Balancing the Scales of City Sustainability

Kaid-BenfieldI spend virtually all my professional time thinking about the intersection of human settlement and environmental sustainability. I am particularly interested in the built environment of American cities, towns, and suburbs – what I like to call our “people habitat” – and how it relates to the natural world. How can we make these two realms – people habitat and natural habitat – more harmonious?

These issues are acutely on my mind today because I am preparing a talk I have been invited to deliver early next month on “Urbanism and Sustainability.” (For those who are interested, it will be at the annual meeting of the Congress for the New Urbanism, in Detroit, at 10.15 am on June 8.)

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Green Cities: Breathe deeply and walk freely

As much as I love my winter city, when spring rolls around life brightens up. The onslaught of studies from Friday’s Earth Day imply that our feel-good response to the fresh lime green of spring does much more than pump endorphins. How we green our cities may be a life and death issue. People with greenery close to home have significantly lower mortality rates, according to new analysis of the extensive Nurses’ Health Study.

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Green in the City: A recipe for mental and environmental health

Kaid-BenfieldThe National Arbor Day Foundation has a simple app on its website that allows visitors to see how a city changes as it adds tree cover and other vegetation. Using a little sliding tool, one can gradually change the illustration from one with few trees to one with abundant trees. The difference is striking: everyone I know would prefer to live in the greener city.

I love the Arbor Day app, but this is not a new subject for me. I have long maintained that the fates of nature and cities are intricately related: Nature needs cities, a truth still not sufficiently appreciated in the world of environmental advocacy, because compact urban and suburban communities reduce development pressure on the natural and rural landscape.

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Happy New Year: Celebrating Venetian biophilia

This reflective time of year is ideal for thinking back on the people, places, and experiences that brought solace in 2014, and offering thanks. I was particularly struck by the power of community in challenging moments, and how support from friends, family, and colleagues makes a real difference. And by the power of place for solitary and convivial comforts alike.

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Climate Change: a global commons problem

The report published week before last by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made it clear that climate change is a global commons problem. The solution is to decouple rising temperatures from economic and population growth. Hundreds of the most prominent scientists with divergent political views from around the world have run thousands of scenarios, and I’m going to take a moment here to extract some of the land use issues woven through the report.

This is practical advice for city planners about how to move in a cleaner direction and pull as many local decision-makers as possible along with you. So “wonk alert” to our less technically interested readers, who may prefer this Yale 360 piece from prominent enviro thinkers about paths forward. Or this older piece by Emily Badger in Atlantic Cities about how reformatting the single family home’s relationship to its neighbourhood will help.

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