Share // A Connected, Walkable City: Building for Urban Wildlife

Originally seen on Planetizen.com, this article by Steven Snell tugs on my heart strings. How can we create a humane (or, as the article refers to it, a human(e)) city? What does it mean to be a human(e) environment?

Read the article here: http://www.planetizen.com/node/87396?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-07212016

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Carnism is NOT a Personal Choice

Being a carnist (i.e., eating flesh [aka, “meat”]) is not a personal choice; and it’s not your “right.”

Okay, so there are a number (and by “a number” I truly mean copious amounts…like, ridiculous amounts) of arguments as to why you should live a vegan lifestyle if you also aim to be an environmentalist (likewise, feminist or equalist). Today, however, I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about something that’s recently made me quite frustrated. And so this post is coming, largely, from the moral perspective rather than an environmental perspective.

That being said. Let’s get into what’s been eating at me.

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I went vegetarian almost 14 years ago now. I’ve been vegan for four (yay, me!). In all this time, I’ve typically been complimented—thanked for not being “like other vegans,” for not being “that militant vegan.” I believed that it was a testament to my compassion for all living things, both humans and non-humans.

But in 14 years of being the “nice vegan,” how many people had I convinced to become vegetarian or vegan? Maybe one (if that), and I’m not even sure I can take credit.

At this point, I know enough about the meat and dairy industries, and I know enough about the widespread impacts of carnism—from healthcare to hunger, to environmental destruction and my sacrifice for tax dollars spent on meat and dairy industries—to feel comfortable with my new-found, active and vocal stance. So what I’m about to say is really important, and it’s stuff I probably should have said years ago but I was too afraid to “offend” people with the facts.

But first, let me tell you a bit about my journey.

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Look at that! I I had a damn zoo-themed birthday party, I loved animals so much! And then look at me feeding that baby tiger and getting a kiss from a dolphin! So much love for the animals, right? Wrong. Absolutely wrong. I wish I knew then what I now know about the exploitation and abuse of animals for human entertainment.

I grew up an “animal lover.” I put that in quotes because, while I was an animal lover, I was at the same time participating in activities that generate extreme discomfort for animals. I had zoo-themed birthday parties, I nursed a baby tiger in captivity while at the fair, I swam with dolphins in a tiny enclosed area in the Bahamas. (Note: I am a privileged white cis-girl, and I am well-aware of that fact. That’s a topic for another day.)

But those were behaviors that, at best, did nothing to advocate on behalf of animals and, at worst, led to the discomfort and likely injury/demise of innocent beings. I might as well be tried as an accessory to murder, or charged with second-degree murder for my participation in animal-related entertainment.

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I was a definite pet lover. In addition to my best childhood friend—the family dog—I owned gerbils, mice, ferrets, guinea pigs, and a sun conure. (That last one was actually my brother’s, but I loved him nevertheless.)

If I have trouble saying I was an animal lover, I can at least say I was a pet lover. Prior to going vegan, I had some amazing animal friends and companions. And they played a huge role in shaping my life.

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Speciesism much?

But my contribution to speciesism continued, and I visited the zoo, and places like Disney where animals are exploited daily. Until I watched one influential movie…

Wait for it…

I watched Chicken Run.

If you’re thinking, “wait; but wasn’t that some claymation kids’ movie?” Why yes. Yes it was. And it’s not like it was the first time I had seen the movie, either. It was the second, or maybe even third time. It was the last week of class in my freshman year high school art class. As far as I’m concerned, that was Mel Gibson’s best cinematic performance. Because that shit hit me hard.

What the fuck was I thinking? (Pardon my language in this post, but I’m actually fucking furious about dealing with being vegan in a non-vegan society. And you need to know that.)

I told myself that day: I’m going to try to be vegetarian. That was it. I was just going to try. And I might have only been talking about chicken. I may have told myself that I was just going to try to not eat chicken for a week.

But then, after school, I told my friend (bless her heart) and she, by saying “you won’t make it a week,” turned it into a competition. In my stubbornness, I cut out all meat and became a lacto-ovo vegetarian (meaning I continued consuming dairy and eggs). And that was that.

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I became an environmental activist around the same time. But while I tried to show compassion towards all animals, I still made mistakes. Look at the frightened and miserable face of this lemur.

