Ecological Urbanism: Embedding Nature in the City
Tope, Alyssa Renee
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Urban designers are trained to think systematically, to simultaneously see the big picture for numerous human systems in the city—including multiple modes of transportation, barriers faced by the city's inhabitants, and food and waste systems—and synthesize them into a coherent design. However, many urban designers use architecture as their sole means of shaping our cities, rather than employing other design disciplines as well. One solution to this limited focus on the built environment is "landscape urbanism." First appearing in the 1990s, landscape urbanism is a theory that argues that the best way to organize a city is through the design of its landscape, rather than the design of its buildings. At its best, landscape urbanism encourages a new way to understand cities: through the horizontal domain that acts as every city's connective tissue. At its worst, landscape urbanism can emphasize a purely aesthetic view of nature in the city, rather than recognizing its full potential as an additional functional system within the urban landscape. This failing of landscape urbanism can be addressed by its next evolution: ecological urbanism. As MIT Professor and Landscape Architect Anne Whiston Spirn writes in The Granite Garden, we need to recognize nature as "an essential force that permeates the city." By embracing the presence of nature's processes within the city, we can create an ecological urbanism that combines human and natural systems for the betterment of both. "The realization that nature is ubiquitous, a whole that embraces the city, has powerful implications for how the city is built and maintained and for the health, safety, and welfare of every resident" (Spirn). Currently, the Anacostia River and the neighborhoods to the east are neglected parts of Washington D.C., and most of the river's tributaries are buried underground. This neglect is similar to cities' historic disregard for the productive processes of nature, settling instead for a superficial, idealized abstraction of nature in the city. What if the city decided that instead of viewing urban streams as a nuisance that needed to be hidden, the Anacostia River and its tributary system could provide a beautiful, functional, and memorable organizational structure for the East of the River neighborhoods? Highlighting the presence of this large natural system within the city could be an opportunity to develop an "urban ecology" and frame our future relationship with nature. Using Washington DC's Anacostia River, its tributaries, and the East of the River neighborhoods as its framework, this thesis explores a possible step past landscape urbanism by advocating for an ecological urbanism that demonstrates how human and natural systems can work together in an urban environment in a way that is ecologically productive, regionally connected, and mutually beneficial.
- Masters Theses