Resilient Urbanisms
From Landscape Urbanism to Green Infrastructure to Infrastructural Urbanism, each framework regards ecology as a primary tenet.

An ecological system's resilience is build up over time, yet can be undone in a brief moment.

This blog intends to share diverse perspectives on these evolving frameworks and to explore solutions to sustaining resilient urbanisms.

An Introduction to Resilient Urbanisms Archive  Subscribe  Likes  Submit  Ask me anything 
FOLLOWING eca-scape
Defining Sustainable Development

September 17, 2014

FROM: Final report for Defra

Research on the relationship between well-being and sustainable development
Paul Dolan*, Tessa Peasgood Tanaka Business School, Imperial College London

Sustainable development also has its own nuances of meaning with emphasis given to different aspects, such as the environment or social justice, depending on the context in which it is being used. This heavily debated concept has increasingly become the core element of environmental discourse, leading to very diverse interpretations (Mebratu, 1998). Mebratu (1998) considers the three ways of perceiving sustainability (a term that is used interchangeably with sustainable development, as we do here). The first is termed ‘the ideological version’ which considers the eco-theology approach that encompasses liberation theology, radical feminism and eco-Marxism. It deals more with the way in which people view the world and their place within it. The second is termed ‘the academic version’ which turns the environment into a commodity. The crux of this perception is that, if the environment were given an appropriate value in economic decision making, it would be protected to a much higher degree. 

The third type is termed ‘the institutional version’ and is the category most suited to this report. The goal is for clean, equitable economic growth. However, even within this institutional version there are concerns about what might be referred to as environmental sustainability, related to the use of the world’s natural resources, as compared to justice-focused sustainable development, which emphasises the costs and benefits both within and across different generations (Pearce, 1993). 

Within the concern for the environment, steady-state sustainability encompasses the most well used definition of the concept. This comes from the Brundtland report (1987) where sustainable development requires that we leave enough resources for future generations to satisfy their needs: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations to meet their own needs.” It has its roots in the Malthusian theory of ‘environmental limits’ (Mebratu, 1998). A similar sentiment is expressed in the report Caring for the Earth where human development occurs but within the limits of what the earth can supply at that time (IUCN et al, 1991). Risemberg’s (2002) definition encourages a world where we live in self contained systems that do not rely on input from outside the specified system and which are self-sufficient. This form of development assumes that, when considering natural resources, there is no net change.

Utopian sustainable development is a step further as it assumes that sustainable development will improve upon the present and not just maintain a set standard. For example, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD, 2006) suggests “To be sustainable, development must improve economic efficiency, protect and restore ecological systems, and enhance the well-being of all peoples.” Hawken (1994) also advocates that “we need to leave the World in a better state than when we found it”, expressing how sustainable development is a mechanism to achieve this. This approach is termed win-win-win by Scottish Executive (2006) because it is advantageous to the economy, the environment and society. However, on numerous occasions it has been rejected as being unobtainable in practice.

The UK Government’s sustainable development strategy, ‘Securing the Future’ (HM Government, 2005), states that “the goal of sustainable development is to enable all people throughout the world to satisfy their basic needs and to enjoy a better quality of life, without compromising the quality of life of future generations”. The latter part of this definition is consistent with Brundtland’s steady-state definition whilst the use of the word “better” in the first part is more suggestive of a utopian account, at least in relation to the well-being of the current generation. 

Steady state and utopian sustainability are related to the weak and strong forms of sustainability, respectively, and how they are to be achieved (Phillips, 2006). In the recent Scottish Executive (2006) report on sustainable development, weak sustainability assumes that human made capital such as technology will substitute natural capital when it is run down, providing a specified level is never breached. Strong sustainability, however, demands that natural capital is protected absolutely and that no substitute can be made if resources are depleted. Strong and weak sustainability are prominent in ecological economics (Victor, 2005), and focus on the substitutability between the economy and the environment (Ayres et al, 2001). There is much debate about the limitations of the weak form (Figge, 2005; Gutes, 1996; Gowdy and Ohara, 1997) and the operationalisation of the strong form (Ozkaynak et al, 2004; Franceschi and Kahn, 2003; Kaivo-oja, 2002). However, they are both important here because the ways of achieving sustainability may be at odds with well-being, rather than the definition of sustainability itself being at odds with well-being.

A justice-focused approach to sustainability emphasises a broad range of costs and benefits to current and future generations from the adoption of sustainable practices. An example is from Pearce (1993): “Sustainable development is concerned with the development of a society where the costs of development are not transferred to future generations, or at least an attempt is made to compensate for such costs.” Haughton (1999) emphasises important equity considerations for the sustainable planning of a city: inter-generational equity, intra-generational equity, geographical equity, procedural equity and interspecies equity. In this view, sustainability is about maintaining equity for communities and societies rather than just the preservation of natural resources. 

