How people see nature should affect design

Technology, innovation, and design: all are frequently discussed principles of the urban environmental movement. To improve resiliency, we need green infrastructure, to enhance sustainability, we need quantitative ways to track our carbon footprint, preferably on our smart phones. Read more.

An urban Sustainable Development Goal. Why? And what?

Next year, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), adopted by the United Nations after the Millennium Declaration, are set to expire. The next set of global development goals, which are supposed to be more environmentally focused — the Sustainable Development Goals — are currently under discussion at the UN and elsewhere, including The Nature of Cities. Thomas Elmqvist wrote a piece on the justifications for an explicitly urban SDG; and a group of 12 writers participated in a panel to discuss just what an urban SDG would look like. Read more.

Democracy, participation, and public space

Two architects, P.K. Das from Mumbai and Paul Downton from Adelaide, have recently written about public space on The Nature of Cities. Both essays, from very different angles, are about the fundamental principles around which public spaces should be planned, organized, and motivated in human landscapes such as cities. If a single word suffices, that word must be "democratic". Read more.

Simulation models are fantastic tools for engagement

A lot of recent discussion around urban planning, resilience, and sustainable cities has included ideas about community engagement. How do we get the public more engaged in urban planning in ways that are effective - that honors good design, evidence-based science and community desires? Having decided that community engagement is a good idea doesn't make it easy. My friend and colleague PK Das of Mumbai has been involved in a lot of public engagement around the expansion of open spaces, and he said something insightful. One the one hand, plopping a big plan with an elaborate drawing down in front of an audience is not exactly engagement - in fact, it can easily be a buzz kill. On the other hand, when I asked Das what for him was the biggest difficulty, he responded: "As a professional, it is resisting the temptation to try an control the proceedings; I need to relax and be a participant." So there it is. How can we meld expert opinion (and science) and non-expert opinion (just as valid, but different) in a way that honors and includes both? Read more.

Nature-related graffiti in Cape Town

Many of us think of urban graffiti as a nuisance, as an illegality, as a challenge to authority. Exactly, especially the last one. And it is also a form a communication, sometimes the only form available to people who aren't so well represented in the media. Alex Alonso wrote an interesting piece on urban graffiti and its typologies, and discussed how graffiti can provide insight into societal attitudes and perceptions. Graffiti includes political commentary, personal or 'existential' messages, gang-related territorial demarcation, simple 'tags', elegant 'piecing' where tags or names are elaborate, and larger works that, more obviously like art, that combine comment with an clear aesthetic. Read more.

Is walkability only about mobility?

Walkability and green spaces are not the same thing, but it feels as if they ought to be related somehow. This is because walkability in its most basic form is more than some version of "is possible to walk there", but also "is possible and pleasant to walk there." Or is it? One published definition of walkability, for example, is: "The extent to which the built environment is friendly to the presence of people living, shopping, visiting, enjoying or spending time in an area." (from Walkability Scoping Paper, 2005). All the action is in the word "friendly", and there's a lot of unpacking to do. Read more.

An open Mumbai is a better Mumbai

I had the good fortune of walking along the Bandra waterfront in Mumbai last week with architect-activist P.K. Das, environmental journalist and neighborhood leader Darryl D'Monte, and Bandra Fort steward Arup Sarbadhikary. They were showing me some of the fruits of a long-standing effort to create more open space in Mumbai, where people can enjoy the outdoors and one of Mumbai's assets: its coastline. Read more.

Zam... Pow... Environmental Justice!

We don't seem to live in an age of reading. But we do live in an age of communication. Ideas, images, manifestos, advertisements, loud TV, tweets and all manner of media bombard us all on a minute-to-minute basis. Put that together with one thing we know from evolving educational theory: each person learns and perceives messages a little differently, and diverse modes of delivering the same information are more likely to reach a wider range of people. What we really want is to get our messages out, to inform, to educate, to create dialog — with whatever media reach people. And this probably means delivering messages and ideas in diverse media: Tweets at 140 characters; Facebook at a few sentences; essays and blogs, books, radio, exhibits, and so on. Read more.

School biotopes: engagement that starts early

Keitaro Ito, in his recent essay called "Growing Places" at The Nature of Cities, poses the following question: where will children learn about nature? This is especially relevant in highly urbanized (and often fast growing) cities that are rapidly losing their green spaces, or perhaps never had much nature to begin with. This is the case in much of Japan, where Ito lives and works. There has been so much construction that much of the green space in cities has been lost. In such places, where will children learn about nature? Where will they play together in living spaces? How will they grow up to appreciate the critical role nature has in resilient, sustainable and livable cities? Read more.

Networks of resilience, resilient networks

Everyone thinks resilience is a good idea. The problem is figuring out what we actually mean when we say it. That is, how do we take urban resilience beyond the realm of metaphor and into the realm of everyday planning and decision-making — the stuff with which we can build cities? Read more.