Sanitary City vs. Sustainable City - Who Wins, Who Loses?

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April 15, 2012, 7:48 AM PDT

By Walker Wells

What aspects of urbanism and quality of life got lost with the
creation of today's modern post-industrial urbanism, or the Sanitary City?
And what bearing does this have on the future of green urbanism and

Going back just 100 years, cities were filled with noise, smell, smoke,
sewage, animals, slaughter houses, trash incinerators, market gardens, stables,
etc. Through building codes, use-based zoning, water system upgrades, creation
of the electricity grid, and the emergence of the automobile, and establishing
environmental regulations, we were able to eliminate most of these urban
problems.  Overall this has led to large increases in the quality of human

But what has been the cost of moving up Maslow's pyramid? Are we
healthier? - absolutely.  Happier? - maybe. Sustainable? – not even

Achieving urban sustainability requires more than tinkering with the
efficiency and intelligence of the modern city.
The future urban experience needs to
be built on principles of ecology, biological processes, and cyclical
metabolisms.  This means that compost,
water management, and local wastewater are part of the cityscape, as is the smell
of compost, ripe fruit, and sounds of chickens, pigs, goats, and the occasional
rooster. Reinstating these organic qualities as norms, rather than
idiosyncratic aberrations, is essential to the transition from the Sanitary
City to the Sustainable City.

In other words, sometimes you need to go backward to go forward.

Walker Wells

Mr. Wells is a Principal at Raimi + Associates, an urban planning consultancy based on sustainability, equity, health, and authentic stakeholder engagement.

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