Global warming, climate change, sustainability, urban sprawl, regeneration . . . These are all terms that we live with more and more every day.
– I was recently reading a copy of National Geographic, where they were lamenting the fact that permafrost in Alaska was retreating, revealing artifacts from the 1500s and 1600s and threatening the way of life of the neo-native populations there . . . The article also mentioned that retreating glaciers had exposed the remains of the now famous “Ice-man”.
– In Southern California where they live in perpetual drought, single and particularly multifamily housing is being developed at a break-neck pace.
Only a few years ago, urban sprawl was the biggest issue in this region. All the talk was that acre upon acre was being developed into single family residences, consuming virtually all of the open land and resources. To counter that, higher density developments were implemented to allow for more communal open spaces . . .
– If you draw an oval starting just north of Tokyo and extending down to cover India and Indonesia, you will have defined an area, not much bigger than the land mass of Australia but in which more than half of all humanity lives today.
The largest city, Chongqing, has about 30,000,000 residents, but oddly and not indicative of most of the largest cities in the world, less than 8.5 million actually live in the ‘urban’ parts of that city. At #2, Shanghai is approaching 25 million, of which almost all live in the densely populated urban sections.
By now you must be asking, what do these have to do with one another . . .
Well, to start with, as glaciers retreat and permafrost thaws, they are evidently approaching the same levels as they used to be; like before the ‘Little Ice Age’ when cold overtook the world and led to massive famine and pestilence including the Black Plague.
Back then, there were a few cities with several hundred thousand people like Beijing, Constantinople and Baghdad. But mostly, people lived in suburban areas where food and water were local resources.
Now, China has actually put a cap on the population of Shanghai at 25 million . . . Too many people, not enough resources (see previous page 73). . . Is this the beginning of a new direction for urban development and sustainability? New York City has plenty of fresh water, but the entire state only produces about 34% of the food needed to feed its people. Los Angeles is a short distance from more than enough food, but its water comes from further away and its main fresh water source, the Colorado River, runs dry before it finds the sea. Will these cities start putting caps on population growth? What about Portland Ore., south Florida or Phoenix Ariz.?
So . . . Is sustainability the science of keeping the climate the same as it is today, or is it planning for inevitable fluctuations? Is it consolidating housing and populations to be able to centralize resource delivery or is it the art of spreading out urbanization to allow local resources to sustain local populations? Maybe it’s somewhere in-between . . .
For landscape architects and planners, sustainability is more than simply picking plant material that grows native to an area, filtering stormwater, or creating communal open spaces for recreation and solace. The bigger picture is that climate will continue to change. Hot or cold is historically related to time, but resource development and delivery, and population-based pollution are definitely factors in human sustainablity and regeneration.
While individual landscape architects may not have the ability to change the world with a single project, the profession has always been at the forefront of the sustainability issue. As density begins to reach its limits and resource delivery increasingly creates conflict, what far reaching solutions will the profession develop to sustain sustainability? Some of the answers can be found in the following pages. Some have yet to be written . .
God Bless . . .
George Schmok, Publisher
As seen in LASN magazine, January 2019.