Baltimore Riots … Blame the Urban Planner?

Blame the Urban Planner

With my City in turmoil, I’ve been asking myself about the role of society, citizens, and my profession in contributing to, and then resolving, conflicts like this.

As a practicing Urban Planner who is relatively “fresh” out of grad school (one year, now), I have found myself wondering these past weeks (well, to be honest, my whole life, but especially in these last few weeks) what society must do to remedy tragic and unequal conditions in urban neighborhoods. As a minority majority member in a City whose population is 63% African American/Black, it becomes an issue about race whether you want it to or not (I know, we thought racial inequality ended decades ago…well it very certainly did not).

Being connected to many white people through facebook, posts this past week have created deep chasms between polar opposite viewpoints.

This presentation, which I gave yesterday morning to the Planning and Urban Design team at my office, talks about how structural racism has contributed to a cyclical and viscous inequality among Baltimore’s residents.

Despite its name, the presentation is not so much an attack on Urban Planners, but a criticism of society and urban policy as contributors to urban inequality and the resulting violence. However, the presentation is intended to be a call for action for urban planners and designers, and citizens alike.

Megan_May2015_TeamResearch_lores links

For the Baltimore Newcomer…

If you like…..

Having Random Fun:

  • Climb! Rockwall climbing facility in Timonium (if you go, let me know because I’ve yet to visit!)
  • Red Zone Laser Tag, also in Timonium (never been to this place, but if it’s laser tag, it’s probably fun!)
  • The Pirate Ship (drink as much as you can in one hour while shooting water cannons at attackers—also let me know if you do this because I’ve yet to myself!)

Coffee:

  • Baltimore Coffee & Tea in Timonium, or Zeke’s Coffee in Lauraville (City) retail their blends.
  • There are a number of great coffee places throughout the city (especially Hampden), too.

Radical/Counter Culture: go to Red Emma’s Book Store/Cafe on North Avenue in Station North!

Health Food:

  • Retail: The Natural across from the Fair Grounds, or MOM’s Organic Market off of Ridgley Road in the Timonium shopping center near Michael’s Craft Store.
  • Retail (City)—Mill Valley, Whole Foods
  • Vegan/Veg Restaurants: Liquid Earth, Land of Kush, One World Cafe

Hobby Shops:

  • Titan Games and Hobbies

Comic Book Shops:

  • Atomic Books (Hampden—they have a bar, too!)
  • Alternate World’s (Cockeysville)

Mexican: There’s a new Mexican place in Timonium, La Tolteca. I like it; then again, I have yet to find a Mexican restaurant I didn’t like…

  • Holy Frijoles (Hampden)
  • Zen West (Belvedere)
  • Los Amigos (Hamilton)
  • Nacho Mamas (Canton)

Breakfast:

  • Miss Shirley’s (Cold Spring or Downtown)

Sushi:

  • County—Traditional: Edo Sushi (BYOB and next to a liquor store, off Padonia Road) or Sushi Hana (off of Ridgley Road by MOM’s and Michael’s Craft store and also in Towson). More eclectic sushi: Umi Sake on York Road, north of Padonia Road
  • City—Traditional: Sticky Rice in fells point; Eclectic: Ra Sushi in Harbor east (it gets loud)

City Markets:

  • Indoor—Lexington Market, Cross Street Market, Broadway Market, and Hollins Market
  • Outdoor—Under I-83 (warm months only); Waveryly Farmer’s Market (year round)

Beer:

  • Max’s Taphouse (Fells Point)
  • Brewer’s Art (Midtown)
  • Belgian Beer Hall (Hampden)

Breweries with Tours:

  • Heavy Seas Ale House (and Brewery)
  • Union Craft Brewery

Wine:

  • Boordy Vineyards
  • Basignani

Speakeasies

  • W.C. Harlan (Remington)

Ice Cream:

  • The Charmery in Hampden

Burgers:

  • Abbey Burger Bistro in Federal Hill

Giant Pagodas: Patterson Park

Conservatories and Groves: Druid Hill Park (there’s also Baltimore’s Zoo in Druid Hill…but zoos are bad imo)

Art Museums:

  • American Visionary Arts Museums is a must
  • Baltimore Museum of Art
  • Walters Art Gallery
  • MICA Campus galleries

Other museums

  • Baltimore Museum of Industry
  • Edgar Allen Poe house
  • Maryland Historical Society

Meat:

  • Head up to Gunpowder Bison on a good day and observe the bison (from a distance), and check out their retail shop where you can buy bison meat and bison byproducts (leather goods, etc.)
  • Nick’s Rotisserie in Pigtown (City) for (apparently) the best fried chicken ever

Yoga:

  • Charm City Yoga in Towson
  • Or there are a bunch of places near me in Hampden (like Hampden Bikram Yoga and Baltimore Yoga Village).

