Drawing on a range of housing and landscaping typologies, The University of Arkansas Community Design Center seeks to remedy ecosystem damage from timber harvesting and address ecological and social fragility in a new neighborhood development

Arkansas, United States

The University of Arkansas Community Design Center has planned “A Rural Timberlands Neighborhood” for Hopson Real Estate Holding LLC in the rural timberlands of southwest Arkansas—a new kind of development that addresses social and ecological issues in the region in a more sustainable way.

This neighborhood employs resilient design to mitigate social and ecosystem disturbance regimes (housing deficiencies, wildfire, and erosion) structuring its context.

This neighborhood proposal combines the remediation of ecosystem damage from clear-cut timber harvesting with urbanization that addresses chronic stressors associated with ecological and social fragility.

A Rural Timberlands Neighborhood has been awarded a 2022 Green GOOD DESIGN Sustainability Award by The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and The European Center for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies.

The region’s rural economy is driven by low-margin industries, including resource extraction and commodity-based industries like timber.

Forests cover 56 percent of Arkansas, and the state is the third most timber-dependent economy in the United States.

Last year alone, 44,000 wildfires in the US consumed more than 5 million acres—the size of New Jersey—and the cycle is accelerating due to unpredictable weather patterns now common with climate change.

Located in the small community of Rosston, with a population of just 400, this mixed-use neighborhood provides a new town center and housing to serve an “under-housed” regional workforce lacking adequate housing and neighborhood services.

Inclusive neighborhood design addresses the needs of all income groups through a cross-section of landscape morphologies and housing typologies—bungalow courts, pocket neighborhoods, accessory dwelling units on the alley, duplexes, live-work units on the square, and large-format meadow houses.

The 64-unit neighborhood on 27 acres provides both village-like settings for residents who thrive in a high-density communal lifestyle, and meadow clusters for those seeking open rural landscapes.

The neighborhood counters the entropy (homogeneity) of the subdivision and its inability to develop higher orders of social and ecological complexity.

Housing is thus a ladder in which the solution for one market type becomes a platform for solutions in the other types.

The timberlands neighborhood features three planning principles to address the region’s resilience deficits:

1. Cluster housing landscapes for mixed-income populations that accommodate a diversity of lifestyles in one place, overcoming the unhealthy demographic sorting by zip code. A shared street armature connects urbanized housing pockets with ruralized configurations amid meadows. Live work units around a town square fronting the state highway provide swing space for commercial services as market cycles demand.

2. Implement Firewise™ planning concepts that mitigate the risk of catastrophic loss from wildfires more frequently in timber regions during droughts. New tree stands of mixed species frame neighborhood spaces (shared street, lake, forest block cluster) mitigating the heat island effect while providing the necessary isolation of canopies to prevent fire spread.

3. Develop a neighborhood ecology that delivers the 17 ecosystem services found in all healthy ecosystems. Services like disturbance regulation (flooding, wildfire, and erosion prevention), water treatment, soil regulation, pollination, nutrient recycling (eg, septic), etc. add value to infrastructure delivering traditional urban services (land use, transportation, utilities, and housing ).

Meadows quickly restores soil health and base hydrological functioning after timber harvesting.

Stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces like streets and roofs is managed through a network of bioswales, recharge meadows, infiltration basins, rain gardens, and tree box filters.

Green streets and alleys deliver ecosystem services and create safe social settings for delivering non-traffic services.

Through holistic approaches, resilient—“antifragile”—design rewires complex systems (eg, neighborhoods, cities, forests) to grow stronger.

Project: A Rural Timberlands Neighborhood
Architects: University of Arkansas Community Design Center
Client: Hopson Real Estate Holdings LLC
Images Courtesy of the Architects

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