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Book Review: Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems: Principles and Practices

By Peter Newman and Isabella Jennings

Reviewed by: Davidya Kasperzyk AIA Architect and Bioregional Planner


Searching for a universal theory to save our precious orb is a compelling action pursued by many. In this noble effort Peter Newman and Isabella Jennings, based in Perth, Australia, have followed a trail from the American Northwest, through Europe and back to Perth. (They acknowledge upfront that they have not drawn many practices from the other continents and cultures of the world.)

What they have accomplished is to bring together many variant theories of “sustainability” and formulate their own 10 principles based on their synthetic research. From Bossel’s Systems Model of Sustainability (1998), through the Hanover Principles of Design for Sustainability (1992), to contemporary theories for sustainable consumption and production they cover a lot of ground.

Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems is a compendium of lists and theories that is a useful reference and for some a potential guide to right living. The authors are enamored with the seminal principles of “bioregionalism.” Those include the notion that there are natural geographic boundaries and scaled biotic systems that can be the essential unit for sustainable living. Carrying capacity as a derivative of local resources, ecosystems, economic systems and culture is a theory that has substance to the authors and this reviewer. Getting the right balance, equilibrium if you will would be an outcome of conscious design, lifestyle choices, and a wise economic model.

Newman and Jennings are clearly academics, and while their “10 commandments” hold up quite well in the universal theory category, their narrative quality has room for improvement. Very good ideas and examples suffer from too many repetitions. By the end, I found myself feeling a bit flogged with the “bioregion” as the key to survival. Having identified with the term for many professional years, I forgive them. And I thank them for providing this resource to a needy world.

Davidya has recently shuttered his own bioregional design practice (, and taken the lead Urban Design role on the “evergreen corridor” project in Washington State. This is a five plus mile, $4 billion transit and transportation corridor connecting the Seattle's Eastside (Bellevue/Microsoft campus) and Westside (Seattle/U.Washington) across a floating bridge on Lake Washington.

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I just saw Peter Newman speak in Los Angeles and was impressed with his research on cities that invest in rail. To follow up to that, there's going to be an upcoming workshop in Los Angeles that will explore what other cities have done to successfully bring back the streetcar and discuss whether or not LA can do the same. For those that are interested, check out:

Posted by: Ron Milam on 13 May 08



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