In learning about compassionate living, I also learned about the destruction of the planet. And so I became an environmental activist and tried to care for all living beings I encountered. But I wasn’t perfect. I slipped up and I still went to the zoo one final time. In the picture above (bottom right), you see the poor and terrified stare from this Coquerel sifaka, a rare breed of lemur, here held captive and bred at the Maryland Zoo. I was an idiot. Plain and simple. I knew it was wrong. I felt it was wrong being there, looking at the sad and miserable animals held in captivity. But I went. Oh, how I regret it. The zoo was not fun, it was torturous.

I’m sharing my history because I don’t want anyone to think that I’ve led a “perfect” veg-friendly life. I haven’t. I’m sharing it because, no matter where you are in your life right now, no matter what you’ve done, you can still change.

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My first time at the DC VegFest was a bit overwhelming, but amazing.

Then, I finally went vegan. I knew for years prior that it was something that I should do, that I needed to do. But I couldn’t do it. “I could never give up cheese.”

Famous.

Last.

Words.

I read an article in VegNews magazine about Ellen Degeneres and Portia de Rossi going vegan and the wheels started to turn more seriously. Two months later, I watched Forks Over Knives. The end.

But actually not; because there’s more.

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Today, I believe I am a true animal advocate.

Fast-forward to today, I am comfortable saying that I am a true animal advocate. I stop the car for injured animals. I support local animal rescues. I share about my veganism to friends and family.

The problem? It’s not enough.

Why am I mad? Despite living a compassionate and ethical lifestyle, I am still part of a system that supports, relies upon, and idolizes cruelty toward animals. And that’s not okay.

I find living in such a society is fundamentally, ethically, and morally wrong. Which is why it was so important for me to create a “safe space” at home—where I do not have to be surrounded by animal corpses in the way that I do around the office lunch table, through advertising, at the store, at dinner with family and friends, etc.

My husband, a carnivore, graciously agreed to keep a vegetarian home for me. To many, my request was offensive. Even my family and friends that have supported my veganism felt I was “going too far” in making such a request—that asking my husband to “sacrifice” so much for me was infringing on his choice to be a meat eater. (Side note: “sacrifice”? Really? That’s the word you choose?)

Meanwhile, I’m expected to accept decisions that are cruel while I’m constantly overwhelmed and offended by the sights, sounds, and other expressions of carnism every.single.day.

So no, your decision to eat meat and animal products is not a “personal choice.”

You have rights, but allow me to clarify. You have rights up to a pointYou have rights until your right to choose removes the right of another being to live. 

If that’s still not clear, this is what I mean: When a living thing must die or endure significant pain so you can have something, your choice is affecting that living thing.

When my tax dollars support animal agriculture, your choice is affecting me. When children and people are dying from cancer because of animal products, your choice is affecting other people. When grain that could end world hunger is fed to cattle raised for meat in wealthier societies, your choice is affecting the entirety of the Earth’s population. When methane from cattle pollutes the atmosphere…when runoff from CAFOs (google it) contaminate our waterways…when water is used in excess during times of drought because of intense animal agriculture…when the Rain Forests are being cleared to graze cattle…your choice is affecting the planet.

I could go on for hours. But I’ll spare you for now.

All that being said, here is one final point with which to end. You can be vegan. If you’re reading this blog, chances are you have the fortune of living in a society where you do not need animal products. (Some societies are still very much dependent on animal products, and I acknowledge that.)

We do not need animal products for proper nutrition. In fact, in most cases we are better off and healthier by eliminating animal products—which are linked to carcinogens, bad cholesterol, heart disease, etc.—from our diet. Bonus: we live during a time when vegan specialty items are both affordable and abundant. And here’s the ringer: vegan food is just food.

Have you ever had an apple before? You’ve eaten vegan food. There.

Listening to the Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack! Podcast the other day, I heard an interesting (and valid) point: Vegan food is the common denominator. Everyone can eat vegan food.

So what’s stopping you? Really? Be honest with yourself. Take a minute and really think about it, because “this is how I’ve always done it” is not an acceptable excuse. (Nor is “but I like it”…)

The last thing I want to say is this, my favorite quote:

“If we could live happy and healthy lives without harming others…why wouldn’t we?” ~Edgar’s Mission

(Oh, and for anyone all in a tizzy over this…I got over dairy-based cheese.)

Resources and Further Reading

But where do you get your protein?

But calcium?

