If you haven’t watched the BBC series Planet Earth II, I highly recommend it. The cinematography, commentary, and production is truly mesmerizing. But before I get too excited, I should stop myself. The intent of this blog post is not a plug or review of this series, but rather to share some of the observations I made while watching this series and what the natural processes of our planet can teach us about city building.
In this episode “Deserts”, the harsh living environments of deserts are well documented as David Attenborough (the series narrator) describes the process of desertification by stating that “deserts are expanding and changing grasslands into dust and rock.” As a city builder I couldn’t help but immediately think of recycling this phrase to describe urbanization – all you have to do is replace the word deserts, with the word cities, and the essence of urbanization is captured.
But why does urbanization have to mean destruction of the natural processes and of the environment that it paves over? Why do cities have to be described as “concrete jungles” or “urban wastelands”? Is it because people would rather live in grey environments than green? I don’t think that’s the case.
If I held up two pieces of paper, one green and one grey, and each piece of paper represented a different city, which city would you rather live in? This questions, as most people can agree, is probably a rhetorical one. As supported by our notion of “natural” and as described so eloquently in Planet Earth II, green is where life thrives and where living conditions are ideal.
So if most people would rather live in the green city over the grey city, how we build our cities to achieve this?
In recent years, we have become increasingly aware of how our wellbeing is tied to the environments we live in. It is with this insight that more attention is being given to the design and planning of environments that attempt to maintain the earth’s natural processes and that bring “the green” back to our urban habitats.
We are all products of our environment and through proper planning and city building, we have an opportunity to truly define the urban environments that we live in. Moving people using less space, integrating natural processes into our communities, and finding innovative ways of creating more park space in dense urban environments are all important initiatives that will need to be encouraged by city builders.
So next time you’re thinking about what you want out of your city, ask yourself, would you choose the green paper or the grey one? I don’t think the answer will be hard to come by.