On Thursday, April 19th, members of the City Planning and Urban Affairs Urban Planning Association (UPA) hosted a booth at BU’s annual Earth Day Festival in the GSU Plaza. Even in the rain, students stopped to ask questions, inquire about the program, and play a true/false game for prizes ranging from stickers to a backpack made from upcycled bicycle tires. The game featured cards with statements varying from bike and natural gas statistics to food deserts, as students were often surprised at their own misconceptions about how humans interact with their environment.
After reading some of these statistics, students were offered a host of unique alternatives to disposable waste that surpassed everyday reusable water bottles. Among these products was the ETEE non-plastic food wraps, designed to replace plastics like sandwich bags, wraps, and grocery bags and lasting up to a year instead of a single use. Also included was a Siklo bag, a brand dedicate to an eco-ethical lifestyle by upcycling the inner tubings of bicycle tires instead of letting them sit in landfills. Most useful at the booth of all, students had a chance to discuss these implementations with UPA members, discussing the relationship between the city, the environment, and the people who depend on both.
While it may seem self-evident that those who plan cities would have to consider the environment they build these cities around, there is more to this tension than the give-and-take of exchanging grass for concrete. As Rubén Cerón emphasized, “Everything is the connection- it’s the balance of everything, because as much as we need cities, we need a healthy environment to live in as well.” Cities exist for a good reason, as humans need the dynamic atmosphere and interaction found within them to develop and promote efficiency. Unfortunately, this growth of humanity and the cities themselves puts nature at risk, endangering an equally vital part of human life. Besides being essential for life on Earth, just as humans need cities to stimulate business and social interaction, nature provides a crucial escape from the pressures that accompany cities. Given this delicate balance, the responsibility falls upon city planners to evaluate and maintain the needs of both people and nature for the mutual well-being of each.
According to Cristián Casanueva, for the city planner this means highlighting the importance of facilitating multiple methods of transportation, including bike lanes, walking paths, and public transit to reduce traffic and personal cars. For conserving nature spaces themselves, planners have to consider the danger of urban sprawl, while incorporating green space into existing cities. In addition, incorporating urban farming both brings nature into the city while increasing access to affordable food for low income communities. By building with nature in mind, the city itself becomes more resilient and sustainable as a whole.
As impactful as thoughtful city planning can be, the Earth Day Festival is most significant for how it raises awareness of these issues for those unfamiliar with urban affairs or sustainability. In addition to seeing the importance of city planning, people also understand that they too can help without an advanced degree in urban affairs or environmental science. Just by making slight efforts in small things like using less plastic, gas, or buying local food, any person can play their part in helping the world around them. The smallest changes enacted in everyday life can have the biggest impact, and each year Earth Day spreads this message a little further.
Hannah Dion, CAS ’20