Suburbia Project

The Primacy of Ecology

Nature and agriculture must work its way back into what presently is a massive, disastrous design mistake fueled by weakness, laziness, greed on ego as well as gasoline.

By Richard Register
Published October 21, 2005

Basically, neither the "improved" suburb nor the massively concentrated single-use city centres can survive the expensive energy future.

We need to comprehend the primacy of ecology in design and planning of our community infrastructure on all scales, and the metropolitan scale with low density, even with high density CBD (Central Business Districts) are similarly doomed as far as I can see.

Like gasses thrown into vast space by a supernova (gasoline exploding in car engines), the uniform film of suburbia and the metropolis has to condense into discrete points of high complexity and miniaturization, which means small cities and compact towns and villages with nature and agriculture working its way back into what presently is a massive, disastrous design mistake fueled by weakness, laziness, greed on ego as well as gasoline.

It's pretty complex! My book Ecocities [read an excerpt on RTH] pretty much lays out the alternative and how to get there but practically nobody is reading it.

The short answer is: Yes, a lot is salvageable in the suburbs, but not its basic form (scattered flatness!) and not its vast number of cars. The cheap energy won't be there that much longer to support that kind of wastefulness and nature's reaction to such waste, such as the changed atmosphere of the whole planet now with 30 percent more CO2 than ever in the last 300,000 years, will be shocking people into some kind of action soon.

Whether stupid and counter-productive or intelligent and helpful action vis-a-vis the long term, who knows? The strategy will prove to be:

  1. Find suburbia's existing most lively centres and invest in density/diversity of land uses and ecological architecture there, and
  2. Slowly, steadily remove car-dependent development when opportunities arise according to our Ecocity Zoning Map to restore nature and agriculture.

There is much more detail there, but that's a start.

Richard Register is an internationally-recognized urban design specialist and activist. He is the founder and President of Ecocity Builders, a non-governmental organization dedicated to environmentally-responsible urban development through public education and consulting with governments and planners.

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