Meet the Author:
Ben Helphand,  Chicago

Many voices. Greener cities. Better cities.
Ben Helphand

Ben Helphand

For more than twenty years, Ben has focused on ways to help communities have a direct hand in the creation and stewardship of the built environment. He is the Executive Director of NeighborSpace, a nonprofit urban land trust dedicated to preserving and sustaining community-managed open spaces in Chicago. NeighborSpace shoulders the responsibility of property ownership for a network of flower, vegetable, and prairie gardens across the City so that community groups can focus on gardening and community building. In addition to his work at NeighborSpace, Helphand is Co-founder and President of the Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail (FBT), an all-volunteer, community-based organization that advocated for the conversion of the under-used Bloomingdale rail embankment into a public greenway from 2002 until the project's completion in 2015. As the official Park Advisory Council for the Bloomingdale Trail, FBT now serves as its long-term community steward. Helphand has also served as a board member of the Active Transportation Alliance, the Mayor's Pedestrian Advisory Committee, Grow Greater Englewood, and the Chicago Housing Trust. In 2012, he was awarded a Chicago Community Trust Emerging Leader Fellowship, and was part of Next City's 2018 Vanguard class. Originally from Oregon, he holds a degree in the history of religion from the University of Chicago and studied at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

May, 2024

27 May 2024

A child drawing on a large piece of canvas smattered with drawings and colorful squiggles
How Much Water is There? Voices and Traces of Water as Perceived by Children and Young People in Bogotá
Diana Wiesner, Bogota

Lee esto en español. Over the course of a year, we embarked on an emotional and conceptual journey of exploration and reflection on water with two groups of young people and children living on the border between urban and rural areas in the hills of Bogotá. This experience led us...

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12 May 2024

A billboard in pink script reading "Imagine a city without billboards" with a person in activewear running by it
1.5°C Lifestyles and the City
Raz Godelnik, Princeton Peleg Kremer, Princeton

The imperative to mitigate global warming to within 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels necessitates substantial systemic changes in the Global North. While much attention has been directed towards clean energy transition and infrastructure investments, addressing unsustainable consumption habits has not received the priority it deserves. The growing challenges in...

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April, 2024

27 April 2024

Dancing With Scientists
Lindsay Campbell, New York Franklin Cruz, Denver

Lindsay: I am co-principal Investigator on a USDA Forest Service (USFS) research project called “Fueling Adaptation” which is looking at wildfire communications, governance, and adaptation as part of the Wildfire Crisis Strategy.  This is work I co-lead with Miranda Mockrin (USFS) and Cody Evers (Portland State University). Our team of...

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3 April 2024

A tree on the side of a road
Fight Fire With Fire … and Standards With Standards ― Building blocks for nature
Gitty Korsuize, Utrecht

A biking lane should measure 4.20 meters at minimum in the city of Utrecht. Sidewalks need to be 1.20 meters wide to make sure pedestrians and a person in a wheelchair can pass each other. For each house we build we add 0.78 parking spaces in the public domain. In...

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March, 2024

27 March 2024

A diagram of a sustainable development
Environmental, Social, and Governance Investing for Inclusive Cities
Fadi Hamdan, Athens

Background to the Sustainable Financing Gap Globally, challenges in making our cities resilient are multi-dimensional and are on the rise. According to the 2023 Sustainable Development Goals Report, over half of the global population currently resides in urban areas, a rate projected to reach 70% by 2050. Approximately 1.1 billion...

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18 March 2024

A group of people on bikes and motor scooters driving down a flooded street
What if Mobility Due to Climate Extremes Is a Crisis for Some but an Adaptation Measure for Others?
Buyana Kareem, Kampala

The United Nations Disaster Risk Agency holds that “displacement means situations where people are forced or obliged to leave their homes or places of habitual residence because of a disaster or to avoid the impact of an immediate and foreseeable natural hazard. Such displacement results from the fact that affected...

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11 March 2024

A harbor with a boat at a dock
Supporting Community Voices for Resiliency Actions
Rob Pirani, New York

Looking out from my office in lower Manhattan, preparations for rising seas and coastal storms are becoming real. As I type these words, construction crews are cutting scores of mature trees that once graced the local parks to make room for a system of about five-meter-high berms, flood walls, and...

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February, 2024

26 February 2024

A picture of many people sitting in the grass inside painted circles, all six feet apart
Social Infrastructure in a Post-COVID World
Laura Landau, New York

Social infrastructure and so-called “third spaces” (the non-work, non-home gathering spaces ― either public or private ― like parks, libraries, houses of worship, and coffee shops where people spend time) are a crucial part of the lifeblood of civic life, particularly in cities. These are spaces where people come together,...

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25 February 2024

A picture of a young girl drinking water from her cupped hands
Highlights from The Nature of Cities 2023
David Maddox, New York

Cities should be collaborative creations, no? Various professions, ways of knowing, modes of action, governments, and the people that live there, work together (we hope) to build their city from their shared and often contested values. And we need to find greener routes to built cities for them to be...

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7 February 2024

A group of trees with no leaves against a blue sky
Talk in the Park: An inquiry into culture and creativity
David Haley, Walney Island

Rightly, people recently have been valuing Indigenous cultures and writing about them. Not wishing to mimic or appropriate, but as an attempt to learn from such ways of thinking, this essay uses a form of circular storying[1] that becomes nonlinear. I stumbled upon ‘storying’ (the making and telling of stories)...

