Saturday, January 30, 2016

What's the Secret of Making a Happy City?

Ancient Athens shows what to do. Rome shows what not to do.

Two questions to ask:  What are cities for? Who owns them?

“What are cities for?” and “Who owns them?” These are two of the questions addressed by award-winning journalist Charles Montgomery in his book, Happy City.  As the title of his book suggests, Montgomery ties these two questions to the issue of happiness.  If the pursuit of happiness is something important to us, he says, the way we build and live in our cities should reflect our idea of what happiness is.

Montgomery tells the story of two ancient cities – Athens and Rome -- to illustrate differing views of happiness as expressed in the design of each city.  Athens in ancient Greece was designed around the idea of “eudaimonia” – a term introduced by Socrates to mean a state of human flourishing or the state of having a good in-dwelling spirit.  For the people of Athens, the city was more than a place to live and work.  It was also a concept about how to live.

The people of Athens loved the city for the way it supported a rich cultural and civic life.  For them, happiness meant so much more than good fortune and material wealth.  It embodied both thinking and acting, and necessarily included active civic engagement.  In their way of thinking, active participation in public life made an individual become whole.  Unfortunately, certain groups of people were excluded from active participation in the civic life of the city.  These groups included women, children, slaves, and foreigners living in Athens.

The ancient city of Athens was designed to accommodate and encourage active participation.  The agora – or large plaza – was the heart of ancient Athens.  Here, people could stroll, shop, and gather for public discourse.  It was in the agora where democracy and civic engagement flourished.  It was also in the agora that Socrates and other orators of the time held discussions on such philosophical issues as the meaning of happiness.

Ancient, Rome, on the other hand, reflected different ideas about the meaning of happiness.  While initially designed to reflect more spiritual values, Rome shifted over time to focus more on power and individual glory than on the common good.  Huge monuments were constructed in honor of the Roman elite.  Public space and the well-being of the majority of the people suffered gross neglect.  The city became an unpleasant place to be; and many, who could afford it, retreated to the countryside.  City life had become too disgusting.

So what can we learn from this tale of two ancient cities in relation to the pursuit of happiness?  We can start by defining what we mean by happiness.  Do we think happiness is all about individual success and well-being or do we see individual happiness as being tied to the well-being of a larger society?  In other words, can we be happy in a miserable society?  Can we be happy if we aren’t involved in shaping the well-being of society?  It’s only when we’re clear about what happiness means to us will we be able to design our cities in a way that reflects and supports our idea of happiness.

More than half of the human population now lives in urban areas.  It’s incumbent upon us to ask, “Are these happy places?  Do our cities support our individual and collective well-being?  If not, how can we make them so?”  That’s where Montgomery’s questions come in to play: “What are cities for?” and “Who owns them?”  A close look at many cities suggests that their purpose is to house people, serve commerce, and move people and goods from one place to another.  Some cities also erect monuments to the glory of historical people and events.

The second question is about who owns the city.  Who owns the streets, the sidewalks, and the monuments?  Who gets to decide how cities will be used, what activities will take place in the city square, and where cars may and may not go?

The people of ancient Athens had no trouble answering these two questions.  They knew they owned the city and they went about making the city a place where happiness could flourish.  We, on the other hand, seem to be lost in a state of confusion.  We claim a right to the pursuit of happiness, but then allow our cities to become entities inconsistent with what we think we’re pursuing.

Look at a map or an aerial view of almost any city.  Is there any doubt that cars have taken over ownership of our cities?  Does this reflect our idea of happiness?   Most of us love our cars and the convenience they provide in getting us almost anywhere we might want to go.  Yet we see that city life built around the use of cars has actually diminished our enjoyment of the city.  We get stuck in traffic jams, use valuable city space to construct parking lots and parking garages, make walking and biking dangerous and unpleasant, and become increasingly isolated from the world of nature and from other people in our community.  Montgomery studied cities around the world and came to the conclusion that cities – especially the streets of cities – can be friendly to people or friendly to cars, but not to both. 

So what are we to do?  Our cities are already built, the streets laid out in concrete.  But that doesn’t mean we’re stuck.  We might look to another tale of two cities for inspiration – this one, the story by Charles Dickens.  Most of us are familiar with the opening lines:  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness . . . .”   While Dickens’ novel is set in the 1700’s, these dramatic lines might be applied to conditions of today, as well.  Dicken’s story in A Tale of Two Cities is about duality and revolution, but it’s also about resurrection.

The idea of resurrection might help us redefine and redesign our cities to make them more consistent with our view of happiness.  We don’t have to accept cities for the way they are.  We can resurrect the idea of the city as a place that nurtures our wholeness and that brings us together.  We can take back ownership of our cities by becoming more involved in civic life, and we can insist that our cities serve as a means to a desired way of life, not just a backdrop to life.  We might start by using potted plants, benches, and picnic tables to block cars from entering the streets at the heart of our cities.  We can then convert the space cars once dominated to make room for pedestrians and bicyclists, for people to gather, and for community to grow.  We can welcome the idea that we have a common duty to participate in civic life and, in that participation, discover what true happiness is all about.

