Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems: Principles and Practices

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Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems shows how cities and their residents can begin to reintegrate into their bioregional environment, and how cities themselves can be planned with nature's organizing principles in mind. Taking cues from living systems for sustainability strategies and drawing from examples from all corners of the world, Newman and Jennings reassess urban design by exploring flows of energy, materials, and information, along with the interactions between human and nonhuman parts of the system. A powerful model for urban redevelopment, Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems describes aspects of urban ecosystems from the visioning process to achieving economic security to fostering a sense of place.

About the Author:
Peter Newman is professor of city policy and director of the Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia

About the Author:
Isabella Jennings is a graduate student in the School of Environmental Science at Murdoch University. Her past and current research is related to the cities-as-sustainable-ecosystems idea

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Editorial Reviews

Ecological Restoration - Christopher Boone
"...the authors have written an excellent book on a subject of great interest and scope... the contents of this book will encourage readers to explore in greater detail the growing literature on urban ecology and urban sustainability, an end in itselfachievement that is a marvelous achievment."
Ecological Restoration

"...the authors have written an excellent book on a subject of great interest and scope... the contents of this book will encourage readers to explore in greater detail the growing literature on urban ecology and urban sustainability, an end in itselfachievement that is a marvelous achievment."

— Christopher Boone

Ecological Restoration
"...the authors have written an excellent book on a subject of great interest and scope... the contents of this book will encourage readers to explore in greater detail the growing literature on urban ecology and urban sustainability, an end in itself that is a marvelous achievement."
The Oregonian
"Australian professor Peter Newman is credited with coining the term 'automobile independent' to describe the way most American and Australian cities were built in the last half of the 20th century."
"Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems is a compendium of lists and theories that is a useful reference and for some potential guide to right living."
William McDonough + Partners - William McDonough
"Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems advances an important idea about the relevance of systems thinking to design at the community and urban scale. Scaling up is a critical aspect to how we all need to be thinking; this book is an excellent guidepost."
Professor, School of Community and Regional Planning, University of British Columbia - William E. Rees
"Perhaps just in time, Newman and Jennings provide us with all the theory and practice we need to salvage urban civilization. Their excellent book is now the best available guide to the reinvention of cities as sustainable regional ecosystems, human settlements that thrive on much-reduced eco-footprints."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781597261876
  • Publisher: Island Press
  • Publication date: 1/31/2008
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Newman is professor of city policy and director of the Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia. He recently completed a Fulbright scholarship, which he spent at the University of Virginia studying sustainability initiatives in the U.S. He is the author of Sustainability and Cities (Island Press, 1999).

Isabella Jennings is a graduate student in the School of Environmental Science at Murdoch University. Her past and current research is related to the cities as sustainable ecosystems idea.

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Read an Excerpt

Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems

Principles and Practices

By Peter Newman, Isabella Jennings


Copyright © 2008 Peter Newman and Isabella Jennings
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59726-747-2




Provide a long-term vision for cities based on sustainability; intergenerational, social, economic, and political equity; and their individuality.

Elaboration: A long-term vision is the starting point for catalyzing positive change, leading to sustainability. The vision needs to reflect the distinctive nature and characteristics of each city.

The vision should also express the shared aspirations of the people for their cities to become more sustainable. It needs to address equity, which means equal access to both natural and human resources, as well as shared responsibility for preserving the value of these resources for future generations.

A vision based on sustainability will help align and motivate communities, governments, businesses, and others around a common purpose, and will provide a basis for developing a strategy, an action program, and processes to achieve that vision.

Visions to Inspire

The path to sustainability starts with the development of long-term visions. According to Steven Ames, the Iroquois idea of the Seventh Generation offers a useful model for community visioning:

Among the teachings of the Iroquois Confederacy, a centuries-old confederation of six Native American nations, is the idea of the Seventh Generation. "In our way of life, in our government, with every decision we make, we always keep in mind the Seventh Generation to come," says Chief Oren Lyons, member of the Onondaga Nation and spokesman for the Confederacy. "It's our job to see that the people coming ahead, the generations still unborn, have a world no worse than ours—and hopefully better."

This practice of bringing the abstract and distant future into present-day reality is a powerful lesson. Indeed, the extent to which we are able to give something of value to the world may be measured in how much we have considered the long-term future in our current decisions and actions. Perhaps, someday, governments everywhere will think as instinctively about the Seventh Generation as do the Iroquois peoples. Until then, their teaching offers us a noble standard from which to judge our effort. (Ames 1997)

This was the core message of the landmark report from the World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future (WCED 1987), that development had to meet the needs of current and future generations. Visions are about dreams, imagination, passion, and creativity. Long-term visions can inspire action and guide decision making. Viewing our settlements as ecosystems and living communities provides us with a direction and points to strategies for change.

Visions have always been at the foundation of good politics. The biblical saying "Without vision the people will perish" (Proverbs 29:18) has been the basis for many political programs wishing to catch the imagination of the people. Sustainability is the latest vision of global politics, but it now needs to be integrated into every city.

