Designed for the Future: 80 Practical Ideas for a Sustainable World
Princeton Architectural Press
37 East Seventh Street,
New York, NY 10003;
2015. 176 pages. Paperback, $24.95.
Jared Green started to write Designed for the Future: 80 Practical Ideas for a Sustainable World as a much-needed effort to avoid fatalism about the future, especially the effects of climate change, biodiversity loss, and rising inequality. Green, a blogger for the American Society of Landscape Architects, asked more than 80 leaders and planners the following question: What gives you hope that a sustainable future is possible? He talked to architects, landscape architects, urban planners, academics, nonprofit leaders, policy makers, and artists, asking them to talk about specific projects when possible.
The result—a collection of one-page interviews with a photo of each project—is refreshing and even inspiring. Most of the projects are in the United States, and the designers and planners note that there, as elsewhere, people increasingly live in cities. But they can do so in a way that is sustainable and—a major theme of the book—connected to nature.
The best projects integrate natural elements, whether that means a large urban park like New York City’s Central Park or a hospital or riverfront development that brings pieces of nature into people’s daily lives. Landscape designer Naomi Sachs, who chose Central Park as her project, says its designer, Frederick Law Olmsted, “knew nature is essential to our health and well-being.”
Landscape architect Mikyoung Kim chose Lion’s Park Playscape in Greensboro, Alabama, which uses recycled materials such as 55-gallon (208 liters) galvanized drums, arranged so that children can play on them and also so that they can be used as a canopy to provide shade in the summer. The Playscape, Kim says, “exudes a soulful, regenerative message: We are not separate from the natural cycles of the world, but part of them.”
Several of the designers and planners cite projects that renovated old structures or neighborhoods, a practice that is much more sustainable than building new. Landscape architect Thomas Woltz describes how Braddock, Pennsylvania, reenvisioned its abandoned, previously toxic lands with urban farming and community initiatives. “It takes hard work to create a place, and it takes a long time,” Woltz says. “As a counterpoint to greenfield development, Braddock is working with what it has, adding to the existing meaning, starting a new layer.”
Sustainability is not always about nature or greenery. Planner Victor Dover gives the example of Seven Dials, an intersection in London originally built during the 1600s. It has a column in the middle of a public square, and it attracts people. The area, preserved as a national heritage site, has what Dover calls a comfortable scale. “We need more places that show how cool it can be to live in the city,” he says.
It is a little frustrating that each project is described so briefly because of a decision to limit each description to one page. Designed for the Future, written for a general audience, is clearly intended to show the scope of projects and ideas rather than to give much information on any one of them. In that way, the book is an excellent antidote to the despair it can be easy to succumb to in the face of the major environmental problems we face.
Joan Mooney has published dozens of book reviews in newspapers including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.