This ought to be required reading for every suburban
homeowner and residential landscape designer. The Living
Lightly project presents a scorecard to evaluate suburban
yards’ level of compliance with defensible ‘best
practice’ guidelines. By employing the scorecard
for design and management of suburban yards, Living
Lightly clearly illustrates the potential reduction
of environmental impacts and quantifies benefits for
homeowners, including savings of time, money, and energy.
Describe the Problem Researched
Single detached dwellings (suburban homes) make up over
57% of the Canadian housing stock, which represents
a significant quantity of privately-held land for which
homeowners are responsible. The choices suburban landholders
make regarding their yards typically perpetuate the
need for extensive resource inputs, create landscapes
that support little ecological function, and compromise
human and environmental health. The conventionally designed
suburban yard is based on an unnatural aesthetic that
is constantly at odds with natural processes, resulting
in significant inputs of time, money, and energy for
its installation and maintenance.
To better understand the complex interrelationships
within the ecosystem and our society, I dissected the
suburban yard into some generalized functional categories,
called landscape elements. The exploration of each landscape
element included its context in the world in relation
to complexity and scale, specific guidelines for minimizing
impact and maximizing function, and a comparison of
conventional and alternative options.
See Figure 3.9 in the images section
for a sample graphic used to illustrate the contextual
thinking for each landscape element.
Method of Inquiry Used
It was necessary to create a set of standards for best-practice
design that could be applied to both existing sites
and incorporated into the design process for future
applications. I created two tools, a set of design principles
and a scorecard, to achieve the structure required to
evaluate and apply best practice guidelines for residential
The six principles for a better suburban yard were created
by drawing out explicit and implicit best-practice guidelines
from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s
Landscape Guide for Canadian Homes
and by analyzing ecologically and socially successful
landscape designs and reverse engineering them to determine
which priorities drive the designs. These priorities
were then arranged into six categories.
Each category became a principle and
was given a memorable title that alluded to the original
best-practice guidelines. These six principles for a
better suburban yard inform good landscape design and
Refer to Figure 5.8 for an example
of how one of the principles was applied to the case
Suburban Yard Scorecard
The purpose of the scorecard is two-fold. First, the
scorecard can be used by homeowners or designers to
evaluate the existing condition of a suburban yard,
seeing where the yard is manifesting best-practice guidelines
as well as the site’s best-practice deficiencies.
Second, the scorecard can be used by those
designing suburban yards to minimize the ecological
and financial impacts and maximize the ecological and
social functions of the site.
Refer to Table 4.1 in the images section
for a portion of the scorecard
Results of Research
A conventional (existing) design was compared to a proposed
design based on the six principles for better suburban
yards and the suburban yard scorecard.
In the proposed design, installation cost
and annual inputs of money, time, water, gasoline, fertilizer
and pesticides were reduced significantly. Areas of
lawn and impermeable surfaces were reduced and areas
suitable for habitat, food production and natural stormwater
infiltration were increased.
For more details of research results,
refer to performance comparison tables 5.1 through 5.4
in images section
Conclusions Concerning the Significance
of the Results
Comparing the conventional design to a best-practice
design reveals evidence that supports a correlation
between the scorecard score and the installation cost
and annual inputs. As the scorecard score approaches
54/54, there is a significant reduction in installation
cost, and annual inputs of time, money, water, fuel
Individuals make choices about their yards.
The ecologically-inspired manner of decision making
explored in Living Lightly, when multiplied across thousands
of suburban yards, will result in a significant reduction
to the strain that the suburbs have on our human-designed
infrastructures and our natural resources.
Comparisons with Past Research
An important consideration for the value of this body
of research is locating it amongst existing documents
that are also attempting to guide green design.
Landscape Guide for Canadian Homes
(2004) Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation
Many of the “Living Lightly” guidelines
and scorecard questions are based on the guidelines
of this CMHC document. Calculations for annual maintenance
inputs of conventional vs. proposed designs are based
on another CMHC document entitled, “Definitely
in My Backyard: Making the Best Choices for You and
The Environment” (2000).
Site Design Manual for B.C. Communities
(2003) Patrick Condon, Joanne Proft, Jacqueline Teed
This publication establishes a context for basing best-practice
design, reviews the outcomes of several community design
charettes, formulates design guidelines and provides
a so-called “sustainability checklist” for
assessing communities as to how well they meet said
guidelines. The format of this checklist has been borrowed
and adapted in this project to present the “Living
Lightly” suburban yard guidelines in a scorecard
that can be used to evaluate designed and built suburban
yard landscape scenarios against the principles and
guidelines of this document.
The LEED for Homes Pilot Checklist,
(unpublished) US Green Building Council
This checklist allocates a maximum total of 14 available
points for site sustainability out of a possible project
total of 108. Living Lightly will focus only on the
site and therefore will go into much greater detail
of site sustainability than will LEED for Homes.
Smart Scorecard for Development
Projects (2002) Will Fleissig and Vickie Jacobsen
This document’s purpose is to evaluate design
of proposed communities to encourage adoption of Smart
Growth principles. There is some overlap of the Living
Lightly project with the Smart Project Scorecard in
the areas of site design and environmental quality however
Living Lightly dives into greater detail about the reasons
why and the specifics of what.
Applicability to Landscape Architecture
The key component of this project that may contribute
to the work of residential landscape designers is the
suburban yard scorecard. This checklist may aid in the
design process or for the evaluation of existing suburban
yards based on generally agreed upon best practice guidelines.
The suburban yard scorecard suggests appropriate directions
for creating healthy yards with minimal impact and maximum
The Need for New or Further Research
Future applications of this project could have the impact
on suburban yard design that LEED is having on buildings.
With the suburban yard scorecard developed for this
project as a starting point, the scorecard should be
refined through the input of numerous academics and
industry professionals who could contribute their experience
and knowledge to create a consensus on all aspects of
the scorecard; number and wording of questions, presentation
style, etc. A subsequent goal would be to use the scorecard
as a checklist that would inform a LEED-type rating
system for suburban yards. The potential would be to
assign a relative value to each of the scorecard questions,
based on their degree of importance in minimizing impact
and maximizing function of suburban yards, similar to
the way the LEED rating system defines and evaluates
‘green buildings’ and awards them a certification
or silver, gold, or platinum status.
Adapting the LEED approach to suburban
residential yards would likely promote integrated, environmentally
conscious site design and raise awareness of the benefits
of designing for minimal impact and maximum function.