Ed Dermody is a landscape architect from St. Louis, MO that I met on LinkedIn.  He holds a degree in landscape architecture from Kansas State University and has been practicing landscape architecture for more than 20 years. He has many design projects to his credit in Missouri and Illinois as well as in the Bahamas and Saudi Arabia. Ed was also as planning commissioner for the City of Maryland Heights, MO, for over 10 years.

Ed has had the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects, including private estates, low-impact developments, sustainable designs, public and private parks, streetscapes, and waterscapes. Past clients include private resorts, multi-family communities, commercial & retail developments, nonprofits and local municipalities. Currently, Ed is currently working with his local municipalities to develop green infrastructure ordinances that advance sustainable design principles in the St. Louis region.

I recently had a chance to interview Ed regarding the future of Urban Design. Here are a few of his thoughts:

1. You have long been an advocate of urban design. Why do you believe these practices are vital to our nation’s urban revitalization efforts?

My advocacy for this movement began 20 years ago when the benefits of urban design to our communities became apparent. In particular I became intrigued as to how these efforts reduce urban sprawl and “recycle” our nation’s downtown areas.  The big-picture hope is for our lands and properties, long forgotten and devalued, to become viable and capable of supporting larger, more diverse populations, thereby creating a greater sense of community and place.

2. What are the potential benefits to a community from embracing sustainable urban design practices?

Sustainable building practices and site design have proven valuable to our urban areas as they allow for redevelopment of antiquated utilities (storm water systems) and buildings—practices that enhance efficiencies so that ownership and utility costs will be reduced. Significant community benefits are achieved when we reduce consumption levels burdening existing systems, thus mitigating the need to build new infrastructure, such as roadways, storm water systems and electric lines.

Social and economic benefits related to sustainable planning practices are also achieved through a better understanding of the need for balance between housing, retail, employment and public amenities. An example of this is in the case of affluent neighborhoods where employment opportunities and amenities are needed to attract this demographic, boosting the sustained growth of these areas.

Finally, let’s not overlook the importance of diversity as a support system for social institutions and sustainability. Through these networks a sense of community identity is forged, bonding everyone together.  This will then reduce crime rates, increase property values and influence civic connections with adjoining communities.

3. What cities currently offer best-case models of urban design?

Cities like Omaha, NE, Greenville, SC, and Kansas City, MO, immediately come to mind in terms of their commitment to urban design practices. Omaha in particular has taken ambitious steps to generate positive change in urban, suburban and surrounding communities. They have worked hard to redefine themselves—efforts that have increased their regional standing and competitiveness. Infused in their urban design philosophy is a recognition of the importance of cultural diversity and world-class public arts, all factors influencing their sense of community identity.

4. There is so much talk these days about “green design.” What’s your take on the future of these practices?

I believe green design represents a reversal of the design and engineering principles creating during the industrialization of America. As such the future of green design is very promising because the advancement of technologies and our environmental understanding has permeated into the academic communities. Our next generation of planners, architects and engineers will spur new ways of thinking about our environment, bringing green design to a more commonplace practice.

That being said, green design needs to be viewed in a broader context—one where economic, social and environmental questions are given equal play.  As a landscape architect, I believe that environmental sustainability plays an important role in improving storm water run-off, efficient site design, preservation of unique or historical elements, increased beneficial landscape, and protection of the public’s health, safety and welfare. Design becomes most inspiring when these goals are achieved in an artful way, one that blends nature and science into living sculptures.

5. What one person has most inspired your design philosophy over the years?

I would say James Wines through his book De-Architecture (Rizzoli International Publications, Inc, 1987).  Although he focuses primarily on architectural principles, the underlying philosophies of De-Architecture have allowed me to create design principles that can be applied to any project. These design principles, coupled with Stephen Bungay’s Study of Hegel’s Aesthetics (Oxford University Press, 1987), create a framework of design rules and a process to understand fundamental issues. This broader philosophy is a frame work of design rules that govern the design process and ultimately the final outcomes.

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