Links for interested/new vegans:

Links about carnism:

Links about the economic impact of meat and dairy industries:

There are so many others but I am emotionally drained from writing this blog post. Be a smart and conscious consumer. Do your research. Remove your blinders. Absorb the wealth of knowledge out there. Go vegan.

The Challenges We Face

I’m here at work creating a list of the challenges we (our firm) face in our work. The next task: to create a list of the problems our clients face. Yet, I find it much easier to view Planet Earth as our client, and its challenges are indeed many.

While I list these threats—all very significant, all looming—I feel surprisingly less uneasy as I would have expected. In fact, I feel relieved; as if listing these massive problems will help me wrap my brain around them, and guide every action from this day forward in an effort to address, resolve, or at least pacify them somewhat.

They are, nevertheless, monumental. My list evolved:

  • Depleted resources
  • Social unrest
  • A changing climate
  • Extreme weather events
  • Global habitat destruction/loss and global species extinction
  • Pollution and contamination of all Earth’s ecosystems (including the omnipresence of trash)
  • Continued and potentially increasing violence, at many scales
  • Extreme population growth
  • Energy dependence (rather than self-reliance)
  • Loss of human interaction; society becomes a slave to technology
  • Worldwide hunger
  • Economic instability (on a national level) and poverty (on the individual level [albeit an issue tied to the entirety of society])
  • Globalization (including the spread of invasive, non-native species and the loss of culture and individuality)

Putting these worries to paper was therapeutic, but putting pen to paper is not a solution. The step, now, is to DO SOMETHING. And every person, no matter how small, has the ability to affect great change. This list will be in the back of my mind, a constant reminder of what I’m fighting for: a safer, healthier, inclusive, equitable, “greener,” cultural, and more sustainable and resilient Earth.

It’s no easy task, but I remain ever the optimist. With collaboration and a concerted effort, we can quell these noisy threats.

Favorite Vegan Products: Post #1, Milks

This post is going to be more “tree hugging” than “urbanism.”
Now, this isn’t a food blog—though, I do periodically post about food as I strongly believe that our diets play a significant role in shaping our environmental footprint. And I do intend to post in the future regarding this relationship. For starters, I’d like to help everyday people transition to a vegan lifestyle, and that begins by introducing familiar products. But also, as I prepare for the AICP, it’s nice to take a break from planning related stuff. So, without further ado…
I’m not the type of vegan that became so for health reasons—my decision was entirely ethical (the health benefits are just a bonus!). Now, the health conscious vegans try to avoid processed food in general, so they might recommend that you still to a whole food, plant based diet. And while I agree that’s a fantastic thing to strive for, many of us want to live a little and give our tastebuds a ride every time and again!
I also know that many transitioning vegans, especially those skipping over the vegetarian step stone, find veganism daunting and overwhelming. If that’s you right now, I assure you that it is easier than you expect, but you’re now adjusting to a life filled with so many wonderful, wholesome and fresh foods that you may have never imagined eating (but you’ll be glad when you finally do!). And when someone is in that zone–the newly vegan zone–they may yearn for something familiar.

Plant-based versus “Fake”

Vegans don’t eat “fake meat.” We eat meat–meaty, wholesome, plant-based meat! We also don’t eat “fake cheese.” We eat rich, flavorful, smooth and creamy plant-based cheeses! In fact, we don’t eat anything fake–no fake milk, no fake yogurts, no fake ice cream–it is all as authentic as it gets!
For lack of a better term, we eat alternatives; but that in no way is meant to suggest that what we eat is inferior to what your typical carnivore eats. It might seem weird at first, or even taste different, but you’ll soon find out that plant-based versions of the foods you used to love are both delicious and nutritious!
At the request of a few of my aunts, I’ll be taking some time over the coming weeks to describe my favorite plant-based products! I’ll start simple, and do keep in mind that I also have relatively simple tastes, and that there are sooo many options out there. My lists are just a start, but you’ll have to go out there and explore on your own!

 I’ll start with plant-based milks.

