Reconsidering Ian McHarg

The Future of Urban Ecology

By Ignacio Bunster-Ossa

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In 1969 Ian McHarg laid out a new approach to land-use planning. His seminal work, Design with Nature, blazed the trail for sustainable urban development. The road was paved with good intentions. But where exactly did it lead? And where do we go from here?

Reconsidering Ian McHarg offers a fresh assessment of McHarg's lessons and legacy. It applauds his call for environmental stewardship while acknowledging its unintended results. For McHarg's idyllic developments at the edge of nature turned greenfield sites into suburban communities. They added to sprawl and made America more dependent on cars. And they may even have delayed the kind of urban redevelopment needed to make today's cities more sustainable.

Author Ignacio F. Bunster-Ossa brings a unique perspective to the subject. He studied under McHarg at the University of Pennsylvania and now holds his teacher's former job at Wallace Roberts & Todd. From that vantage, Bunster-Ossa looks back at his predecessor's pioneering work and ahead to tomorrow's challenges. Join him as he examines the myth of the American wilderness against the backdrop of brownfield development in our increasingly dense cities.

Explore case studies from the Plan for the Valleys to the rebuilding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the ambitious Trinity River Corridor Project in Dallas. Consider the role of green infrastructure, the rise of community engagement, and the place of public art. And ask: how can our generation create healthier, denser urban environments right in our own backyards?


Click here to read an excerpt from Reconsidering Ian McHarg.

About the Author

Ignacio Bunster-OssaIgnacio Bunster-Ossa is a landscape architect and urban designer whose work is consistently recognized for design innovation. He is a leading practitioner of landscape urbanism, an approach to urban design based on the fusion of ecology, community identity, infrastructure, recreation, and public art. He is a principal at Wallace, Roberts & Todd (WRT) and directs the landscape architecture studio in Philadelphia. He has taught at the University of Pennsylvania and lectured at numerous schools around the world.

Bunster-Ossa is a Harvard Loeb Fellow, and a fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects. He earned his Master of Landscape Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania, his Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Miami, and participated in the University of Notre Dame’s Rome studies program. He also co-authored the Green Infrastructure: A Landscape Approach Planning Advisory Service report.

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Date Published
April 1, 2014
APA Planners Press

Table of Contents



Reading This Book



Chapter 1. Design with Nature: Promise and Pitfalls
Ecology as a Promised Land
The Layer Cake
The Plan for the Valleys
Abetting Sprawl, Failing the Inner City
Design with Which Nature?

Chapter 2. The American Wilderness: An Evanescing Myth
Wild Lands That Hardly Were
Infrastructure Rising
Wilderness Subsumed

Chapter 3. Cities: Our Abode
Densifying the American Dream
Up, Up, and (Not) Away

Chapter 4. Building, Dwelling, Greening
Breathing Green
From Design with Nature to the Granite Garden
GreenPlan Philadelphia

Chapter 5. From Green to White: Ecology as a Design Ethic
Body and Soul of the Baroque
Fargo 365
Leibniz and Compossibility
A "Unity of the Arts"

Chapter 6. Localism: A Participatory Ecology
Localism as an "Eco-Democratic" Circumstance
The Seattle Question
Of Wharves and Gardens

Chapter 7. On Public Art
Site Specificity
Site Specific Utility
Site Specific Ecological Utility

Chapter 8. Dallas: In Search of an Urban Future
Planning Background
In Horse Country, A Magic Hoof
Making It Happen
Public Art
Economic Development

Chapter 9. Toward a Climax City
City as Landscape
Community as Park
Building as Garden

Chapter 10. Beyond, Ahead
Delivering on Densification
Return on Investment
A Role for Government
A Final Word on Ian L. McHarg

End Notes


Photo Credits



"Ignacio Bunster-Ossa’s brilliant reconsideration simultaneously critiques and updates McHarg’s ecological advocacy. For those interested in designing and planning with nature, Reconsidering Ian McHarg is a must read."

— Frederick R. Steiner, Dean, School of Architecture, University of Texas at Austin

"With a balanced range of theory and practice, the book is essential reading for anyone interested in the future of American cities."

— Richard Weller, Professor and Chairman, Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Pennsylvania School of Design

"Reconsidering Ian McHarg affords rich reading for all who care about the future of cities. Ignacio Bunster-Ossa is a consummate professional whose deep experience and insights inform an inspiring vision that is within reach."

— Anne Whiston Spirn, author, The Granite Garden: Urban Nature and Human Design

"Bunster-Ossa makes a compelling case for a 21st-century city that is both dense and green, forged out of active public participation and collaboration with artists."

— Armando Carbonell, Chair, Department of Planning and Urban Form, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

"Bunster-Ossa offers an intriguing combination of personal reminiscence, scholarship, and lessons learned from professional experience. His explanation of ecologically based planning and design will interest professional planners and landscape architects as well as those who are new to the subject."

— Jonathan Barnett, FAICP, author, Redesigning Cities and Smart Growth in a Changing World