Cities all over the world face the challenge of providing healthy and attractive places to live. A recent post by Jackson titled Bringing Soil Back offers a striking example. There is a need for solutions that are ecologically and economically sound. One approach might be the establishment of local research sites to monitor and improve the health of urban ecosystems. While I don’t know of any exact precedents, there is a related concept in a translated Soviet planning document from 1967. *
The translation was made for a study on “the provision of social facilities for large-scale housing developments.” Given the history of such initiatives in Russia and the U.S., it would seem an unlikely source of inspiration. However, the section on “Tree Shrub Nurseries and Flower Greenhouses” is especially interesting. It calls for a certain amount of space per person to be allocated for planting on the periphery of cities. I wonder how these sites fared in Russia. Could they possibly be established on abandoned properties within cities and used for ecological research?
Setting up research sites in city neighborhoods might be a good way of integrating the sciences into urban governance, making it easier to monitor and improve local environmental conditions. With sufficient financial support, they could become important laboratories for advancing public health. I’m not sure how they would be funded, especially given current economic conditions. Ideally they would become self-sustaining, like the nonprofit Environmental Concern. If anyone has information or ideas on how this might work, I would be very interested.
* Guidelines and Standards Regarding the Planning, Layout, and Facilities of Settled Areas in the Soviet Union. Published by the State Committee of the Council of Ministers of the U.S.S.R. on Construction (Moscow, 1967). Translated by Kathryn Rumsey and Kathleen Quant (Ithaca, NY, 1974).
(Photo of Larkspur Greenhouse in Mill Valley, California from Flickr user Live2Ski)