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Rethinking Housing Development with Biodiversity in Mind

Updated: Apr 19

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At a glance, passersby can immediately spot a new housing development. The warning signals are a giant sign with a permit, colorful tape connecting trees if not already cleared, and if it is recently cleared, virtually every tree and preexisting habitat diminished on every acre intended for human structures.

With the right communication and incentives, it is possible to encourage the practice of environmental ethics when clearing land for housing developments and to rethink housing units to encourage a unique but affordable aesthetic that adopts elements of environmental consciousness into design. Similar to how the peppered moth adapted to soot based on genetic expressions of melanated wings, humans could create housing that promotes appreciation for wilderness that does not force them to die off certain gene expressions just to adapt to fast construction patterns. With development that respects humanity and wildlife, a greater flow of chi and energy will permeate through communities that increase intrinsic value due to respectful and conscientious decisions.

The peppered moth, Biston betularia, is an evolutionary instance of directional colour change in the moth population as a consequence of air pollution during the Industrial Revolution. The frequency of dark-coloured moths increased at that time, an example of industrial melanism. They are used as an example in basic environmental 101 courses to show how species adapt to human activity in a short period of time by gene mechanisms, often to their own disadvantage, in order to survive.

As the Industrial Revolution began to really take off in the 1800s, pollution from the dense industrial smoke and soot killed off lichens and darkened tree trunks and walls in towns and cities.

As a result, the paler moths became more visible to predators, while the darker variety became more camouflaged.

As you can see pictured above, a recent housing development on Arlington Rd. has delineated large portions of land for houses with little to no replenishment of natural vegetation. Upon driving by, the area seems wide open with most trees cut down before housing construction. Similar patterns can be seen throughout America, this being a modest example. In time, the natural habitat surrounding houses can be restored but it will take initiative from residents. This is the model for most housing development units, a heavy-handed approach. Development started by Angelo Manuel.

While the materials used for construction vary in affordability, the main argument of this blog post is that creating unique structures in large quantities to fit the rising demand of affordable housing while preserving surrounding foliage and pathways for other "residents" of the ecosystem, including wildlife flora and fauna, is not an impossible task. Some may argue the housing units pictured below are comparatively more expensive than the typical housing unit seen throughout the typical American housing development. This is mainly due to large windows and wood like cherry wood and pine being more expensive than mixed ingredient stucco or replica materials. With architectural and construction ingenuity in mind, it would be beneficial for communities to seek developers or provide initiatives for new communities that don't plow into a territory of land. So much unnecessary destruction occurs. How inspiring it would be to see the adage of "bigger is better" less of the standard of success and more of "intelligent" design with respect to the surrounding habitat? Marie Kondo, a Japanese design consultant has become a global sensation with her life's work of encouraging people to eliminate so much extra storage and tidy up their lives, which, from a Feng sui perspective, leads to prosperity, success, and health. Many of the sample homes below could keep individuals and families happy and more connected, even with a higher density, while utilizing an aesthetic that blends into surrounding habitats and places a higher priority on preserving preexisting natural biodiversity. Some take it to the next level, being completely self-sufficient, utilizing "green" solar-powered energy and septic/water systems that are alternative to general municipal hookups. While this is mostly an opinion piece, there is truth in the outlook that less is more, and with communities that prioritize a connection to nature, residents tend to be happier in the long run.

A stylish representation of what innovative but small-scale housing can look like, as the need for housing units transforms to reflect smaller family units

Vertical shot of single-story wooden bungalow with A-frame extending to the ground to connect with nature.

Newly built metal framed tiny homes.

Wooden cabin, tiny home, with plenty of trees nearby, increasing innate human need for privacy, oxygenation, and biodiversity.

Tiny house on wheels with sustainable living features, coloring blends into nature and is not garish, does not confuse or disrupt nearby wildlife.

Furthermore, as the growing need for housing pressures communities to find solutions quickly, there is the ripple effect of increased volume of traffic on roadways. Not only does this disrupt once quiet communities in natural areas like the Eastern Shore of Virginia, it causes wildlife to be displaced. One solution is a wildlife crossing, which reduces vehicular crossings and protects displaced animals in the wake of construction from being suffocated in one geographic area. National Geographic has several articles that address these issues including:

Along with housing comes need for goods, like shopping centers. The same ethics apply to these hubs aka "watering holes" for the community. Partnership for Smartergrowth, mentioned in the previous article about Protecting Coastal Communities, released many studies and alerts for the Greater Richmond Area when Short Pump, a shopping strip near Henrico came into plans for development. What happened in that region over a decade ago is a reminder to other areas throughout the state and country that may see an influx of new housing and residents on the burdens that come with providing necessary accommodations. See this archived post on Reddit for more background on why Short Pump, a strip mall made from scratch, caused such a controversy. Designing housing with ecoconsciousness safeguards communities of varying population densities, in particular rural communities facing newfound appreciation and interest from newcomers and generational residents. The solutions are available, it is just a matter of investing in implementation.

So many options exist for alternative housing than traditional units with front door, attic, basement, garage, and familiar architectural layouts. For businesses seeking outdoor retreats, yoga spaces, or studios, Geodomes can be sent to your house for $5,000 and serve as a suitable living space. Whether or not they can withstand the hurricanes of coastal regions is another question. Find kits here:

Photo shows the versatility of dome geo homes.

Dome homes amidst tree-lined community

Another trend started in the Netherlands is creating housing structures from shipping containers. The ingenuity of the human consciousness is vast, its time for people to fully tap into the resources available that exist within reach for housing that is minimally invasive, unique, fosters an appreciation and oneness with natural surrounding habitat, and potentially from upcycled or reusable material, such as shipping containers.

Individual unit, made from Cargo shipping container and revitalized as an eco-conscious living space with beautiful shrubbery nearby

Grouping of shipping containers with trees separating each space, perfect for housing the elderly, temporary workers or students

Home with garage, in a lush tropical zone, made from shipping containers

High-end living space made primarily from shipping containers

I'm sure many readers have seen the cartoon from the 80s "The Secret of NIMH", this cartoon anthropomorphizes wildlife but artistically depicts the reality of human impact on smaller ecosystems. A fun way to introduce empathy to the curious reader who may feel detached from such concerns.

And finally, to end on an even less related note than the Secret of NIMH: Giraffe Manor. An interesting way tourism and appreciation for nature are blended to foster a connection up close and personal to wildlife. Located in Nairobi, Kenya, Giraffe Manor has drawn criticism from some animal rights activists but overall, they do find a way to introduce humans to the surrounding habitat. The Giraffes, which are endangered, have free reign over their home in their native land while humans can benefit from their need to connect with nature in a way that doesn't kill, harm, or destroy their surroundings.

Visitors feeding an endangered Rothschild giraffe at the Giraffe Centre, Nairobi, Kenya. The centre is run by African Fund for Endangered Wildlife

Rothschild Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi) Griaffe Manor Kenya

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