Resilient Design

Why Resilient Designs?

My Resilient Landscape Planning & Design meets people’s needs through a logical approach for long-term sustainable solutions.

Resilience is the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize. Envision landscapes as self-organizing. Each is comprised of a number of interlacing systems, each capable of shifting as conditions evolve. Whenever a change occurs, each system shifts to regain balance. Disturbances, such as severe storms, fires – are natural occurrences that we need to consider.


Whenever a disturbance occurs, nature’s response is usually adaptive. For example, a very cold winter (the climate system) with deep snow makes obtaining food for bud-eating wildlife very challenging. Some perish, while others survive. During the following growing season the vegetative cover system flourishes in response to lower bud foraging. The relentless winter reduced wildlife populations enabling the forest to regenerate. It is still the same forest but it has adapted in order to thrive.

All natural systems are inherently self-organizing, respond to changes. Sometimes, severe conditions push systems beyond their ‘threshold’ limits, however.
If we could somehow bring a time traveler from 150 years ago to today, we would witness their astonishment at how much our forests, meadows and wetlands have changed.

Sometimes systems are pushed too far and fail to adapt. Once a system goes over the ‘threshold,’ other connected systems follow. This is the essence of resilient thinking: all systems are connected and respond to change.


It is challenging for us to recognize that essentially all landscapes have been disrupted by previous generations. Many have been pushed beyond their natural threshold.

Natural Capital  101

This network system is called Natural Capital. It supports human needs in four distinct ways:

  • Regulating Services: These includes flood and climate control as well as regulating water and soil quality;
  • Provisioning Services: These create food and raw materials we use;
  • Cultural Services: These non-material services that support our aesthetic and recreational needs; and
  • Habitat Services: These are living spaces for plants and animals that underpins all other services.

With an understanding of Natural Capital, we can:


1.) Adapt to avoid crossing over the threshold-of-no-return OR

2.) Transform the system into something new by purposely jumping over the threshold.


By studying Natural Capital we can choose whether or not to stay within the safe zone, away from the threshold. We can employ and direct existing systems to work with us in reaching our goals.

Natural Capital provides a number of services used by people. The better we understand its workings, the more sustainable our systems become.

An Example of Moving Over the Threshold

For years the people in a small western Massachusetts village have enjoyed slow growth. Gradually, though, more and more development has added impervious surfaces and once prevalent meadows around historic homes have become lawns, which allow much greater water run off.


Farming was once the lifeblood of the town’s economy. It was common practice to drain wetlands for crops. These altered systems worked as long as drainage ditches were maintained, but in our example this was not the case. Years after abandonment (1960’s), the wetland below the village common underwent a significant shift in its function and identity.



The recent increase in high intensity storms has caused more flooding in the town’s common for a couple possible reasons:


  1. Increased pavement and lawns allow more suspended solids to be carried by runoff into the connected wetland. These solids attract nutrients which become ‘fertilizer’ as they move through low-nutrient wetlands. This encourages vegetative growth which fills the wetlands and decreases its ability to function as a storm water buffer for center village;
  2. The blocked water flow caused even less drainage resulting in accelerated sediment accumulation

(Source: Lattrell Ecological Services, Personal Consultation)

The low lying village common’s water system will soon cross the adaptability threshold.

These disturbances have caused the structural and functional identity of the village’s common to shift. Soon its status will be a permanent wetland. Because measures to deal with excessive runoff have not been incorporated with low impact development (LID) in the town’s bylaws, the water system is being pushed over the threshold. Vegetation, wildlife and human use will be significantly affects.

My Resilient Landscape Planning and Design Approach – A Quick Overview

My Resilient Landscape Planning & Design approach incorporates an adaptive and recursive process to understand existing systems’ identities and ways to evaluate the condition of a property’s Natural Capital (NC). Here’s a quick summary. More details and examples will follow:

Your Rough Goals form the basis for a successful start with My Resilient Landscape Planning & Design approach


Some of the conditions for achieving your vision seem obvious, while other features and processes may elude understanding. Site analysis of your property’s NC will reveal the essential information necessary to focus and refine your goals.


