Growing Greener Cities: Urban Sustainability in the Twenty-First Century

Growing Greener Cities: Urban Sustainability in the Twenty-First Century

Growing Greener Cities: Urban Sustainability in the Twenty-First Century

Growing Greener Cities: Urban Sustainability in the Twenty-First Century


Nineteenth-century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted described his most famous project, the design of New York's Central Park, as "a democratic development of highest significance." Over the years, the significance of green in civic life has grown. In twenty-first-century America, not only open space but also other issues of sustainability--such as potable water and carbon footprints--have become crucial elements in the quality of life in the city and surrounding environment. Confronted by a U.S. population that is more than 70 percent urban, growing concern about global warming, rising energy prices, and unabated globalization, today's decision makers must find ways to bring urban life into balance with the Earth in order to sustain the natural, economic, and political environment of the modern city.

In "Growing Greener Cities," a collection of essays on urban sustainability and environmental issues edited by Eugenie L. Birch and Susan M. Wachter, scholars and practitioners alike promote activities that recognize and conserve nature's ability to sustain urban life. These essays demonstrate how partnerships across professional organizations, businesses, advocacy groups, governments, and individuals themselves can bring green solutions to cities from London to Seattle. Beyond park and recreational spaces, initiatives that fall under the green umbrella range from public transit and infrastructure improvement to aquifer protection and urban agriculture.

"Growing Greener Cities" offers an overview of the urban green movement, case studies in effective policy implementation, and tools for measuring and managing success. Thoroughly illustrated with color graphs, maps, and photographs, "Growing Greener Cities" provides a panoramic view of urban sustainability and environmental issues for green-minded city planners, policy makers, and citizens.


I have loved cities for as long as I can remember. Born in Brooklyn, I grew up in rural New York but made regular pilgrimages back to the enchanting place we called “the City.” There was no finer treat for me as a child than seeing a Broadway show after spending the day on the Lower East Side, first with my parents and later with my friends, hunting for bargains and drenching my senses in all the intense sights, smells, and sounds of the city, which linger to this day.

When the urban cacophony overloaded my senses, I discovered sanctuary in Central Park and drank in the refreshing calm of lawns and meadows, tranquil lakes, and miles of tree-lined paths. As a child I must have assumed that these “natural wonders” had always graced the island of Manhattan.

Later, I learned that Central Park was the result of a monumental 15year greening project during the mid-1800s that demolished neighborhoods, removed more than 10 million cartloads of soil and rock, and planted more than 4 million trees, shrubs, and plants.

I also learned that Central Park was the vision of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who considered equitable access to green and open spaces as part and parcel of the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Describing the Central Park project as “a democratic development of the highest significance,” Olmsted dispensed valuable advice to the growing nation: If you want a healthy democracy, you must cultivate greener cities.

My appreciation of this vital link between healthy democracies and greener cities deepened when I came to Philadelphia to become president of the University of Pennsylvania in 2004. Penn is embarking on a once-in-a-century campus development project that will extend the university eastward across fallow industrial parcels of land toward the center of the city. As we discussed our future with neighboring residents and businesses and with our own students, faculty, and staff, my colleagues and I more fully discerned how our plans for greening surface parking . . .

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