WILD Wes – Our Group
WILD Wes, Working for Intelligent Landscape Design at Wesleyan, was created in the Fall of 2010. The vision of the group was to re-define the way our campus could look, to move beyond the notion of lawns as the ideal landscape. We aim to build a world that reflects our commitment to the principles of economic, social, and ecological sustainability, embodying the principles of permaculture:
A way of designing systems that is modeled on the relationships found in nature, looking at the ecology of how things interrelate, to create stable, productive systems; it’s a system of design where each element supports and feeds other elements, ultimately aiming at systems that are virtually self-sustaining and into which humans fit as an integral part. WILD Wes works to “eliminate negative environmental impact completely through skillful, sensitive design”. Manifestations of sustainable design require no non-renewable fuels, impact the environment minimally, and relate people with the natural environment.
The WestCo Site — a 3/4 acre courtyard situated in a cluster of dormitory buildings on Wesleyan’s campus — is the first landscape re-design that WILDWes will be implementing after a year of research, planning, and collaborative design. Our primary goal is to prove the viability of low-maintenance, low-input landscaping, and to demonstrate that this type of design is more sustainable, more vibrant, and more socially accessible to all who work and live on campus. The WestCo Courtyard Project was the first step in what we envision as a permanent shift in design paradigm across our campus community and many others, one that embodies a truly ‘sustainably responsible’ university campus. Through our project, we will create a new culture of sustainability, an outpost against reckless development, and an exceptional and transferable example for institutions around the world. Upholding Wesleyan’s legacy of meaningful engagement requires us to become leaders in sustainable design. This leadership is premised not upon words, but upon tangible implementation of systems that confront pressing global challenges while making our immediate environment more appealing.
The Summerfields Site — a neglected and compacted dirt slope in the Butterfields courtyard, it served as the unsightly walkway and bike path up to the dining hall. After a few years of slippery, icy winters, and muddy springs, the university recognized the need for a staircase. It was going to be a university contracted construction site, but WILD Wes requested to undertake the project, and in the fall of 2012 was granted permission by Physical Plant to complete it in a more sustainable, affordable manner.
During the 2012-2013 academic year, the WILD Wes student groups and student forums designed the site, and started implementation with three interns during the summer of 2013. With the use of recycled materials and without fossil fuels, a staircase was built, surrounded by terraces on either side, which were then planted the following summer (2014).
Sustainable Landscape Design. Environmental crises such as climate change, resource depletion, biodiversity loss, the effects of urban sprawl, and the buildup of toxins in our soil, air and water threaten the livability of our planet on a fundamental level. We believe that the design of our built environment and how we choose to maintain it reflects our values and our commitment to future generations. If we value a livable planet we must design our landscape in such a way that privileges environmental resilience and human health over waste and consumption. From these concerns stems our primary focus – how can we design for communities so that they can confront macro level environmental crises, while simultaneously making them more livable and just for their inhabitants?
Campus Lawns and their Alternatives. Extensive lawn cover is disastrous for the environment. Maintaining conventional grass lawns through the use of pesticides, continual mowing, and chemical fertilizers creates serious and well-documented ecological and public health problems. Heavy use of fossil fuels, the release of toxins into our immediate environment, and massive expenditures of water are chief among the practical concerns posed by traditional lawns. Wesleyan’s lawn maintenance requires approximately 1,347 gallons of gas and 2,434 gallons of diesel per year, which means that more than 40 tonnes of carbon dioxide are released each year and 641 pounds of carbon dioxide per acre. This, we can and must change.
A paradigm that is more aesthetically compelling and ethically sound exists. By shifting to native ground cover, wildflower meadows, and edible plants we stand to make significant reductions in CO2 emissions, detoxify the local environment, and conserve freshwater resources. Fruit and nut trees promote human health and happiness by presenting an abundance of local produce. Wildflower meadows and native species support biodiversity while allowing robust ecological systems to elegantly carry out the functions currently performed by petrochemicals. By moving beyond the ubiquitous application of lawns we free ourselves to develop a more distinct and beautiful landscape—one that is simultaneously educative, productive, and sustainable.