Nature:

  • Cylburn Arboretum in the City has a number of hikes and trails, easy to get to
  • Loch Raven Reservoir
  • Hikes all around the City

Biking:

  • NCR Trail (starts in Hunt Valley)
  • Shared dirt trails near Falls Road

Large Touristy Places:

  • National Aquarium in Baltimore (I think this belongs here…)
  • The Science Center

Historic Towns:

  • Old Ellicott City

Graveyards:

  • Greenmount Cemetery (John Wilkes Booth buried here, along with a number of other famous folks; they have cemetery maps for finding key people.

Graffiti/Street Art:

  • Station North, Open Walls Baltimore. A number of walls around the neighborhood were painted by international street artists

Free Transit:

  • Charm City Circulator

Transit:

  • Baltimore Light Rail
  • Bus System
  • Totally need all the support we can get for the proposed Red Line!

Bocce:

  • La Scala (Little Italy)
  • Home Slyce (Mt. Vernon)

Sports:

  • Baltimore Sports and Social League (drinking involved)

Libraries:

  • Enoch Pratt Free Library Central Branch

Rich People Homes:

  • Roland Park

Cliched but Must See Baltimore Neighborhoods

  • Fells Point and Canton
  • Federal Hill
  • Mt. Vernon
  • Little Italy
  • Hampden

Less Cliched Neighborhoods to Visit:

  • Hamilton/Lauraville
  • Station North and Bolton Hill
  • Pigtown
  • Mount Washington

Why Would Anyone Want to Live in Baltimore

So it’s been 4.5 months since I moved into my home in Baltimore and, truly, I could not be happier!! While I’m still super busy and lack much time to write, I wanted to give a few cents on why I think you need to move into Baltimore.

My Story

I wanted to move into Baltimore City, first and foremost, because I wanted a more efficient and sustainable lifestyle. I wanted to live smaller, more simply…to have greater access to such a variety of experiences was more important than having a suburban house with lots of “stuff” and many “things” (I’m still working on reducing all of my stuff and things, but I’m making improvements!).

I also chose Baltimore because it’s up-and-coming—it’s on a cusp—and I see so much promise. Something great is about to happen and I not only want to be here for it, but I want to contribute to it. It’s really exciting to be a part of that—something that’s evolving, growing, and only getting better!

I chose Hampden back when I was in school nearby at MICA. I love how eclectic the neighborhood is; the people who live here are super crazy (myself included, I suppose). . .and I absolutely love that! It definitely has a unique character about it and it’s exactly what I wanted—it’s a little bit artsy, a little hippie (also a little hipster), a bit old fashioned, and sometimes conservative. I love the small, historic homes, and the possibility of still having my “patch of grass.” I love that it’s walkable to literally everything I could ever need: bank, pharmacy, hardware store, grocery, post office, breakfast/lunch/dinner/dessert, multiple parks, hike/bike trails, light rail (reasonably walkable, if you’re comfortable walking 10-15 minutes [I am]), bus stops, shops, movie theater, etc. And it’s small enough to still feel like a tiny, close-knit community—but with all the amenities of urban living. There’s recent development and interest in the community, and it’s definitely on the rise. I needed to get in while it was still affordable; however, I do think that the diversity of homes in the area (a diversity which I hope never goes away) will mean that anyone can find a house at or near their price point. So, I had been looking at homes in Hampden for years, and it just happened that my new job was located in the neighborhood!

Things worked out perfectly for me, and they can work out just as well for anyone else looking to move into Baltimore!

Advice for Buyers/Renters

My advice for buyers? Definitely take advantage of Baltimore’s many resources and incentives (see Live Baltimore’s site). I was able to receive the First Time Homebuyer/Buying Into Baltimore incentive, as well as a Live Near Your Work incentive. My house is also historic, so we’ve received preliminary approval for Historic Tax Credits.

