City living


    Urbanization brings progress, yet it comes with a price
    THE rise of urbanization has continued unabated over the past years, prompting some environmentalists to promote a culture of sustainable environment based on equality and cooperation. This exactly is what the founders of a US-based environmental nonprofit had in mind when they wrote a book addressed to urban-dwellers, guiding them through a broad spectrum of DIY topics — such as vermicomposting, rainwater collection, and creating edible food forests, among other activities.

    “[I]t is critical to plan ahead and start building radically sustainable infrastructure capable of supporting future urban populations while the resources to do so are still available,” so said Scott Kellogg and Stacey Pettigrew, in their book titled “Toolbox for Sustainable City Living: A Do-It-Ourselves Guide,” published in June 2008. “Instead of waiting for governments, corporations or city planners to start being responsible, radical sustainability is about people taking initiative today. Transformation from the ground up is our greatest hope for the future.”

    ‘Natural limitations’
    This was, indeed, a profound response from Kellogg and Pettigrew, who cofounded the Rhizome Collective. The authors said they looked to promote sustainable growth — or progress without hurting the environment — which is of vital import in the face of climate change, energy depletion, and environmental degradation. The factors contributing such problems are caused by “a society that has overextended its natural limitations,” they stressed.

    The argument about the need to deal with rapid urbanization was echoed by the World Bank two years ago, putting forward estimates that 54.3 percent of the world was already urbanized. Something which the National Geographic has affirmed when it wrote that that number was expected to rise by two-thirds of the population by 2050. The American digital cable and satellite TV network also warned of poverty and environmental degradation.

    Smart buildings harness the power of nature to keep energy use at a minimum.

    Describing the book — developed out of the authors’ weekend seminars in urban ecological survival skills dubbed “Radical Urban Sustainability Training” — as a toolbox of skills for life’s necessities, Kellogg and Pettigrew said this could help readers have access to food, water, energy, and waste management. It was in 2000 when Rhizome Collective reinvented an abandoned warehouse into a sustainability training center. Four years later, they received a grant of $200,000 from the US Environmental Protection Agency to clean up and convert a 10-acre space in Austin, Texas, into an ecological justice park — urban green space, such as parks, forests, green roofs, steams, and community gardens.

    A decade after the publication of “Toolbox for Sustainable City Living,” conversations and debates on the usability of the guide have picked up. Urban farming and gardening, for instance, are growing in popularity among condominium and housing community dwellers. These involve the growing, processing, and distributing of food in heavily populated areas. Vegetable plots are now spreading on rooftop gardens several stories above street levels. Community micro-farms are growing where available patches of land can be found. City farms, sometimes enabled by cutting-edge technology, are growing on vacant lots — even on the beds of trucks, in some cases. An upscale New York hotel even has an urban apiary (where bees are kept for their honey) program and a rooftop plant and vegetable garden.

    Property developers
    Realizing this growing consciousness and concern, developers now highlight water, energy, and waste management features in promoting their properties. Often employing new techniques and technologies, these smart buildings harness the power of nature to keep energy use at a minimum. Sometimes, they also borrow from the past, adopting the building designs of the ancients, to optimize similarly the use of resources.

    In the Philippines, where a growing number of rural residents have continuously migrated to the cities, the urbanization is at 44 percent, a growth of 14 percent since 1950, according to a WB study. Indeed, townships are mushrooming all over the country, said the global property consultant Jones Lang LaSalle. Consider, for instance, the country’s summer capital of Baguio City; the highly industrialized provinces of Bulacan, Laguna, and Cavite, all in Luzon; the cities of Cebu, Bacolod, Iloilo, and Dumaguete, all in the Visayas; and Davao City, in Mindanao. Fueled in part by the strong performance of the BPO industry over the recent years, these township projects combine the office, retail, and residential spaces in vast tracts of land.

    With urbanization snaking its way across the archipelago, the ideas and ideals of sustainable city living are similarly starting to take root. Commercial building projects now promote certifications, such as the LEED or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Local developers are also increasingly harnessing solar power, while some schools with sprawling campuses and commercial centers are experimenting with electric vehicles to ferry passengers across their properties.

    Urbanization has certainly brought forth progress in many quarters. Yet, at times it does come with a price — to the detriment of the environment and future generations. The call of the times — in the midst of rising development and urbanization — is, therefore, to promote further the concept of sustainable city living.


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