Cities with a Sense of Place

Peter Newman

By Peter Newman, author of Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems: Principles and Practices (published by Island Press, January 2008)

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When Washington, D.C. planned to build a world class Metro in the 1960s there were plenty of skeptics. The car was king and surely buses were enough. But visionary leaders believed the U.S. capital deserved to be a world leader in transportation. So they built it and the public did come to use it – 200 million a year today. More significantly, the city began to be shaped around the train stations and corridors so that much less driving was needed to survive and thrive in the city and suburbs. The Arlington area is a model now for planning students. In the 1960s Washington, D.C. was a similar city-region in size and transportation character to the Atlanta city-region. Washington chose a different path to Atlanta, a highway-dominated city which now consumes nearly 800 gallons of gasoline per person annually in its transportation. Washington consumes just half of this. At the time it was built, the Washington metro was a forward-thinking initiative. But how can cities continue to develop and adopt more ecological practices? Developed in Melbourne, Australia on April 2, 2002, the Melbourne Principles for Sustainable Cities were developed during an international “charrette” that brought together experts from developing and industrial countries, sponsored by the United Nations Environmental Programme and the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. By following the Ten Melbourne Principles (PDF), cities can fit within the global and bioregional cycles of nature, while addressing and developing their own cultural identities. By responding to global innovations in a locally distinct way based on history and bioregion, cities can be like ecosystems and have a sustainable future. How can cities create a new vision for their future, and be more rooted in their sense of place? These principles form a guide for Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems: Principles and Practices, which I co-wrote with Isabella Jennings, to show how ecological cities can develop. Examples of ecological innovation are given from hundreds of cities: from the Slow Cities movement in Italy, to Transition Towns in the United Kingdom, and the 100-mile Diet in North America. In Seoul, Korea, the removal of the city’s freeway enabled an urban river to be regenerated, and a local economy to be restored. In an another intriguing example of innovation, the city of Kolding, Denmark installed a glass pyramid to transform a run-down inner city slum into a water recycling, ecological housing complex. Cities need to become our focus for addressing the future of our global economy. There are growing limits associated with the continuous expansion of global modernism and industrial growth, with affects on global climate and oil barriers. The sustainable cities agenda (PDF) is seen to be the great reformative process that can remake civilization. Peter Newman is Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University, Australia and Harry W Porter Visiting Professor in Urban Planning at the University of Virginia. His research is comparing cities in their transportation and land use patterns, published in Sustainability and Cities: Overcoming Automobile Dependence, 1999, Island Press and his new book Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems, 2008, Island Press. Further Reading:

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  • Posted on March 18, 2008. Listed in:

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