship.

Most homes and landscapes fall into either one of two categories: existing landscape or new installation. The existing landscape situation must be assessed as to what works and what does not. Whether certain systems can be modified or need to be completely rebuilt and whether the plants and trees can be left as is or modified, transplanted or removed entirely due to being so inappropriate, that to leave them would result in an eyesore or just would not fit with the new scheme.


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John Stuart Leslie John Stuart Leslie, MLA, Licensed Landscape Contractor holds a Masters in Landscape Architecture where he studied Xeriscape, Permaculture and Natural Ecosystem Design and Planning.