Book Review

Ecodesign for Cities and Suburbs

Jonathan Barnett and Larry Beasley

This book treads an increasingly well warn but nonetheless vitally important path that brings together the imperative of sustainability with that of urban design. The term chosen here to address these concerns is ecodesign, although many others are used elsewhere: sustainable urbanism, ecological urban design, environmental masterplanning, and so on. The authors argue that ecodesign amounts to far more than a label and is no less than a new growth model being steadily adopted across the world.

For them ecodesign encompasses: ‘a way of looking at cities and their hinterlands that integrates considerations of environmental soundness and resilience with human health and well-being. It is an attitude about how the city needs to be built or transformed, but also managed and operated, to find a harmony between urban systems and natural systems in a way that also contributes to human experience and social life. It embraces an ethical tenet that in our settlements, we hold responsibilities – not just for ourselves but also for our setting, with all the rich life and patterns that exist there, and for all the people around us’.

Underpinning the book is a key point made early on that the pursuit of ecodesign should be a pathway and not a prescription; although this is almost immediately countered by the authors offering six axioms of ecodesign that ‘should underlie any urban and suburban development process’. These are:

  • Embrace and manage complexity
  • Make population and economic growth sustainable
  • Make all design processes interdisciplinary
  • Always require public involvement
  • Respect both the natural and built context
  • Draw on many design methods

For the authors, this implies four interrelated paths to an ecodesign framework, each of which is dealt with in a separate chapter. They are: adapting to climate change and limiting global warming; balancing cars and other transportation; making cities more liveable and environmentally compatible; and, developing and managing the public realm. A final chapter deals with larger questions of implementation by framing the discussion through a series of challenges for policy makers and practitioners. It argues that this is not just an ecological imperative but also a social one encompassed in the way we live our lives and questions of equity and engagement to which that gives rise.

Overall this is a practical book, not a theoretical one, a book filled with common sense ideas and examples that help to point a way forward towards ecodesign. There is not much in here that is really new, but it puts across what we already know in a very readable, logical and engaging manner. For any practitioner concerned for the environment beyond the red line boundary of their site, this book is undoubtedly an excellent read.

URBAN DESIGN 138 Spring 2016 Publication Urban Design Group

As featured in URBAN DESIGN 138 Spring 2016

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Ecodesign for Cities and Suburbs Publication Urban Design Group
Island Press
Reviewed By
Matthew Carmona, Professor of Planning and Urban Design and Head of the Bartlett School of Planning, UCL