Friday, May 26, 2017

An Urban Sustainability Reading List

Blueprint for a Sustainable Bay Area, Urban Ecology, Oakland, CA, 1996. An extensively illustrated look at how the San Francisco Bay Area can become more sustainable, written for a popular audience.

Ecological Design, by Sim Van der Ryn and Stuart Cowan, Island Press, Washington, D.C., 1995 (reviewed in 1996 #1). An elegant, theoretical look at principles of ecological design, as applied in settings such as sewage treatment marshes, industrial ecosystems, and ecological buildings.
The Ecology of Commerce, by Paul Hawken, Harper-Collins, New York, 1993 (reviewed Winter 1994). A visionary work looking at how economics can be retooled to support the restoration of natural systems. Discusses specific mechanisms such as green taxes, and provides a theoretical overview of “sustainable businesses.”

End of the Road: The World Car Crisis and How We Can Solve It, by Wolfgang Zuckerman, Chelsea Green Publishing, Post Mills, VT, 1991 (reviewed Spring 1993). Dealing with the growth of automobile use is one of the biggest challenges of sustainable urban development, and this entertaining book systematically lists steps to end the “car crisis.”

The GAIA Atlas of Cities: New Directions in Sustainable Urban Living, by Herbert Girardet, Anchor Books/Doubleday, New York, 1992 (reviewed Spring 1992). A beautifully illustrated popular overview of urban history, problems and futures, with emphasis on developing world megacities. The book’s final section, “Healing the City,” summarizes themes such as urban greening, energy efficiency, recycling, alternative transport, and traffic calming.

Green Plans: Greenprint for Sustainability, by Huey D. Johnson, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1995. A look at how national green plans can set the stage for sustainable development, with examples from The Netherlands, Canada, and New Zealand.

Making Development Sustainable: Redefining Institutions, Policy, and Economics, edited by Johan Holmberg, Island Press, Washington, D.C., 1992. A reader covering topics such as public institutions, public participation, environmental economics, sustainable agriculture, and industry. Contains a good chapter on “The Future City.”

Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on Earth, by William Rees, New Society Publishers, Philadelphia, 1996 (reviewed in 1997 #I). A popular book with catchy illustrations in which the author presents a “footprint” model for determining how much land area is required to support urban inhabitants.

Planning for a Sustainable Environment. A Report by the Town and Country Planning Association, Earthscan Publications, London, 1993. A thorough but dry consideration of topics such as land use planning, energy policy, ecosystems, natural resources, pollution, waste, transport, regional planning, and economic development, by a Sustainable Development Study Group consisting of many leading British researchers.

Regenerative Design for Sustainable Development, by John Tillman Lyle, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1994. A lengthy examination of theoretical and practical aspects of ecological design, covering topics such as solar design, water conservation, waste assimilation, and building construction.

Reviving the City: Toward Sustainable Urban Development, by Tim Elkin and Duncan McLaren, with Mayer Hillman, Friends of the Earth, London, 1990 (reviewed Spring 1992). A look at sustainable urban development from an environmental perspective, emphasizing steps to address energy use and pollution rather than social issues or land use.

Shaping Cities: The Environmental and Human Dimensions, by Marcia Lowe, Worldwatch Paper 105, The Worldwatch Institute, Washington, D.C., 1991. An excellent, concise overview of ways that cities can be made more sustainable, including discussions of urban form, transportation, energy use, water use, housing, land use, and social justice issues, with examples from around the globe.

Sustainable America: A New Consensus, President’s Council on Sustainable Development, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1996. Although a consensus document that doesn’t go nearly far enough in some ways, the PCSD’s report does outline many useful principles and examples of sustainable development, and is remarkable in that it exists at all.

