Resilient Cities Lecture


The Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s Explorer Lecture Series will bring Dr. Timothy Beatley, professor of urban and environmental planning, for a lecture on Green Urbanism: The Global Shift Towards Sustainable and Resilient Cities. Dr. Beatley of the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning, School of Architecture at the University of Virginia has authored several books including Green Urbanism: Learning from European Cities and Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change.

In Resilient Cities, Beatley presents four scenarios for the future of cities: Collapse, Ruralized, Divided or Resilient Cities. The first describes the nightmare scenario of writers such as James Howard Kunstler, which warn that skyrocketing oil prices and climate change will initiate a chain of events resulting in significant loss to human life, global economic failure and an end to civilization as we know it. Beatley doesn’t believe that Collapse is inevitable, but does warn against other, slightly less apocalyptic scenarios.

The Ruralization of urban areas is presented as one of the popular scenarios in response to peak oil. Beatley describes this movement as striving to create a more sustainable semi-rural lifestyle, where each city will be responsible for producing a large proportion of its own food primarily with a kind of suburban agriculture based on permaculture or hobby farms. He points out that this scenario is “somewhat akin to medieval society but with a strongly individualistic flavor”.

Beatley asserts two problems with this approach. First, he argues that it “provides a new rationale for urban sprawl that will consume land and other natural resources” and second, “it is distracting us from seeking region-wide solutions to these issues of energy, water, waste and food production in favor of individualized approaches, which may not be equitable.” He further argues that, “Cities are collective entities and should solve their problems through common good solutions to avoid the risk of becoming highly exclusive. For those people and parts of the city unable to create food and manage water and wastes through permaculture, the future in a ruralized city would be very bleak.”

The problem of inequitable individualized approaches finds it’s logical end in the third scenario of the Divided City. In this scenario, “the wealthy recognize that they need to optimize their choices and begin to form exclusive neighborhoods and self-sufficient centers with all the best transit and walkability.” The best renewable energy technologies will be located within these enclaves and will be protected from its surroundings with the “biggest barrier of all — real estate prices.”  Beatley argues that we’re beginning to see this scenario emerging in some New Urbanist developments.

The scenario Beatley proposes to address the problems of the previous options is the Resilient City. This favorable scenario occurs when “the access and alternate forms of fuel and buildings in eco-enclaves that were the province of the wealthy in the divided city scenario are provided for all.” Mobility needs are justly deployed by the use of fast electric rail for intercity transportation, electric hybrid vehicles for local trips and a much greater increase in cycling and walking within urban nodes. This polycentric vision of cities includes “areas between the intensively developed transit centers and corridors, [where] urban eco-villages will be established to help manage the city’s ecological functions such as extra renewable energy production and water and waste recycling.” The self-sufficient urban eco-villages will manage urban biodiversity and grow specialized agricultural produce, leaving the rural regions around cities for most of the agricultural and forestry production.

During his lecture, Beatley will present examples of innovative green projects and policies adopted by cities in Europe and North America that could be implemented in Northeast Ohio. The question will be how relevant the examples selected from other cities will be for Cleveland. In a context of depopulation, with large recent investments dispersed relatively evenly throughout the city, who should decide which areas will become the dense urban nodes or self-sustaining eco-villages? Will the future polycentric city model be initiated by disinvestment in housing and other infrastructure in certain neighborhoods? Should the entire City of Cleveland itself be considered as the future dense urban node, with surrounding suburbs becoming the eco-villages? The process of achieving the desired outcome of becoming a Resilient City is itself a question of equity.

Northeast Ohio’s Policy Bridge think-tank recently released a report determining which neighborhoods should receive continued investment and which should not. Can the process of planning our city for all people fit under the same umbrella of Beatley’s optimistic statement regarding the outcome? “We must overcome the perception that it requires great sacrifice to live in sustainable communities. There are ways we can continue to progress and flourish, and at the same time protect the natural capital that supports us.”

Cleveland Museum of Natural History
Friday, Nov. 13th 2009
Tickets can be purchased here.

by david jurca

One Comment on “Resilient Cities Lecture”

  • Gauri Torgalkar

    Good post, David! Look forward to the lecture and the workshop.

    10-27-09 » 2:57 pm »

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