As for renters, I would also recommend taking advantage of Live Baltimore to get a feel for different communities.

Finding the Right Neighborhood

For both renters and buyers (although this is especially important for buyers), I would recommend going to the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance’s website to know the facts about the different neighborhoods (crime, schools, income, diversity, etc.).

Look at sites like WalkScore and ParkScore to learn about a neighborhood’s amenities.

Living car-free and walking/biking to work is doable from certain areas of Baltimore. I still have my car (I literally just paid it off about a month ago), but I usually walk or bike to work—I’m still getting used to not commuting by car! In Baltimore, though, if the neighborhood is right and there are still Zipcars around, you could maybe even live car free—or be a single car household! (That’s my goal.) But unless you live within walking/biking distance to work, I wouldn’t suggest getting rid of the car just yet. Baltimore’s transit is still going through puberty…and it’s a bit of a rebel at times.

Once you’ve found a couple winner neighborhoods, be sure to attend their community association meetings before making a decision, and stay involved once you move in!

Getting Friendly with Baltimore

Lastly, for newcomers discovering Baltimore, I have a few tricks: find Meetup groups, buy the Baltimore drink/dine deck to learn about the coolest bars/restaurants, spend the autumn months enjoying Free Fall Baltimore, find great causes to support with VolunteerMatch, or join a sports group—like the Baltimore Sports & Social Club, etc.  And stay up-to-date with all the latest happenings through Visit Baltimore!

Baltimore Ecosystem Study Long-Term Ecological Research (BESLTER) Annual Meeting and Fun events!

Dearest readers, please mark your calendars for this very cool event in Baltimore this month. The BESLTER is having a number of opportunities to engage folks interested in sustainability in the city during their 2014 annual meeting—including a Science for a Sustainable City session on the 21st (see this flyer: BES Sustainable City Flyer 10-21-14), and a open house on the 22nd.

Being held at the Vollmer Center at Cylburn Arboretum, 4915 Greenspring Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21209.

Hope to see you there!

Capture

The 2012 Annual Sustainability Report is available online!

BaltimoreOfficeofSustainability_2012AnnualReport

The above link takes you to the Baltimore Office of Sustainability’s 2012 Annual Report file, released on April 23, 2013.

I was involved with this report through my position as an annual report intern (alongside Austin Green) with the Office of Sustainability.

Steps You Can Take poster, created for the 2012 Annual Sustainability Report

Steps You Can Take poster, created for the 2012 Annual Sustainability Report

Deep Ecological Urbanism in Baltimore

As I was reading through Beatley’s book, Biophilic Cities, I was eager to start applying what I was learning and reading to an area in Baltimore. Chapter 3 of his book had provided me with a list of indicators (Box 3.1, pages 47-49) for measuring biophilia in cities, and it really set me on the ground running with this mission of mine.

What I want is a small, manageable area of Baltimore that can, in many ways, represent the many diversities of Baltimore City as a whole. It should have a mix of development types- both historical and modern; rowhomes, apartments, and perhaps even single family- it should be a part of the Inner Harbor to provide a view of tourism and recreation, it should feature some other hydrology, should also have more development in the near future, and I would like it to be near one of Baltimore’s larger parks. I hadn’t thought too much about demographics since I really don’t know if I have the time to spend on that detail but, ideally, it would mirror Baltimore’s general population. After choosing an area, I think it would be an interesting exercise to use Beatley’s indicators.

I went about studying some of Baltimore’s conditions and setting priorities to determine an area which I think would yield interesting results. I considered the following:

  • Areas with current Urban Renewal Plans
  • Historical districts
  • Rate of calls for dirty streets
  • Rate of calls for clogged storm drains
  • Food Deserts
  • Concentrations of minority populations
  • Areas showing high levels of diversity
  • Medium- to High-density areas
  • Mix of zoning classifications
  • Areas with the fewest trees
  • Areas around unhealthy waterways (all Baltimore waterways are…)
  • Areas with low voting activity
  • Diverse housing typology

Using a very broad brush, I loosely outlined areas which met the above conditions and produced the map below.

Choosing a study area in Baltimore

Choosing a study area in Baltimore; base map is the Baltimore Floodplain Map

Some other elements which I hadn’t considered in this exercise, but am now thinking about, include access to city parks (any size), income level, and transit accessibility. But I think this exercise produced sufficient results even without mapping those characteristics.

