Definition of a sustainable urban landscape

I  came across this definition today, from a large UK landscape practice: “a sustainable urban landscape achieves the correct balance between environmental, economic and social needs” and regret that it is not helpful. It does not tell us how to find a ‘balance’ and it implies that landscape architects, assuming they are to be involved, have some kind of knowledge, skill or training which lets them decide what is ‘correct’.  A much better definition is required if we are to have better designs for sustainable landscapes.

5 thoughts on “Definition of a sustainable urban landscape

  1. Christine

    If a balance is an equilibrium: then one pole is to diminish and the other is to increase?

    Considering the environmental;
    Unsustainable practices might potentially lead to diminished landscapes whilst sustainable practices might lead to enhanced landscapes? Maybe the equilibrium position is conservation of the landscape?

  2. Tom Turner Post author

    I agree about ‘diminished’ and ‘enhanced’ but do not see any prospect of an ‘equilibrium’ – the only examples I can think of are Palaeolithic, and perhaps Neolithic societies.

  3. Tom Turner Post author

    Archaeologists see Jericho and Catal Huyuk as the first cities but the early Bronze age as having brought together the characteristics (including writing) which we call ‘civilization’ – and so I guess this is the start of ‘unsustainable’ urban growth in the form we have it today. But since it has kept going for 5,000 years one has to wonder if ‘unsustainable’ is an appropriate name!

  4. Christine

    There is an interesting passage in ‘Individual and Structural Determinants of Environmental Practice’ by Anders Biel, Bengt Hansson, Mona Mårtensson (p5);

    “A common understanding of human behaviour is that if only people are informed and knowledgeable, they will act in accordance with this new knowledge. In the Chapter ‘Environmental Behaviour: Changing Habits in a Social Context’ Biel argues that many behaviours with environmental consequences are well practised activities of a habitual kind. This is not true for activities such as consumption behaviour and travel mode choice. Not only may people be less attentive to information targeted at the well practised behaviour. Even if people are mindful of this information and form an intention to perform a new behaviour, this intention will be in ‘conflict’ with the old habit. As long as behaviours are performed in constant contexts, the intention to perform a well-practised activity may not be accessible to conscious awareness. Unless people are reminded about their recently formed intention to perform a new behaviour, the intention to perform the habitual behaviour may be triggered more or less automatically. In such potential conflicts, the habitual behaviour takes precedence. Whether people adopt a new behaviour or not is also influenced by what others do. If many around us practice a certain behaviour, this serves as a clue to proper behaviour. The mere fact that others continue to commute by car may silence ones conscience for doing the same.”


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