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Light Imprint

Light Imprint is a toolbox of techniques for managing stormwater and natural drainage; it is built on New Urbanist principles and is calibrated on the Rural-Urban Transect. The Light Imprint initiative is led by Tom Low, beginning when he was a partner at DPZ; he now leads Civic by Design. The toolbox has four parts: Paving, Channeling, Storage, and Filtration. This page contains a sampling of techniques from each part of the toolbox; for the complete story, get the Light Imprint Handbook. Photos are from Carlton Landing, a new town in Oklahoma which was the first showcase of Light Imprint techniques.

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Paving plays a large role in receiving producing, and distributing stormwater runoff while at the same time fulfilling its more visible and constant role of acting as the wearing surface of footpaths and wheelpaths, and also of outdoor rooms. Paving spans a broad range of materials, from compacted earth, wood planks (as in this image), crushed stone or shell, grassed cellular concrete, stamped concrete, pea gravel, and asphalt, stone, masonry, or wood paving blocks, to name a few.

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Humans have channeled water in numerous ways since antiquity. Some were primarily utilitarian, like aqueducts while others were mostly for beauty or dramatic effect like the water channels of the Alhambra. But even the utilitarian aqueducts could be beautiful, like the one on the Original Green home page. Other channeling techniques include natural creeks, terracing, vegitative swales, soakaway trenches, canals, and sculptured watercourses. And then there are the modern ones with no appeal beyond function such as drainage ditches, stone rip rap channels, concrete pipes, and masonry troughs; these are best used in places largely unseen.

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There are a wide range of tools for collecting and storing water, and like channeling methods, several have been used since antiquity. Also like channeling methods, some of the more recent ones like retention and detention ponds tend to be the least successful at enhancing the character of a neighborhood. Storage tools include irrigation ponds, dry wells, flowing parks, landscaped tree wells, and pools with fountains.

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The purpose of filtration tools is to filter contaminants out of the water before it passes downstream. There are expensive technical methods for doing this, but nature's many ways of cleaning water tend to be much less expensive to install, and often free to operate, because it's just nature being nature. And the natural ways tend to be far more beautiful than the technical solutions. Light Imprint filtration tools include wetland swamps, filtration ponds, shallow marshes, bio-retention swales, green fingers, green roofs, and rain gardens.

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