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Dix Park: A Sustainable Living Model

    The design for Dix Park by MVVA is admirable in many ways, but I believe that it misses some very important aspects as we move further into the 21st Century. The park would serve Raleigh and all of North Carolina better if it became a model for sustainable living.
     As a global culture, we have major challenges facing us. The global population is roughly 7.7 billion people and the estimates for the carrying capacity of the Earth is 10 billion people, with this number based primarily on the amount of arable land available for growing the needed food. One aspect of a park for the future is that it would have as a foundation a pallet of food producing plants. Yet the MVVA design is promoting the old saw of ‘a collection of native plants from all across the state,’ or where they are more specific, a botanical garden for shade loving plants.
     We have two excellent public gardens, the UNC Botanic Garden which promotes native plants from across the state, and the JC Raulston Arboretum, which features ornamental plants that are suited for our area, including shade loving plants. What we need is a garden that promotes and features food producing plants that are suitable for inclusion in a typical ornamental landscape. Seattle has such a public garden, and it is called Beacon Food Forest.
     “What is a food forest? A food forest is a gardening technique or land management system, which mimics a woodland ecosystem by substituting edible trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. Fruit and nut trees make up the upper level, while berry shrubs, edible perennials and annuals make up the lower levels.” (from
     Including food producing plants as a foundation for the landscape will educate as well as provide much needed food for those in our city who are struggling to access food for themselves and their families. It will also contribute to the building of community while reducing the ‘food miles’ needed to bring the needed food to our residents.

Another major challenge for the future is how to generate enough energy to power all of our various systems. Burning fossil fuels is damaging our global ecosystem to the point now where the UN predicts that we’re facing a non-reversible catastrophe if we don’t change immediately. What better way to do so than making Dix Park a model for energy production and conservation by all means available – photovoltaic, wind turbines, living roofs to mitigate heating and cooling, and transportation to and within the park that de-emphasizes automobiles. There are photovoltaic systems for roofs and roads and windows and curtains. More efficient wind turbines are evolving that can operate on less wind, and certainly if we build better buildings which utilize more natural light and better insulation, we will decrease the energy demands for heating and cooling.
     We can do this. But it needs to be a fundamental principle in the design of Dix Park.