Asphalt to Ecosystems
Review by Doug Pushard
I recently received and read Asphalt to Ecosystems - Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation by Sharon Gamson Danks and although not directly a rainwater book it touches on the importance of water and water management throughout this fascinating book.
It is an open and airy, colorful book primarily targeted at those interested in greening of school yards, but it is a very fun read for those interested in what is happening to school yards around the country and the world.
The book features over 500 marvelous pictures, with several before and after shots. These pictures are from just a few of the 150 examples from 11 countries examined in the book. As this wonderful book states over and over again there is no one size fits all in the making of sustainable schools. "Green" school yards can range from very tiny spaces to total make overs of large urban school.
Sharon's hands on experience is evident throughout the book as she meticulously goes through the process of what is required and why from the start of a project to its finish. Although as she lovingly points out it should be planned to never finish as these green spaces are living spaces and should intentionally incorporate things that wear out so new people can contribute to the ongoing process of creating these living, teaching environments.
In the chapter on School Energy Systems it is revealed that K-12 schools across the United States spend more than $8 billion - yes, that is a B - a year on energy, making energy the second highest operating cost after personnel costs. Greening the school can be done both inside and outside the school to reduce these costs. Saving energy allows the schools to reinvest saved money to create a continual improvement process. This one chapter provides several examples of schools that are saving millions of dollars a year and outlines the resources that are available to assist schools in saving energy.
The book is full of lists and the last chapter features a wonderful list of resources. One such list in Chapter 1 is the Rules of Thumb for Starting and Sustaining Green Schoolyards and include:
- Start with buy-in from the principal
- Form a green schoolyard committee to oversee the project's development
- Discuss new ideas with the school faculty before engaging parents
- Make initial inquiries to the school district to see what is possible
- Allow enough time to give careful thought to your schoolyard master plan
- Allow project participants to "get their hands dirty"
- Dream big, but start small. Plan to implement the project slowly, over time
- Thoroughly document the design, construction, and stewardship process
- Institutionalize the green schoolyard program
- Never "finish"
- Plan for stewardship from the beginning
- Do not give up!
These lists are followed with indepth explanations and examples to provide the context which is needed to successfully follow these guidelines.
Saving the best for last, the book does include a chapter on Schoolyard Water Systems. This chapter starts by explaining the importance of understanding the local water shed and then winds its way down to site specific options. Both passive and active water management systems are discussed in this chapter and examples of both are given. Pictures and diagrams of several systems are included in this chapter with my favorite being the Roy Lee Walker Elementary School in McKinney, Texas "that has an impressive rainwater harvesting system that captures ... a total of 68,000 gallons of rainwater." A 30-foot tall windmill powers the irrigation system which uses this rainwater to water grasses and other native shrubs. Students are able to monitor how full the system is from a gauge in the main hallway. It would be wonderful if every school district had a Walker Elementary. This chapter also includes a discussion on the need to conserve water and reuse it onsite.
The book is divided into parts making it easy to access only the sections you are most interested in. The section then feature multiple chapters that provide great detail. Parts of the book include:
- Part 1 - Getting from Here to There with chapters on Why Transform Schoolyards, Project Launch and Design Guideliness
- Part 2 - Ecological Teaching Tools in the Schoolyard with chapters on Wildlife Sanctuaries, Water Systems, Energy Systems, Agriculture, Ecologically Sensitive Materials, Weaving Teaching into Schoolyard Design
- Part 3 - Create a Diversified Play Environment in an Ecological Schoolyard with chapters on Active Play, Creative Play, Outdoor Art and Music
- Part 4 Shaping Schoolyard Infrastructure to Create Comfortable, Effective and Memorable Places with chapters on Comfort, Form and Function, and Creating a Sense of Place through Art
- Part 5 - Putting Ideas into Action with Chapters on Sustaining Schoolyards and From Grey to Green.
Sharon's book is highly unique and lovingly written. In additon to being well organized and it offers marvelous pictures that greatly add to this insightful and extremely useful guide. I highly recommend this book to anyone involved in improving our local schools and also those wanting to get involved. If you have a school teacher or school activist in your circle of friends - this book is a perfect gift.