At the heart of ‘Securing the Future’ (HM Government, 2005), lies “living within environmental limits” and “ensuring a just, healthy society”. These guiding principles focus on inter generational, intra-generational, and geographical equity. ‘Securing the Future’ is explicit, then, in its focus on environmental and justice-focused sustainability. In addition, there is the aim of “promoting good governance”, which emphasises procedural equity. Similarly, The Scottish Executive report (2006), Blair and Evans (2004) and IRH (2005) emphasise participative aspects of delivery and the democratic and political processes for achieving sustainability goals.

Despite the differences illustrated above, all the sustainability concepts have equity issues as an integral element (Campbell, 1996). Nevertheless, the equity principles within the sustainable development literature are interpreted differently and several arguments stand out, such as environmental equity, intergenerational equity and geographical equity.


Aristotle proposed a perfectionist, or flourishing, account of well-being in which the well-being of an individual is judged by considering how close they are to reaching the potential of humankind. Aristole’s term for this was eudaimonia. For Aristole, flourishing focused on acts of virtue and contemplation. However, there are other, more measurable accounts of flourishing. For example, Ryff and colleagues have developed a psychological well-being (PWB) model which is represented by six aspects of human potential: autonomy, personal growth, self-acceptance, life purpose, mastery and positive relatedness. These can all be seen as essential components of what it is to be a flourishing human being (Ryff and Keys, 1995).

Eco-Social Environments

The Human Nature Relationship

A second group of scholars rejects modernist ecological perspectives and proposes instead holistic, ‘ecosocial’ frameworks focused on ‘mutually enriching and sustainable human/Earth relationships’ (Coates, 2003, p. 2). The conceptual foundations of these approaches derive, variously, from deep ecology and social ecology (Ungar, 2002), European eco-social perspectives (Matthies et al., 2003) and indigenous eco-spiritual frameworks, which emphasise the spiritual connection of people with the Earth, the fundamental interdependence of living and physical systems, and the value of indigenous ecological knowledges (Coates, 2003; Coates et al., 2006).

Going forward, conversations can and should be had about where and how these conceptual frameworks interconnect, diverge or are incomplete. Immediately pressing, however, is the need for greater theoretical specificity. Social work’s ecological systems perspective has been challenged as overly general and abstract (Wakefield, 1996)—a critique that has also been made of eco-social frameworks (Molyneux, 2010). In general, the field lacks mid-level theoretical frameworks that identify the mechanisms or pathways connecting environmental factors and human outcomes (Taylor et al., 1997; Northridge et al., 2003; Krieger, 2008) and can thus inform the design and implementation of environmental interventions.

Strengthening the field’s ability to generate and explore meaningful spatial questions also requires more varied approaches to research design (Holland et al., 2010).  


Many social work studies rely on cross-sectional analyses and static, areal measures of spatial characteristics, which freeze places in the present and focus attention on fairly delimited people/place characteristics. Longitudinal and prospective designs, in contrast, allow for exploration of both the socio-structural mechanisms shaping opportunities and constraints in place over time (e.g. Pulido et al., 1996, on processes of racialisation and place) and the temporal dimensions of human experience. 

Innovative combinations of geospatial and qualitative methods likewise hold promise for generating more complex spatial data.  

For example, Matthews, Detwiler and Burton (2005) combined GIS and ethnographic interviews to explore the everyday geographies of low-income families and geographer Mei-Po Kwan (Kwan and Ding, 2008) linked GIS and narrative approaches to illuminate the socio-spatial experiences of Muslim women in New York city in the months after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centers. Studies such as these illustrate the potential in ‘bottom-up’ (Talen, 2000) and participatory applications of quantitative geospatial methods, particularly in combination with qualitative methods, for eliciting local knowledge or ‘street science’

Fields such as urban planning and geography routinely bring community stakeholders, professionals and researchers together in participatory, community-based research projects to generate and interpret multidimensional socio-spatial data and collaboratively develop plans for action (Dennis, 2006; Corbett and Rambaldi, 2009).

Since then, the natural environment has been, at best, peripheral to social work practice, with the result that leadership in the current resurgence of interest in the socially and personally restorative role of nature, gardens and green space is coming from landscape architects, urban planners and public health professionals, not social workers (Cooper- Marcus and Barnes, 1995; Svendsen, 2009).

Gardens account for roughly the same amount of land cover in urban areas (33%) as green space does (32%) and, even if not accessible to the public, may contribute to well-being by being visually appealing and helping to reduce stress.

