A movement for “sustainable cities” or “eco cities” is growing. These cities are designed to have as little impact on the environment as possible, limiting their waste output, water use, CO2 production, etc. A variety of different techniques can be employed in a sustainable city, including recycling graywater, planting green roofs, and using solar or wind energy to power its infrastructure.
Because of investment issues, a completely “green” city is thus far only theoretical. However, Abu Dhabi, a city in the United Arab Emirates, has plans to build the first entirely carbon neutral city within the next five to ten years.
This is a new idea evolving out of the environmentalism of the 60’s and 70’s, forming a new field called Urban Ecology. I believe this field will have growing importance in the future as higher portions of the population are beginning to move towards urban areas and questions are being raised about the health and well-being of urban living as we know it. Urban ecologists aim to organize urban space in a way that ensures quality of life for residents including clean air, safe living spaces, and community-oriented space.
Efforts are being made to understand the way that air pollution flows through space, so it can be counteracted by the placement of trees or other green space to create a healthy ecological balance. Urban ecologists are trying to design urban communities that integrate natural, usable green space (including vertical gardening) into the living environment. The idea is to move away from the concrete blocks that we associate with city life from the ’80’s and ’90’s. There is also an effort being made to encourage short-distance commuting to work to avoid the excess pavement and filth of cars.
I actually grew up in one of these early projects, or a related sort. The city is called Irvine and its in Orange County. It is a pre-planned city organized around individual villages with their own businesses, schools, and neighborhoods governed by residents. Throughout the city are countless parks, greenbelts, nature trails, etc that were created as natural connections to living space within a metro-type environment.
Although Irvine was a success in many ways, it is suburban rather than urban, and we need to implement these concepts in a more densely populated space.
One of the more recent and popular trends of “nature-friendly urbanization” is rooftop gardens, which many cities have adopted.
Not only to they provide a local source of food, scientific studies have noted the benefits of rooftop gardens. They provide temperature mediation for buildings during days of extreme heat, and reduces stress on the roof from heat. The soil from the gardens help reduce runoff from rainfall, and provides insulation on cold nights.
Plus, they just look nice in a city compared to all that glass and concrete everywhere.
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