“Urban sprawl literally defines the modern city,” Dickson Despommier of What Matters writes. Truthfully, even here in Europe, most cities are sprawling out to accommodate the car. Despommier continues on: “We can all understand that this kind of growth is the result of too little planning and not enough insight into efficient use of space and resources…. The result is cities that are congested, difficult to navigate and, ultimately, unsustainable in their use of resources.” This is one of the underlying lessons I learned (time and time again) in one of the nation’s top 3 urban planning graduate programs.

One idea of how to promote and create more sustainable cities is to model them off of nature more. While this is a rather general idea with a few potential drawbacks of its own, it is a very enticing one that I have always felt a little pulled to. Despommier is clearly a big fan of this idea and delves into it in his piece:

What is needed, in my opinion, is a radical change in urban philosophy; one that is based on natural processes and mimics the best that nature has to offer with respect to balance. The balanced ecosystem is often referred to as a “closed loop” entity: everything the system needs to thrive—water, food, energy, et cetera—already exists within it (rather than being trucked in!) and is constantly recycled. I would encourage all city planners and developers to take a long, hard look into the ways in which ecosystems behave. It is the model for how we should be handling things like water management, energy utilization, and the recycling of waste into usable resources. In an ecosystem, assemblages of plants and animals are linked together by a common thread: the sharing of nutrients, the transfer of energy from sunlight to plants and then to animals, and the recycling of all the elements needed to ensure the survival of the next generation of those living within the boundaries of that geographically defined area. With available technologies, we can now bio-mimic an ecosystem’s best features. If cities learned to take advantage of these new technologies, then we would be well on our way to sustainability into the next millennium.

Is it possible? practical? Maybe. What do you think? Is this & should this be the next wave of urban planning?

Related Stories:
1. Physicist “Solves” the City, Turns It Into an Equation
2. Philadelphia’s “Green City, Clean Waters” Plan Creates a New Sustainable Infrastructure

Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs