The changing understanding of urban nature

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2018
10 Pages, Grade: College


The changing understanding of urban nature

Since the 19th century, the countries of the Western world have entered the era of the industrial revolution. The new way of life, the development of science and industry had a huge impact on all aspects of society. At this time, in the major cities of the world, problems of a social, economic, and environmental nature were sharply aggravated. In the middle of the 19th century, ecology emerged as an independent science. The birth of a new direction of research was, on the one hand, the result of the progressive development of knowledge about nature, and on the other hand, a precursor of the ecological problems of the planet already accumulating by that time. Architects and city planners of the time began to propose various urban planning concepts, in which an attempt was made to solve new problems generated by the development of technical civilization. Similar theories and concepts continued to be advanced later, throughout the 20th century. At present, the concept of sustainable development, which aims to create a high-quality living environment that satisfies all the demands of society, is becoming increasingly used (Hall 2014b). The concept of a sustainable city has gone through a long evolutionary path of development, the consideration of which is of great interest for understanding the essence of the concept and its practical implementation in the cities of the world.

One of the models that emerged at the very end of the 19th century and became widespread throughout the world was the model of the garden city proposed by Ebenezer Howard. He depicted a concentric garden city surrounded by a rail road, which was supposed to limit its development. Howard conceived his city, the size of which should not exceed 32-58 thousand inhabitants, as an economically independent settlement, producing a little more than necessary for its own consumption (Hall 2014a). A large number of green plantings were creating a qualitatively different environment for the life of people than in the densely built-up traditional cities of that era. The garden city had the shape of a circle, divided into six equal parts by wide radial boulevards. The central administrative and public square was surrounded by a park. Inside the ring of residential development, there was a green 'belt.' There was a suburban area, intended for agriculture and recreation of the population. Central Park and the green belt of the residential area, connecting with each other and with the suburban area boulevards, formed a single system (Fig. 1.).

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Fig. 1. Garden City Project by E. Howard, 1898.

Source: Pradhan, B (ed.) 2017, Spatial Modeling and Assessment of Urban Form, Springer.

The development of the first garden city began in 1903, in the town of Letchworth, 50 km from London. The architects were Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin. They developed the general plan of the city, guided by Howard's conceptual schemes - a large urban garden in the center, neat houses with parks and garden squares, comfortable transport passages, industrial buildings that were pushed back to the outside circle - all this created the necessary feeling of comfort and closeness to nature (Hassan & Lee 2014).

The garden city attracted the attention of industrialists, and they gradually began to open their enterprises on its territory. However, despite all the advantages of the city, it was settled more slowly than Howard had planned. In 1908, the city’s population reached 5,000 inhabitants, and by the end of the 20s, it barely exceeded 14,000. Of course, such a small outflow could not save London from overcrowding (Hassan & Lee 2014).

After World War II, the question of the need to de-consolidate the capital again arose, and the construction of cities around London continued. Patrick Abercrombie led development projects, which borrowed Howard’s conceptual component of the garden city, but decided to build bigger cities, for 60-100 thousand people, and create "unloading" zones in the suburbs. His project is known as "Greater London" or "Abercrombie' Plan." Creating suburban gardens seemed to work more efficiently, but by 1963, only 263 thousand people had moved to the new satellite cities of London (Pradhan 2017).

There are currently 32 garden cities in London, but Howard’s idea went far beyond Britain. Settlements developed according to the concept appeared around the world: districts-gardens in Germany and Belgium, cities in Italy, Czech Republic, and Austria. We should also mention the famous Park Guell in Barcelona. This 'brand identity' of the capital of Catalonia was built by Antonio Gaudi as a residential area, which is close to the garden city idea. However, only two houses in it were settled, and over time the object turned into a tourist attraction.

With the growth of cities, new urban planning concepts emerged in which the ideas of the garden city developed. They proposed to form urban landscaping systems in the form of continuous green spaces (interconnected parks, boulevards, squares) or dispersed (as "islands of nature" among buildings) (Hall & Tewdwr-Jones 2011; Ward 2002). With the growth of urbanization, the deterioration of the ecological situation in cities, the task of transition to the design and development of cities as ecological systems, the transformation of city into ecopolis became urgent. The idea of ecopolis is the development of the idea of a garden city. It is based on ecological thinking, considering society and nature in close interaction and interdependence (Cohen 2017).

The concept of ecopolis was launched in the 1970s. Its main provisions were the following: ensuring healthy and safe living conditions for the population (eliminating sources of pollution in the urban environment, switching to environmentally friendly production technologies, renewable energy sources, environmentally friendly modes of transport, etc.); harmonious inclusion of green and water spaces in the urban environment (green areas must be at least 50% of the area of cities); proportionality of urban development and urban spaces to the scale of a person (the height of buildings and structures, the scale of streets, squares should not be excessively large); ensuring optimal density of settlement (Cohen 2017). Ecopolis is mainly a low-rise city with "natural canals," dividing it into "sub-towns," creating favorable conditions both for people’s lives and for the existence of many plant and animal species.

Relatively recently, at the end of the 20th century, the cities of the world began to move towards sustainable development. The concept of sustainable urban development was formulated in the 1990s according to the global sustainable development strategy of the society (Sustainable Human Development), adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 (Agenda 21). The essence of sustainable development is a balanced combination of social, environmental, and economic systems to fully meet the needs of the current generation without detriment to future generations. The following are identified as the main goals for the sustainable development of urban settlements (Pijawka & Gromulat 2012):


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The changing understanding of urban nature
Columbia International University
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Nadiia Kudriashova (Author), 2018, The changing understanding of urban nature, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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