You can already see a concentration of overlapping conditions in the area just northeast of Patterson Park, as well as the area west/southwest of the Inner Harbor. Actually, before I did the mapping exercise, I had considered Federal Hill for this study- it has both historic and recent architecture, has a range of building types, is expecting new development in the coming years, and has access to a larger urban park and the Inner Harbor. As I did the layering study, I noticed that Federal Hill was not as diverse as I would like the study area to be. Still, I think it presents the right physical conditions for my future study and I plan to pursue this area in more depth. At the same time, I can’t really ignore Patterson Park. Although it is farther from the Harbor than I wanted (still only a few blocks away), it seems to present all the different characteristics in which I was originally interested. I think I’ll include this area in my study as well; perhaps it will yield different results.

As I read more and progress in the semester, I hope to use these areas as a base upon which I can visualize and analyze the concepts I review. In the end, I intend to propose ecological design recommendations.

Of Elephants and Humans

Deep Ecological Urbanism | Unit 1: Human vs. Nature | Reading Review

Elephants are bent upon creating diversity!

Elephants are bent upon creating diversity! [Disclaimer: this is not my art! It’s been saved to my computer since I found it online some time ago. I never knew the artist. If you know who created this piece, I’d love to know!]

Now amid the second week of the course- which I have titled Deep Ecological Urbanism: Ecology, Efficiency, & Ethics in Urban Design I am drawing a close to the first unit. I wanted to begin by studying the dichotomy between town and country, with hopes of better understanding the history and fundamentals of urban development as it relates to nature. I was impressed with a few of my reading choices, which ended up being ridiculously appropriate despite being selected solely based on their title and my judgement of the first few lines of text. For example, the first book I opened….

Ecological Design | Van der Ryn, Sim, & Cowan, Stuart. (1996). Ecological Design. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Ecological Design by Sim Van der Ryn and Stuart Cowen, really got to the heart of one of my main concerns prior to the course. I really wanted to investigate the term “sustainable,” which has become a buzzword of sorts, especially in environmentally friendly worlds, yet it is only partially concerned with the environment (the three legs of the sustainability stool being: economy, society, and the environment). I thought a better word to use would be “ecological” (I am naively ignoring the fact that “ecological” is becoming a buzzword of my own). “Sustainability and Design,” the first chapter of this book, immediately dove into this concept and cited David Orr’s differentiation between technological sustainability and ecological sustainability. Aha! There it was, the answer to my problem: just put the word ecological in front of sustainable and that’s the concept I’ve been after! Orr’s comparison is a great start. While technological sustainability can be described as the remedy, ecological sustainability is the preventative measure. I enjoy the medical implications of these terms, as it completely relates to my own approach towards personal health. I would much rather prevent the disease, than to be prescribed harsh drugs which are often more like a means to mask the symptoms, than they are a remedy. Still, while I do like Orr’s definitions, I recognize that I want to either find or develop a concept that is much more intricate, and I hope to build upon what I’ve gathered here. In addition to immediately addressing one of my primary considerations, the same chapter in Van der Ryn and Cowen’s book, hinted at another concept I’ve been contemplating: biomimicry. Although the 1996 book didn’t outright mention the term in this book, it did suggest value in that science which studies nature as a model- a concept which gained much popularity the following year with the publication of Janine Benyus’ book, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature.

Nature is more than a bank of resources to draw on: it is the best model we have for all the design problems we fact [Van der Ryn and Cowen, p.7].

The next reading I began was actually the next chapter, titled, “An Introduction to Ecological Design.” Yet another great foundation was set for the coming course, presenting an understanding of where ecological design has originated- going into a brief review of some key figures and advancements. I really appreciated how this chapter emphasized the importance of cross-discipline cooperation, urging for an understanding an integration of ideas. The reading suggested that no single-sided decision would be able to produce truly ecological design without the rich complexities that develop out of a whole systems approach. Here, again, I am reminded of medicine, and the idea of holistic health. Perceiving the city as one organism (another analogy that gets me really excited- the city AS nature!), allows for a broad approach which can simultaneously address multiple urban concerns. I have to find time to go back to this chapter, for it had a great list of books and authors, and a terrific chart comparing conventional design solutions with the ecological alternatives. While touching on many different approaches, this chapter encouraged me to begin asking the right questions if I ever hope to produce the right results.

