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  • Neighborhood Planning for Resilient and Livable Cities, Part 1 of 3: Why Do Neighborhoods Matter and Where Are We Going Wrong?

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    September 28, 2014

    Jayne Engle

    Jane Jacobs said: ‘Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.’ To embrace this idea that everyone has to be involved in creating cities is to recognize the vitality of neighborhoods as the scale at which most people relate to the city in their daily lives. Neighborhoods are, in effect, the places where we live and where we tend to spend most of our time, even if much of that is within our private dwellings. They are the places we know best, where we come home to, and where, as the urbanist Lewis Mumford (1954: 269) said, we can ‘recover the sense of intimacy and innerness that has been disrupted by the increased scale of the city’.

    Although Mumford and Jacobs sparred often, their thinking can be seen to converge on the question of how neighborhoods matter for city-building. Urban residents are concerned with their neighborhoods because what happens at this geographic scale affects their everyday experience and quality of life. People tend to be invested in and relate to the ‘local’ scale of the neighborhood in a more direct way than cities or metropolitan regions as a whole. In short, the neighborhood is an ideal scale for engaging citizens and undertaking community-based planning, design, and development, and if we co-produce them in new and innovative ways with civil society, our neighborhoods can transform our cities.

    In this first of three blog entries on the topic, we present a case for renewing neighborhood planning for more resilient and livable cities. The paradox is that ‘good’ neighborhood planning—as it was done in the past—can be to the detriment of the overall nature of cities for people. It can be divisive both spatially, by setting clear geographic ‘limits’ that signal exclusion … Continue Reading

  • The UN’s Biodiversity Targets Cannot Be Achieved Without Cities. Here’s Why…

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    September 24, 2014

    Andre Mader

    In 2010, the 193 national governments that were then party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) adopted a decision to endorse the “Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020”—to guide their actions towards stemming the biodiversity crisis over the following 10 years. Within the Strategic Plan are contained 20 specific “Aichi Biodiversity Targets”, dealing with each area that requires attention in order to achieve the original objectives of the Convention: the conservation of biological diversity; the sustainable use of the components of biological diversity; and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources. The Strategic Plan has become well known now and forms the basis of much of the reporting and planning conducted by the Parties.

    The same meeting that produced the Strategic Plan also produced a decision endorsing a “Plan of Action on Subnational Governments, Cities and Other Local Authorities for Biodiversity (2011-2020)”. This Plan of Action outlines ways in which national governments can support their local and subnational counterparts’ contributions to achieving the goals and targets of the Strategic Plan.

    Despite mirroring the Strategic Plan, however, ongoing efforts are required to build awareness of the Plan of Action’s importance in achieving it. At the same time, every single one of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets relies at least partly on cities for its achievement. The fact is that cities contain the majority of the world’s population; are responsible for a disproportionate majority of its production and consumption; are growing at an unprecedented rate in terms of population and area. So the targets the Parties are pursuing at the national level rely on the contribution and cooperation of the world’s cities and citizens.

    Here follows a target-by-target account of why cities are so relevant to the targets, and why Parties … Continue Reading

  • Born to be Wild (Sort of)

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    September 17, 2014

    Paul Downton

    “Civilisation; it’s all about knives and forks.” —David Byrne

    As a child I was not nature-deprived. I lived in small towns and villages in rural Somerset in England, and enjoyed nature study in primary school but I know that I’ve never seen or experienced anything truly wild. I never will, and as a civilised ape I’m really grateful for that.

    Left to our own devices most of us couldn’t survive in the wilderness, not even in what passes for wilderness in its degraded form. Yet we need the wild, we evolved there, and as we can’t experience it for real anymore we make do with controlled, vicarious ‘wildness’, most of which involves getting scared in some way—roller-coasters, horror movies, going face-to-face with tigers in a zoo…

    For those with nihilistic tendencies it isn’t hard to argue that there is no longer any such thing as wilderness. If you define wilderness as natural environment untainted by human intervention and manipulation, then there isn’t any because the damaging reach of industrial civilisation is literally global—DDT contaminates Antarctic penguins and the PCB contamination of oceanic particulate matter in Antarctic waters is similar to the level of contamination in the North Sea .

    Real forests are wild. They are places where one can both be lost and wish to escape from. But are ‘urban forests’ truly wild? For all the talk of ‘wild’, the wildlife experience is no longer defined by lived experience, because the definition of ‘wild’ has escaped into the thickets of a wholly urban civilisation. ‘Wild’ is behind bars, ‘wild’ is on a screen, ‘wild’ is not something that most of the human race ever experiences any more. ‘Wild’ is vicarious. It’s seductive and dangerous—but not in the way that wild used to be, it’s dangerous because it’s … Continue Reading

  • We Should Look at Urban Nature More Through the Eyes of Children 

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    September 14, 2014

    Ana Faggi

    Environmental perception by people is complex and dynamic. Individuals are active agents in their perceptions of nature—not passive receivers of information—while the environment is a global unity on which environmental processes within cities are based. Cognitive, interpretive and evaluative components are all incorporated into the perceptual processes of individuals.

