Monday, May 14, 2007

Humane Metropolis - Humane Louisville?

So recently I began hearing and reading about the concept of "The Humane Metropolis" as put forth in a new book with the same title, edited by Rutherford Platt and published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. The title alone captured my attention. It was definitely an idea I wanted to explore and learn more about.

In discussing the book, The Washington Post recently wrote gave this concise blurb about the transformation of cities and what they were for: "Cities were once celebrated as ports of trade, railway hubs, seats of smoke-belching industries. Then they became known as office and banking centers. In the late 20th century, each big town had to have its own aquarium and stadiums. Recently there's been a new mantra -- cities as magnets for "young creatives'' in arts and entrepreneurship." Obviously, they are taking hundreds of years and condensing them into a few short sentences - but I generally agree with the sentiments. Now, a nascent movement is starting to push for cities to be more humane.

What values and developments would this new, humane metropolis embrace? Buzz words are "green, sociable, civic, and inclusive". The idealists in the movement have no single solution for cities to adopt - but a whole range of big and small ideas to make our urban environment more friendly for all inhabitants - and the environment.

Perhaps the easiest idea of their ideas to explain is the 'green movement' which is meant to better connect people in the city to the biodiversity that is right outside their doors - and to help cities expand while saving their natural diversity. Most urbanites think that nature is somewhere that starts where the city ends - but proponents of the humane metropolis want to change your mind. In their opinion, cities should be striving to build 'green-necklace' park systems, better cultivating urban gardens and green rooftops, and setting aside land for urban forests. Even things such as medians should be converted to 'linear parks' that promote walking and healthy activity in the dense urban environment.

Advocates of this philosophy would also argue for rethought street plans and suburban developments in the expectation that when a community interacts more, it will become more inclusive and sociable.

The Humane Metropolis not only strives to better balance human needs with the natural world, but it also seeks to make the lives of the citizens in the city healthier. It looks to reduce air pollution as a way to help to quell an avalanche of new asthma cases, and to reduce the American obesity epidemic by creating urban green spaces that are inviting and offer recreational activities to all citizens.

These ideas aren't rocket science - it's what we should all be demanding from our civic leaders!

After I had researched the Humane Metropolis somewhat, I wondered if Louisville was doing anything to make itself more humane for it's inhabitants - and while it's definitely a mixed bag, Louisville is doing *some* good.

The easiest project to point to is the City of Parks initiative, which I briefly over viewed in March. It's a huge ring of parks that will encircle Jefferson County in an 'emerald-necklace' and provide the suburbs with some much needed recreational space. Not only will there be parks, but there will be more than 100 miles in biking and riding trails, and an expanded Jefferson Memorial Forest, which is already the largest such municipal forest in the US. The Indiana suburbs are even in the midst of building a similar park and trail system called the Ohio River Greenway, which will link Jeffersonville, Clarksville, and New Albany together, and even connect to trails in Louisville via the new pedestrian bridge being constructed as part of Phase 3 of Waterfront Park.

In lesser ways, Louisville is also forging ahead. The city recently adopted the 'complete streets' model of construction for new road projects. Essentially, the city will try to build all new roads with bike lanes, sidewalks, landscaping, and design standards that reduce speeding and increase safety. The city's STAR initiative to reduce toxic emissions that are not currently regulated by the EPA in the economically depressed West End recently won a prestigious national award, and compliments well the Humane Metropolis' goal of environmental justice for all citizens.

Many city developments are also highlighting a new push for environmental sensitivity - A proposed Poe development called Irish Hill would redevelop a brownfield and rehabilitate a section of Beargrass Creek, and a development by the Legacy Company in downtown called, uniquely enough, The Legacy Lofts, looks to reduce it's use of fossil fuels to zero, and have green roofing.

Louisville, like most cities, has a long way to go before it is humane to all those who live in it's borders - but just maybe, these current initiatives, and others, will make it just a little more livable for everyone.

Cities Not The Problem?

The Humane Metropolis: Are We Ready?


Brendan Crain said...

It's nice to see all of Louisville's Humane Metropolis-style projects lined up like you said, HM principles are not rocket science. Still, it is always inspiring to see a strong list of projects going on in a place that consider human beings before dollar signs.

Good stuff.

The Urbanophile said...

Thanks for mentioning this book, I'll have to check it out.

I have found that words like "green" and "inclusiveness" are often just code words for standard leftist political programs, however.

Whatever the case, you can't argue with great programs like city of parks.

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