It is reassuring when you feel well informed. Moving fast forward into a decision may seem easier and obvious but could be depressingly expensive. (See “My Early and Expensive Goof.”)


Once site analysis is complete and goals are become more clear the Principles of Resilient Design are applied. These, in turn inform Essential Next Steps.



Whether you are thinking about your sustainable home, your home town, and your well-balanced business, RLD&P aims to help prepare your site for inevitable changes.

Going Further: Outline Rough Goals

Rough goals are just that: rough. RLD&P can help you refine them.


Here’s an example. Pioneer Valley Regional School’s initial rough goal was to locate the best site for an outdoor ropes course. After a site analysis, their refined goals became more clear.

Pioneer Valley Regional Schools refined goals after further site analysis and lots of stakeholder input from teachers, administrators, students, parents, community leaders and professionals.

Site Analysis of Natural Capital

Clear actions and goals take time and insight to develop. Site Analysis of your Natural Capital inspire this.

Unlacing what lies under our feet and beyond our vision through Resilient Landscape Planning & Design requires Site Analysis. Here are the three basic groups of Site Analysis:

Site analysis utilizes a wide range of strategies. These include, but certainly not limited to:

  • Professional and stakeholder interviews
  • Mapping ( GIS)
  • Legal research
  • Using archived photographs
  • Multiple on-site visits, especially during seasonal and extreme events

Some specific samples are located in our website Your Sustainable Home, Your Home Town, and Your Well-Balanced Business. We offer many flexible options.


Below are two samples of how we create a clear understanding for specific Natural Capital

The Natural Capital of beauty is Aesthetics. To better understand this concept, four areas of site analysis are generally considered.
The Natural Capital of Food Security can involve eight different, but overlapping, site analyses.

Natural Capital Defined

  • Food


    Provide the conditions for growing food – in wild habitats and in managed agro-ecosystems

  • Raw Materials

    Raw Materials

    Provide a great diversity of materials for construction and fuel. Fresh water: provide surface and groundwater.

  • Medicinal Resources

    Medicinal Resources

    Many plants are used as traditional medicines and as input for the pharmaceutical industry.

  • Local Climate & Air Quality Regulation

    Local Climate & Air Quality Regulation

    Trees provide shade and remove pollutants from the atmosphere. Forests influence rainfall.

  • Carbon Sequestration & Storage

    Carbon Sequestration & Storage

    As trees and plants grow, they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and effectively lock it away in their tissues.

  • Moderation of Extreme Events

    Moderation of Extreme Events

    Ecosystems and living organisms create buffers against natural hazards such as floods, storms, and landslides.

  • Waste Water Treatment

    Waste Water Treatment

    Microorganisms in soil and in wetlands decompose human and animal waste, as well as many pollutants.

  • Erosion Prevention & Maintenance of Soil Fertility

    Erosion Prevention & Maintenance of Soil Fertility

    Soil erosion is a key factor in the process of land degradation and desertification.

  • Pollination


    Some 87 out of the 115 leading global food crops depend upon animal pollination including important cash crops such as cocoa and coffee.

  • Biological Control

    Biological Control

    Ecosystems are important for regulating pests and vector borne diseases.

  • Habitats For Species

    Habitats For Species

    Provide everything that an individual plant or animal needs to survive. Migratory species need habitats along their migrating routes.

  • Maintenance of Genetic Diversity

    Maintenance of Genetic Diversity

    Distinguishes different breeds or races, providing the basis for locally well-adapted cultivars and a gene pool for further developing commercial crops and livestock.

  • Recreation: Mental & Physical Health

    Recreation: Mental & Physical Health

    The role of natural landscapes and urban green space for maintaining mental and physical health is increasingly being recognized.

  • Tourism


    Nature tourism provides considerable economic benefits and is a vital source of income for many countries.