    The world we perceive is a world created by ourselves through our experiences, which reflects our expectations, needs and goals. Gibson, in his environmental perception theory, asserted that objects are perceived according to the meaning, action and behaviour involved and not according to the physical characteristics they possess.

    All of this influences how we plan, design and manage our cities.

    Many Nature of Cities posts call the attention to the relevance of green and blue infrastructure in densely built-up areas, representing a win-win way to conciliate urbanization with the protection of ecosystems services. The success of reconnecting people to their nearby nature will hang principally on people´s values.

    Riverscapes are attractive places not only because water is one of the most important aesthetic elements of the landscape, but because of the many native plants and animals that occupy the shore. As Wilson asserted in his Biophilia theory, we all have an inborn affinity for other forms of life. At the same time, since the beginning of the last century architects, designers, planners, psychologists and researchers interested in environmental behaviour have consistently reported the presence of water as one of the most important and attractive visual elements of a natural or built landscape. The attraction exerted by the rivers and their banks are explained by the “Hydro- and Biophilia” theories (Wilson (1984) .

    This human preference is ancient. Settlements have always been located near water because of the resources that water offer for life. Waterscapes attract tourists, may be distinctive urban icons and have cultural … Continue Reading

  • A Natural Offset for the Rio 2016 Olympic Park

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    September 10, 2014

    Pierre-André Martin

    Brazilian landscapes suffer rapid and repetitive transformations through intense and successive periods of exploitation—for example, the Brazilwood that gave the country its name, sugar cane, coffee, cattle, soy or urbanization and its infrastructural needs. Such degradation processes provoke losses of nature and biodiversity, which are hardly reversible, but restoration initiatives had already been introduced and occur in rural and urban landscapes at the intersection of landscape architecture, landscape planning, landscape ecology and ecological restoration.

    The Rio 2016 Olympic Park, on the city’s waterfront, is converting its degraded landfill into an ecological restoration project. This is not an isolated initiative but is part of a larger ecological and landscape strategy for lagoon borders and ecological corridors for the city of Rio de Janeiro.

    EMBYÁ Paisagens & Ecossistemas landscape studio was commissioned to detail and pursue AECOM’s preliminary landscape architectural study for the Olympic path and the park at the lagoon’s edge. The project for the border of the lagoon had evolved from the preliminary study, due to the environmental requirements of creating an ecological restoration.

    The Rio 2016 Olympic Park is inserted in the Macro Watershed of the Jacarepaguá  district (commonly called Barra da Tijuca) and planned in 1969 by Lucio Costa, who was also an urban planner who worked on the city of Brasilia. The district’s composition is influenced by rational urbanism, its traffic structures are bold and its uses observe monofunctional zoning categories.

    Lucio Costa’s plan has suffered social transformations since its design and, as a result of market pressure, has been transformed into a district of gated communities punctuated by commercial structures that mostly have a “Miami” residential identity. In forty years it has been transformed from a human desert that only had only beaches, swamps, sand dunes, shrubs and thickets, into a district with more than 300,000 inhabitants, a … Continue Reading

  • Inviting You to Collaborate with Nature to Transform Your City

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    September 7, 2014

    Janice Astbury

    In the many current discussions about how to make cities more resilient, the potential roles of citizens and urban nature are largely overlooked. There are exceptions, including Krasny and Tidball’s work on civic ecology and that of a number of people associated with the Stockholm Resilience Centre (cf. Andersson, Barthel, & Ahrné, 2007; Barthel, 2006; Bendt, Barthel, & Colding, 2013; Elmqvist et al., 2004; Ernstson, Barthel, & Andersson, 2010; Krasny & Tidball, 2012; Tidball & Krasny, 2007). However, the level of interest seems disproportionately small given the tremendous opportunities for citizens to steward nature in cities—or to ‘collaborate’ with nature, as Ernstson and colleagues have inspired me to think of it:

    In order to build resilience and face uncertainty and change means to harness the interactions between stakeholders. This requires an involvement of society in its broadest sense towards a change of culture that makes ‘‘collaboration’’ between society and the environment (rather than mere ‘‘interaction’’) the central focus of attention.
    Ernstson, Leeuw, et al., 2010, p. 538

    Along with citizens and nature, urban spaces are the third player in this transition waiting to happen. I share Timon McPhearson’s belief in the potential of vacant land in cities (TNOC Encore July 2014). My interest also extends to other ‘loose spaces’ (Franck & Stevens, 2007). These include areas that are not necessarily empty but are in transition, such as post-industrial sites, alleyways that are no longer used for service provision, waterways along which freight has ceased to move and even official greenspaces that do not currently meet the needs of … Continue Reading