New Urban Stormwater Course Combines Ecology, Landscape Architecture

By Angela Fichera

West Eisenhower Parkway, Stone School Road and West Ellsworth Road – three heavily traveled thoroughfares in the city of Ann Arbor – each got a makeover thanks to graduate students in an SNRE experimental course titled “Urban Stormwater: Science, Design and Management course.”

The course, offered university-wide in the fall, was team-taught by two SNRE professors: aquatic ecotoxicologist Allen Burton and landscape architect Joan Iverson Nassauer. The three-credit course is the latest example in a growing trend of SNRE faculty working across disciplines to create courses to teach environmental problem-solving with an interdisciplinary focus.

“For the [master of landscape architecture] students, who are the majority of the class, having a substantive, factual course about urban stormwater quality and management is a big difference from what they would get in other MLA curricula, and an important advantage when they are ready to look for their first professional position,” said Nassauer. “Working with Allen, we were able to put these students on the cutting edge. I’ve already had requests for our syllabus from several professional firms and from Landscape Architecture faculty at other universities.”

“The course was really project based and it was helpful to have both Joan and Allen’s expertise when we had questions. We were able to get a lot of the science components from Allen too,” said first-year Landscape Architecture student Oren Brandvain.

In December students in the course met for their last class to present their final projects to a review panel comprised of five SNRE Landscape Architecture alumni. Fai Foen, Patrick Judd, Jennifer Lawson, Catherine Riseng, and Harry Sheehan were on-hand to provide constructive criticism and feedback to members of the three student teams

“The review panel members were from different eras, and each of them is currently influencing regional stormwater management,” said Nassauer.

The course’s final project was to use knowledge presented in the course to assess watershed conditions and ecosystems, and develop a conceptual design and management plan for a specific urban area within the Malletts Creek watershed.

Malletts Creek watershed covers 11 square miles in the city of Ann Arbor and neighboring Pittsfield Township, according to the city of Ann Arbor. The creek flows into South Pond, and eventually into the Huron River, near the Huron Hills Golf Course. Over the last four decades, the watershed has undergone extensive development of shopping malls, residential housing and parking lots. Impervious surfaces now cover over 30 percent of the Malletts Creek basin.

The conceptual plan needed to include both landscape changes (depicted at the scale at which interventions would occur) and management changes (with attention to how management changes would be implemented). Work was largely based on Mallett’s Creek Restoration Project: Final Report, a comprehensive plan commissioned by the city, township and the Washtenaw County Drain Commission, as well as field examinations of their study area. The three study areas were Stone School Road and E. Eisenhower Parkway, including Mary Beth Doyle Park; W. Eisenhower Parkway and Briarwood Mall; and W. Ellsworth Road and S. State Street

“A course that focuses on stormwater management, especially in an urban environment, is very timely and appropriate for the issues that many cities across the U.S. are facing today,” said Lawson, who graduated in 2011 and currently is a Water Quality Manager for the City of Ann Arbor. “Stormwater management, including stormwater permitting and regulation, are very large issues that urban communities are grappling with from both an ecological perspective, as well as a public health and safety perspective.”

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