 My favorite is soy milk (and I wish to put your soy fears to rest, please look into The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine). I love Silk brand, I started with the sweetened, then transitioned to the unsweetened or original.
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Soy milk is not the only option, there are myriad plant-based milks to choose from—from nuts and seeds, to oats, to rice, and plenty more. Soy may just be the most widely available option.
Now, I don’t live in Austin, California, the Pacific Northwest, or Colorado, or any other famous vegan city, but I do live in a City, which tends to have more options. I can’t speak to any seriously rural areas, but in my traveling (which, to be fair, isn’t much), I have yet to find a place where I couldn’t find my plant-based milk!
Where I live, every conventional, full-service grocery store has plant-based milks in the refrigerated section alongside the dairy-based milks—in addition to groceries, I can find cold, plant-based milks at Target, Walmart, and other superstores, bulk wholesale places like SAM’s club, and (of course), in Natural Markets (I’ve yet to find a convenience store with this option; sans, perhaps, some in the more swanky parts of town).

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The refrigerated plant-based milk section at my local natural food market is so big, it requires two sections!
One of the reasons I love plant-based milks so is because you can stock up and keep them for months in your pantry. In addition to the refrigerated section, you can find plant-based milks in aseptic packs in your packaged good aisles, usually near other packaged beverages, but sometimes located in specialty food sections.
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You usually have more options here, in terms of non-soy milks. You can even find chocolate milks, seasonal milks (West Soy’s winter Peppermint Chocolate Soy Milk is my FAVORITE!! But you can also get iced coffee packs (see below)), and mini-packs for children’s (or adults) lunches.
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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!

On FernGully, Avatar, and Princess Mononoke: Why they are arguably the same movie (aka my favorite movie)

Someone once told me there are only so many “different” stories re-told in film; and really, the list of central themes seems to be capped at ten. From these ten story lines, we receive more than 600 feature films each year in the United States alone (610 in 2011, to be exact). Some of those themes are so common that we barely bat an eye when we see them repeated (think good v. evil, love conquers all, triumph over adversity, individual v. society…). Some, however, are told  somewhat less frequently, and when a story seems too similar, the viewers apparently get annoyed. This was the case when James Cameron’s film, Avatar, was released in 2009. If you saw the film, you either loved it or you hated it, but I think the general consensus was positive. The critics went crazy; those who opposed the film offered criticism with frustration over its repeated theme. At first, Avatar was compared to the story of Pocahontas, which was reasonable, but not until the similarities were drawn between it and the 1992 animated children’s movie, FernGully: The Last Rainforest, did the arguments really hit the nail on the head.

As a kid, FernGully was one of my favorite movies (along with another movie with a similar environmental agenda, Once Upon a Forest. But if you don’t remember FernGully, I doubt you’ll remember this one). While I watched Avatar, I recognized the similarities, but it didn’t frustrate me as much as it seemed to have frustrated others. As I see it, regardless of whether or not the two films have “identical” plots, there’s no doubt the message is a powerful one. Going on, an article on Script Lab defended the film industry by declaring, “It’s not the story itself, but the way the story is told that makes a movie great.” To be honest, I was just pleased to see this less common theme explored in a hugely successful film. Better yet, not only was it a major Hollywood film, aimed at an older audience, but it now holds the spot for highest worldwide grossing movie– earning $2.78 Billion overall- just above Cameron’s 1997 film, Titanic, which earned $2.19 Billion (James Cameron has an uncanny skill).

But getting back to the point; FernGully and Avatar aren’t the only movies which have explored this environmental theme, nor was Disney’s Pocahontas (also part of the list, I should probably include Dances with Wolves among many others). This story- as one Yahoo! article summarizes it: “a would-be tree-chopper discovers the hidden beauty of an environmental treasure and changes his mind about its destruction” – is actually, in my humble opinion, one of the most enjoyable, and the movies which retell it tend to rank high on my list of favorites.

I have never actually been able to compose a list of my favorite films but if I could, the list would certainly include the following 3 movies:

  1. Princess Mononoke
  2. Avatar
  3. FernGully: The Last Rainforest (actually, today, this might not top my list; as a kid, however, this film was without doubt ranked number 1)

Princess Mononoke, a Studio Ghibli (artist Hayao Miyazaki) animated film, tells the story of a village prince, Ashitaka, leaves his village to save his people, and avenge the death of the demon that cursed him (no, you read that right- avenge….not revenge- this is a monumental message in itself!). He seeks out the Forest Spirit for help, but in his journey encounters “Iron Town,” a nearby village which had effectively clear-cut the neighboring mountainsides and killed and corrupted the remaining species while developing violent technologies (firearms) which would further their mission of controlling nature. Ashitaka learns that the leader of Iron Town is also on a mission to kill the very same Forest Spirit which he is in search of- hoping its death will grant them wealth and power. The movie ends (spoilers) with Ashitaka saving the Forest Spirit (and thus the entire forest) while teaching the people of Iron Town the importance of respecting the nature around them. I cannot describe how much I love this movie. If it gives any indication, I am getting a tattoo of the Forest Spirit in a few hours, right next to a tattoo I currently have of one of Hayao Miyazaki’s other forest spirit creations: Totoro.

