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A Review of Green Urbanism: Learning from European Cities by Timothy Beatley 2009/12/08

Posted by Ruma Ram in Uncategorized.
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Green Urbanism: Learning from European Cities. Timothy Beatley. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2000. 491 pp.

The title ‘”Green Urbanism’” conjures thoughts of sustainability and the New Urbanism movement in readers. For the author, Timothy Beatley, the best measure on environmental impact is the design, organization, and operation of cities. In defining green urbanism, Beatley states that ideas of sustainable development and new urbanism are incomplete on their own; green urbanism is a “new, new urbanism” that stresses the role that cities can play in incorporating an urbanism of “sustainable places, communities, and lifestyles.” Beatley’s purpose is to identify and describe current initiatives that European cities have undertaken. “Green Urbanism” is a thoroughly descriptive and inspirational account of how many European cities, while not perfect, have incorporated strategic policies into land use, transportation and building practices that reduce the ecological footprint.

A major theme of this book is that of a global environmental crisis and the need for cities especially to reduce impact. Beatley begins by contrasting the exorbitant use of resources by American cities compared to their European counterparts. The author does note that European cities have had to work to implement sustainable policies, and that the intention of the detail of design, programs and policies are instructive examples for American cities.

Each section focuses on different aspects of the city starting with descriptions of compact urban form, housing and living environments, mobility strategies, the city as a living organism, and the governance and economy of cities. An overarching theme in each section is that some level of integration with higher jurisdictional levels of planning and control is required for policies to have a substantial impact. For example, when Beatley discusses the advantages of compact urban form and protection of green space, it is important to note that to have such compact growth has to be supported by national strategies and local policies. Another example is the high level of integration in transportation. Beatley defines good public transportation as ease in moving between different modes without relying on the automobile. The way in which European cities achieve this is through a high level of integration between rail, tram, metro and bus. Also, Europeans cities are able to discourage car use though high gasoline and road use taxes that in turn make public transit much more attractive. Each section ends with lessons for American cities where the author gives his prescriptions for what cities can do to lesson environmental impact. For a planner it is insightful to learn what integration with higher level of government can produce.

It is clear that Beatley has spent an extensive amount of time in European cities, and the list of interviews indicates a depth of research on the subject matter. However the prescriptions at the end of each section still leaves the reader to wonder if these strategies and advancements are possible in American cities. It is the last chapter that really brings forward the connection between green urban practices and how they translate into policy.

Beatley’s descriptions of European cities are insightful and interesting. This is an essential read for anyone with a passion for sustainability. It is also insightful for planners to learn the ways in which European cities are successful in implementing green practices. The Sustainable movement encompasses so many aspects of cities, and it may be tempting for the readers to hone in on only their specific area of interest. Though it is in the final chapter that Beatley really discusses how green initiatives can become effective policies. Also it is in the final chapter that Beatley gives closure to the idea of transferability and the question of how these policies can become a reality in American cities.

Ruma Ram

Georgia Institute of Technology

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