— (Ulrich, 1984)


We found that, on average, individuals have both lower mental distress and higher well-being when living in urban areas with more green space. Although effects at the individual level were small, the potential cumulative benefit at the community level highlights the importance of policies to protect and promote urban green spaces for well-being.

Mathew P. White, Ian Alcock, Benedict W. Wheeler, and  Michael H. Depledge

European Centre for Environment & Human Health, University of Exeter.

Psychological Science 24(6) 920– 928, 2013

Evidence is growing that this rise may, in part, be associated with increased urbanization (Sundquist, Frank, & Sundquist, 2004) and detachment from the kinds of natural environments people evolved in and are thus best adapted to (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989; Wilson, 1984).

======= Thus, an association between green space and well-being derived from cross-sectional data may merely reflect the fact that different sorts of, generally happier, people already live in greener areas. Cross-sectional studies are thus unable to control for potentially important time-invariant characteristics, such as personality, which may be influencing both the predictor and outcome variables.

Improved psychological understanding indicates that mental well-being reflects more than the absence of mental distress and includes a range of positive ways in which people think and feel about their lives (Seligman, 2002).

Thus, a second novel contribution of the current research is that we examined green space using a positive, evaluative measure of well-being (life satisfaction) alongside a more experiential marker of psychological ill health (the GHQ).

WHY reserach

The significance of the research was that we simultaneously addressed the role of ecological and social information on green areas in urban planning in order to better understand the linkages and controversies between these types of information, and to guide the future land use and green area decision-making into a more sustainable direction.


Green areas contribute to the quality of life in cities (Bonaiuto

et al., 2003; Chiesura, 2004 ). Their benefits are primarily determined

by the quantity and quality of these areas as well as

their accessibility (Tyrv¨ainen et al., 2005 ). The social and aesthetic

benefits of urban green areas are generally acknowledged

as key functions of open space for local residents, including

recreational opportunities, improvement of the home and work

environment, impacts on physical and mental health as well as

cultural and historic values (Tyrv¨ainen et al., 2005 ).


The quality of urban environments is increasingly recognised to

contribute to human health and well-being. The supply and

maintenance of health-promoting areas and elements within urban

areas such as green spaces are suggested to support residents

possibilities to cope with everyday stress and to have a beneficial

effect on human health (Frumkin, 2001; Maas, Verheij,

Groenewegen, de Vries, & Spreeuwenberg, 2006; Maller,

Townsend, Pryor, Brown, & St Leger, 2005; Nilsson, Baines, &

Konijnendijk, 2007). The continuing urbanisation process and

pressures on existing green spaces, however, challenge the

adequate provision of these areas. In urban planning processes, the

health and well-being benefits of nature areas are not fully

acknowledged and therefore, their provision is difficult to justify

faced with competing land-use interests (e.g. Tyrväinen, Pauleit,

Seeland, & de Vries, 2005).

Benefits of GS

Going into nature provides restoration and the opportunity to disconnect or escape phones, computers, televisions,noise and other stress inducing variables which have a negative impact on physical and mental health. Here are five ways getting away from stress and  spending time in nature can impact your effectiveness at work, and possibly make your boss happier:

1. Improve attention capacity and the ability to focus: Stephen and Rachel Kaplan’s Attention Restoration Theory is based on the concept of soft fascination, or the soothing sights and sounds of nature that are relaxing, allowing attention capacities to rest,  leaving room for reflection. One type of soft fascination is the sound of birds, which a recent study found to be the most preferred form of fascination.

Sunset at Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park Photo by Mark Ellison

Sunset at Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park
Photo by Mark Ellison

2. Enhance creativity: Research by faculty at the University of Utah and University of Kansas found that spending time in nature can improve creativity up to 50%. Being more creative on the job means you can generate better ideas and more innovative solutions to problems.

3. Increase cognitive ability: Spending time in nature increases cognitive abilities. Part of this is clearing the mind of distractions.

4. Improve memory: Heavy multitasking can make it difficult to remember things. Research has found that time in nature positively impacts the ability to remember.

5. Reduce stress and elevate mood: Our brains on stress are a jumbled mess. The stress that builds up in our mind impacts the entire body in a negative way if not properly dealt with. This can have negative consequences on the ability to work with others, and cause issues of workplace incivility. Time in nature reduces stress and elevates our mood, which can impact productivity and the ability to work with others. A recent study conducted by Lisa Nisbet for the David Suzuki Foundation 30X30 Nature Challenge found that spending time in nature increases happiness and self reported levels of productivity!

GS value - Complex and Variable …

In their study on different neighbour scales and measured landscape metrics of the city of College Station, Texas, USA, Lee et al . (2008) found that residents were more likely to be satisfied with their neighbourhood environments when these environments contained large connected wooded patches with a high degree of complexity in shape and variability in size.