Thursday, June 26, 2008

Healthy Sustainable Patterns

Recent bloggers are requesting more background information on the Human Life Project. The human life project links the natural/built environment with the family.

The image at the top right corner is from Bryce Canyon National Park. If you look closer, the rock formation reveals the profile of a face with a family walking through the narrow slot canyon. Environmental groups focus on ensuring our natural surroundings remain intact for future generations. The Human Life Project connects the health of the earth with the level of commitment in human relationships. With the state of our natural surroundings and families rapidly declining, combining the two unites an expansive network of people towards a common goal of sustaining all life.

As an architect and mother, it occurred that we build larger homes for fewer people and more possessions. A cultural shift is taking place by a drop in birth rates across almost every nation in the world. Europe is experiencing the most dramatic population decline. Some environmental groups today view the family as working against living in harmony with nature, as the dedicated unit within society that increases population and rapidly consumes resources. However, the spotlight is now on the family in determining which nations and cities will sustain over time by ensuring the continuation of human life.

Content of the Human Life Project explores sustainable/healthy patterns in three categories: nature, family, and community. Within each category, blog postings focus on a variety of topic areas listed below. Any supporting articles or web links would greatly be appreciated for future discussion. The goal is to identify and implement healthy living patterns both in our families and communities.

Nature: Renewable energy, recycling, natural resources, organic/local food, green products, outdoor living, and recreation

Family: Relationships, human life development, marriage, parenthood, children, fertility, demographics, and population.

Community: Quality of life, sustainable/green communities, green building design, urban planning, transportation, housing, culture, social interaction, and technology.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Family Gateway

In older European cities, the gateway clearly defined the entrance and doubled as a security checkpoint. Every person passed through the prominent stone structure, articulated with a grand arch flanked by pillars.

The family is the living gateway to our communities. Children enter through parent’s arching arms flanked by relatives, friends, and neighbors. Whether a child is biologically born into a family or adopted, parents contribute to the continuation of human life by opening their door to welcome our newest residents.

A key component of the Human Life Project is exploring community initiatives that reinforce the family support structure. Programs such as First Things First, started by the City of Chattanooga, provide free seminars on marriage and parenthood. New developments in the city, such as Stapleton in Denver, address family-oriented/green neighborhoods by offering mix of housing options with ability to walk/bike to schools and parks. Stapleton development also encourages working/shopping close to home, saving gas and spending more time with family. What are programs in your community that support the family?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Ecocity World Summit 2008 Highlights

The 7th International Ecocity Conference, located in San Francisco, warmly welcomed over 1,200 attendees from 73 countries. Presentations focused on urban planning for “smart” growth, green architecture, public transportation, renewable energy, climate change, and local food. City leaders also shared importance of social diversity, culture, spirituality, physical health, and family-oriented developments.

Curitiba, Brazil

Keynote address by Jaime Lerner, Former Mayor of Curitiba and architect, shares success stories implementing creative solutions to common city problems. Lerner’s characteristics of a sustainable city include less car use, garbage separation for recycling, living closer to work or working closer to home, and social diversity.

Lerner firmly believes that “innovation is starting.” Without money for subway infrastructure, the idea of “bringing the subway above ground” is realized by inserting boarding tubes at street level for articulated buses traveling in dedicated lanes. Rapid Bus Transit is responsible for 60% of city population using public transportation.

The city-wide recycling program originates in educating the children to separate garbage with instruction by the “family leaves”. Twenty-four hour streets respond to underutilized city areas by opening night markets for families. Curitiba celebrates ethnic diversity by dedicating parks and buildings to each ethnic group. Lerner’s family portrait analogy sums up his leadership philosophy. “You don’t rip your family portrait. Your city is like your family portrait.”

Vancouver, Canada

Brent Toderian, Director of Planning in Vancouver, preaches “livability” and “ecodensity.” Toderian defines livability as density done well. Vancouver’s transportation strategy defies common logic with no highways and no car oriented building of infrastructure in the last twenty years. Yet, it is the only city in North America to reduce commute time. Priority of transportation in the city begins with walking and cycling followed by public transit and movement of goods. Surprising, the single occupant vehicle falls last in transportation hierarchy.

The city has also found space to add 45,000 residents, including 2,700 new children. While many established cities face urban plight of families to suburbs, Toderain boasts that children are back by design and even building a new school to accommodate increase in students. Ecodensity encourages more people to live downtown and walk/cycle frequently. Vancouver’s success has earned a third place ranking in Best Cities in the World, featured article in City Mayors Environment.

Yoff, Africa

The City of Yoff is a growing farming and fishing village near Dakar and host of the 3rd International Ecocity Conference. Village Leader, Serigne Mbaye Dine, outlines their EcoCommunity Program for EcoYoff. Dine speaks of Yoff like a father referring to his family, with sincerity and genuine love.

The first focus area for Yoff’s long-term sustainability plan is culture/spirituality, illuminating the importance of community gatherings and roots that shape their identity. Second is education/training, followed by economy and food security. Population, health, and nutrition addresses physical condition of citizens. Finally, environment and infrastructure as well as habitat offers ways to conserve natural resources and respond to housing needs.

Freiburg, Germany

Wulf Daseking, Director of Planning in Freiburg, begins his presentation by acknowledging the dramatic population decline in Germany and Europe. Daseking refers to the people as the “dinky generation” and “double-income no kids.” Germany has a current population of 82 million, projecting in 25 years only 68 million citizens.
The City of Freiburg is a university town with 205,000 residents surrounded by natural beauty with mountains as a backdrop.

Rieselfeld, a new development within city limits, is designed specially for young families. Residences face open space with car free zones for children to play. Structures are not higher than five stories and use 40-60% less energy. The new development also reduces reliance on the car dramatically.

Following the lecture, I spoke with Daseking about whether the child population is growing in his city. He replied, there is “too much green and not enough children.” Dasking did mention the child population is greater than surrounding areas, partially due to the new Rieselfeld development. Planning for families raising children in the city and saving energy should position Freiburg to sustain beyond current momentum of green initiatives.