Sketch of Mononoke's Shishigami (Forest Spirit)

Sketch of Mononoke’s Shishigami (Forest Spirit)

The film follows an extremely obvious environmentalism/colonialism theme. Only slightly different is the story in FernGully.

The IMDB profile for FernGully describes the story as follows:

The magical inhabitants of a rainforest called FernGully fight to save their home that is threatened by logging and a polluting force of destruction called Hexxus.

That about sums it up. Now, what if we change just a few key words, 5 in all:

The Na’vi, magical inhabitants of a moon called Pandora, fight to save their home that is threatened by mining and a polluting force of destruction called Humans.

Well that sounds like Avatar! Okay, I’m also pretty sure some specific shots were near mirrors of the animations in FernGully; and then, of course, there’s the sappy underlying love story in both. But I don’t care! The point is, these were both great movies that tell the same story, essentially a warning of destruction of the environment. Part of what I really like about both FernGully and Avatar is that the protaganist was ultimately changed to see the opposite of himself. I really don’t think plagiarism is a valid argument (I’m interested to hear what the folks behind FernGully would have to say about this); I mean, Shakespeare doesn’t get his panties all in a bunch when variations of Romeo and Juliet are produced ad nauseum.

In addition to some of the themes I referenced in the first paragraph, there is man v. nature (apparently, there’s a man v. nature theme to almost everything, but I’ll explore the opposite of this theme in another post for Unit 4). All of the films mentioned in this post follow a similar theme, offer a similar cautionary tale, and plot a similar story. The takeaway is the value of the message being delivered.

All I know is that, from these movies, I am left with overwhelming optimism. Why, you ask? Because Nature always wins.

3.8 Billion Years

Prior to submitting this piece, my blog had a total of 38 posts. When I searched my University’s library catalog for the availability of Janine Benyus’ book, Biomimicry. It was in stock; the LCC: T173.8 .B45 2002. Now, surely these were just coincidental; but why would I get so excited about these numbers?

Over 3.8 billion- that’s how many years of experience our planet, Earth, has spent on research and development.[1] Quite a resume, wouldn’t you think? Biomimicry 3.8 Institute certainly thinks so. On their “about” page, Biomimicry 3.8 Institute explains:

The “3.8” in our name refers to the more than 3.8 billion years that life has been adapting and evolving to changing conditions on the planet since the very first life forms emerged. If you think about it, that’s a staggering and, in many ways, unfathomable amount of R&D which humankind can learn from, actively apply, and use to innovate for a better world.

Although Benyus’ book was supposedly in-stock, I could not find it on the shelves of my library. I am already fairly familiar with the idea of Biomimicry, however, so I decided I would instead just do some research online. I found this great TED talk:

Janine Benyus: The promise of biomimicry | Video on TED.com.

The concept of Biomimicry was explored for Unit 4 of my research: Learning from Nature. More on this subject soon!

References:

[1] BBC, History of life on Earth. Retrieved March 3, 2013 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/history_of_the_earth

http://biomimicry.net/

http://www.biomimicryinstitute.org/

Inhabitat: Veganism and the Environment

I’ve always wanted to write a post that would go over these same numbers; but this infographic is perfect!

Veganism and the Environment Infographic Shows the Environmental Impact of Raising Animals for Food | Inhabitat – Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building.

veganism, environment, food footprint, green diet, healthy eating, green lifestyle, sustainable lifestyle, sustainable foods, healthy food, vegetarian lifestyle, vegan lifestyle, sustainable food choices, co2 footprint

Biophilic Cities

This review will be of the first three chapters of Timothy Beatley’s book, Biophilic Cities.

Biophilic Cities | Beatley, Timothy. (2011). Biophilic Cities: Integrating nature into urban design and planning. Washington, DC: Island Press.

