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Is Placemaking a 'New Environmentalism'?

Like music, environmentalism's tenets evolved from precedent, and Kaid Benfield hopes they are evolving still.
April 28, 2017, 9am PDT | Hazel Borys
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"Can placemaking – in short, the building or strengthening of physical community fabric to create great human habitat – be a 'new environmentalism'? The question is posed by a provocative short essay, which I first discovered in 2011. Written by Ethan Kent of the Project for Public Spaces, the article continues to make the rounds. The essay influenced my own writing (“The importance of place to sustainability”), and I’m returning to it here because the issues Ethan has raised continue to be important."

"My answer, by the way, is a qualified yes: creating the right kinds of places for people, particularly at the neighborhood scale, has indeed become a new approach to environmentalism and one to which I am deeply committed. But I qualify my answer because placemaking is by no means the only important aspect of today’s environmentalism (not that Ethan suggested that). In addition, I think the physical building of community can become even stronger as an environmental tool by becoming somewhat more explicitly environmental in its content.  I’ll get into all that in a minute.

"First, though, I want to explore the phrase 'new environmentalism' a bit.  Years ago, the well-known urbanist Andres Duany was kind enough to write a cover blurb for NRDC’s then-new book about smart growth, Solving Sprawl. Andres wrote, 'Finally, here is a book on the environment that includes the human habitat as part of nature. This may be the first text of a ‘New Environmentalism’.' I was quite honored by the flattery that our book was being considered important and new, and by the parallel language to 'new urbanism,' bestowed by one of that movement’s pillars. Might our way of thinking – advocacy for smart, green 'people habitat,' if you will – be earning its way to an impact on the environmental movement as significant as that brought by the new urbanists to architecture and planning?"

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Published on Tuesday, April 25, 2017 in PlaceShakers
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