Ecology in Ancient Civilizations | Hughes, J. Donald. (1975). Ecology in Ancient Civilizations. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.

I then went on to read what was a last minute selection I picked up from the school library: Ecology in Ancient Civilizations by J. Donald Hughes. Chapter one, “Environment and Civilization,” was a very brief (5 pages!) but provocative read! Beginning by evaluating the relationship between human civilization- particularly of ancient cultures- and the natural environment. Ancient cultures understood and honored the value of nature; yet, clearly, and I don’t think many would argue this, we had been quite destructive of it. Hughes began to hint at a feedback, noting that nature had possibly had her revenge. I skipped ahead to chapter 11, “Ecology and the Fall of Rome,” and Hughes really developed upon the previous inclination that nature fought back. This chapter provided great insight, but I began to see that this book wouldn’t be providing me too much usable information. Explaining that the Fall of the Roman Empire could largely be attributed to anthropogenic impacts, Hughes illustration subtly foreshadows modern civilization (at least I interpreted it as doing so much). Interestingly, proving my misconceptions, Hughes explained how the Romans often prevented technological advancement, either because the present slave availability was sufficient, or for fear of economic impact. At times, some of the disregarded technologies might have conserved their natural resources. Conversely, in today’s culture, we advance technology so that we no longer recognize the limitations of our natural resources, nor our continued dependence upon them. I enjoyed reading Hughes’ book, but for the purpose of this study, I feel it acted purely as a warning.

Ecocities | Register, Richard. (2006). Ecocities: Rebuilding cities in balance with nature. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.

After these two books, I felt I was off to a pretty decent start. I had begun to clarify the differences between a sustainable city and an ecological city, I had learned a bit about some of the various alternative approaches, and I went back to review some of our historic relationships between man and nature. My next goal was to review the concept of city IN nature, for which I turned to Ecocities, by Richard Register. Re-reading “The City in Nature,” chapter 3 of this influential book, reminded me of how much I appreciate Richard Register’s writings. Speaking with such simplicity, Register makes our society’s failure to build in ecologically friendly manners so clear. Yet, I’ve come to see how naive, or utopian, his ideas sometimes are. Though an absolutely brilliant person, Register sometimes separates his vision from reality. This chapter illustrated that towards the end, when he mentioned the builder’s sequence. This sequence suggests that success will only be achieved when starting from the ground up. Perhaps I’m taking this too literally, perhaps he is suggesting that sustainable design practices must first infiltrate the most basic levels of society… But I just keep repeating the saying in my head: the greenest building is the one you don’t tear down. The greatest ecocities, according to this old saying, could potentially be the ones which have already been developed. Now, I know for a fact that Register does a lot of greyfield/infill development. Still, I would appreciate it if the problem-solving conversations were more often framed in an existing city context, and not the utopian ideal. That critique aside, this chapter made some great points: cities are more sustainable than suburbs (a concept I intend to explore in more detail down the line), ancient cultures used to know what they were doing, and that we as humans have much to learn by observing nature.

This reading also reminded me of a great analogy which I’ve recently adopted as an inspiration: that of the elephant. Consider the elephant at work. The elephant, just going about its business, happens to be a tremendous steward for biodiversity. Register exclaims*, it “seems like they’re bent upon creating biodiversity” (Register, p. 52). The elephant clears paths, finds water, creates more accessible shelter and food…and does all this coincidentally, while it simply tries to meet its own needs. As you can see, it impacts the environment in its efforts to thrive; yet, the impacts actually contribute to the health of the ecosystem, rather than the detriment. Like elephants, human civilization can selfishly explore ways to meet its own needs, but can do so while benefiting the environment! (More on this idea in another reading I’ll review)

Environmental Ethics | Light, Andrew, & Rolston, Holmes, III. (Eds.). (2003). Environmental Ethics: An Anthology. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Five different readings across 3 books and I was only half finished (I may break these posts up a bit in the future?). I went on to read from the anthology, Environmental Ethics. By jumping into this book, I think I got a bit ahead of myself, but the topics were still something I intended to review early in the semester. The introductory chapter, “What is Environmental Ethics?” by Clare Palmer, was a great gateway for the subject, but it went into a bit more detail about the philosophies and theories than I really wanted to review. However, there were still some terrific foundational concepts which worked well for the opening unit- such as the very basic question of what is nature (and does the concept of nature change over time?), or the debate over what role humans play in the environment. The key, I think, is to fully grasp the considerations of value, utility, or worth and apply them to development. I must say that I most agreed with what was written about the opinions of J. Baird Callicott and his ideas of holistic environmentalism. And while I already knew that I appreciated the writings and teachings of Aldo Leopold, I was reminded of how congruent my beliefs are with his land ethic. I think there were some great ideas here which framed a better way to view the city: as part of a much larger whole.

