Invisible Ecosystems & Elephants in Rooms: Urban Alignment with Nature

The first rule of sustainability is to align with natural forces, or at least not try to defy them. ~Paul Hawken

If this were the motto of every level of jurisdiction, I believe most of our urban problems would be solved within a single decade–assuming they want sustainability. Portland is getting electricity from turbines placed in their city water pipes. France mandated all new commercial roofs be covered in either greenery or solar panels. Singapore became the city in a garden through a multi-initiative approach including allowing citizens to co-create green spaces, teaching citizens how to be a green thumb, focusing research and action on biodiversity, and encouraging outdoor recreation and lovely streetscapes. Germany and other European leaders are considered to have greened their economy (e.g., German tax reforms). Japan only has 12 urban zones, and they’re flexible and comparatively inclusive.

Two Important TED Talks Help Us Align With Natural Forces:

  1. The tradeoffs of building green [8:43]

“And there’s a thousand and one articles out there telling us how to make all these green trade-offs. And they are just as suspect in telling us to optimize these little things around the edges and missing the elephant in the living room. … Remember, it’s sometimes the biggest things that you are not expecting to be the biggest changes that are.” ~Christine Mohr

2) We’re covered in germs. Let’s design for that [6:13]

“If we can design the invisible ecosystems in our surroundings, this opens a path to influencing our health in unprecedented ways… This perspective is a really powerful one for designers because you can bring on principles of ecology, and a really important  principle of ecology is dispersal; the way organisms move around.” ~Jessica Green

Building densely, walk-ably, and personably, we must think of aligning with nature as a systems approach–which will call us to expand our knowledge and incorporation of other disciplines other than real estate and urban planning. Ecology can help architects make people happy and healthy. When they are happy and healthy, they are most productive and also most willing to participate in the sustainability of a greened economy. Part of making the built environment to last in a manner that lowers carbon inefficiency and waste is “creating enduring quality buildings” (p78, Hurd, The CEC). I see these two videos as essential lenses through which to build to last and align with nature (two concepts from The CEC).

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