Ways + Means: An operational logic for intensifying the Highlands

The Highlands study area is not a singular condition. Rather, it is a collection of distinct, highly charismatic landscapes. The two largest of these landscapes are the Highlands proper and the Great Valley—two thick belts of high-performing ecology supporting the region’s population. At just over 30-miles from the core, these landscapes are the metropolitan region’s “near nature”—one mountainous and forested, the other a vast fertile valley. Between this near nature and the Inner Ring lies a third major landscape condition—what we refer to as the Lowland Front—an area of towns and transportation, suburbs and job centers. It is the interface of these landscapes that is the focus of our study.

PORT + Range
Team members
Christopher Marcinkoski
Ellen Neises
Megan Born
Nick McClintock
Yelena Zolotorevskaya
Claire Hoch
Ao Zhang
Naeem Shahrestani
Qi Wang

The Highlands Mythos

The Highlands were once constructed through painting as a place where humans and nature could co-exist in harmony. This romantic mythology treated treating the land as a resource to be exploited, but also one to be cultivated and conserved. Today, the mythos of the Highlands no longer exists in our collective imagination in a meaningful way.

“View of Greenwood Lake, New Jersey” Jasper Francis Cropsey (1845)

Near Nature

While the Highlands presently lacks a place in the collective imagination the way signature landscapes like the Catskills or the Adirondacks still do, it remains the New York Metropolitan Area’s most significant piece of large-scale Near Nature—visited annually by more people than the three most frequented National Parks combined.

Multiple Landscapes

This lack of collective identity can be tied to the highly varied conditions within the Highlands. This is not a singular territory. It is characterized by multiple kinds of green, and in particular, three major geologic landscapes: the agricultural belt of The Great Valley, the steep forested slopes of The Highlands, and the encroaching suburbia of The Lowland Front.

In order for the metropolitan region to grow, we must guide and concentrate future growth while increasing the productivity of resource lands, not simply conserve them as they are.

Highlands Resource Exchange

PORT and Range propose an approach that connects and intertwines conservation and development, rather than seeing the two as inevitably in conflict. By intensifying reliance on existing and new tools and institutions—transfer of development rights, conservation banks, and carbon markets, for example—the region can establish an exchange of resources that allows cities downstream to secure ecosystem services and flood storage upstream where they can be produced more efficiently and at scale. Multi-purpose landscape infrastructural ways built and maintained with this money will dramatically increase environmental capacity. The team proposes to accommodate future populations by concentrating them in established towns and new centers on low-ecological value land near transportation routes and job centers. This new settlement will utilize hybrid development models with strong relationships to the landscapes that attract people to the Highlands.

Through complete integration of conservation and development, ecosystems and economies, design and management, the PORT and Range vision for the Highland’s future fully embodies the goals of the Fourth Plan.

The Highlands

Many small basins store flood water for several hours to relieve downstream flooding in cities. Management of deer restores balance of forest and wildlife, and creates Geneways.

Passaic Section
Passaic Forest View

With proactive stewardship and a dramatic reduction in the size of deer herds, we can increase biodiversity of ecosystems and wildlife communities.

Passaic Trails View

Thickened woodland and habitats can be enjoyed by all and accessed by many more with an expanded regional trail network.

The Lowland Front

Hybrid development formats tie landscape performance and character (ecosystem service upgrades) to bonuses and incentives related to the production of new concentrated settlement in low-ecological value landscapes adjacent to, or nearby existing population centers and transport.

Lowland Section
Lowland Front View 1

Large-scale soft infrastructure (flood fingers) provides unique landscape character and community open space for new moderate-density development in the Lowland Front

Lowland Front View 2

Densification and conversion of vacant or under-performing properties allows for the creation of hybrid education/community centers around which new moderate-density development can be established.

The Great Valley

Large-scale landscape infrastructure for flood control, recreation, habitat, water quality and carbon sequestration that boosts the economies of towns and farmers

Great Valley Section
Great Valley View

Solar silos and next generation wind turbines integrate renewable energy, greenhouses, cisterns, cell communication infrastructure, climate monitoring and pollinator support with a flood protection Hydroway managed in part by farmers. Charismatic landscape infrastructure creates recreation opportunities and reasons for more people to live in compact multi-family buildings near new park.

Campaign for the Highlands

A central component of our work is a broad communications campaign to increase understanding of the distinct features of the existing Highlands’ landscape.

Poster: Farms
Poster: Lakes
Poster: Forests
Poster: Rivers
Poster: Wetlands
HPoster: illsides
Poster: Reservoirs
Poster: Towns
Poster: Routes