Regionalism and Sustainability

by Doug Norman . 0 Comments

In the first chapter of Design for a Vulnerable Planet, Frederick Steiner discuss regionalism in the context of planning education. Regional analysis and understanding is key to planning because it “provides scale for reading natural processes,” for example watersheds and wildlife habitat (9). He cites the New Urbanist criticism of planning as overly technical, what Hoch called the rational protocol, a style of planning in which numbers reign supreme and the planner is mere technical engineer applying a value-neutral formula to a given task. Duany blames planners for sprawl in these terms, but surely they can’t take all the blame. The vast majority of planners vehemently oppose sprawl-friendly policies and designs, and yet it continues unabated. So, it’s not really planners driving it anymore. Anyway, Steiner does accept part of the Duany critique–the notion that planning needs the humanistic disciplines as well–but cautions against an either/or approach, preferring a both/and one. Quantitative analysis coupled with broad understanding of multiple disciplines: generalist anyone?

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Two of Ian McHarg’s for a study of West Austin, focusing on geology and conservation.

Steiner grounds his regionalism in the landscape-architectural theories of Frederick Law Olmsted and Ian McHarg: “that public parks have social benefits and that design should be derived from environmental understanding” (17). We can use these ideas to think broadly about design solutions beyond a new Urbanist cookie cutter approach. An understanding of cities in the context of their regions, then, is also key to place making. Steiner argues that architects and planners need an ecological literacy in order to effectively design with nature and do so in a way that will create a built environment worthy of the sublime natural one.

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