Blue Urbanism


Recently, while browsing in a small bookstore in my hometown of San Francisco, I came across this new fantastic read: Blue Urbanism: Exploring Connections Between Cities and Oceans, by Timothy Beatley. Upon reading even just the dedication at the beginning (“Dedicated to all of the marine life we don’t (usually) see and the many individuals in cities who work tirelessly to understand and protect it”), I knew I was hooked.

Cover of Blue Urbanism, by Timothy Beatley
(c) Island Press, 2014

In a Places Journal essay (available here), Beatley notes, “Blue urbanism — an emerging set of ideas and perspectives — would mean that cities would seriously evaluate and carefully regulate their effects on marine environments; and city planners are potentially on the front lines of this new movement.” Because cities have jurisdiction over nearshore environments, he argues, they also have the power to actively manage these environments and mitigate the effect of city development on marine ecosystems. This may be done through a suite of management tools, including reducing pollution and “urban detritus” (such as plastic wastes), changing regulatory guidelines for ports and shipping, and curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Even simply incorporating maps of “ocean sprawl” into city planning may allow for considerable progress.

But Beatley’s exploration goes well beyond regulatory tools, eventually developing a completely new vision for how we interact with urban marine environments. If you’re a sci-fi fan, an urban dweller, a lover of marine habitats, or all of the above, I suspect you’ll find this vision to be an appealing one. Floating cities, underwater buildings, soft urban edges, and public spaces that integrate the shoreline are just a few of the ideas Beatley considers…. Did you know there’s already a restaurant in the Maldives where you can dine 5m below the sea’s surface (link)? And a luxury resort in Fiji where you vacation (for the cost of an entire college education) entirely underwater, at 12m depth, in the bottom of a tropical lagoon (link)?

These of course are venues most of us will never have access to, and who knows the extent of their environmental impact, but they stimulate consideration of a novel concept that I think is helpful: Perhaps we, as part of coastal food webs and marine ecosystems, could live our lives in a way that is intentionally and visibly integrated with the marine environment. Whether we’re purposeful about it or not, we are actively shaping and recreating urban marine landscapes. Why not do this in a way that promotes sustainability, helps marine ecosystems thrive, and enriches our own awareness and sense of well being?

Blue Urbansim, by Timothy Beatley. Check it out!