  • Language, knowledge and appreciation of the natural environment have been intimately related throughout human history.

    Language, knowledge and appreciation of the natural environment have been intimately related throughout human history.

    Ecosystems and living organisms create buffers against natural hazards such as floods, storms, and landslides.

For more information on Natural Capital, also known as Ecosystem Services, view this video clip!

Principles of Resilient Design

The Principles of Resilient Design identify important values exercised during the planning and design stage. These guidelines are strong reminders that connect resilience, Natural Capital and sound methodology.

Combinations of site analyses, such as soil and water are “layered” to reveal new insights. Each layer reveals a piece of a more complex puzzle when uniquely combined.
Re-establishing meadows on the downslope around the pond has made a huge difference in our water supply. This simple action uses every Principle of Resilient Design.

    • Resilience focuses on long-term sustainability: It anticipates disturbances and a dynamic future, so planning and designing adaptive cycles will direct the systems clear of a threshold;. For example, adding swales and native vegetation on steep slopes reduces erosion and improves water quality during extreme events.


    • Co-operate, dont compete: Social equity and community add to resilience, so including regional context is a must. Frequently, issues originate beyond our boundaries, so cooperation and sound communication are essential to problem solving.


    • Design from patterns to details: By looking at the big pattern first, resilience design is optimized. Examining the conditions in which water arrives and exits a site is an essential pattern in understanding its role in planning.


    • Start small, then build from experiences: Simple, passive and adjustable systems are more resilient and require less maintenance and management. Simply spreading runoff out, rather than channelizing it, can make dramatic improvements in water quality; such strategies are low impact, but can achieve highly effective results.


    •  Utilize small changes that produce the largest results: Small, flexible solutions are able to adapt to fast and slow changing conditions more readily. Choosing not to mow up to a stream’s edge can improve water quality, especially during extreme events while improving the diversity of wildlife and strengthening resilience.


    • Resilient systems provide for essential human needs: These include drinking water, sanitation, energy, food, and safe, clean well light shelter. Positioning structures for optimal use of the sun’s energy and trees for shading improve comfort and make great use of passive resources.


    • Minimize waste: using locally available, renewable or reclaimed resources will increase resiliency. Using locally produced food minimizes the energy necessary transport goods to your table AND keeps dollars in the community.


    • Strengthen Natural Capital: Inherently natural systems are able to adapt to disruptions such as with higher and lower temperatures, intense storms, flooding, drought and fire as long as adaptive cycles are included. Reducing highly managed field borders enhances biological insect pest control by offering safe refuge for insect eating birds.


    • Use directed disturbances to enhance and direct outcomes: Resilient Landscape Planning & Design examines opportunities and constraints to direct desirable changes toward our needs. Clearing a gap in a woodland re-establishes valuable edges for a wider range of desirable wildlife to find food and shelter.


    • Design for slow and rapid changes: Continuously observing patterns at multiple scales informs a more resilient outcome. Supporting a wider range of native vegetation in various age classes ensures against complete loss during extreme events.

Identify Essential Next Steps

Picking the ‘low-lying fruit’ should become a priority Essential Next Step

Start with the easy actions. If you have established well-designed annual food gardens, why not consider slowly adding perennial food crops. Essential first steps should remain practical within the availability of resources.

Whats Next?

Design should create practical solutions based on solid information without becoming unnecessarily technical.

Recognizing and observing patterns on your landscape foster a comprehensive, whole system approach.


Resilience Landscape Planning & Design is logical and works well across all sizes of properties for Your Home, Your Town or Your Business. Discover practical, plans that are both resilient and sustainable. Enjoy exploring our website and then give us a call.


We look forward to hearing from you.

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Future Lands Designs, LLC., offers the unique Resilient Landscape Planning and Design (RLP&D) approach to recognize the role of Natural Capital (NC) in order to plan for changing conditions as you establish goals on your property.


Natural Capital (NC) includes the interaction of all life as well as climate, weather and natural resources that affect human survival and economic activity.