What is ecological urbanism?

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    Josiah Raison Cain

    Whew, a lot of tangential meandering without getting to the core, which reflects the inaugural event pretty well actually! I attended the inaugural event, was excited about both the term and the concept, and curious to know what the urbanist/modernist agenda would be in the hands of a group not necessarily renowned for sustainability. The Koolhaas keynote was appropriately deferential, certainly acknowledging not to be the ‘expert’ in this area. My big question was “are we just talking about how to make cities “less bad” via building technology, or are we actually going to discuss how the reinsertion of nature into our cities makes them function much better?”

    Unfortunately, it was the former and not the latter.

    I have to take exception to a few points that have been made here — I’m a fan of local, but that does not necessarily make them better equipped to design ecological systems that will perform in urban environments. Visual greenery and connectivity is great, but when we call it urbanism, we need to be tackling the big urban problems directly and not just incidentally.

    There is a methodology to improving urban performance, and it’s a rare design group that can work with engineers and use metrics to create landscapes capable of improving site, building, and infrastructure performance.

    Indeed, this is a space that LA’s are uniquely qualified to lead and the professional has been woefully lethargic in capturing that opportunity. Research shows vegetation/soils/water management properly implemented can be dramatic: cooling loads reduced up to 30%, stormwater eliminated, urban heat island mitigated, potable water use cut by 2/3 in some cases, habitat, local food systems, air quality, noise…

    I’m going to say “Ecological Urbanism” is by definition the application of ecological systems at civic scale to attenuate impacts, improve urban performance and enhance quality of life. If we don’t do all of those things, we are not succeeding. To be effective, metrics must be applied and we have to embrace both architecture and engineering processes, something we tend to avoid.

    The opportunity is huge, and the profession needs to embrace it, own it, and promote it.


    Awesome, Josiah; thanks for answering my question! I love the idea of EU as you defined it. Now we just need to put our heads together and figure out the approach. Maybe get a symposium going on EU, step 2.


    I could not agree more. Well said!

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