Ecoaesthetics as actionable and practical ecological wisdom in small city development
Scholars have realized the importance of ecology knowledge in guiding urban planning practice. They represent the view that ecological integrity, which is essential to urban sustainability, is achievable through technical improvement. These theories share a common practical wisdom that is to balance development and environmental protection. In this context, balance means the trade-off of gaining and losing. In such practice, stakeholders narrowly define and protect their benefits, which inevitably will lead to a “condition of unsettlement” (Fry, 2011). We propose to replace the wisdom of “balance” with the ecological wisdom of “integration” in the name of ecoaesthetics (Koh, 1988; Thorne & Huang, 1991; Gobster et al, 2007; Panagopoulos, 2009; Wang & Cheng, 2011; Beatley & Newman, 2013). Ecological wisdom aims at practicing socio-ecological research, planning, design, and management, as well as inspiring and empowering people to figure out “the right way to do the right thing” (Schwartz & Sharpe, 2010; Xiang, 2014). Ecoaesthetics argues for improved human experience, which is affected by the quality of development and environment. To demonstrate ecoaesthetics as actionable and practical ecological wisdom we developed an ecoaesthetic evaluation system to assess development scenarios and give specific feedback for improvement. GIS-based tools were used in the study.
Two scenarios were first developed for the City of Wilmington, the county seat of Clinton County, Ohio. Wilmington is a typical American small city which is facing the challenge of both finding economic development and maintaining small town characters. The ecological scenario focuses on environmental protection based on ecological planning principles. The economic scenario aims at maximizing economic benefits. CityEngine, 3D GIS a product by ESRI was applied to generate streets, parcels, and buildings for the proposed scenarios. The ecoaesthetic evaluation system was developed with Scenario360, an extension of ArcGIS, also a product of ESRI. Built upon the assessment of the evaluation scores of the two scenarios and the current condition, an ecoaesthetics scenario was developed to address the shortcomings of the previous two scenarios. The evaluation scores were calculated for the last scenario to demonstrate the enhancement of quality of life. The study is an example of making ecological wisdom actionable and practical in supporting planning and decision making so that development in small cities and towns can be planned in such a way that it is economically viable and appreciated by the residents who embrace ecological knowledge.