Architect Nancy Casey speaks in front of a small gathering at this year’s final Fireside Chat presented by the Kenai Watershed Forum on Nov. 30, 2022, at Kenai River Brewing in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Architect Nancy Casey speaks in front of a small gathering at this year’s final Fireside Chat presented by the Kenai Watershed Forum on Nov. 30, 2022, at Kenai River Brewing in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Building with the environment in mind

Kenai Watershed Forum’s Fireside Chats conclude

The sixth and final of this year’s Fireside Chats, presented by the Kenai Watershed Forum on Wednesday, featured a conversation about how to consider the impacts of human construction on the natural world — then how to integrate natural growth into human structures and infrastructure for aesthetics and for utility.

Even as snow fell — in below-freezing temperatures — a group of forum members and other attendees gathered around two fire pits outside behind Kenai River Brewing Company to hear and participate in the discussion, called “Environmentally Conscious Human Development.”

Nancy Casey, a local landscape architect who has done work in Soldotna, led the chat, speaking about techniques that can be used at any level to create an environment more conducive to both the environment and its residents — human, wildlife and plant.

Concepts discussed included managing water to make better use of it through means like rain gardens, rather than letting all the rain flow into storm drains; planning development to consolidate green spaces, which reduces pavement quantity and construction costs, as well as making more out the space; encouraging pedestrian traffic to improve safety and community; and promoting wild plants and wildlife for both aesthetic reasons and to support the local ecosystem.

Casey said she has used and seen used many of the techniques that she discussed on as large a scale as commercial construction development, but that they could be put into practice and used to benefit even small residential properties.

“This is a topic you could talk about for a whole year,” Casey said. “Go for a master’s degree.”

“The benefits to designing a future with the environment in mind include creating more beautiful spaces and even saving money on building costs,” she said. A common thread during the fireside chat was the importance of preserving birch trees that are easily disrupted and not so easily replaced.

Casey described how these techniques are actively being used in Soldotna, such as the exterior landscape of the Soldotna Public Library — where plant growth is used to promote an aesthetic and an idea.

“They loved the idea that the library would look like it’s sitting in the woods.”

“It really boils down to being thoughtful and really figuring out the puzzle a little more than you might have,” she said. “You can be more efficient, save yourself asphalt, save yourself other infrastructure costs if you are efficient with the way you build your site.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

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