Returning to Earth: Natural Design for a Cemetery in Otter Tail County, MN
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As awareness of human impact on the environment grows, ethical concerns are raised over the exploitation of natural resources by traditional cemetery design, and burial practices come into question. America’s parks first began within cemeteries where people enjoyed the serene settings of nature in well-designed rural burial landscapes. In the early 19th century, Mount Auburn Cemetery was built in Massachusetts serving as passive recreational and gathering spaces for a wide variety of users and introducing Americans to the value of public green space. People traveled from the congested city to Mount Auburn’s tranquil rural cemetery setting to enjoy walks and picnics in nature. This opportunity to enjoy the outdoors spurred the profession of landscape architecture and the design of public spaces specifically for the purpose of outdoor recreation. Once cities began to create public parks separate from cemeteries, people frequented cemeteries less and they became sacred, unused spaces. According to the Green Burial Council, the traditional method of burial annually utilizes 20 million board feet of hardwoods (including rainforest woods), 1.6 million tons of concrete, 17,000 tons of copper and bronze, 64,500 tons of steel and 4.3 million gallons of embalming fluid. In addition, cemeteries require demanding levels of maintenance and land that further consume resources without regard for necessity. While individuals are beginning to make decisions that will positively impact the environment in their everyday lives, as well as deaths, alternatives to traditional burial, such as natural burial, columbaria, and scatter gardens, are gaining in popularity. Natural burials do not require the deceased to be embalmed and rather place the body in the ground wrapped in a shroud or biodegradable casket leaving a considerably smaller carbon footprint than traditional burial. Columbaria offer a land conserving above ground option for the interment of cremated remains. Scatter gardens are beautiful, peaceful spaces designated for cremated remains to be connected more directly with nature. Individual desires towards greener burial methods warrant the examination of current cemetery practices. The future of cemetery design is expanding to include sustainable on-site practices, such as stormwater collection and retention systems and the utilization of native plantings. These methods increase sustainability by improving water quality, eliminating the need for irrigation and fertilizer, and reducing maintenance requirements. Through historical analysis, exploration and scrutiny of how cemeteries fit within the framework of landscape architecture will result in a better understanding of how future cemetery design should be approached. Supplemental assessments of existing cemeteries, such as Lakewood Cemetery, De Nieuwe Ooster, Hofheide Crematorium, and Askim Memorial Grove, will help develop a comprehensive list of program elements to be implemented within the sustainable design alternatives to traditional cemeteries.