The cover of Beatley’s book, Biophilic Cities

 

[Chapter 1 | The Importance of Nature and Wildness in Our Urban Lives]

After just one chapter, I could already tell that this would be an influential book. Author Timothy Beatley introduces the reader to the idea of a Biophilic City in this first chapter by initially drawing attention to the depressing disconnect which separates younger generations from the natural world. He emphasizes the importance of nature in cities, citing economic, physical, psychological, social, and aesthetic benefits while noting measurable statistics. And, much to my liking, he concluded the first chapter by criticizing what he calls the “green urban agenda” for its failure to really address the literal green elements. As I’ve mentioned before, this has been a very big focus of my own concern, and I’m glad to have seen it addressed up-front. This chapter focused on the measurables and quantifiable reasons explaining why we need nature in our cities; yet it only provides a brief glimpse on how we can bring this nature back in. It left me in great anticipation of what was ahead. (This chapter also encouraged me to look back on my own experiences with nature, which I have written about in the post Memories of My Wild Youth)

[Chapter 2 | The Nature of (in) Cities]

The enthusiasm and optimism with which Beatley writes is incredibly inspiring without doubt, it has rubbed off! Reading about the fascinating collections of nature currently thriving in our cities, but that all too often goes unnoticed, ignites a sense of wonder and curiosity.  I must say that Beatley’s optimism is even more encouraging, for not only does he have hope for the future, but he doesn’t ignore the current overlooked presence of many wild elements! It gives me an urge to explore, and I would actually like to go about in Baltimore and document the hidden wildness of the City! It’s possible to bring nature into the city, he explains, and it’s happening! After this chapter, I am thoroughly enjoying this book!

[Chapter 3 | Biophilic Cities: What Are They?]

This book really has some exciting conversations. Although I think this chapter was a bit longer than necessary-I found the text to be somewhat repetitive – it was a good piece to read to understand the key principles and some possible metrics of biophilic urban design. At the start of it, Beatley was listing examples of good biophilic design; yet most of these precedents were greenfield development (entirely new construction on previously undeveloped land). This has been most frustrating to me, knowing that new development, despite whatever green initiatives it may boast, is a waste of resources. Meanwhile, infill development and rehabilitative design would be a much better alternative. Although the intention is good, I can’t help but disagree with the process. I recognize that some new green developments have been able to accomplish much more than would have been possible had there not been a clean slate; but, for me, it is more important to address our existing cities. As I read on, however, I found Beatley was referencing more and more redevelopment and retrofit projects, and was more than pleased with their inclusion.

I think this chapter emphasized the significance of language and knowledge. This reminded me of a Paul Gruchow quote mentioned in the first chapter:

“Can you imagine a satisfactory love relationship with someone whose name you do not know?”

That is such a powerful question, how can we expect people to respect nature if we do not even ensure they know what there is to be protected? The chapter also talked about spirit and sensibility. The understanding and connection we can build between humans and the environment is like a glue which holds everything in this world together.

Beatley also shares a similar criticism of mine: that green urbanism is seriously lacking in the green department! Although the elements of green design (efficiency, conservation, transit, etc.) are very necessary pieces of the sustainability puzzle, they fail to address ecology and biodiversity.

While reading this chapter, every idea just clicked with me and made perfect sense- my views are very much in line with Beatley’s. Incorporating concepts of organic architecture and biomimicry (see some links I’ve shared at the end of this post) in his description, he paints a beautiful picture of the ideal city that never sounds excessively utopian or farfetched. Everything he describes can be accomplished within our current means and capabilities, and have already been proven successful elsewhere. It’s just a matter of combining all of the individual success stories in one place. I didn’t really intend for this to be a review of Beatley’s book more than his ideas, but I really do think that’s what has happened. I completely recommend this reading, especially for planners. So far, it is terrific!

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There are some great topics in this book that I wish I had more time to review. Until I do, I recommend checking out the follow sources:

Biomimicry Strategies for Cities (as described by Janine Benyus, on p. 53 of Biophilic Cities)
1.Use waste as a resource.
2.Diversify and cooperate to fully use the habitat.
3.Gather and use energy efficiently.
4.Optimize rather than maximize.
5.Use materials sparingly.
6.Don’t foul their nests.
7.Don’t draw down resources.
8.Remain in balance with the biosphere.
9.Run on information.
10. Shop locally.