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‘Design With Nature’ to Create Liveable Communities

TREES, HEALTH AND WELLBEING: “The urban forest needs to be designed as a first principle, part of the critical infrastructure of the whole city, not just as a cosmetic afterthought,” wrote Professor Alan Simpson, Leeds Beckett University


“The scale and speed of urbanisation has created significant environmental and health problems for urban dwellers. These problems are often made worse by a lack of contact with the natural world,” stated Alan Simpson. “The creation of urban forests will make cities worth living in, able to function and support their populations: Treetopias. Our urban forest can give us the spaces and places to help manage our mental health and improve our physical health.”

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FLASHBACK TO 2011: “We are challenging those in local government: What do you want this place to look like in 50 years? To get there, you will have to start now. Actions ripple through time,” stated Kim Stephens at the FCM Sustainable Communities Conference held in Victoria, BC


Eight innovators from across Canada shared their breakthrough examples of municipal sustainability in a range of sectors. The format was interactive, which allowed participants to share and learn from each other. “Kim Stephens provided a water perspective, with an emphasis on designing with nature. His takeaway message was that water sustainability will be achieved through green infrastructure policies and practices. There was a great deal of excitement and energy in the room and delegates were very engaged during the roundtable discussion,” stated Azzah Jeena.

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GLOBAL CRISIS REPRESENTS AN OPPORTUNITY: “The 2020 coronavirus pandemic may lead to a deeper understanding of the ties that bind us all on a global scale and could help us get to grips with the largest public health threat of the century, the climate crisis,” wrote Arthur Wyns, Climate Change & Health Advisor to World Health Organization


“The global health crisis we find ourselves in has forced us to dramatically change our behaviour in order to protect ourselves and those around us, to a degree most of us have never experienced before. This temporary shift of gears could lead to a long-term shift in old behaviours and assumptions, which could lead to a public drive for collective action and effective risk management. Even though climate change presents a slower, more long-term health threat, an equally dramatic and sustained shift in behaviour will be needed to prevent irreversible damage,” stated Arthur Wyns.

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PREPARE FOR TOMORROW: “When the dust of COVID-19 settles, we should look back at this moment as proof that our societies are not enslaved to fate, and find strength in the demonstrated ability of modern societies to react to global emergencies,” say Eric Galbraith and Ross Otto of McGill University


“Why do we sometimes rely on slow, deliberative, and effortful choices, while at other times we rely on fast, habitual, and reflexive choice? On one hand, making the best possible decision is effortful and time-consuming, but on the other hand, the benefits resulting from deliberative behavior may be small relative to its cost,” wrote Ross Otto. “My research investigates why we sometimes rely on slow and effortful choices, while at other times we rely on fast and reflexive choice.”

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FORESTS 101: The green infrastructure sustaining life on earth – “People can work together to sustainably and effectively shape natural resource use, as long as ground rules and parameters are clear, and those who work on the land are involved,” stated Robert Nasi, Director General, Center for International Forest Research


“There are five areas where investment can be made to rejuvenate the functions of degraded ecosystems. These will help protect, expand and value forests and their biodiversity, transform agriculture into perennial systems, and build sustainable value chains, with the combined support of governments and the private sector to make the transition to sustainable economies,” said Robert Nasi. “Major policy decisions will continue to be undertaken with a presumption that individuals cannot organize themselves and always need to be organized by external authorities.”

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DESIGN WITH NATURE: Stefano Boeri Architetti’s Smart Forest City plan for Cancun, Mexico, takes the concept of a green city to entirely new levels


“Indeed the effort of the smart Forest City of Cancun could make our world a better place, reducing significantly the negative impacts on the environment, possibly being a pioneer for a new kind of human settlement, a man made city for nature and biodiversity,” said Stefano Boeri. “”Thanks to the new public parks and private gardens, thanks to the green roofs and to the green facades, the areas actually occupied will be given back by nature through a perfect balance between the amount of green areas and building footprint.”

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RENATURING CITIES: “The public realm must increasingly be where we get the benefits of nature. This has historically been a ‘blind spot’ for city planners, urban designers and engineers,” stated Thami Croeser, spatial analyst at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and part of an international project team advising the European Union on planning for urban greening


“As cities have developed, we’ve been focused on transport, housing, industry and infrastructure – nature has been an afterthought, as cities get a handful of parks and street trees at best. In the process, we have often produced very grey urban environments that get hot, flood easily and are unattractive and unhealthy to spend time in. We have a lot of retrofitting ahead of us, especially as the climate becomes more extreme. The good news is the nature-based solutions (NBS) industry is maturing and there are more and more ways to help our cities go green,” stated Thami Croeser.

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IMPROVING THE PROCESS OF IMPROVING PLACES: “Storm Cunningham’s RECONOMICS Process raises the bar for community and regional revitalization. It’s a powerful package, succinctly capturing the process that we have doggedly tried to identify over time, not always knowing the next step,” states Eric Bonham, founding member, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia


“Every public leader knows that the reliable production of anything requires a process. They also know, deep down, that they have no real strategy or reliable process for producing either revitalization or resilience in their community (though few would acknowledge it),” stated Storm Cunningham. “I’ve thus spent the past two decades researching commonalities: what’s usually present in the successes, and what’s usually missing in the failures? I’ve boiled it down to six elements. Each of them individually increases the likelihood of success. The more of them you have, the more likely you are to succeed.”

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SUBURBS CAN HELP CITIES IN FIGHT AGAINST CLIMATE CHANGE: “The growth of the suburban footprint of cities in Australia and Canada tests the limits of the sustainability of our present way of living in terms of energy use, transportation and provision of utilities,” state Paul Maginn and Roger Keil


“The edges of cities around the world are being devastated by fires and floods. It’s drawing attention to suburban residents and the role they’re playing in exacerbating their exposure to climate change risks. But instead of focusing on the suburban way of life alone, planners and policy-makers need to focus their attention and actions on what holds it all together: the ‘brutalscape’, which is comprised of the infrastructures that enable suburban life,” wrote Roger Keil.

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GREEN SPACE AND HUMAN HEALTH: “Urban designers have a significant role to play in lowering rates of mental illness, and the data on how nature affects our brains are central to changing the ways we design,” stated Dr. Zoe Myers, Australian Urban Design Research Centre


“Research has found that people in urban areas who live closest to the greatest ‘green space’ are significantly less likely to suffer poor mental health. Urban designers thus have a significant role to play in lowering rates of mental illness,” stated Zoe Myers. “Successful parks and urban green spaces encourage us to linger, to rest, to walk for longer. That, in turn, provides the time to maximise restorative mental benefits.Compare this to urban areas that employ creative uses of incidental nature to capture attention and offer genuine interaction.”

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