Sunday, November 25, 2012

Forest Change

When we wander through the woods we tend to take in the view as unchanging and permanent. The living forest is actually a landscape in flux, a complex of species, climatic forces, soil, water, and light that exist in a kind of swirling ever changing mosaic.

There are many ways to take in all this action at a manageable level. Tromping around in the Maine woods near Victor's place I came across this small grouping of young white pines in the middle of a stand of hardwood species.

During the summer these pines are stuck in the shade of their leafy neighbors. But in the winter, once the leaves have fallen, the pines have full access to light. Thanks to their internal anatomy and a suite of chemicals that keep them resistant to freezing, the pines are able to do photosynthesis, albeit at a reduced rate, during the winter.

They grow slowly in comparison to their neighbors but eventually, either by growing taller or if a neighbor dies, the white pines become the dominant tree. All through the woods you can see this. The interaction of species with one another and with their landscape is ongoing, part of the evolution of the ecosystem.

Yesterday I wandered around the city with a couple of architect colleagues and pondered a question related to the forest ecosystem. Urban neighborhoods are complex entities that change over time through a combination of geography, human culture, and wear and tear. Looking at the forest as an example, can we plan built environments that change gradually, maintaining their diversity and dynamism over the long run?

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