Sustainable Cities, Graham Haughton and Colin Hunter, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, Ltd., London and Bristol PA, 1994. A thoughtful and thorough analysis by two English academics, focusing on environmental aspects of urban development but bringing in social and economic factors as well. The authors adopt a strongly international perspective and discuss historical ideas about ideal city form as well as current implications of the Earth Summit’s Agenda 21. A potential textbook for university courses.

Sustainable Cities: Urbanization and the Environment in International Perspective, edited by Richard Stren, Rodney White, and Joseph Whitney, Westview Press, Boulder CO, 1992. An excellent international survey of sustainable urban development issues, edited by three geographers associated with the University of Toronto, with sections on western Europe, eastern Europe, Africa, Canada, the U.S., Latin America, Southeast Asia, China, and Japan.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Nature Custodianship in Cities

"The trick is to include nature as a fundamental part of cities – not a tacked on afterthought. What most urban ecologists call for is a larger rethink of cities as natural ecosystems with their own metabolism – a blend of natural space, wildlife and built structures, not unlike a river with a beaver dam. Instead of adding green to urban blueprints, they argue for the “biophilic city,” an urban space that is natural in its own right, with green included from the ground up. Features such as living walls, in which greenery is planted vertically, or cookie-cutter parks may amount to little more than green-washing, argues Joseph Juhasz, a professor emeritus in the architecture faculty at the University of Colorado at Denver. “They dress up the city, grow cucumbers on the wall, but they don’t deal with the fundamental problem – we have to build in a manner in which the site does not dictate the building.” Like many environmentalists, Dr. Juhasz says urban planners too often settle for short-term design that leaves a long-term footprint. “We have lost a sense of custodianship. Will their great-grandchildren be happy with what they have built?”"--Erin Andersson,

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Effects of biodiversity and environment-related attitude on perception of urban green space

“Green space in cities contributes to the quality of life for city dwellers, e.g., by increasing the opportunity for recreation. However, perception of urban green space is influenced by multiple factors. We investigated effects of biodiversity and environment-related attitudes on visual and auditory perceptions of urban green space. Field measurements of biodiversity were conducted in six sites across an urban gradient in Gothenburg, Sweden, and three categories of biodiversity—high, medium, low—were established. Households were sent a survey on aesthetic perception of urban green space, sound perception and the importance of trees and plants for the perception of bird species. Each respondent focused on the site that was located nearby. The environment-related attitudes comprised “Nature-oriented” and “Urban-oriented” persons and were based on participants’ own attitude estimations. It was shown that participants’ “subjective” aesthetic and sound-related perception of urban greenery were in line with the “objectively” measured subdivisions of high, medium and low biodiversity. So also were their estimations of the importance of trees and plants for perception of bird species in urban greenery, although differing only between high and medium/low biodiversity conditions. Persons rating themselves as highly nature-oriented were shown to give higher scores to urban green space aesthetics and to value greenery-related sounds higher, and to attach greater importance to trees and plants in their perception of bird species in urban greenery, than less nature-oriented persons. Highly urban-oriented persons compared to less urban-oriented persons did the same, but only regarding urban greenery-related aesthetics and sounds of nature. We conclude that environment-related attitudes influence perceptions of green space. Moreover, our findings support the idea that biodiversity per se also influences perceptions; people value green space significantly more with high than with low measured biodiversity. Urban planning needs to provide city inhabitants with green spaces that are species-rich, lush, varied and rich with natural sounds.”
Gunnarsson, B., Knez, I., Hedblom, M. et al. Urban Ecosyst (2017) 20: 37. doi:10.1007/s11252-016-0581-x

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

(Nothing But) Flowers

Talking Heads, Naked
Written by David Byrne • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

Here we stand
Like an Adam and an Eve
The Garden of Eden
Two fools in love
So beautiful and strong
The birds in the trees
Are smiling upon them
From the age of the dinosaurs
Cars have run on gasoline
Where, where have they gone?
Now, it's nothing but flowers

