Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day and the Urban Metropolis as Energy Efficient, if not Green and Placemaking

From Garden Cities of To-morrow by Howard.

The Green Metropolis argument, laid out in a book authored by David Owen, is that per capita energy use is far lower for city residents--especially if there is a high quality transit system--than it is for suburban and rural residents. While there are issues with access to food, and the cost of bringing food to the cities, the reality is that this argument is pretty important.
Energy consumption: Suburban Sprawl vs. Green Urban
Most of the urban planning theories still prevalent in the field are about deconcentrating city living in favor of greener life in the suburbs. This is the so called "Garden City" movement that has shaped suburban land use development policy for 100+ years.

It creeps back into the city in the form of deconcentration arguments, as well as in the Tower in Park ideas (Corbusier's "Radiant City") that drove urban renewal policies. Not to mention in how everyone and their brother and sister believes every new building should be "LEED certified" not taking into account the embodied energy present in buildings, windows replaced with cheap vinyl-based products, etc., or how every building project needs to incorporate green space, even if in locations that because of their spatial conditions and context, ought to be developed more densely, and also not taking more sophisticated positions with regard to making surfaces pervious, etc.
Tower in the Park
Green roofs are cool, but interestingly, the Institute for Local Self Reliance promoted the idea of growing vegetables on rowhouses in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood of DC in the early 1970s.

Fortunately, the Project for Public Spaces has released a set of articles about placemaking and environment in honor of Earth Day, focusing on the idea of "Place Capital."

To create wealth and prosper, societies everywhere seek to build capital, a production factor not often desired for itself but for its help in producing other goods. Today there are many kinds of capital: human, social, cultural, natural, and infrastructural.

What is Place Capital?

But it may be that a key to producing lasting wealth, and a way to efficiently build and leverage these other kinds of capital, is to focus on place. Place Capital can be defined as the shared wealth (built and natural) of the public realm – and it is increasingly becoming society’s most important means of generating sustainable growth.

The public places we most value, both in our communities and around the world, have this wealth and attract its preservation and expansion. Focusing on place can best build and leverage many kinds of capital, while often creating resilience and further innovation. Where Place Capital is strongest people actually compete to contribute to this shared wealth, often changing their behavior in ways that ultimately support the value the place gives to others.

Project for Public Spaces graphic.

Placemaking and city and the city's place in the environmental movement is worth thinking about in honor of Earth Day.

Like the work of David Barth, a parks planner at AECOM (formerly Glatting Jackson), whose ideas about parks planning and integrating the public realm challenge us to think about quality of life, public spaces, and civic assets in new ways, so to does this set of articles from PPS. E.g., see the past blog entry, "Complete Places are more than Complete Streets."

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