10 Commandments of Commons Economics

Michel Bauwens.

How Peer Production can create a future that’s free, fair & sustainable

Photo by Lawrence OP under a Creative Commons license.
This is a synthesis of ten years of research by the P2P Foundation on the emerging practices of new productive communities and the ethical entrepreneurial coalitions that create livelihoods for shared resources. It was written for the Uncommons conference in Berlin last October by P2P  founder Michel Bauwens.

As we have tried to show elsewhere, the emergence of commons-oriented peer production has generated the emergence of a new logic of collaboration between open productive communities who created shared resources (commons) through contributions, and those market-oriented entities that created added value on top or along these shared commons.
This article addresses the emerging practices that should inspire these entities of the ‘ethical’ economy. The main aim it to create new forms that go beyond the traditional corporate form and its extractive profit-maximizing practices of value extraction. Instead of extractive forms of capital, we need generative forms, that co-create value with and for the commoners.
I am using the form of commandments to explain the new practices. All of them have already emerged in various forms, but need to be generalized and integrated.
What the world and humanity, and all those beings that are affected by our activities require is a mode of production, and relations of production, that are “free, fair and sustainable" at the same time.
1. Thou shalt practice open business models based on shared knowledge
Closed business models are based on artificial scarcity. Though knowledge is a non- or anti-rival good that gains in use value the more it is shared, and though it can be shared easily and at very low marginal cost when it is in digital form, many extractive firms still use artificial scarcity to extract rents from the creation or use of digitized knowledge. Through legal repression or technological sabotage, naturally shareable goods are made artificially scarce, so that extra profits can be generated. This is particularly galling in the context of life-saving or planet-regenerating technological knowledge. The first commandment is therefore the ethical commandment of sharing what can be shared, and of only creating market value from resources that are scarce and create added value on top or along these commons. Open business models are market strategies that are based on the recognition of natural abundance and the refusal to generate income and profits by making them artificially scarce.
Thou shalt find more information on this here 

2. Thou shalt practice open co-operativism
Many new more ethical and generative forms are being created, that have a higher level of harmony with the contributory commons. The key here is to choose post-corporate forms that are able to generate livelihoods for the contributing commoners.
Open cooperatives in particular would be cooperatives that share the following characteristics:
1) they are mission-oriented and have a social goal that is related to the creation of shared resources
2) they are multi-stakeholder governed, and include all those that are affected by or contributing to the particular activity
3) they constitutionally, in their own rules, commit to co-create commons with the productive communities
I often add the fourth condition that they should be global in organisational scope in order to create counter-power to extractive multinational corporations.
Cooperatives are one of the potential forms that commons-friendly market entitities could take. We see the emergence of more open forms such as neo-tribes (think of the workings of the Ouishare community), or more tightly organized neo-builds, such as, Las Indias or the Ethos Foundation. Yet more open is the network form chose by the Sensorica open scientific hardware community, which wants to more tightly couple contributions with generated income, by allowing all microtasked contributions in the reward system, through open value or contributory accounting (more below).
Thou shalt find more information on this here.

3. Thou shalt practice open value or contributory accounting
Peer production is based on distributed tasks, freely contributed by an open community-driven collaborative infrastructure. The tradition of salaries based on fixed job description may not be the most appropriate way to reward those that contribute to such processes. Hence, the emergence of open value accounting or contributory accounting. As practiced already by Sensorica, this means that any contributor may add contributions, log them according to project number, and after peer evaluation is assigned ‘karma points’. When income is generated, it flows into these weighted contributions, so that every contributor is fairly rewarded. Contributory accounting, or other similar solutions, are important to avoid that only a few contributors closely related to the market capture the value that has been co-created by a much larger community. Open book accounting ensure that the (re)distribution of value is transparent for all contributors.
Thou shalt find more information on this here.

