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The Green Life: Book Roundup Wednesday: Green Planners and Problem-Solvers

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February 23, 2011

Book Roundup Wednesday: Green Planners and Problem-Solvers

Books about environmentalism

Every Wednesday, we review a selection of new and upcoming books addressing a specific aspect of environmentalism. Today we're recommending books about green planners and problem-solvers.


All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons (by Jay Walljasper, $19, The New Press, 2010): Advocating a resurgence in the idea of "the commons," this book focuses on the assets that belong to every member of society. Ranging from natural resources (water and soil) to products of human collaboration (the internet and Wikipedia), the author believes that, to reshape the world, every human must see the value in becoming a "commoner." Tackling issues such as race, capitalism, and climate change, Walljasper makes a strong case for a community-oriented and egalitarian way forward.

The Smart Growth Manual (by Andres Duaney et al., $25, McGraw Hill, 2010): Written by city planners, this book is a practical how-to guide for budding urban planners and eco-architects. The authors structure the book by defining the elements of smart growth in four scales: regions, neighborhoods, streets, and buildings. In doing so, they cover an exhaustive set of urban dilemmas, including transportation, soil quality, sidewalk substitutes, live-work buildings, and edible gardens. The authors refrain from criticizing urban sprawl; they assume readers already know that a sustainability ethic must drive progress, so they focus on action-oriented solutions. 

The Vertical Farm: Feeding Ourselves and the World in the 21st Century (by Dickson Despommier, $26, Thomas Dunne Books, 2009): The author's solution to the environmental problems associated with large-scale agriculture is simple: Just grow up. His proposed "vertical skyscrapers" are multi-story urban greenhouses, which grow crops using hydroponic and aeroponic methods (without the using soil, that is). He believes this idea will lessen the pressure on the vast amounts of land converted for agricultural use and reduce dependence on fossil fuels. While the vertical-farm idea has yet to be meaningfully implemented, this book is a good example of the type of thinking that can transform our food system. 

The Nature of a House: Building a World that Works (by George M. Woodwell, $25, Island Press, 2009): Woodwell’s book chronicles the process of transforming the Woods Hole Research Center in Maine from a 1870s Victorian mansion into a green administration building for climate-change research. While pointing out the challenges of adhering to laws and building codes that aren't particularly suited for green building, Woodwell puts the ecological value of sustainable building practices in a broader perspective. The book also features a foreword by renowned environmental architect William McDonough, who helped build the center.

Greening Our Built World: Costs Benefits and Strategies (by Greg Kats, $35, Island Press, 2010): A valuable academic text, this book focuses on how to shift environmental design from niche to mainstream. The broad range of topics include affordable green housing, LEED certification, walkable urbanism, and the financial benefits of creating green communities. While it may not be suited for an easy bedtime read, it's ideal for those serious about practical environmental design and planning.

--Rosie Spinks

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