Amy Tomasso: Urban Environmentalism
June 11, 2013
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(Golden Gate Park in San Francisco)
When I tell people I want to be an urban planner, they often seem puzzled. Why would I want to devote my life to cities, they ask, when I am an avid backpacker, camper, and self-proclaimed nature lover? While it is true that I am passionate about the outdoors, I don’t see this as being incompatible with my interest in urban planning. In fact, these seemingly different fields are actually highly interrelated.
It is my love of the natural world that makes me so committed to urban sustainability, a field made up of sustainable design, increased open space, and better regulated public transportation, to name a few aspects. Harvard economist Edward Glaeser is one of many theorists to have labeled cities as templates of good environmentalism, if planned and used correctly. He gives the example of New York City as one of the most environmentally friendly places because residents consumer fewer resources than their suburban counterparts and have lower carbon footprints. What is lacking is robust support of cities as bastions of conservationism. Not enough people associate cities with best environmental practices.
Not only do I admire urban environments for their internal ecological benefits, but I see the urban-nature connection in another area, as well. It is crucial that urban downtowns do not continually sprawl outwards, eating up open space and natural resources. Cities without experienced and astute planning will be prone to unlimited growth, which is potentially devastating to surrounding areas. Even as the regional metropolis gains traction, traditional downtowns should not become so diluted as to fade away. In this sense, my love of the outdoors gives me a sense of commitment, urgency, and obligation to protect the environmental integrity of urban spaces.