4. Thou shalt insure fair distribution and benefit-sharing through Copyfair licensing
The copyleft licenses allow anyone to re-use the necessary knowledge commons on the condition that changes and improvements are added to that same commons. This is a great advance, but should not be abstracted from the need for fairness. When moving to physical production which involves finding resources for buildings, raw materials and payments to contributors, the unfettered commercial exploitation of such commons favours extractive models. Thus the need to maintain the knowledge sharing, but to ask reciprocity for the commercial exploitation of the commons, so that there is a level playing field for the ethical economic entities that do internalize social and environmental costs. This is achieved through copyfair licenses, which allow full sharing of the knowledge but ask for reciprocity in exchange for the right of commercialization.
Thou shalt find more information on this here

5. Thou shalt practice solidarity and mitigate the risks of work and life through Commonfare practices
One of the strong results of financial and neoliberal globalization is that the power of nation-states has gradually weakened, and there is now a strong and integrated effort to unwind the solidarity mechanisms that were embedded in the welfare state models. As long as we do not have the power to reverse this slide, it is imperative that we reconstruct solidarity mechanisms of distributed scope, a practice which we could call ‘commonfare’. Examples such as the Broodfonds (Netherlands), Friendsurance (Germany) and the health sharing ministries (U.S.), or cooperative entities such Coopaname in France, show us the new forms of distributed solidarity that can be developed to deal with the risks of life and work.
Thou shalt find more information on this here

6. Thou shalt use open and sustainable designs for an open source circular economy
Open productive communities insure maximum participation through modularity and granularity. Because they operate in a context of shared and abundant resources, the practice of planned obsolescence, which is a feature of profit-maximizing corporations, is alien to them. Ethical entrepreneurial entities will therefore use these open and sustainable designs and produce sustainable good and services.
Thou shalt find more information on this here.

7. Thou shalt move beyond an exclusive reliance on imperfect market price signals towards mutual coordination of production through open supply chains and open book accounting
What decision-making is for planning, and pricing is for the market, mutual coordination is for the commons!
We will never achieve a sustainable ‘circular economy’--in which the output of one production process is used as an input for another-- with closed value chains in which every cooperation has to be painfully negotiated under conditions of little transparency. But entrepreneurial coalitions that are already co-dependent on a collaborative commons can create eco-systems of collaboration through open supply chains, in which the production process becomes transparent, and through which every participant can adapt his behaviour based on the knowledge available in the network. There is no need for over-production when the production realities of the network become common knowledge.
Thou shalt find more information on this here

8. Thou shalt practice cosmo-localization
“What is light is global, and what is heavy is local”: this is the new principle animating commons-based peer production in which knowledge is globally shared, but production can take place on demand and based on real needs through a network of distributed coworking and microfactories. Certain studies have shown that up to two-thirds of matter and energy goes not to production, but to transport, which is clearly unsustainable. A return to re-localized production is a sine qua non for the transition towards sustainable production.
Thou shalt find more information on this here.  

9. Thou shalt mutualize physical infrastructures
Platform cooperatives, data cooperatives and fairshare forms of distributed ownership can be used to co-own our infrastructures of production.
The misnamed sharing economy from AirBnB and Uber shows the potential of matching idle resources. Co-working, skillsharing, ridesharing are examples of the many ways in which we can re-use and share resources to dramatically augment the thermo-dynamic efficiencies of our consumption.
In the right context of co-ownership and co-governance, a real sharing economy can achieve dramatic advances in reduced resource use. Our means of production --inclusive machines -- can be mutualized and self-owned by all those that create value.
Thou shalt find more information on this here.  

10. Thou shalt mutualize generative capital
Generative forms of capital cannot rely on an extractive money supply that is based on compound interest that is due to extractive banks. We have to abolish the 38% financial tax that is owed on all goods and services and transform our monetary system, and substantively augment the use of mutual credit systems.
Thou shalt find more information on this here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Livable Communities through Urban Forestry

By Suzanne H. Crowhurst Lennard, Ph.D.(Arch.), Director, IMCL

We know intuitively that we need trees in our cities. They enhance the public realm, provide shade, cool the air in summer, frame our experience of the city, and make the city more beautiful.
Most historic cities – especially in Europe – are graced by the presence of many trees. But it has been quite a fight to get modern architects and planners to accept these untidy, unruly, objects as co-inhabitants in the urban realm.
Modern cities around the world have been built as agglomerations of “objects in space”. Buildings are as large as possible to maximize real estate investment opportunities. Open space is used to showcase the architects’ daredevil, artistic, or outrageous fantasies. Trees would spoil the view, and moreover, they have an annoying habit of scattering their litter hither and thither in the fall.
Older, wealthy residential neighborhoods are usually filled with trees, and yet the poorest neighborhoods lack parks and street trees.
In our efforts to bring more trees into our cities, we have a great, new ally – Pope Francis – who in his encyclical[1] affirms: “We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature.“
The Pope speaks out against consumerist global development that benefits the economy at the expense not only of the poor – but of the earth: “…the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor.”
Scientific Evidence:
Scientists in all manner of research fields – public health, pollution analysis, landscape architecture, child development, ecology, biology, etc … by now have published a plethora of research findings that show we humans need trees and other forms of nature in our lives in order to keep healthy; and that it is detrimental to the health of the earth to build cities without nature[2].
Air Pollution:
In highly air polluted areas (areas with high PM 2.5) you have about three times the rate of asthma, aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality. The main causes are vehicles, industry, mining, and construction.
In Los Angeles, when the 405 freeway was closed, air quality improved 75% around the freeway, 25% across the region[3]. Now, it might be nice to solve this problem by closing all our freeways – but that would be a very long-term solution, if at all possible – involving re-planning our cities as “cities of short distances” and encouraging more people to accept alternate transportation modes. But in the short term, we need to get trees to help us.
Many studies show that trees remove air pollution[4] . This is of particular value in street canyons where vegetation can reduce particulate matter by as much as 60%.  AMEC Foster Wheeler [5] won an IMCL award at the 52nd IMCL Conference for their work for the Greater London Authority illustrating how green infrastructure could improve air quality along some of London’s most polluted roads. In canyons, upper canopy trees are avoided because they can trap pollution below them, but more slender trees, as well as bushes and green walls can be invaluable.
Pine trees are especially effective – their needles pick up more particles than broad leafed trees[6]. Since particulates are heavier than air, pollution is worst close to the ground. Low bushes are therefore very efficient for cleaning the air for bicyclists and pedestrians, especially children.