Many cities have made attempts in this direction, some using the ecosystem metaphor to guide them, but mostly these visions are fragmented, failing to bring together all the necessary elements and not based on broad community ownership. The Melbourne Principles provide an overarching vision, but every city needs to formulate its own vision, responsive to the needs and particularities of place within global aspirations for sustainability, equity, and peace.

The development of a vision for a city provides the basis for setting goals for action plans. The vision statement needs to recognize the constraints of a community. It should also define the ecological, social, and economic characteristics and values that the community has identified as crucial for sustainability, along with community priorities for short- and long-term action. This provides a guiding framework for future decision making.

Sustainability is not some fixed, perfect state but rather an evolving one that responds to changes in ecological processes as well as changes in human culture and institutions. Thus, community visions need to be revised regularly to reflect these changes.

Some vision statements, such as the Earth Charter, present alternative views of progress. Launched officially in June 2000, the Earth Charter is a document that was formulated by thousands of people in seventy-eight countries over the course of twelve years. It calls for a compassionate, just, and sustainable world. The Earth Charter was endorsed by local governments at the Johannesburg Earth Summit in 2002. Cities need to formulate vision statements that incorporate principles such as those expressed in the Earth Charter and the Melbourne Principles. Later in this chapter, examples are given of several city vision statements.

The Visioning Process

A vision needs to be developed through a community visioning process—an inclusive and participatory process that brings together people from across the community and empowers marginalized groups to contribute. Ames (1997) describes community visioning as "a process through which a community imagines the future it most desires and then plans to achieve it.... Encouraging local communities to dream is the beginning of building a better world."

Community participation is integral to the success of the visioning process, as the US Environmental Protection Agency recognizes:

Community participation is key. Bringing people together, including business, industry, and education, along with children, planners, civic leaders, environmental groups and community associations, allows the vision to capture the values and interests of a broad constituency. Brainstorming ideas from the entire community results in a synergistic effect which can bring out a myriad of ideas that reflect the values and interests of the community as a whole.

The diversity of ideas that such a process will generate, along with the ownership people have over the vision, provides the basis for genuine sustainability.

Community visioning processes in Oregon in the Pacific Northwest of the United States have attracted worldwide attention. Steven Ames, a planning consultant who has worked with communities and institutions in visioning processes throughout Oregon, has compiled a community visioning guide and given many presentations reflecting on his experiences. Ames argues for the importance of asking good questions. During his early work as an activist he observed that people cannot be forced to change, but he hypothesized that by asking people salient questions positive change might emerge. From his experiences he concludes that "when communities plan for their future in a rigorous and serious way, they often end up doing the 'right' thing."

The community visioning model he espouses emerged from his experiences with the city of Corvallis—"the trailblazer for visioning in Oregon's communities"—and other communities across Oregon. During the 1970s, Oregon developed a comprehensive planning system to manage rapid growth, safeguard natural resources (including farms and forests), and preserve the area's quality of life. The planning system required local communities to formulate land use plans in accordance with statewide goals. It was the only system of its kind in the United States at the time and today is still regarded as a "progressive model for the rest of the nation." The Corvallis vision process, called "Charting a Course for Corvallis," emerged just as Oregon was hit by serious recession.

Charting a Course for Corvallis (1988–89) laid the foundation for visioning in Oregon and led to many planning innovations. The process involved considerable community involvement, with the city leaving "no stone unturned in finding ways for people to engage in the process," including "informational presentations and community meetings, splashy public events with national speakers and children's visioning activities, a task force and special focus groups." The Corvallis vision and goals linked directly into city council activities, with a focus on the downtown and riverfront. Within ten years, officials concluded that most of the vision had been realized sooner than expected. The city then began a process to update its vision, achieving another first in Oregon.

Corvallis now has a new 2020 vision statement:

We envision that in 2020 Corvallis will be ...

• a compact, medium-sized city (population range: 57,500 to 63,500) nestled in a beautiful natural setting;

• the historic, civic, cultural, and commercial heart of Benton County;

• an economically strong and well-integrated city, fostering local businesses, regional cooperation, and clean industry;

• a university town, a regional medical center, a riverfront city;

• an environmentally-aware community with distinctive open space and natural features, protected habitats, parks, and outdoor recreation;

• rich in the arts and recreational opportunities, celebrating the talents and culture of the people who live here;

• a community that values and supports quality education throughout the age continuum;

• known for its comprehensive health and human services, and for its services for the elderly and disabled;

• a hub in a regional transportation system that connects Linn and Benton counties and provides a link to the north-south high-speed rail system;

• a highly livable city which employs local benchmarks to measure its progress in areas such as housing, economic vitality, educational quality, environmental quality, and overall quality of life;

• blessed with an involved citizenry that actively participates in public policy and decision making;

• committed in its support for children and families;

• a community that honors diversity and is free of prejudice, bigotry, and hate;

• home ... a good place for all kinds of people to live and to lead healthy, happy, productive lives.

