Exploring the world's built environments and seeking sustainable solutions.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sustainable Cities Tour Embarks

We are about to embark on our month long tour of sustainable cities of northern Europe. The students (28 of them) come from all across the US (and Canada), represent numerous universities (mostly UC Davis and other UC’s) and many different disciplines (planning, environmental science, landscape architecture, architecture, urban design, policy, or engineering).

Our meeting place and first stop is Stockholm, Sweden; an ancient port city with a flourishing culture, beautiful water setting (it is made up of 14 separate islands), clear, cool air, and a strong sense of urban sustainability. We will spend much of our time in Stockholm learning about the various aspects of sustainability, learning how to “read a city,” and absorbing the urban design, transportation, land use, infrastructure, and social and ecological innovations and highlights of Stockholm. From there we travel to Malmo, Sweden; then Copenhagen and Odense, Denmark (with a one day trip to Aero), and then on to Freiburg, Germany with side trips to Strasbourg (and one of the EU Headquarters) and Zurich (with its rich economic traditions and well-connected transportation network.

What are we looking for? Primarily, we will explore how urban places can become more sustainable; creating livable communities that address environmental, economic and social equity variables. These communities seek to reduce energy, water and land consumption, reduce or eliminate urban pollutants like production of greenhouse gases, get people out of their cars and in to a healthy walking and biking lifestyle, allow for diverse populations to live and work (including those with low incomes), provide vibrant and active economic opportunities and social gathering places like cafes, parks and plazas, seek to maintain urban “nature” and restore it where has been lost. There is no formula for sustainable communities, but my “Sustainable Communities Pyramid” starts to put labels on the kind of things to look for and strive for.

Every couple days we will select a theme to explore and write about; then add the best student photographs (and possibly some video footage as well) that demonstrates the theme. Most of the theme’s will center around the city we are visiting; it might explore a part of the city like Hammarby Sjosad in Stockholm, or an element found throughout the city, like parks in Malmo.

Just to get us started, our first visual theme is unique ways to get around the city (mobility), and the short warm up photo log comes from various European cities visited over the past couple years. Mobility is more than just providing convenient, inter-connected, multi-modal transit, bike paths and lanes, walk-able districts, great sidewalks, roads, plazas, parks, greenbelts and the like. It is about access – placing the right land uses close enough together to reduce the need for vehicle trips, increase shared trips and reduce distances to meet our daily needs. Schools, parks and civic uses near housing; higher density housing near shopping and convenience services; services and entertainment near offices and workplaces; and all living quarters near transit. Mobility also means finding ways to accommodate the strange and wonderful ways we dream up to move around…….see the photo log for a few ideas!

Check back July 6 when we'll be blogging from Stockholm, Sweden.

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