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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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!

Planners’ Opinion Survey : ECOLOGY + PLANNING

Planners’ Opinion Survey : ECOLOGY + PLANNING

This is a call to all professional planners out there! It’s professional project crunch time and there’s work to be done. If you can spare 10 minutes, I’d like to request that you take a moment to visit and complete my Planners’ Opinion Survey: ECOLOGY + PLANNING. Let me tell you why it’s worth your time!

If you follow my blog, you may already be aware. I am a May 2014 graduation candidate and the recipient of the 2013/14 Fellowship of APA’s Environment, Natural Resources and Energy Division. The ENRE Fellowship is supporting the research of my professional project which investigates the potential of a new planning approach, called Deep Ecological Urbanism, for improving urban development through the understanding and integration of natural sciences and environmental ethics into urban and regional planning processes.

As a component of my research, I am identifying current practices and opinions about sustainability, resiliency, and ecology issues to understand, support, and identify the potential need for a new planning approach that is focused on ecology, and to identify how cities are currently addressing sustainable development with an emphasis on ecological health.

It is my hope to develop a vigorous knowledge of current practices, progressive planning approaches, innovative policies, and emerging priorities, as well as any challenges and limitations to the implementation of planning projects.The information I will collect through this survey will help me to understand what tools planners need most, and how to best provide these resources.

Results from this survey are crucial to my studies. In addition to identifying areas for further research, this results will help to shape the recommendations that I put forth. Furthermore, I would like note that I will be presenting the findings of my research at the upcoming American Planning Association 2014 National Planning Conference in Atlanta, GA, at 12:00 p.m. on Monday, April 28th.

So please, take a moment (about 10 minutes) to complete this survey and share the link with your colleagues! Your help is greatly appreciated! Thank you!

P.S. The recent lack of posts on this blog is by no means an indication of my laziness! Quite the contrary, I simply don’t have the time to post! However, when I’m finished my professional project (in about 80 days), I will share the results of my research and make it a point to post more frequently. Until then, I will do my best to post more often!

The Divorce Between Human and Habitat

I’m falling behind a bit when it comes to my literature reviews. I realized they were taking up a bulk of my “class time”, and I preferred to do things, read things, rather than just write. So without much fluff, I’ll try to catch up with the following reviews before I move onto Unit 5 | Scale.

Deep Ecological Urbanism | Unit 4: Learning from Nature | Literature Review

Biophilia | Farr, Douglas. (2008). Sustainable Urbanism. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

This book had me really excited but, in truth, I’m quite disappointed. It’s a great resource, indeed, but it’s framed more like a design-manual than a piece for learning about concepts. It’s great for providing technical details of sustainable practices, but this chapter didn’t at all talk about what the term Biophilia actually means. The book does, however, have a great terminology section at the ends, and is very good at providing timelines. Hopefully, I’ll have the chance to review those items. Additionally, it has in-depth reviews of various case studies. It’s formatted like a sustainable urbanist’s guide for design, which is terrific. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t as useful for my studies at this stage.

Then again, some discussion earlier in the book provided some good insight. In Chapter 2, Sustainable Urbanism: Where We Need to Go, I found the definition I was in search of:

Biophilia:  “human love of nature based on  intrinsic interdependence between humans and other living systems.” [page 48]

The chapter went on to describe how humans evolved outdoors, and were previous an integral part of the cycles of nature. Then came the idea of private property. Today, there is a tendency of all types of development to suppress nature. Meanwhile, the truth about the impacts of our actions are hidden from view where we will not be bothered by the stress our lifestyles place on nature. Consequently, we are a disconnected society- disconnected from nature, from each other, from our environments… This disconnect went on to be a primary focus for the rest of this unit.

Nature Deficit Disorder | Egan, Timothy. (March 29, 2012). Nature Deficit Disorder. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/29/nature-deficit-disorder/

“And then, in less than a generation’s time, millions of people completely decoupled themselves from nature.”

The phrase Nature Deficit Disorder was coined by author Richard Louv in his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods. I have owned this book for years now, but I have yet to pick it up and read it. I didn’t want to do so for this course, however, because I think I’d prefer to read it in its entirety. But Timothy Egan’s article on The New York Times website provided a nice overview of his concept. The results of our disconnect with nature are devastating: obesity, stress and anxiety, depression, asthma, ADD/ADHD, and the list goes on…  As Egan points out, “medical costs associated with obesity and inactivity are nearly $150 billion a year.”

The list above primarily covers health effects, but the disconnect leads to economic disparities, professional and academic barriers, higher crime rates, and so on. In a later post, I plan to share a list of the benefits of a restored connection with nature which will also shed light on the risks of a disconnect with such.

All Things Are Connected | Ethics Online (Producer), & Jenkins, Joe (Director). (2009). All Things Are Connected [Motion picture]. UK. Watched from http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/all-things-are-connected/

All Things Are Connected is a short [35:03] documentary reviewing our (humans’) history on this planet, telling the story of Earth as if it were that of a 45-year-old woman, Gaia. In her life, it was only…

  • 30 minutes ago that humans invented the wheel…
  • 26 minutes ago that we constructed Stonehenge…
  • 10 minutes ago that Christianity was developed…
  • 2.5 minutes ago that Europeans arrive at the New World
  • 1 minute ago that the Industrial Revolution was sparked, “and our relationship with the Earth changes forever”
  • 57 seconds ago when the human population exceeded 1 billion. Electricity, railways and cars were invented
  • 33 seconds ago, the first world war erupts, followed by the second world war only a few seconds later
  • 22 seconds ago then nuclear age is spawned
  • 10 seconds ago, we first enter space.
  • 3 seconds ago that the population reaches 6 billion; scientists warn that while Gaia will certainly survive…

Our existence has been less than an hour of this woman’s life. The point is, “we owe everything to this membrane of life,” which some will refer to as Mother Earth.