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January, 2024

15 January 2024

A Google Earth image of an open pit
Urban Mining: A Sustainable Alternative to the Environmental Impacts and Social Injustices of Extractive Mining
Graciela Arosemena, Panama City

Every human activity generates environmental impacts, such as in the case of urban settlements. Conventionally, the urban environmental impacts that are more worrisome are those that are the result of the city itself, such as urban solid wastes and water contamination. These wastes are the remains of urban metabolism, and...

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8 January 2024

A woman standing in front of a brightly colored mural of a woman's head
What if Women Designed the City? A Voyage from Brutalism to Biophilia
May East, Edinburgh

Nestled within the lively and restless Leith neighbourhood stands the iconic curved structure of Cables Wynd House, immortalised in Irvine Welsh’s novel “Trainspotting” and referred to by locals as the Banana Flats. Constructed in the 1960s, Cables Wynd is considered one of Britain’s greatest post-war buildings designed in the Brutalist...

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December, 2023

20 December 2023

A muddy work site with a city in the background
Ecosystem Approach Framework Well-Suited for Urban Areas
John Hartig, Windsor

Historically, North American urban environmental and natural resource management was operationalized in a top-down, command-and-control fashion. In general, governments prepared plans and made decisions with some limited input from other stakeholders. Over time, this shifted to a more bottom-up, collaborative approach ― an ecosystem approach. The ecosystem approach is not...

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10 December 2023

An aerial view of an oxbow river with many natural twists and turns
The goal is to mainstream Nature-based Solutions, by widening public acceptance and making it the standard and default practice of urban design. What will it take to get there?
James Bonner, Glasgow Harriet Bulkeley, Durham Tam Dean Burn, Glasgow Stuart Connop, London Bryce Corlett, Norfolk Laura Costadone, Norfolk Olukayode Daramola, Surrey McKenna Davis, Berlin Gillian Dick, Glasgow Loan Diep, New York City Niki Frantzeskaki, Utrecht Zbigniew Grabowski, Hartford Perrine Hamel, Singapore Mariem EL Harrak, Paris Cecilia Herzog, Rio de Janeiro Nadja Kabisch, Hannover Doris Knoblauch, Berlin Frédéric Lemaître, Paris Paola Lepori, Brussels Patrick M. Lydon, Daejeon David Maddox, New York Israa Mahmoud, Milan Timon McPhearson, New York Seema Mundoli, Bangalore Harini Nagendra, Bangalore Caroline Nash, London Neville Owen, Melbourne Mitchell Pavao-Zuckerman, College Park Eleanor Ratcliffe, Surrey Kassia Rudd, Freiburg Valentine Seymour, Surrey David Simon, London Takemi Sugiyama, Melbourne Morro Touray, Surrey Ibrahim Wallee, Accra

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6 December 2023

A group of people marching in a street holding signs
The Future Wave: Youth-led Commoning for Care and Climate Justice
Praneeta Mudaliar, Mississauga

Youth voices advocating for climate justice have emerged as a significant force for shedding light on the escalating challenges that climate change will create in their current and future lives. While adults often assume that young people are not interested in politics and/or are perceived to be less politically engaged,...

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3 December 2023

A city with a river running through it
Solving the Global Water Crisis
Chantal van Ham, Brussels

In 2010, the UN General Assembly explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation. Equal access to safe and clean water, however, requires a major change in how decisions over use and rights to water are made and needs appropriate legal frameworks to curb over-extraction and unsustainable behavior. Qanats...

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November, 2023

28 November 2023

A group of people standing around plants
Plant-human Relations: How Can Art Foster Positive Perceptions of Weeds in Cities?
Christopher Kennedy, New York

In early September 2019, a plant known as Jimson weed (Datura stramonium) was considered one of the top threats to public safety in New York City. Although fairly common in the region, a Tweet from Adrian Benepe, the former commissioner of NYC Parks & Recreation went viral after he found...

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26 November 2023

Plaidoyer for Transdisciplinarity, Local Agency, and Creative Co-Creation in Horizon Europe and the New European Bauhaus
Mariana Dias Baptista, Sheffield Nathalie Blanc, Paris Carmen Bouyer, Paris Paul Currie, Cape Town Małgorzata Ćwikła, Freiburg Marta Delas, Madrid Marthe Derkzen, Arnhem/Nijmegen Tom Grey, Dublin Gitty Korsuize, Utrecht Patrick M. Lydon, Daejeon David Maddox, New York Geovana Mercado, Malmö Pascal Moret, Paris Peter Morgan-Wells, Devon Steward Pickett, Poughkeepsie Daniela Rizzi, Freiburg Mary Rowe, Toronto Sean Southey, New York Chantal van Ham, Brussels Tom Wild, Sheffield Dimitra Xidous, Dublin

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20 November 2023

An aerial view of a marshy area
A Disappearing Lake in Three Parts
Wendy Wischer, Salt Lake City

Part I: Falling in Love Part II: A Broken Heart Part III: Finding Joy in the Smallest of Things This is a collection of stories about a disappearing lake. The Great Salt Lake. It is told in three parts through poems, prose, and multi-media artwork. These first excerpts are from...

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15 November 2023

A green land with a body of water
Nature-based Solutions Are Gaining Momentum in Brazilian Cities
Cecilia Herzog, Rio de Janeiro

After more than 15 years of teaching, researching, consulting, and advocating for nature-based solutions (NBS) in Brazil, it’s really fulfilling to see NbS becoming nationally recognized and adopted in several Brazilian cities. In this essay, I present my view of the process that led to this moment. It has had...

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