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Zoning for NOR: A Case Analysis of Human Composting Facilities in the Northwest

Human composting (Natural Organic Reduction or ”NOR”) has been legalized in six states as of January 2023 and provides a modern, environmentally friendly way of turning the dead human body into fresh soil using warm air and compost materials (woodchips, hay, plants) inside of a closed chamber. Decaying as environmentally-conscious as we lived shouldn’t be hard; much less than the hardline uphill-climb to execute it can be in many communities. With changing attitudes surrounding what we can do with our body after death, planners have a unique hand in how the disposition of the dead emerges on the municipal landscape. Until recently in the US, legal disposition options in all states included: traditional cemetery burial, flame cremation, and donation to medical science-- that was generally it. Disposition of our dead is an unavoidable consideration in city planning and with the climate crisis pushing us to explore less impactful ways of living--and in this case dying--new methods have emerged. The purpose here is to examine the spatial and regulatory relationships between emerging NOR facilities and their communities. The applied method involves case analysis of three NOR facilities in the Northwest (in WA and OR) where the practice is currently legal and occurs on-site. Design elements include GIS analysis utilizing demographic and spatial data. Further content analysis of municipal zoning regulations was performed to provide a framework for comparison. Preliminary findings suggest strong demonstration of impactful planning regulations and the role zoning plays in the landscape of new death technology.

Katherine Baldiga '23
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