Sunday, September 2, 2007

Green Cities & Urban Ecology

Green Urbanism
Part IV: Green, Organic Cities
Chapter 7: Urban Ecologies and Strategies for Greening the Urban Environment

One of the first concepts that Beatley introduces is the idea of incorporating green or nature-enhancing features as a part of new, high density development projects that include natural areas in close proximity to residents and engage the public in the design process. He goes on to describe different methods of green building – roofs, walls, streets, courtyards, bridges, farms, parks, and drainage strategies. Later he describes how European cities have dealt with local climates and ecological restoration, restructuring, and conservation. One of the important things the author points out, when discussing the application of European practices to American cities, is that one of the biggest obstacles is going to be traditional ways of thinking, particularly in changing the perception Americans have of cities, and bridging the gap between what is urban and what is natural.

I think that greenroofs and natural drainage systems are among the easiest concepts to push in urban situations, particularly where there is new development occurring. New York State law requires in most situations that the runoff that leaves a site post-construction be no greater than that which left the site prior to construction. The ability of greenroofs to mitigate stormwater runoff and retain a large amount of water in the substrate greatly reduces the runoff that would be leaving a site. This combined with natural drainage systems – permeable paving, retention basins, bioswales, etc—can diminish any problems with stormwater runoff volumes. Both of the systems can also contribute to improved water quality, provide habitat and aesthetic enhancement, and be applied in urban, suburban, and rural contexts.

I found myself questioning Beatley in his claim that a national ecological network in the United States is “probably unlikely.” Although it may be challenging and require a major change in perception and attitudes toward nature and city, I don’t think it’s that impossible of an idea, especially if the network were to follow watersheds…

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