Trees are keystone supports for wildlife habitat for breeding, shelter, and food. But a tree cannot be an ISLAND. One tree cannot provide all the food needed to support diverse birds, squirrels, and insects, so trees have to be linked to other trees, bushes, plants, flowers, and the earth.
We need to increase biodiversity in our cities[7]. Urban wildlife corridors are required to support the interaction of multiple species, supply diverse food sources, and provide safe routes for wildlife. This helps avoid habitat fragmentation, and territorial problems.
Not all trees are created equal. ‘Oaks benefit everything from caterpillars to songbirds. Even fish prosper, because the aquatic invertebrates they feed on favor oak leaves on stream bottoms’ reports Richard Conniff[8]. According to Douglas Tallamy, a University of Delaware entomologist, who published a ranking of trees and shrubs according to how many caterpillar species they harbor, In contrast to oaks, which accommodate 537 species, gingkoes host just three. Willows support over 450 species, including insects that provide food for birds.
Gingkoes may host just 3 species of caterpillars, but that is not to say we should ban gingkoes and other non-native trees from our streets entirely because they certainly are magnificently beautiful in the fall.
Beauty is also important. Where would Washington DC be without the Japanese cherry trees? And Portland’s Japanese garden would certainly be the poorer without the beautiful Japanese maple. And of course, beauty plays an important role in sustaining our psychological well-being.
We have known for many centuries that trees contribute to health and well-being. Hundreds of spa towns throughout Europe attest to this knowledge – and many of these spas have existed since Roman times. The treatment “prescription” that an Italian patient is given includes not only drinking the water, and taking mud baths, but also walking amid beautiful architecture in the park at Montecatini Terme and breathing deeply.
And a German patient may be prescribed treatment at Baden-Baden and told to take the waters, listen to the music at the café in the park, and take long walks beneath the massive trees along the banks of the rippling stream.
Numerous studies show that the availability of parks and green spaces increases the likelihood of physical exercise, and this results in better physical health, both for young and old[9].
Even the sight of a tree from one’s hospital room increases recovery from surgery[10] ,  and Kuo[11] has shown that a view of trees from one’s apartment reduces crime & aggression.
Almost all trees have medicinal properties[12] . The bark of the willow contains salicin, similar to the active ingredient in aspirin.  Eucalyptus is renowned for its antiseptic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties

Neighborhoods with more trees:
Research shows that the more trees you have in your neighborhood, and the larger the trees are, the better you rate your own health. Moreover, you are correct – because people living in neighborhoods with more and bigger trees have significantly fewer cardio-metabolic conditions[13].
While some trees produce a lot of pollen, and thus cause asthma, it has been found that in neighborhoods with more diverse trees[14], there is reduced asthma in kids.
In neighborhoods with more trees, mothers are significantly less likely to deliver undersized babies[15] , according to studies in 2011 by Geoffrey Donovan. This may in part have to do with reduced levels of stress. Being in green places among trees also protects emotional well-being in young and old[16].
Child development:
There is a tremendous amount of research on how all aspects of child development are affected by their access to trees and green areas. For example, play in nature improves balance & coordination[17] .
Contact with nature expands children’s sensory faculties and cognitive capacity[18] . Learning about nature requires a larger vocabulary than possibly any other subject (except, perhaps, learning about humans). Contact with nature has been shown to improve children’s concentration[19]  and emotional resilience[20].

