By Dom Nozzi
Despite the many battles we have seen in public meetings between urbanists and environmentalists, these two groups should be natural allies. The sniping needs to end, as urbanists and environmentalists need to be saving energy to fight real enemies (the sprawl behemoth).
Speaking as someone schooled in both environmental science and urbanism, I find that the new urbanist transect concept is one of the most powerful concepts I have come across, because its proper application informs us about how the entire spectrum of habitats—be they Charleston or the Everglades—is best designed. Neither the traditional discipline of urbanism or the traditional discipline of environmental science incorporates the full spectrum of habitats and their needs. In principle, the transect achieves that.
The transect concept asks this question: What elements are immersive in the habitat we are working in—be it Charleston or the Everglades? For example, the transect instructs that a sidewalk is immersive in Charleston, and a “transect violation” when within the Everglades. Conversely, a 200-acre marsh is immersive in the Everglades and a transect violation in Charleston. In other words, something is immersive if it promotes the quality of the habitat being designed. It is a violation if it harms the quality of the habitat being designed.
And frankly, this is where some of the conflict and impatience comes between new urbanists and many environmentalists. A good number of environmental advocates don’t have a conception of a transect or immersiveness. To such advocates, it is always a good idea to incorporate more nature everywhere—which fails to realize that a 200-acre marsh in the middle of an in-town urban neighborhood harms the quality of a walkable Charleston. Natural features are not always immersive in all locations (it took me a while to realize that, since I came from an environmental academic background).
Let the city be a city and let nature be nature. It goes both ways.
Yes, many urbanists are guilty of not taking proper care of sensitive ecosystems in their projects. But it is also true that a many environmental scientists are guilty of not taking proper care of urbanism in their advocacy. Both can harm the other.
Much of our culture fails to realize that nature can, in a sense, pollute urbanism in the same way that human development can pollute nature.
Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.
Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com
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