Design with Nature by Ian McHarg

Cities all across the world are realizing their mistake in covering up natural features to construct bigger and better communities. After decades of building over rivers and streams, dredging wetlands for lakes, and sprawling across prime agricultural land, we are finally seeing the devastating impacts. The solutions to these problems are already being implemented, quicker in some municipalities than others, but they have at least started to make progress unearthing the natural features that have long been suppressed under the concrete jungle.

Most cities are just now beginning to realize the benefits of nature (stormwater management, recreation, air quality, energy, etc), but Ian McHarg was writing about it many years ago. Design with Nature was a pioneering concept for its time. In 1969 McHarg wrote, "there is still only a small shelf of books that deals with man's relation to his environment as a whole..."

Much like McHarg, I could live in the countryside or the city, I find pros and cons to both. Most people see it as a choice between two options and lean towards one or the other (like my father who I don't think will ever leave the countryside). McHarg said "if we can create the humane city, rather than the city of bondage to toil, then the choice of city or countryside will be between two excellences, each indispensable, each different, both complementary, both life-enhancing. Man in Nature."

City planners seek to create the humane city through codes like landscaping minimums, tree and shrub requirements, plaza requirements, daylight/shadow restrictions, and a host of other tools. Developers see this as the city imposing unnecessary restrictions that cost them money without stopping to consider the environment we are trying to protect. If we consider nature in each development, the resulting effect is an urban city with a humane environment, one in which residents want to live.

This holistic approach to preserve and protecting natural ecology within our cities is demonstrated graphically in dozens of maps throughout the book. By overlaying information about slopes, soils, geology, and woodlands, McHarg determined the prime location for development that would both preserve the most important natural features without stopping development. Certain areas can "absorb degrees of development" better than others and we need to be thinking in this manner, rather than what land will sell the cheapest to make the best profit. It is this kind of thinking that has us spending billions of dollars now to undo the damage we inflicted decades ago.

Despite being almost 50 years old, this book has many important lessons about development and how to better map out the best locations that achieve all development goals. If we take a step back and look at the city as a place to live rather than a boundary with buildings inside we can map out a better future that combines both nature and urban amenities. We can create humane cities that bring more people back from the countryside.

Evicted by Matthew Desmond

Evicted by Matthew Desmond

As a city planner working with a rental licensing program I found Evicted by Matthew Desmond to be an eye opening and insightful book on the life of both renters and landlords. Desmond tells the story of the rental climate of Milwaukee in 2008 and 2009, just after the housing market collapsed and rents soared through the roof. While the situations Desmond wrote about in the book occurred almost ten years ago, they still proliferate throughout the U.S. today. 

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Genius of the European Square by Suzanne H Crowhurt Lennard and Henry L Lennard

Genius of the European Square by Suzanne H Crowhurt Lennard and Henry L Lennard

Imagine yourself seated on a patio overlooking a large public square. You are enjoying evening drinks with some friends before you run a few errands on the plaza on your way home for the evening. While you are seated, an old acquaintance happens by on their way to pick up a few groceries. They sit down and join in the conversation for a little while, watching their child play at the fountain a short distance away. As the sun sets everyone pays their tab, says their good byes, and heads off in different directions. 

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If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland

If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland

As a result of a recent preservation battle to save a 117 year old house in Minneapolis I began looking into the life of a former local author, Brenda Ueland. She was born in Minneapolis in 1891 and passed away at the age of 94 while residing at 2622 West 44th Street. It was this home that caused a controversy because the new owner set his sights on demolition in favor of more dense residential construction. The neighborhood was outraged that the City would let the last remaining tie to Ueland go, altering the area in a significant way. The City Council voted for the developer, against the decision of the Heritage Preservation Commission.

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The Permaculture City by Toby Henemway

The Permaculture City by Toby Henemway

To those like myself who did not know what permaculture was before coming across this book I will give a quick summary. Permaculture principles include both natural and human ecosystems. While it tends to be thought of as a system for designing gardens, it can be applied to a range of human activities that are both physical and non-physical. The permaculture flower is composed of ten human needs: water, shelter, waste, health, spirit, community, justice, livelihood, food, and energy. The flower, and the cities it represents, function properly when the relationships and connections between the parts is considered. Most strategies look at the sum of the parts only and loose the valuable connections that underlay the system.

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