Play in nature has been shown to encourage more social play[21] , and reduce[22] and relieve[23]  incidence of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Play in nature also teaches responsibility and nurturing skills[24]  according to Cobb. 
Edmund Wilson coined the term biophilia, explaining that bonding with nature that is alive – birds, animals, insects, and human beings increases love for the earth, sense of awe, and desire to protect the earth[25] .  At every age, we all feel more alive and enjoy life more when we are in touch with other living things.
Since trees are the cornerstone for biodiversity, we need trees to flourish in order for all other life to flourish.
Trees mediate air temperature:
Large parks or residential neighborhoods with extensive vegetation can produce air temperature reductions as great as 10deg.F compared to nearby areas with little vegetation” according to McPherson and Simpson [26]. Trees shade buildings in summer and admit sun in winter reducing energy demands[27]. A large front yard tree can save about 9% of a typical home’s total air conditioning costs by shading the building from the afternoon sun and cooling the air around the building.
As a result of this air cooling effect, trees shape social life in public.  Outdoor cafes and restaurants benefit if they can take advantage of shade from trees in hot summer months. Benches that take advantage of shade will be more popular in the summer than those with no shade. In winter, the opposite is true.
Tree shade may also encourage spontaneous conversations in public: people are more likely to pause to talk if they are comfortable walking through a tree-shaded square on a summer day than if they are walking across the same square without trees; conversely, they are more likely to pause to converse if the square is sunny on a cold autumn or spring day. This argues for deciduous trees.
Trees hide ugly buildings:
Trees also offer us the most delightful advantage of hiding ugly buildings. I would have a lot of work for them if only they would grow taller!!!
This talk was presented at the Livable Communities through Urban Forestry Conference in Washington DC, August 6, 2015 by Suzanne H. Crowhurst Lennard, Ph.D. (Arch.), Director, International Making Cities Livable Conferences.

[2] Kardan, O. et al. Neighborhood greenspace and health in a large urban center. Sci. Rep. 5, 11610; doi: 10.1038/srep11610 (2015).
[3]  Arthur Winer, Yifang Zhu and Suzanne Paulson. Carmageddon or Carmaheaven? Air Quality Results of a Freeway Closure.
[4]  Nowak, D. J., Crane, D. E. & Stevens, J. C. Air pollution removal by urban trees and shrubs in the United States. Urban forestry & urban greening 4, 115–123 (2006)
Nowak, D. J., Hirabayashi, S., Bodine, A. & Greenfield, E. Tree and forest effects on air quality and human health in the United States. Environmental Pollution 193, 119–129 (2014).
[6]  Pugh, T. A. M., MacKenzie, A. R., Whyatt, J. D., Hewitt, C. N.: Effectiveness of Green Infrastructure for Improvement of Air Quality in Urban Street Canyons, Environ. Sci. Tech., 46, 7692-7699,  , 2012.
See also   and
[9]  Richardson, E.A.; Pearce, J,; Mitchell, R.; & Kingham, S. 2013. Role of physical activity in the relationship between urban green space and health. Public Health: doi: 10.1016/j.puhe.2013.01.004.
Epstein, Leonard H., S. Raja, S. Gold, R. Paluch, Y. Pak and James Roemmich  (2006). “Reducing Sedentary Behavior: The Relationship between Park Area and the Physical Activity of Youth.” Psychological Science, Vol 17, Issue 8: 654-659.
[10]  Ulrich RS. (1984) “View through a window may influence recovery from surgery.” Science.  224: 420-421
[11]  Kuo, Frances and Sullivan, William C., (2001). Aggression and Violence in the Inner City. Effects of Environment via Mental Fatigue. Environment & Behavior, Vol 33 No. 4. 543-571
[13] Kardan, O. et al. Neighborhood greenspace and health in a large urban center. Sci. Rep. 5, 11610; doi: 10.1038/srep11610 (2015).
[14]  Cariñanos, P., & Casares-Porcel, M. (2011). Urban green zones and related pollen allergy: A review. Some guidelines for designing spaces with low allergy impact. Landscape and Urban Planning, 101(3), 205–214
[16]  Huynh, Q et al (2013). Exposure to public natural space as a protective factor for emotional well-being among young people in Canada. BMC Public Health. 2013 Apr 29;13:407. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-13-407.
[17]  Grahn P., Martensson, F., Lindblad, B., Nilsson, P., & Ekman, A. (1997) “Ute på Dagis (Out in the Preschool)”. Stad and Land 145. Håssleholm, Sweden: Nora Skåne Offset
Fjortoft, I. (2001) “The Natural environment as a playground for children.” Early Childhood Education Journal 29 (3): 111-117.
[18]  Kellert, S. R., (2002). “Experiencing Nature: Affective, Cognitive, and Evaluative Development in Children.” In Kahn P, Kellert S eds. Children and Nature. Cambridge, MA, MIT Press
[19]  Wells, N. (2000) “At Home with Nature: Effects of ‘greenness’ on children’s cognitive functioning.” Environment and Behavior 32 (6): 775-795.
[20] Wells, N. & Evans. G. (2003) “Nearby nature: A buffer of life stress among rural children.” Environment and Behavior 35 (3): 311-330.
[21]  Kirkby, M. (1989) “Nature as Refuge in Children’s Environments.” Children’s Environments Quarterly 6 (1): 7-12.
[22]  Faber T. A  (2001) “Coping with ADD: The Surprising Connection to Green Play Settings.” Environment and Behavior. 22
[23] Kuo, F., & Faber Taylor, A. (2004). “A potential natural treatment for Attention- Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence from a national study.” American Journal of Public Health, 94(9), 1580-1586.
[24]  Cobb E. (1977). The Ecology of Imagination in Childhood. New York: Columbia University Press
[25]  Wilson, Edward O. (1984). Biophilia. The Human Bond with other Species. Cambridge, MA & London, UK. Harvard University Press
[26]  McPherson, G. and J.R. Simpson, 1995. Shade trees as a demand-side resource. Home Energy Magazine. 12(2) (March/April). Available online at
[27]  Pandit, R. & Laband, D. (2010). Energy Savings from Tree Shade. Ecological Economics 69 1324-1329



