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Realizing the Ecological City

On November 8th, 2010 in the Al Mamoura Auditorium in Abu Dhabi, Dr. Julie Sze and Dr. Mary Cadenasso delivered a lecture from seven to nine that evening. They made their presentation at a workshop attended by various academics, architects, and urban designers. The core objectives of what they discussed involved the social, technological, and ecological elements of achieving sustainable development in cities of the future. Finding an appropriate and functional definition of sustainability was one of the most important parts of the workshop. One important concern was learning how ideas for sustainability projects have regularly failed to meet their goals in the past. Dr. Sze and Dr. Cadenasso spent time reflecting upon those examples to create a more effective model for the future of urban planning around the world.

The main points of the presentation focused upon the two perspectives of the experts involved in the lectures. Dr. Sze talked about the creation of a new city and the demands of building an entire urban environment from conception to completion outside Shanghai. Dr. Cadenasso, in contrast, spoke about the reforms demanded by Baltimore, a city that already exists with an established infrastructure. Both are interested how to implement “green” technology given the demands and expectations of the societies they discuss.

Dr. Sze she raises the point that there is an existing understanding in China that economic development is supposed to occur before protection of the environment becomes a priority. Dr. Sze points out that there were many reasons the project failed despite extensive planning on the part of the Shanghai municipality and ARA, the engineering company involved in the design of the project. The main reason was that the head of the project was arrested and sentenced to eighteen years in jail for corruption. She said there are various social and cultural factors in China which include fears and anxieties about economic competition with the United States. Developing the largely agricultural wetlands area into an urban environment created additional issues for the Shanghai population which the municipality was not ready to address at the time the ecologically sustainable city was meant to begin.

Dr. Cadenasso spoke the issues of concern in Baltimore, which is already around two hundred years old. The issue of redevelopment of the Baltimore port economy through clearing out the nitrogen pollution in the water source by forty percent is the primary focus of her discussion. She states that the nitrogen run-off from fertilizer use and decaying infrastructure is negatively impacting the crab population by causing algae blooms and other problems. She says the interaction of land activity like agriculture and suburban residential development impacts the watershed when it rains throughout the year, the nitrogen runs off into the Chesapeake Bay area. Because of both urban and suburban development the water is running through the pipelines instead of being absorbed by the ground naturally, which has led to a change in the types of plants that grow throughout Baltimore.

In the cities Dr. Sze and Dr. Cadenasso discussed, the responsibility of the municipal government is addressed as the most important part of generating sustainable systems. They say the actions of each citizen are important to the development of the city as a whole. It is up to the designers and planners for each entire city to give every citizen an understanding of their responsibilities to the continued existence of their environment. Nothing will change if everyone keeps acting the same way.

It would make sense for the Shanghai and Baltimore governments to look at the laws they already have in place and see how the current population can be sustained before letting the cities grow any more. The research Dr. Sze and Dr. Cadenasso spoke about did not provide solutions to the  problem of urban development continuing. Creating laws to make people in the cities limit their overall impact on the environment might discourage people from staying in cities. This might help reduce the impact people have on the land in urban areas by encouraging them to move out of those areas. If the population density of the cities began to drop, then the habitat might improve faster. The size of the city would change to meet the demands set if people had to follow stricter laws or decide to move away from areas of greater environmental stress.

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