Friday, July 10, 2009

To Norway and Beyond...

As my final weeks in New York wind slowly down, I am more and more often asked what it is that I will be doing in Norway. There is a simple answer to this - studying Urban Ecological Planning under a Fulbright Grant - however, this often leaves more questions than it answers. I will try at the moment to back up and provide a more thorough and explicative answer.

In truth, I will admit that I do not know the specific ends of this trip, but I have carefully planned it and recognize it as a continuation of a broad, if slightly erratic, line of thought beginning in graduate school. My graduate thesis was an architecture project - re-imagining the 19th century promenade. The actual building I designed came after a long route of research through the importance of landscape to urban areas and the human connection to nature, which is so often missing in 21st century city life.

Following this, I moved to New York - perhaps the epitome of urbanity - and found an architecture job in which I slowly switched my focus to landscape architecture. Practicing, and being exposed to landscape architecture in the city is full of paradoxes and beaurocratic challenges far beyond any expectations I had previously held. Still, I find the field fascinating, but I have spent four years wondering why exactly it is so extremely difficult to plant a tree in a sidewalk when everyone involved knows fully well that said tree would provide shade, process carbon dioxide, and generally improve the aesthetic and biological qualities of the space.

Having worked with city agencies, I still cannot pretend to understand how it is that they work, or how to make sustainability easier to accomplish amidst the many time-tested and overpracticed 'standards' of operation. Therefore, when I undertook the application for a Fulbright, I was not driven towards design - which I love but feel comfortable with the practice of - but instead towards planning. How do policies come about, and how can they be streamlined to promote more efficient, more ecological practices? Further, there are so many places in the world that operate sans beaurocracy, and often have stronger connections to or understands of nature despite dense populations. Are there lessons that these places can teach more 'developed' cities about sustainability?

These are the questions I have, and which I hope to find some answers for over the next year or two. Norway is held as the top country in the world by means of their ecological planning policies and general quality of life and the promotion of sustainable practices. The program which I will be attending includes field work in Kathmandu, Nepal, where I will be working with squatter communities to determine how best to apply grant money to better their situation in an ecologically and sociologically sensitive fashion.

I want to better understand human ecology and biophilism - the innate draw to nature that humans hold. Beyond this, I want to professionally be part of reintegrating nature into urban areas to the benefit of the human condition. This is where I am at the moment, we will see where it all goes and what exactly the application of these thoughts leads to.