Parks are not the only way to increase the number of trees in the city, and the access to green areas. And indeed, the concept of the park – where it is, how large, what shape, and whether wild or cultivated - needs a little rethinking. Urban waterways, green streets, green buildings, community gardens also provide strategies for increasing the urban forest and access to nature.


More important than just more, bigger parks is how accessible a park is. It is not sufficient to draw a quarter mile radius around the periphery of a park to determine how many people that park serves. Some large parks may be fenced, with only one or two entrances, so a quarter mile walk from that entrance may only reach a handful of homes. On the other hand, a small strip park alongside a stream in a densely populated area in the center of the city may offer easy access to thousands of families living within a quarter mile walk.

More trees and parks in poor neighborhoods:
The great scandal in the US is that while white and more affluent communities often have many old-growth trees and are well supplied with parks, low-income and ethnic neighborhoods have fewer parks[1] . This inequality clearly contributes to the lower health levels in poor neighborhoods. Poor neighborhoods are in greater need of street trees, and easy access to parks and community gardens than are wealthier neighborhoods. Following Kardan’s suggestions[2], one powerful way to make a city healthier would be to plant 10 trees per block in poor neighborhoods.

Create Green Fingers:

We need to follow the examples of new neighborhoods such as Vauban, in Freiburg, Germany that connect the green places, for the sake of humans and biodiversity. A small stream running along the southern edge of the Vauban neighborhood is protected as a natural area, and from this, three green fingers reach deep into the neighborhood, providing undisturbed natural habitat, natural play areas for different ages, and simple community areas for barbecues and social events.

The city of Portland is justly proud of its Park Blocks that run almost continuously for 17 blocks north to south through the city center. This extensive linear park contains 335 mature elm, oak, and maple trees and a rich assortment of wildlife, as well as human life. Portland is attempting to create additional natural corridors by linking neighborhood parks with green streets. The ultimate aim is to enable these green streets to function as biodiversity corridors.

Restore Urban Waterways:
Many of our cities used the river as their industrial heart. Rivers and river banks became polluted, unsuitable both for nature and for humans. Many cities have made major efforts to reclaim the industrial banks and clean the rivers, but there is much still to do. Trees such as willows need to be planted to help foster biodiversity, and to reconnect the regenerative power of the land-water interface. Ljubljana just won title of 2016 Green Capital of Europe in large part for their admirable restoration of their river banks.

Streams are biodiversity corridors but most streams in our cities have been channeled underground so as not to interfere with our use of the surface for construction and car access. Wherever possible we should try to bring them back to the surface as urban streams.

This has been accomplished in numerous European cities and towns. Freiburg, Germany uncovered the tiny streams called Bächle that run off the Black Forest through the streets of the old city, and these are now used to paddle in, and cool hot feet in the summer. The university town of Tübingen, Germany uncovered a stream that ran through the historic heart of the city. It now helps to cool the air in summer.

In slightly less dense urban areas it is possible to restore the stream’s natural banks. The reconstructed town of Plessis-Robinson, just south of Paris has restored streams and lakes as a central feature of their development, creating walkways, parks, and gardens along the banks.


Green Streets:
Streets are potential green fingers and biodiversity corridors. A few trees can encourage social life on the street. More trees, diverse trees, and a mix of bushes, earth, and rainwater ditches can foster greater species diversity. Street trees also help clean the air.

In Vauban, Freiburg, the narrow residential streets are an extension of the green fingers. These are Wohnstrasse (Living Streets), intended for children’s play, bikes and pedestrians. The only reason a vehicle is allowed in is for delivery or emergency access. Only handicapped residents are allowed to park there. Permeable stone lined rainwater channels are provided by the city, and residents may choose what tree they want in the strip owned by the city.

