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Natural Environment

Rediscovering regionalism

Urban containment, which seeks to prevent urban sprawl and conserve the city’s natural outskirts, will be a vital tool in the fight against climate change. Could the ideas of 1920’s American regionalism be coming back into fashion?

Dr. Leyre Echevarría Icaza
28 April 2020

As the world continues to urbanise, the way in which nature is managed is of crucial importance at both global and local level.

On a global level, nature operates as resource supplier and disposal sink[1] [2] [3] [4] and is directly affected by global contemporary transportation, and supply and consumption patterns. At the city level, nature enhances liveability by reducing the urban heat island effect, improving air and soil quality, and providing communal recreational and educational space[5]

Modern cities have lost the urban/rural balance of agrarian societies, and even though they do not occupy more than 3% of the surface of the earth[6], they house 55% of the world´s population and have contributed to the transformation of more than three-quarters of the planet into agricultural land[7] [8].

aerial view of city
Although they only occupy 3% of the earth's surface, cities house 55% of the earth's population

Cities concentrate human activity, and thus social, economic and cultural exchange. Though the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution facilitate remote working and leisure pursuits, cities continue to expand. Nowadays a few cities have more than 20 million inhabitants (Tokyo, Shanghai, Mexico City, Mumbai and Sao Paulo) but by 2030 there will be more than 40 cities with over 10 million inhabitants[9] [10].

This urbanisation (by 2050, global infrastructure networks will expand by 2.6-4.2 million square kilometres[11]) and population growth (by 2070, the global population will increase by 2.7 billion[12]) will generate land related issues[13] and render existing consumption patterns and urbanization dynamics unsustainable in light of a changing climate.

It seems that the adoption of measures that could promote the creation of self-sufficient regions in order to reduce unnecessary transportation flows and excessive land use could partially help improve the situation.

By 2050, global infrastructure networks will expand by 2.6 – 4.2 million square kilometres while the global population will increase by 2.7 billion by 2070. This will render existing consumption patterns unsustainable.

From an urban planning perspective, that regional balance can only be reached through the appropriate interconnection between the urban areas and their surrounding productive rural environments[14].

Inspiration for the development of new city concepts can be found in Mumford´s regionalist principles[15] [16] which highlighted the role of nature in the definition of the sense of place of cities, promoted urban containment, referred to Howard´s garden city structures and envisioned the neighbourhood scale materialization through the “garden communities” of Radburn and Sunnyside, for example[17].

As urban planners, regardless of our preferred sources of inspiration, we have to accept that we are living in unprecedented times. Now, more than ever, radical interventions are required to help divert us away from unsustainable patterns and habits in our cities.

  • This article is based on the research article Regionalist Principles to Reduce the Urban Heat Island Effect, by Echevarría Icaza, L.; Van der Hoeven, F.

References

  • [1] Meadows, D.H., Randers, J., Behrens, W.W., 1972; The Limits to Growth: A Report to the Club of Rome

    [2] Hajer, M.; Dassen, T., 2014, Smart about Cities. Visualising the Challenge for 21st Century Urbanism

    [3] Ibañez, D., Katsikis, N., 2014, New Geographies 06. Grounding Metabolism

    [4] Acebillo, J., Caputo, P., Giordano, P., Vancheri, A., Sassi, E., Boskovic Sigon, S., Martinelli, A., 2012, A New Urban Metabolism

    [5] Sitas, N., Prozesky, H.E., Esler, K.J., Reyers, B., 2014, Exploring the Gap between Ecosystem Service Research and Management in Development Planning

    [6] Rockstrom, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., Persson, A., Chapin, F.S., Lambin, E.F., Foley, J., Crutzen, P., Richardson, K., Liverman, D., et al., 2009, Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating space for Humanity

    [7] Ellis, E.C., Ramankutty, N., 2008, Putting people in the map: Anthropogenic biomes of the world

    [8] Ellis, E.C., Klein, G.K., Siebert, S., Lightman, D., Ramankutty, N., 2010, Anthropogenic transformation of the biomes 1700 to 2000

    [9] Ellis, E.C., 2014, Ecologies of the Anthropocene: Global Upscaling of Social-Ecological Infrastructures

    [10] Rockstrom, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., Persson, A., Chapin, F.S., Lambin, E.F., Foley, J., Crutzen, P., Richardson, K., Liverman, D., et al., 2009, Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating space for Humanity

    [11] Rockstrom, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., Persson, A., Chapin, F.S., Lambin, E.F., Lenton, T.M., Scheffer, M., Folke, C., Schellnhuber, H.J., et al., 2009, A Safe Operating space for Humanity

    [12] Kemp-Benedict, E., Heaps, C., Raskin, P., 2002, Global Scenario Group Futures: Technical Notes; PoleStar Series Report 9

    [13] United Nations, 2012, World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision

    [14] Romano, B., Zullo, F., 2013, Models of Urban Land Use in Europe: Assessment, tools and criticalities

    [15] Echevarría Icaza, L., Van der Hoeven, F., 2017, Regionalist Principles to Reduce the Urban Heat Island Effect

    [16] Mumford, L., 1927, Regionalism and Irregionalism

    [17] Luccarelli, M., 1995, Lewis Mumford and the Ecological Region: The Politics of Planning