Sunday, September 2, 2007

Across the pond

I believe one of the most apparent similarities between the two readings is the emphasis on the responsibility of local governments to take action with regards to sustainable practices. In Green Urbanism, the author was able to highlight several examples of European cities taking the initiative to institute green policy measures, such as green roofs, community gardens and reconstructing the urban environment to include more open space and wildlife. In “Making Nature in the City”, the modern city is portrayed as a place with extremely fluid borders, where the decisions it makes are affected by and affect global processes. The city becomes responsible for its own ecological future, however these decisions are often influenced by civil society (while usually further marginalizing those at the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder). A more subtle commonality I noticed between the two readings is the assertion that the way in which we market sustainable practices influences how receptive the public is to adopting them. “Making Nature in the City” states that, “we can posit that the accessibility to and reach of one’s narratives into hegemonic, strong publics in the policy process depends primarily on the framing of one’s argument.” Green Urbanism, for example, talks about the rhetorical power of speaking in terms of “green infrastructure”, rather than simply proposing green space protection. Finally, and to show a point of contrast between the two, “Nature” emphasizes the danger of couching environmental reform in the context of progressiveness while Green Urbanism points to the many successes of governments being able to solve more than one problem through the application of sustainable practices.

One of the sustainability strategies cited in Green Urbanism that I found to be very innovative is the use of green walls. Not only do they provide insulation to a building, but they also add a certain aesthetic quality and they deter graffiti artists. I would have loved to been able to look out of my office window this summer and see a greener Baltimore. I think as long as we can argue for these changes by stressing the multiple benefits for the city rather than just saying “it’s good for the environment,” we will able to be a lot more successful.

A concern I had as I was reading Green Urbanism is how well the American culture will be able to accept current European practices as practical solutions. As beneficial as natural drainage systems would be, I don’t see people in suburban America getting excited about having a swamp in their carefully manicured back yards. The author seems very confidant that the “reconceptualizing of the traditional aesthetic of the American lawn or yard [is]…certainly possible.” I don’t know if I can share his optimism. And suburbia aside, is a city resident with a minimal backyard going to want to devote what precious green space they have to a muddy mess? Many of the other practices cited by the author I believe definitely have a shot, especially the green roofs, but the less pleasant of them not so much.

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