What is Green Urbanism?

Walker Wells's picture

The term Green Urbanism keeps showing up unexpectedly in newspaper articles, conference session titles, blog posts, and casual conversation.  While there is an innate, intuitive sense of the meaning, green urbanism may also seem as elusive as it is evocative.  Having given this topic a fair amount of thought over the past several years, I, and my colleague and collaborator Ted Bardacke, arrived at the following working definition:

green urbanism: the practice of creating communities mutually beneficial to humans and the environment

This practice builds on the seminal efforts of Olmsted, Ian Mcharg, Jane Jacobs, Anne Spirn, Michael Sorkin, and many others, often taking many shapes and directions.  But the questions are strikingly similar.

How do you design a neighborhood or a city like an ecosystem? What is the right benchmark for sustainability? How do you integrate the many components of urbanism to generate the synergies essential to creating a sustainable place?

Our ability to answer these questions and to rise to the subtle but deep challenge posed by bringing together the words "green" and "urban" is a function of how we see our place in the world. By understanding that people are part and parcel of nature, and have never been external to the ecological flows of the natural world, we can become reconnected to nature, shift how we perceive our relationship to the environment, and reevaluate what we want – and what we need – from that most wondrous of human inventions, the city.

Walker Wells is director of the green urbanism program for Global Green USA and a lecturer at Pomona College and UCLA.



green and landscape urbanism, overlapping fetish?


what a great subject. your definition is on track, too. i wrote about the overlap of landscape urbanism and green urbanism under the direction of jack ahern, phd, fasla, at umass-amherst in 2008. there are a great many scholars shaping the future, and developing the practice of both landscape and green urbanism.

the best u.s. example i could come up with was the -process- of creating high line in the meat packing district downtown manhattan, where the public and many stakeholders were heavily involved. another good example is in derry, ireland, where the landscape and new urbanist principles converge. quite an interesting town.

take a look at my paper if you like, http://umass.academia.edu/documents/0001/2025/landscape_urbanism_COTE_08...

"Landscape Urbanism, Fetish?

Landscape Urbanism is an emerging field that recombines the art of landscape architecture, urban
planning, human health and ecosystems with community involvement in the built environment process. As
with any new field, skeptics will raise their eyebrows, ask pointed questions and provide critical feedback
that will either kill, secure or enhance the targeted field's place in the world. Since the 1940s landscape
architecture and urban planning have given way to an engineered, infrastructural approach to designing
cities. These cities are comprised of buildings with very short life spans, contributing untold amounts of
waste into a shrinking and overworked environment. With the successful rise of environmentalism in the
publics' collective consciousness, a question arises for the purveyors of the new field of landscape
urbanism: Is landscape urbanism a viable solution to incorporating ecology into cities for better human and
earth health? This paper briefly surveys current trends in this emerging field with a skeptics eye."



Michael Cote
Environmental Urban Planner
3 Hampton Ave #47
Northampton, Mass., 01060
Phone: (206) 550-3034
Email: michaelcote@gmail.com
Web: http://umass.academia.edu/MichaelCote

Kind of an empty definition...

Sorry, but this definition sounds pretty weak to me. Perhaps green urbanism would be better defined if it included some reference to ecological footprint or urbanism that does not exceed the carrying capacity of the bioregion. If we're really concerned about sustainability, shouldn't the definition imply a limit to consumption and production? Until then, this definition seems like it could just as easily be a fuzzy motto for any suburban tract builder looking for a greener complexion.

sustainable design: ecology, architecture and planning

daniel e. williams...from my book...

"Community is central to the idea of ecology. The materials and energy that are resident to it create the form and pattern of the community. This pattern is derived by the mobility of the group of organisms and their ability to feed, breed, rest and nest within the area. A community of anything is a sum total of all of the elements working simultaneously. Community, in the truest sense of the word, is an organism.

Much of the current thinking in urban and community design focuses on the form of neighborhood and community. In these projects, many important objectives are stressed: walkable neighborhoods, small-scale streets, good edge definition, design and location of town and neighborhood centers, transportation and community gathering places. However, long-term sustainability is not achievable in these communities as they rely almost entirely on non-renewable energy. No matter how charming the pattern, any biological community, including humans, must tie its long-term development and use to the sustainable energies and resources that are resident to the place.

The history of settlements has shown that resources sustain communities and the people within them. When the resources dry up, so do the communities. A sustainable urban and community pattern comes from an understanding, connecting and adapting to local sustainable resources."

In this sense, community patterns should be designed to capture, store and distribute the "free energy" of the place. Designing unplugged is the sustainable challenge.

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