Vauban also has a network of traffic-free bike/pedestrian lanes through the most heavily wooded sections of the development.
Green pedestrian networks are also needed into and around the city center, to provide healthy pedestrian commuter routes. Almost every small town in England has a fine web of almost secret green rights of way that weave into the town center, nipping between houses and along the banks of streams in the suburban areas, through city blocks and along the borders of parks in the city center. Poundbury has created such a wealth of these pedestrian short cuts that the streets themselves sometimes seem deserted.

In Krakow, Poland a major pedestrian commuter route leads into the city center through a park.

In quiet neighborhoods, such as Carmel, or Berkeley, California trees also perform a grand job of calming traffic. This is a model easily adopted by residential neighborhoods.

Arterial roads carrying a great deal of traffic are in major need of greening to reduce pollution and slow traffic. This is especially important when the roads have stores and residential buildings on either side that require the ability to easily and safely cross the street. In these situations, even roads carrying heavy traffic need to widen sidewalks, add buffered bike lanes, reduce the number and width of traffic lanes, add crosswalks and roundabouts, and plant trees.


Green Buildings:
Trees can also help to provide green walls and roofs. In addition to climbers and vines trained on a scaffold across a façade, fruit trees have traditionally been grown in this way. Just imagine, leaning out of your bedroom window and picking a fresh pear for breakfast!

Trees can also be grown on roofs and terraces. Green roofs improve biodiversity, slow rainwater and keep buildings cool. Even green arbors, vines, small trees and gardens in pots on roof terraces – as can be seen on every other rooftop in Rome - help to cool the atmosphere, without requiring immensely high-tech structural solutions.

The most successful and well-tested projects I have seen are those by the artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. The Hundertwasser House in Vienna is public housing commissioned by the City. It is human scale – 5 and 6 stories – with gardens and trees on terraces and on the roofs. The building is beloved by residents and tourists.

Hundertwasser has designed dozens of buildings all over Europe, but perhaps his most ambitious project is Bad Blumenau, an extensive spa village in Eastern Austria. Each building is a little hill, covered with grass and trees, creating a rolling green landscape. Here, the spa park is atop the buildings.

-Trees in Urban Public Places
We have a huge need in North America to rebuild community, regenerate a social network and increase democratic dialogue and civic engagement. This is important for many reasons, including the social and physical health of the population. Preventative action on the level of creating a healthy environment would also save billions of dollars in health care expenses.

Researchers in public health and social science have discovered that when people are tied into a rich daily pattern of face-to-face interaction with friends, familiars and neighbors, they do not fall ill so often, if they get sick it is not so serious, and they live to a riper old age. They have what is called a strong “Social Immune System”. 

It is a central tenet of IMCL that we desperately NEED more Community Places – squares and piazzas that generate social interaction. It is absolutely essential to bring people together, to build community in neighborhoods, to facilitate civic engagement and strengthen social immune systems.

Trees are an essential tool for achieving that goal. They shape social life.

In a community place, a tree creates the ideal location for an outdoor cafe or restaurant, or for public benches where elders can sit and watch the children playing, or lovers can embrace. A broad canopied tree filtering the sunlight will enhance a café or restaurant. A smaller tree giving dark shade will provide a cool corner for a couple of benches.

Trees keep the paving cooler. So a square with many trees supports many conversations on the move, peripatetic, as people’s paths cross, while they make errands, commute to and from work.

Whenever we want to bring people together in the city, trees must play a major part. Outdoor farmers markets, like those in Aix-en-Provence, or on Portland’s South Park blocks, benefit from the trees. The plane trees in Aix, and the oak, elm and maple trees in Portland keep the produce fresh, and make the market even more inviting for humans.

Munich’s Viktualienmarkt, a combination of a vast farmers market and beer garden, at the heart of Munich, is magnificently shaded by chestnut trees.

We need more public squares that are free of traffic, where people shop, meet, walk, eat out, meet friends, and enjoy their city, and these squares need trees!

This is the second part of a talk presented at the Livable Communities through Urban Forestry Conference in Washington DC, August 6, 2015 by Suzanne H. Crowhurst Lennard, Ph.D. (Arch.), Director, International Making Cities Livable Conferences.

[1] Estabrooks PA1, Lee RE, Gyurcsik NC. (2003) Resources for physical activity participation: does availability and accessibility differ by neighborhood socioeconomic status? Ann Behav Med. 2003 Spring;25(2):100-4.
Powell LM, Slater S, Chaloupka FJ, Harper D. Availability of physical activity-related facilities and neighborhood demographic and socioeconomic characteristics: a national study. Am J Public Health. 2006;96:1676–80.
[2]  Kardan, O. et al. Neighborhood greenspace and health in a large urban center. Sci. Rep. 5, 11610; doi: 10.1038/srep11610 (2015).