“Gaia is no doting mother, tolerant of our wrong doings, nor is she some delicate damsel in danger from brutal mankind…..She is stern and tough, always keeping the earth comfortable for those who obey the rules but ruthless in her destruction of those who misbehave”. {James Lovelock – Scientist and Author: Gaia, A New Look at Life on Earth, 2008}

The film appropriately points out, however, that although we may think of ourselves as stewards, we are actually the slayers. Biodiversity decreases as we kill off other species; yet, at the same time, the number of creatures on this planet grows as we not only expand our own population but also that of the animals we use as food. There are 2 chickens for every person, and a total of 2 billion pigs.

Such misinformed views may be based in Christianity. We confuse the “dominion“, which is spoken of in the Christian Bible, with domination. And they were surely intensified with the introduction of Francis Bacon’s scientific method- which was based on the idea that only human beings have intrinsic value, while everything else had value only for our use. This idea is caused a major shift in our philosophical views.

Then came the industrial revolution, which caused a major shift in our attitude towards nature. We pursued human progress at all costs. We perceived the natural world as an inert machine, only there to serve humans. We think of ourselves as a glorified species, but how can we argue that we express much intelligence when we have grown so ignorant of the planet? Are we really superior?

The Superior Human? | Meng, Jenia (Producer), & McAnalle, Samuel (Director). (2012). The Superior Human? [Motion picture]. Retrieved from http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/superior-human/

After watching All Things Are Connected, I went on to watch The Superior Human?, a 2012 documentary about our mislead beliefs of superiority. It was a funny little piece that proved the nonsense behind our thoughts of superiority by framing each argument frequently made in defense of human greatness as being tailored to our specific species. Our elaborate architecture would not suit the lifestyles of other creatures, yet the homes they build (some are arguably much more technical and elaborate) are perfectly suited to their own needs. We do not have the largest population, we are not the longest living species, yet we claim our “intelligence” makes us better than all others.

As the previous documentary noted the detrimental effects of Bacon’s Scientific Method, this film noted the introduction of Descartes’ ideas- that mind and body were separate from one another, and that animals lacked the “mind” aspect. Soon came the defense of vivisection. Descartes’ was indeed refuted by some; David Hume, a philosopher and “the greatest skeptic of all time,” apparently made an argument similar to the following:

“The one thing only an idiot would deny- meaning Descartes is that animals have thoughts and feelings.” [Dr. Bernard Rollin in The Superior Human?]

In our history, it is unfortunate that we’ve needed to invent words like racism, sexism, ageism, culturalism, and homophobia. Sadly, we must add one more to the list: speciesism. The term, coined by Richard Ruder, draws attention to the unjustified preference of the human species over all others. “We are all related, other species should be like kin, not like objects.”

Realigning Nature and the City, Coyote Style | Chuck. (February 12, 2013). Realigning Nature and the City, Coyote Style. Myurbanist. Retrieved from http://www.myurbanist.com/archives/9529

I found an interesting article online. The author, simply referred to as “Chuck”, tells of his experience encountering a coyote on an urban street. We commonly think of this idea of the “city in nature” (see Garden City), but what about “nature in the city”? The more artificial examples of nature would be replaced with wild spaces. The article emphasizes coexistence, and the future potential to “reprogram places from built to natural.” The author shares discussions with landscape architects which ponder such a merger. One of the landscape architects talked about this approach and noted his understanding:

“At core, there is nothing natural in the city, he said, and anything we can do that resonates with the public and creates a sustainable result, is defensible, proper and legitimate.”

I really liked the article. However, though it started out by describing a very unexpected and informal encounter, the examples discussed later on were still very manicured and planned. I believe we need to allow for more opportunities of wild growth and development.

I’d like to include one last review before I end the post: another documentary.

The Fuck-It Point | Savage Revival. The Fuck-It Point. [Motion picture]. Savagerevival.net Retrieved from   http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-fuck-it-point/

Pardon the french! This film had the shock factor from the start with its title. What does it mean? The video starts with the following statement:

‘When you have had enough. When you decide to take matter into your own hands and don’t care what’s going to happen to you. When you know that from now on you will resist with whatever tactic you think is most effective.’

It goes back to the disconnect that was mentioned earlier. People don’t care about the planet because they live in cities, they are separated from nature and also from the destruction of so many natural things. So we need to rethink the term sustainability. One major issue, then, which we must face is the continual importation of resources; not very sustainable at all. If it is not possible to sustain civilization, then we have two options. One, we can wait for the end. Or two, we can switch to an alternative. While some people are already working tirelessly to change our current habits, others are oblivious and passive. The idea that humans are separate from nature is a relatively new development.

In the past, we have needed an entire generation to pass before the next would be open to new truths, such as the fact that the Earth was not the center of the universe. Today, however, we cannot wait for the old generation to go before the non-human centric earth belief is accepted.  We view everyone and everything as resources, not as beings with which to share this planet. But it is the best cooperating species who survive together, not the strongest will survive alone.

The documentary concluded with a recommendation that viewers take matters into their own hands, though not necessarily in a peaceful or constructive way. While I don’t exactly agree with this stance, I would recommend this film for the valuable message which was its foundation: that we are no better than other species, we are not separate from nature, and we need to change the way things are…immediately.

Clearly I was much farther behind on my literature review than I thought, as I actually have quite a bit more to share. I’ll have to get to those pieces another time.

Until then, I’d love to hear what you think about all of this! I’ve shared the links to the documentaries; all can be seen for free!