Green Cities, Growing Cities, Just Cities? | Campbell, Scott. (1996). Green Cities, Growing Cities, Just Cities? Urban Planning and the Contradictions of Sustainable Development. In Scott Campbell, & Susan S. Fainstein (Eds.). (2003). Readings in Planning Theory (2nd Ed.) (pp.435-458). Malden, MA: Blackwell.

I was quite pleased with the first reading to kick-off my study. And while I appreciated each of the other readings I had chosen for this unit, I was pleasantly surprised with how appropriate was the text of Scott Campbell’s “Green Cities, Growing Cities, Just Cities? Urban Planning and the Contradictions of Sustainable Development” in the Readings in Planning Theory anthology. I think my selection of this essay was spot on; but again, completely by chance. But I was so pleased with the way this text framed the concept of sustainability in a planning concept (I shouldn’t be surprised, it’s a Planning anthology!). I just think that, for me, this essay really touched home. I truly appreciated its ability to make me see how naive I have been about this romanticized view of an eco-future, as well as about my “ecotopian” belief that our ancient cultures were living so harmoniously with nature, or that their ways were not so socially destructive . The piece really emphasized the importance of all three systems of sustainability (economic, social, and environmental), urging for a collaboration among them. I am fond of the way this text argued against the “man vs. environment” spectrum, citing that it were much more complex than we often perceive it to be. Drawing attention to the ever growing popularity of the “sustainability” buzzword, and the implications of such a growing popularity, the essay tries to better define this fuzzy and vague term. From this search for a definition, the conversation develops to consider how sustainability might be met, measured, or even known. Suggesting a few strategies and approaches, the reading concludes by repeating, once more, the significance of all three systems.  I most appreciated this reading for smacking me down and off my cloud. The human-nature divide is intense but cannot be seen as two opposite realms against the other. Though I’ve always recognized this, knowing that environmentalism is not so separate from other social or economic concerns, I still continue to focus on nature a bit more than the other legs of the stool. I do still plan to focus this course on environmental issues (ecology being a primary interest in this study), but I think I have been a bit ideal in the past, perhaps a bit too ecocentric. Of course, this same argument reiterated and or proved true my thought that sustainable is clearly something different from ecological. Sustainability, like I already knew and wanted to investigate more, as was reaffirmed in the Van der Ryn and Cowen reading, is a three-legged stool and a balance of environmental, ecological, and social concerns. But what’s important is that this reading gave considerable thought to environmental justice, a leg that has been less resolved than economic and social sustainability, for which various policies and procedures already exist.

City Form and Natural Process | Hough, Michael. (1989). City Form and Natural Process. New York, NY: Routeledge.

The last reading I want to review is from the book, City Form and Natural Process, by Michael Hughes. I picked this book up in my school’s planning studio last night and it ended up being a perfect fit. It took me entirely too long to read, though, because I found myself jotting down notes every few sentences. However, I loved it for how it really flipped the scenario to have a positive outlook on nature in cities; constantly reminding the reader that city and nature, or town and country, are not so different. In fact, this misunderstanding, which has been developing ever since the Industrial Revolution, is what inhibits our ability as a society to determine better solutions for design. One of the primary issues we ought to address is our view of urban open space: we now think of parks as places solely for our recreation and relaxation. Urban open space, however, has historically served some other functional purpose; providing spaces for crops, livestock, orchards, etc.  The reading encourages you to rethink the now universal schema of an urban landscape and its open spaces, and to consider more localized alternatives which have greater value and utility. Very critical of our adoption of a one-way system of energy and resource usage, Hough suggests a more cyclical system- replicating energy and nutrient flows of a natural ecosystem. Countering the conservationists theory that humans are inherently destructive, the reading suggests that humans have great potential as agents for positive change in our world (think elephants!).

