New Survey Asks How Can Cities Become Ecological?

Now that we have become an urban species, we are compelled to harness urban ecosystems to improve sustainability and human health and strengthen our relationship to the natural world. But are ecological functions really being prioritized? Are we investing enough in ecosystem services in our cities? Is green infrastructure — such as green roofs, living walls, water sensitive designs and natural green space — as widely used as it could be? If not, what’s holding us up?

A short, 3-minute YouTube video gives a brief introduction to urban ecology and presents a case for collaborative, ecological urban design, which could create a more optimistic future for our cities and planet.

To gauge how opinions vary by culture and discipline, you are also invited to participate in a short 10-question survey that seeks to answer: how can we do better as professionals? Analysis of the survey data will be available later this year.

Take the survey.

Also, check out a live chat with us through the upcoming Green Roof Virtual Summit, February 18th and March 6th.

This guest post is by Mark Simmons, PhD, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin and Christine Thuring (Chlorophyllocity) from the University of Sheffield.

6 thoughts on “New Survey Asks How Can Cities Become Ecological?

  1. Domenico D'Alessandro 02/13/2013 / 4:17 pm

    The landscape profession should be ashamed for coming into the environmental picture so late in the game. Even now it is still pursuing questionable design processes that have more to do with a business ethic rather than life sustaining process. It latches on the latest fads such as bioswales and green roofs without a true analysis of the problems and what is truly needed. I was trained as a landscape architect and have disassociated myself from the profession. In the last decade I have dedicated myself to urban ecology and have arrived at concepts that go far beyond LEED criteria and BMP applications. I have presented my work at numerous conferences on the environment worldwide but have always been refused at Landscape Architecture conferences, the last time I applied one of the reasons given for not accepting my presentation was that I had used the term ‘new paradigm’ and one of the judges didn’t like it. The best thing for the profession at this point is to discard the old guard and let new blood have more of a say.

    • Mark 02/16/2013 / 2:40 pm

      Yes, it appears that many in the design and associated professions possess a very blinkered view of the potential role of their individual fields. So what’s the solution? I would suggest that we all have a responsibility to be educators across the disciplines. Both at student and professional level. One potential outcome of this survey is to see if others feel the same way and then examine the best way to move forward.

  2. Arnold Rutkis 02/15/2013 / 8:53 am

    As a landscape designer I have been practicing, notice the word practicing, an integrated approach to all my landscapes for almost 20 years. Not every plant choice has been driven by aesthetics nor has it been driven entirely by its ecological function. There are many subtleties to working with the land and particularly in the urban setting, the challenges are more dramatic and can be most rewarding. Brown fields, un-used green space and poorly developed commercial spaces are all on the menu, it is important to have good partnerships not just with landscape professionals but city leaders, citizens and environmental organizations who can all contribute to the process of creating truly innovative ecological sound landscapes. In Birmingham Al there is Railroad Park, in New York city Highline Park both projects are the result of public private partnerships that were sparked by someone saying ‘what if?’
    As we as a people see the benefits of re- development of urban areas we are more likely to view these blighted properties as harnessing potential rather than being a source for our disdain and defeatism. Green roofs provide an opportunity in the urban setting unlike anything else and I would like to see more of an effort to green our rooftops across the nation from the large downtown buildings to smaller residential structures the benefits are manifold. Stormwater abatement, habitat creation, evapotranspiration, increasing a buildings r-value and aesthetics. Tying these projects into curriculum is important and I see it as a crucial step to creating more of an ecologically educated professional base for the next wave of professionals. So while conferences are great for selling books and gathering kudos it is better to work on the edges of the profession as that is where many innovations continue to flourish. The ‘old guard’ knows a thing or two and to summarily discard anyone because they don’t believe what you do is short sighted, some of my best friends are ‘old guard’, lets instead build a bridge to the past. Maybe the next generation will reap the awards of all of our efforts not to mention have a more beautiful and functional landscape to do it in.

  3. Paco Verin 02/15/2013 / 11:54 am

    Permaculture is absent from this survey, and most “professional” discussions. It is the only holistic design paradigm I know of. Why is being ignored?

  4. Katherine Darrow 02/15/2013 / 12:59 pm

    Exactly what do you mean by “become more ecological?” Ecology is, it is not something that cities “become.” A better understanding of ecological principles might be the first step to improving human health in urban landscapes.

  5. Jorg 04/30/2013 / 5:23 pm

    Ecological is a fashion word especially when used with the house (in the movie) that is not affordable for 98% of the world population. This is wasting land (with a pool that is hardly useable and used with chlorine). This is being driven by the ignorance of academics (of people who are lucky having a peice of land with a native plant that is daily irrigated).

    The term ecological is for academics and only an excuse to justify their own impact (ignorance).

    Cities – where most people live – must be reorganized with sufficient living green space accessible for everybody in less that 10 min walking distance. Increasing the living qualitly through green spaces reduces the pressure on the remaining land and reduces traffic.

    In Europe, the quality of life is already at a high level. In the US you can only find sterile ghettos or little farms with mancured lawns – nothing in between and this is an explosive foundation.

    In this situation education would be the key but unfortunatly not affordable for the majority. This North American deficit is fatal and reduces a sustainable and real ecological development of an entire continent.

    Only a few landscape architects plan with the people in mind and only a small portion of them will be heard with their unconventional, simple, and practical solutions.

    If a fancy design is combined with a native plant you are everywhere in the media a hero regardless of the costs it takes to keep this plant alive. If you want to plant a tree in front of your brownstone, the energy company comes and kills it.

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