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Healthy Streets for Children

By Lamine Mahdjoubi

Lamine Mahdjoubi, Faculty of the Built Environment at the University of the West of England challenged the audience: “A lot of people say that a livable city is one that is livable for children. But as I am going to show, in cities around the world, children are disappearing from our urban environment. I will share with you some of the work we have been doing in looking at the link between child play, health and the built environment. 

“The Good Child Enquiry by the Children Society asked thousands of children throughout the UK “What is your definition of a good life?” The first thing is friendship. Socializing is a very powerful measure of a “good life” for children. The second important thing is play. Play is a powerful catalyst for children to socialize, exercise, etc.” The study also showed that children have fewer friends than before, said Lamine, so there are fewer opportunities for them to socialize. They are spending less time playing out of doors, and more time sitting indoors. Nearly twenty percent of children play outside less than one hour per week.

“Children used to play close to home on the street, so the rise of the car has had the biggest impact on children’s play. And we seem to have become obsessed with the idea that children have to play in ghettoized playgrounds. But our work at the University of the West of England has found that children find playgrounds boring.” Lamine examines the recent changes in patterns of child play nationally, where economic resources are going, and the various barriers to children’s play, including parental attitudes. He then presents his research that compares play in formal playgrounds, with informal play in the street.

He concludes that we have to find a way to make our streets safer and more attractive for children, to entice them back to the street, because this is where children’s health can benefit most from extensive physical activity, and where children can experience the most rewarding social interaction with their friends.

Loneliness is Life Threatening: We Can Design Cities to Foster Community

From Livale Cities

We urban planners need to stop creating a built environment that is making people sick and causing premature deaths. I am not talking here about the dangers of traffic or pollution, lack of healthy food, or damage to the eco-system. I am talking about how some of the most common forms of urban development – suburban sprawl and vertical high-rise sprawl - cause loneliness, which can lead to depression, chronic inflammation, and life-threatening diseases, including increased risk of cancer. “Loneliness”, says Steve Cole, a genomics researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, “really is one of the most threatening experiences we can have.”

NPR recently reported on a study by Cole published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  Cole noticed that when people felt lonely, they had significantly higher levels of norepinephrine in their blood. Norepinephrine is the chemical that protects us in life-threatening situations, and stimulates the production of white blood cells needed to heal wounds. The problem is, this process also shuts down immune defenses making us more vulnerable to infections.
These chemical reactions in the body may have evolved in prehistoric times when we lived in tribes. A lone individual was vulnerable to attack from animals or hostile tribes. But the human body’s responses are still the same today.

Cole’s study from the field of genomics explains the chemical changes in the body that account for a phenomenon long observed by researchers in public health and social sciences: persons with a strong social network involving daily face-to face interaction with a wide variety of people don’t get sick so often, if they get sick, it isn’t so serious, and they live to a greater old age. Social scientists have concluded that those with strong social networks have built up a strong “social immune system” that protects their mental and physical health.

Social isolation is associated with poor physical and mental health and early death. At its worst extreme, for example, prisoners who are held in social isolation, it is justly deemed torture and can lead to madness, self-immolation and suicide. In its less dramatic and more common situations, such as elders with limited mobility who live alone in a high-rise apartment, or children and youth in sprawling suburbs who are told to go straight home after school, not to play on the street, and to wait home alone for their commuting parents, loneliness can have more subtle, but nonetheless devastating effects on health.

And chronic loneliness may amplify chemicals in the brain associated with fear and anxiety, leading to more social avoidance – a vicious cycle.

So what should urban planners be doing to protect health? Every effort should be made to create a built environment that facilitates the development of social life and community in a safe and hospitable public realm. Social interactions should be facilitated by wide sidewalks, traffic-free or traffic-tamed streets and public squares. The public realm should be enclosed by human-scale buildings providing eyes on the street, and ensuring sunlight at street level. Children and elders should live within eyesight and earshot of people on the street. Streets should be well-populated by local shoppers and pedestrians on their way to school or work. This requires a compact urban fabric for the city center and neighborhood that brings everything within a walking radius, and neighborhoods that are interconnected with public transit so that part of every trip is made on foot in the public realm.

As a recent study on The Effects of the Urban Built Environment on Mental Health by Giulia Melis et al shows, there is less evidence of depression, particularly among women and elders, for those living in the dense heart of Turin, a mixed-use, urban fabric of five and six stories with a vibrant social life in the streets, squares and inner courtyards, compared to less compact peripheral areas of the city. 
This is the way the traditional city was constructed for millennia. Our current aberration of suburban sprawl and vertical sprawl – urban forms invented for the purpose of increasing economic wealth – have produced untold mental and physical ill health by generating loneliness. It is time we designed cities to increase social life, community, and well-being!