Which do you think offers more value to the ecological community? The billiard-style lawn of Central Park, or the wildflower patch on these vacant lots of Baltimore?

Which do you think offers more value to the ecological community? The billiard-style lawn of Central Park, or the wildflower patch on these vacant lots of Baltimore?

Conclusion

These are very brief and subjective reviews of the readings, but I at least hope I’ve done as good a job of framing the underlying concepts as these great authors and theorists have. I’m sorry I can’t share the full texts with you, but I’m sure these or similar readings are available from your local library. And if you’re in Baltimore, I am more than willing to let you borrow them! I feel I have a sturdy base upon which to build the rest of this semester. And throughout the remainder of my study, these common themes shall act as guiding principles:

  • A fundamental dilemma is that of how nature is valued and viewed. Viewing it as separate, or inferior, will delay progress on any ecologically sustainable front.
  • Town and County, are not so different from one another. In fact, until we can recognize how nature is involved in our urban environments, we shall never be able to appropriately address ecological sustainability concerns. Furthermore, viewing one as sacred and the other as a deception will prevent any progress from being made.
  • Sustainable and ecological, though at times related, are different concepts. Sustainability is a very vague and far-reaching term. Moreover, it has become clear that society has made much larger strides when dealing with economic or social sustainability than they have with environmental sustainability. For this reason, I find it ever more important to emphasize the importance of ecological sustainability, and wish to further study David Orr’s writings on the subject.
  • Maintaining the conversation across all three systems and across many disciplines will lead to a more comprehensive and effective solution.
  • Humans, though at times able to cause great damage to the environment, are not inherently destructive. Quite the opposite, we have the potential to be agents of positive change- much like the elephant!

I am also now super psyched to begin my other units. As I’ve already begun to investigate the concept of deep ecology and environmental ethics, I’m eager to read more. And there have already been hints in a few of the readings that our society has been losing touch with nature- a concept I’ll be reviewing when I read about Nature Deficit Disorder. Can’t wait to show you more!

Notes:
For the syllabus and a reading list, check out my post introducing the course.
*Forgive me if this quote might be a bit off, I couldn’t quite read my own handwriting and I don’t have the book directly in front of me.

Deep Ecological Urbanism

As some of my readers may know, I am currently a Masters student in Baltimore pursuing my degree in City and Regional Planning. With intentions to specialize in sustainable urban design, I have sadly discovered that the course selections offered on this topic are limited, if present at all. Hoping to fill the void, I proposed to my chair that I immerse myself in an independent study this Spring. Much to my surprise (an independent study is something that my undergraduate program would have never allowed!), he approved my the idea. And so, here we are.

Empty tree pit on Howard Street, filled with "weeds" and trash

Empty tree pit on Howard Street, filled with “weeds” and trash

Over the winter “break” (Hah! what break, I was busier than I had been during the actual semester!), I composed a sort of syllabus (and actually, since it’s student-created, it’s technically a work plan) for my course. I wanted to set out my goals for the course, as well as my plans for making the most of the opportunity. I decided what topics I wanted to investigate more closely, and chose readings which I felt were applicable. Some are from books that I own but have yet to read (only a few short readings are from one book that I’ve read but would like to review once more- Ecocities by Richard Register. This is actually the book that encouraged me to pursue urban planning and focus my studies on sustainability issues in the first place),while some readings are from books held in the University Library.  I also noted various podcasts, documentaries, and websites to enjoy, and set out a schedule of classes explaining how I plan to progress through the 10 units over the weeks of the semester.

For anyone who is interested, I am very open to others following along during my study! My very long and intense syllabus can be found here: Deep Ecological Urbanism Syllabus

I am unfortunately unable to share my reading materials, nor are (m)any of them available online. However, if a fellow Morgan State student is interested, I have a list of library materials that I think should be great resources. I’ll just trust that whatever books I have planned for a unit will still be in the library when the time comes! Check out my list of suggested readings!

Keep in mind, a huge part of this course is fully immersing oneself in the ecological on-goings of the community. The last page of my syllabus has a calendar including various “green” or “sustainable” events taking place in my city, Baltimore. If someone residing elsewhere in the city wants to do the same thing, the internet is a great resource!

And finally, if anyone is interested in following along without doing the work, I will be posting my unit work weekly! Expect the first posts- a review of the first readings and some quick exercises- to be posted in the next few days!