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Environmental Sustainability: Ecologists Design Future Cities that Work With Nature

Nov 16, 2015 01:16 PM EST
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In honor of the Ecological Society of America's (ESA) 100th birthday, researchers propose new designs for next generation cities that will focus on working with nature, rather than against it.

"Cities are emergent systems, with only five to seven thousand years of history, mostly during the relative climatic stability of the Holocene," Kristina Hill, an associate professor at the University of California Berkeley's College of Environmental Design, said in a news release. "We've never tried to operate a city during a rapid climate change, especially not on the scale of population we now have, with our largest cities housing upwards of 20 million people."

According to the new designs, cities and their infrastructure will utilize the force of tides, floods and storms, as well as incorporate more vegetation that brings cleaner air and water, cooler summer temperatures, natural beauty, recreational space and more habitats for a variety of species.

"It's not about the preciousness of some rare thing that lives far, far away. It's about the water and the wind and the plants in your city," Hill added. "While we've observed that nature can be fragile, we've forgotten that nature is powerful. Our alterations of the planet's climate are going to bite us in the rear end; in the near future it will be up to us to accommodate nature. I find that refreshing."

The proposed designs, recently published in the ESA's journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, suggest that new problems require new solutions that strive for harmony instead of control. This includes Hill's idea of hybridizing concrete and steel structures that have been used in construction for hundreds of years.

Hill also proposed a design for dynamic coastline management called the Dutch Sand Engine. In this case, an artificial sand beach is made to erode and the sand removed by wind and wave forces is naturally spread along the Delfland Coast of the Netherlands. As a result, shorelines that have suffered rapid degradation are naturally restored and nourished.  

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