Fire, Air, Earth and Water are the traditionally defined elements in many cultures.
When approaching a devastated landscape, the condition of the soil will be a primary concern, and very likely the most apparent. The preservation and development of fertile topsoil will be a primary activity and goal. Creation of biomass through the cultivation of fast growing plants, compost and humus production, and the use of nitrogen fixing annual and perennial species will be useful, giving way to tree cover as the project matures.
The appropriate species and planting succession will vary by region, as well as respond to the intended use and outcomes. For this, local gardeners must be engaged and committed to a long term stewardship of the land. The earlier in the design process these stewards are engaged, the more negative impacts can be minimized through adequate planning.
The position and mechanism of the land within the larger watershed must be considered. Rain catchment and other water sources will play a major role. Generally speaking, the goal should be to retain as much water on the land as possible, designing for water seepage while creating ground and canopy cover where possible. Water management experts should also be engaged in the design process and long term stewardship of the site.
Air quality is one of the most apparent ecosystem services, directly dependent on vegetation density and biomass. This fact must be leveraged when presenting the case for an integrative eco social design approach, and should be part of the initial design process. Expertise around measuring air quality and quantifying the impact of restoration will be useful and important. Prevailing winds and meteorological phenomena should also be considered, and how these may be influenced by forests, wetlands and other restored habitats.
Finally the sun, which is the source of all power on our planet, must be taken into consideration during planning and restoration. It is cumbersome and often counterproductive to plot a design based on the position of a road or other man made feature, when this does not take into account the potential for solar energy and the management of temperature, evaporation and photosynthetic plant activity.
Until the practice of including a restoration plan in all development and industrial activity becomes commonplace, there will be a need for the rehabilitation of destroyed habitats and landscapes where little or no consideration was made for the aftermath. Many of these places will have problems of chemical pollution, radiation and other forms of waste. Creative solutions for cleaning up these hazards will be important, and is another necessary area of expertise.
Ultimately, the design must serve the needs of the local human population, or it will simply be adapted to those or abandoned completely. Engaging local stakeholders and stewards is key to success, and working towards shifting the culture of industry to consider the tangible and intangible wealth that healthy ecosystems represent, as well as the risks inherent in their destruction.