Conservation Design Introduction


Today the Chicago metropolitan region is heir to a proud legacy of public conservation, but its tradition of robust development has often overwhelmed the conservation of natural areas on privately-owned land. In particular, land use regulations intended to guide development have often put up inadvertent barriers to environmentally responsible conservation development.

By contrast, conservation design is an integrated approach that facilitates development while also taking into account, and conserving, the natural landscape and ecology of the development site. It is a strategy that transcends traditional conceptions of development and conservation as a choice of "either/or," offering opportunities for "both/and" solutions that are both profitable for developers and encourage conservation of natural areas and systems.

The implementation of conservation design in the region may be limited, but local examples such as Prairie Crossing demonstrate the promise of the strategy—both at the level of a single subdivision and, if adopted on a much greater scale, region-wide. The benefits of conservation design correspond with the needs of the region and the priorities of CMAP, making it a relevant planning strategy to consider for the GO TO 2040 Plan.

Conservation design is often thought of as a suburban and rural residential concept, with developments using greenfields or undisturbed land on the outer municipal boundaries.  For these areas, conservation design does provide a more environmentally sensitive option to conventional suburban neighborhood development.  However, conservation design is also highly adaptable and can be applied to all types of environments – urban, suburban and rural – and in residential, commercial and industrial sectors. Even though conservation design is not a comprehensive solution for all the challenges of urban, suburban and rural development, it does offer a more efficient and sustainable method to fulfill residential, commercial and industrial growth (NIPC 2003).

The following paper examines the strategies of conservation design, and assesses the likely benefits of implementation on a regional scale. The first section defines specific principles, practices and benefits of conservation design. The second outlines our main research questions, while the third provides an overview of existing conditions in the region. The fourth section considers the potential impacts of implementing conservation design on a series of key potential indicators chosen for the GO TO 2040 Plan, and the fifth section examines challenges inherent to the strategy.  Examples of similar and supporting concepts are explored in section six. 

This paper is not intended to be an exhaustive guide to conservation design.  It is intended to provide a brief summary of its principles while evaluating the impact of conservation design as a concept to potential indicator areas expected to be used for the GO TO 2040 Plan.  For this paper, staff extensively relied on a previous Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission (NIPC) document, Conservation Design Resource Manual, published in March of 2003. The document's executive summary is available on-line, as is the full report.