The Oregon Model for community visioning, described by Ames, includes a four-stage process, each based on a key question:

1. Where are we now?

2. Where are we going?

3. Where do we want to be?

4. How do we get there?

The first two stages need to identify the ecological and social assets of the community as well as the constraints. The Melbourne Principles can provide a framework for such an audit. For example ecological footprint calculations could be a useful part of this process (see chapter 4), as could many of the points elaborated in the sections on economy, sense of place, biodiversity, and governance.

"Where do we want to be?" is a core question for sustainability. It makes us think ahead and evaluate what matters to us. It enables a community to set its goals for each of the areas examined in the audit. The ten Melbourne Principles and the rest of this book provide food for thought for the third and fourth stages of the visioning process by highlighting issues to consider, along with possible solutions and case studies to guide and inspire positive change. When communities find out what is happening in other cities, they begin to imagine how they too can change.

Visioning, Ames argues, has numerous benefits. The process brings community members together and creates the space for imagining new opportunities and possibilities for the future. From this a "shared sense of purpose and direction" can emerge and coalesce into an action plan with tangible goals and strategies for realizing the vision. Yet there are other deeper, less tangible benefits, which include nurturing new generations of community leadership, enriching community engagement with government and civic life, fostering "new public/private partnerships for action," and strengthening "community cohesion, identity and livability."

Based on his experiences, Steven Ames identifies several important elements of an effective visioning process:

• Involve key institutions in the community, including government and private sector groups

• Attract the support of key opinion leaders

• Formulate clear goals and objectives for the process itself

• Allocate sufficient resources

• Engage people authentically.

He argues that the power of a vision lies in the degree to which it is shared by many people: "Whether the creation of a bold leader, a group of committed citizens, or dedicated planners, a vision must in time catch fire with the people of a place—or it will not succeed." To ensure this sense of ownership he recommends that people get involved early in the process and frequently. He highlights the importance of time and the need for "courage, hard work, persistence, flexibility, even a touch of obsession...." Ames argues that visions never manifest entirely as expected: "be prepared for synchronicity and serendipity." Envisioning is a continuing process that involves honoring the past, being present, looking ahead, and keeping future generations in mind.

Conversely, the contributors to an ineffective visioning process include communities fragmented by conflict, resistant political leadership, "a poorly designed or managed process," insufficient resources, and the lack of an implementation plan or a commitment to carrying it out.

Between 2001 and 2006, all Australian cities developed strategic plans. All were based on sustainability principles, and all were participatory, vision-building processes. The most innovative in its participative processes was the plan for Perth, Western Australia, modeled on the visioning process developed for the rebuilding of the Ground Zero site in New York City. Dubbed "Dialogue with the City," this process provided an opportunity for people to be involved in planning Perth as it will be in the year 2030. Leading up to the Dialogue with the City forum, a community survey was conducted in July 2003 to find out people's views on issues that were to be considered in the forum. Over 1,700 people from randomly selected households across Perth were invited to share their views on transport, housing densities, residential development, and the environment.

The whole-day community forum had over a thousand participants. They were grouped into tables of about ten people, each with a volunteer facilitator and a volunteer scribe. Questions were posed, and responses recorded. Short speeches and video footage informed participants of the dilemmas of urban growth and the options for managing future growth. In the afternoon, participants were involved in a planning game to identify where and how to accommodate Perth's anticipated growth in population. All outcomes were recorded at the tables, and then collated and summarized by a team of volunteers using networked computers. The process provided participants with an opportunity to reflect, learn, and share ideas and deal with the complexities of planning. The ability to see the results of their deliberations immediately on big screens and see how their priorities were emerging created greater enthusiasm for the process.

The outcomes of the Dialogue forum, along with a combined workshop of community, industry, local, and state governments, contributed to the formulation of a vision that will guide Perth and the region of Peel for the coming decades: "By 2030, Perth people will have created a world-class sustainable city; vibrant, more compact and accessible, with a unique sense of place." A set of priority areas developed by the attendees surprised all the public servants by how green they were:

• Strong local communities (city of villages)

• Clean, green city

• Urban growth boundary

• Connected, multicentered city

• Reduced car dependence and better public transport, especially more rail, better local biking/walking options, and integrated transport/land use

• Housing diversity (more options)

• Access to city services for all

The importance of the Perth vision process went beyond its content. When a newspaper campaign tried to denigrate the plan as an attempt to force the city into high- density flats and destroy all open space, the media became flooded with people who were able to refute the scare tactics and show what was really envisaged (Hartz-Karp and Newman 2006).


Excerpted from Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems by Peter Newman, Isabella Jennings. Copyright © 2008 Peter Newman and Isabella Jennings. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     IX
Introducing Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems     2
Vision     8
Economy and Society     32
Biodiversity     64
Ecological Footprints     80
Modeling Cities on Ecosystems     92
Sense of Place     144
Empowerment and Participation     156
Partnerships     168
Sustainable Production and Consumption     188
Governance and Hope     216
Conclusions     238
Extracts from the "Local Government Declaration to the World Summit on Sustainable Development," 2002     242
The Carbon Cycle     244
The Nitrogen Cycle     246
The Phosphorus Cycle     248
The Hydrological Cycle     250
Notes     253
Glossary     259
Online Resources     265
References     269
Index     277
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