The city, the future and you – including nature

September 15th, 2012 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Cities | Comments Off

This is Part 2 of Chapter 4 of our book on the future of cities, being written with  Dennis Walsh. Our plan is to publish a new book blog nearly every day for the next couple of months. We will publish them both here on futurist.com and on dothefuture.com. Later we will compile the blogs into an e-book.

We are debating the eventual title. We started with two choices: “Downtown” and “Shine…The Rebirth of American Cities.” Which do you like? We hope you will find the subject of interest and follow this book in serial form. A reader has suggested, “City Transformation?” So far, “Downtown” with a subtitle is leading. What do you think?

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CHAPTER FOUR – Part 2
by Dennis Walsh and Glen Hiemstra

There is no single formula for achieving more sustainable cities. It’s not just a technical matter. Social sustainability and a healthy community need to be part of the vision. Great cities need to maintain a unique identity, diversity and authentic character. That’s a given. But, when it comes to green or new urbanism, the question is, “How do we tackle the enormous challenge of transforming neighborhoods, districts and communities? How we can re-think the way we design, build and operate in future?

Your future will be a different world. You will change it. The system is failing. You know it and you have no interest in propping it up. To be truly great cities will need money and talent. They will need you because the acquisition of talent leads to investment and investment creates jobs.

A new report from the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) confirms that denser, mixed-use cities are greener and more productive at less cost to the tax-payer and the environment. Co-produced by academics from the London School of Economics and Political Science, the report argues investing in the Green Economy will trigger greener, smarter economic growth. Greener cities will, in turn, deliver more jobs, increased social equity and a better quality of life. In the midst of all the chaos that has become “life”, quest for meaning and for spirit are alive and well.

The notion that “city is city and nature is nature and never the twain shall meet” is one of the worst en vogue ideas in architecture and city planning circles. If the biggest things we build are our cities, then it is one of the biggest mistakes we can make to exclude the experience of nature from people who live in them. There is growing evidence of an innate human need for contact with nature.

Urban brains are susceptible to stress, particularly social stress. City dwellers have high levels of anxiety and can suffer mood disorders. It’s a cause-and-effect relationship between environment and mind. Nature and natural settings in cities promote social interaction, physical activity and mental health. People enjoy nature in cities, especially when they have been extensively deprived.

We are in trouble with nature, as evidenced by global warming and species dying. It will only get worse if we continue to banish nature from the city. If we do not dramatically celebrate nature, there will be serious consequences. But if we can learn from nature and come to understand our cultural foundations in nature, we will begin to understand how to design sustainable cities. Great cities know that a clean and healthy environment is critical to quality place. The design of quality places balances environmental, economic and social considerations.

Quality places preserve open space and increase property values. That’s nothing new. Kansas City, Missouri, landscape architect George E. Kessler, predicted that new parks and parkways would increase real-estate values. In the late 1800s, city officials took Kessler’s advice and made new parks and connector boulevards the main organizer in this Midwestern city, a choice that was never regretted. Designers and developers of golf courses know that people will pay more to live near open space.

The Wall Street Journal reports that developers building golf courses these days do so primarily to attract people to high-priced developments. Merely being in a golf-course community, even without a direct fairway view, can add more than 20 percent to the value of a home site … being located next to the golf course can add another $15,000 to $20,000. And if the view includes a pond tack on another $15,000. Future cities will create golf courses, greenways, and urban waterfronts to attract businesses and tourists while increasing real-estate values.

Successful greenway projects across the United States have already served as new “main streets” where neighbors meet, children play and community groups gather. Reconnecting the city to the waterfront is a major future opportunity for cities and towns.

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[Glen Hiemstra is the Founder of Futurist.com, and curator of Dothefuture.com. Dennis Walsh is a sustainability futurist from Canada best known for his work as the first publisher of green@work. Contact us through futurist.com]