There was a factory
Now there are mountains and rivers
You got it, you got it

We caught a rattlesnake
Now we got something for dinner
We got it, we got it

There was a shopping mall
Now it's all covered with flowers
You've got it, you've got it

If this is paradise
I wish I had a lawnmower
You've got it, you've got it

Years ago
I was an angry young man
And I'd pretend
That I was a billboard
Standing tall
By the side of the road
I fell in love
With a beautiful highway
This used to be real estate
Now it's only fields and trees
Where, where is the town
Now, it's nothing but flowers
The highways and cars
Were sacrificed for agriculture
I thought that we'd start over
But I guess I was wrong

Once there were parking lots
Now it's a peaceful oasis
You've got it, you've got it

This was a Pizza Hut
Now it's all covered with daisies
You got it, you got it

I miss the honky tonks,
Dairy Queens, and 7-Elevens
You got it, you got it

And as things fell apart
Nobody paid much attention
You got it, you got it

I dream of cherry pies,
Candy bars, and chocolate chip cookies
You got it, you got it

We used to microwave
Now we just eat nuts and berries
You got it, you got it

This was a discount store,
Now it's turned into a cornfield
You've got it, you've got it

Don't leave me stranded here
I can't get used to this lifestyle

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Monday, October 31, 2016

The Living Urban Matrix: Ivy on Brick Walls

“Look at the ivy on the cold clinging wall,
Look at the flowers and the green grass so tall;
It’s not a matter of when push comes to shove,
It’s just an hour on the wings of a dove.”

                        --Van Morrison

Photo: Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is used by many birds and mammals for food and habitat. (Brzuszek, 2016)

Bricks are fired handfuls of soil that once nurtured generations of grasses, shrubs and wildflowers. Now they lie dormant in plumb level rows between thin sheets of cold building mortar. Do they dream of a day to once again nurture life for an emerging seed? Maybe the ivy, used here as a general term for ivy-like things, senses this time-honored plant + soil relationship and creeps across the brick in a lover’s touch. Bricks support ivy so that its leaves can reach the sky and in return ivy drapes the building in a lace skin, cooling it to the touch in the hot summer sun.

Living Urban Matrix Element: Ivy on brick walls

Habitat: on buildings everywhere

Ecological services: the cooling of structures (2014 research by C. Bolton, et al, found that ivy coverings averaged 1.4 degrees Celsius warming at night, with 1.7 degrees Celsius cooling in day—resulting in an 8% energy savings ((Building and Environment 80:32–35, October 2014)). Plants also absorb rain water that ameliorates stormwater flooding (Living Architecture: Green Roofs and Walls, 2011, CSIRO Publishing).

Biodiversity values: creates excellent habitat and nesting for wildlife throughout the year for “many species of birds, insects and small mammals” (

Monday, October 17, 2016

A Secondhand Life

“A row of daffodils and red tulips nestled against the walkway beneath my feet. Stray weeds peeked up through the cracks in the concrete, a reminder that that nature had the final say. No matter how much mankind bulldozed or built, all was vulnerable to Mother Nature's whims.”

― Pamela Crane, A Secondhand Life

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Ruined Cottage

“It was a plot
Of garden-ground, now wild, its matted weeds
Marked with the steps of those whom as they pass’d,
The goose-berry trees that shot in long lank slips,
Or currants hanging from their leafless stems
In scanty strings, had tempted to o’erleap
The broken wall. Within that cheerless spot,
Where two tall hedgerows of thick willow boughs
Joined in a damp cold nook, I found a well
Half-choked with willow flowers and weeds.
I slaked my thirst and to the shady bench
Returned, and while I stood unbonneted
To catch the motion of the cooler air
The old Man said, “I see around me here
Things which you cannot see: we die, my Friend,
Nor we alone, but that which each man loved
And prized in his peculiar nook of earth
Dies with him or is changed, and very soon
Even of the good is no memorial left.”

---Wordsworth, The Excursion, Book I ("The Ruined Cottage")