Evolution of a Sustainable City

This September, I set up a display on the Central Library’s 7th floor called “Sustainable Cities” to complement a traveling exhibition we were showing at the time elsewhere in the building. The display featured books and documentaries about how to design and build an urban environment that would offer more economic and energy security, better transportation options, cleaner air, and higher quality of life than current cities generally do.

Just for fun, I designed the display about sustainable cities in the form of a miniature sustainable city. Between the books and DVDs on their traditional wire stands there were paper apartment buildings, a cloth representing green space, a lake made from a blue placemat, tiny paper bicyclists, and a person or two in a wheel chair to remind us of the need for accessibility. We then challenged patrons with this question:

What would we see in YOUR sustainable city?

Right away, people began to tell us.

A sustainable city, as we envisioned it, is one that we create together through communal efforts of innovation and imagination. Therefore, as each person told us what they would include in a sustainable city, we evolved both the paper city and the items in the display right along with their input. Over the course of several weeks, things changed in beautiful and significant ways.

“It needs solar power.”

We added a solar cell and beefed up our representation of alternative urban energy sources.

“It should be pet friendly! Pets help you live longer and improve quality of life.”

Corgis began to frolic alongside our happy joggers.

There should be p-patches and vertical gardens, greenways with wildlife – rabbits and birds!”

We added this P-patch to the paper city, plus books on vertical gardening, city farming, and green roofs, then placed an origami crane in the lake.

“Make sure it’s walkable, bikeable, and accessible.”

Done. We already had both bikes and humans of varying sizes, genders, and abilities in the display, but we added more material on bicycle commuting and looked for books with more focus on accessible urban design.

“Give us electric buses and trains.”

To the delight of dozens of patrons—mostly adults—we mentioned this display to our colleagues at Sound Transit and they provided genuine Link Light Rail models for the elevated train tracks in our sustainable city. (Thank you!)

 The idea of a truly sustainable city—with clean energy, accessible infrastructure, and a good mix of transportation options—sometimes seems like an unattainable dream. Not only do technology and resources have to be found and developed, but the people who make decisions for that city need to talk to local people, listen well to their input, and then incorporate their dreams and goals into the final product. It delights me that in our own small way, we showed how this can happen. Our paper city started out simple and somewhat dry, but when the community became engaged and lent their ideas and support, it blossomed into something much richer. It was so much fun, and gave such a feeling of hope, to see what we could come up with when we put our heads together.

~posted by Anne C.



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