Integrating Natural Processes into the City Fabric of the Global American South

Global American South 15

On Saturday February 22 at 2:30 Ben Monette (Senior Landscape Architect, OLIN), Kofi Boone (Professor, NC State University), and Emily McCoy (Associate, Andropogon), will be co-presenting on the topic: Integrating Natural Processes into the City Fabric of the Global American South at the Cities, Rivers, and Cultures of Change: Rethinking and Restoring the Environments of the Global American South Conference.  The conference is presented by UNC Center for Global Initiatives on Friday, February 21, 2014 at 2:00 PM - Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 6:00 PM (EST), in Chapel Hill, NC.  Emily, Ben, and Kofi will be presenting in the Nelson Mandela Auditorium on UNC Chapel Hill’s campus.

Cities, Rivers, and Cultures of Change: Rethinking and Restoring the Environments of the Global American South Conference aims to bring together graduate students, faculty, independent scholars, and a broader public audience to share current research that explore these themes from the point of view of 1) southern culture, history, and ethics, 2) efforts to restore natural and built environments, and 3) the implications and connections between changes to the American South and the inter-connected global environment in which we live.

This two-day conference is part of the ongoing exploration of the globalization of the southern United States that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has been pursuing for over a decade. Each year this interdisciplinary conference focuses on a different theme to reveal the interplay of the global and the local, both the impacts of globalization on our region and the often surprising ways that local culture and experience influence distant communities and regions.

Interested?  You can register here:

Below is an abstract of the presentation. We hope to see you all there!

“Urban growth structures and patterns in the Global South are influenced by any number of interconnected macro and micro pressures, functions, and changes.  While a vast swath of the southeast, and to some extent the southwest, continue to undergo rapid growth, a subset of cities in the northeast (primarily the rustbelt cities) have experienced, and continue to experience, a significant decline in population.

In many rust-belt cities, vacant and abandoned structures, polluted post industrial sites, decaying above ground infrastructure, shrinking tax bases, and a combined water and sewer system contribute to a cycle of urban atrophy.  These cities are engaged in a life and death struggle where urban planners, legislators, business owners, and citizens fight for the survival their communities.  To that end, there are creative, adaptive solutions that build on existing strengths and look to leverage government mandates for positive growth.

Among these strategies is a move towards green infrastructure.  In an adaptation of the EPA’s definition, green infrastructure can be described as a storm water management approach that uses vegetation, soils, and natural or engineered processes to manage water and create healthier urban environments4.

Research is currently underway to test, in particular, the engineered systems so that we can build a greener city in a quantifiable and rational manner.  By taking a holistic approach to post occupancy evaluation of green infrastructure sites in cities like Philadelphia PA, we can begin to examine efficacy of both the physical as well as the social performance of these places.  The interplay of functional systems with social use is the true bellwether for how we determine success or failure.

The thin line between these designations when viewed from a visitor, citizen, or neighbor’s perspective can shift and perhaps fray under the weight of social equity and economic reality.  Even if we can dream a plan to life, and get it to function according to design, we continually ask ourselves: are we ignoring the fair treatment of all citizens?  Does everyone enjoy equal access to open space, protection from health hazards?  Is every citizen, regardless of race, ethnicity, or income level able to participate in decision making processes?

These questions of environmental justice provide the final thread to the urban growth dynamic.   Its impacts are relevant across scales of humankind and are the meter with which we must test our planning and design efforts if our goal is to construct a healthier and more diverse future. Looking across these scales and into the “interstices of cities”1 to provide meaningful canvasses for ecosystem services and stages for cultural narratives, we present conceptual, in-progress, and built case studies that marry natural resource management with community building efforts. These studies not only assist communities in-need, but provide opportunity for a place to “adapt to what already existed.” 

What is clear from these studies is that enacting strategies to improve urban life can no longer be encapsulated into one discipline’s goals, one realm of implementation, one type of people, or viewed from one scale3. The leveraging of opportunities in an effort to facilitate sustainable development within the urban form, design and planning strategies must involve the equal pursuance of social, economical and environmental viability with thoughtful attention to qualitative detail.”


1 Leslie Jones Sauer. The Once and Future Forest: A Guide to Forest Restoration Strategies. (Washington, DC: Island Press, 1998).
2  Rem Koolhaus. “Toward the Contemporary City”. Theorizing a New Agenda for Architecture. (New York, NY Princeton Architectural Press, 1996)
3  Anne Whiston Spirn, “Restoring Mill Creek: Landscape Literacy, Environmental Justice and City Planning and Design, Landscape Research, v.30 no.5, 393‐413, July 2005
4 EPA Website. “What is Green Infrastructure”

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