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Success in the City: Social and Environmental Urban Design for the 21st Century

Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center
April 21, 2017
01:45 PM to 03:00 PM
Fully Booked
Smithsonian Earth Optimism Summit Panel | John Beardsley and Jeanne Haffner, Chairs

This “deep dive session” was chosen by the Smithsonian EOS committee to be one of a select number of sessions that will be livestreamed on Facebook. Watch it here.

Modern cities have long been considered adversaries of environmental health. In the late nineteenth century, the poet Émile Verhaeren described the poisonous advance of urban sprawl; the social reformer Ebenezer Howard personified cities as “smoke fiends” to promote his Garden Cities movement in the early twentieth century; and plans for suburban development in the early- to mid-twentieth-century United States were bolstered by images of dark cities plagued by pollution and refuse. It is all the more astonishing, then, that twenty-first-century cities have become sites for environmental remediation, stewardship, and pedagogy. This transformation not only marks a change in cultural attitudes, but also demonstrates the success of environmentally oriented programs of all kinds, from school-based efforts and citizen participation to plans devised by designers and government officials.

Organized by the Mellon Initiative in Urban Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, one of the few programs in the world dedicated to bringing together landscape scholars and practitioners, this panel assembles figures from diverse fields to present their own stories of environmental success in the city.


  • David Auerbach (Cofounder, Sanergy: Sustainable Solutions for Growing Cities), “Solving the Sanitation Crisis in Kenya’s Urban Informal Settlements”
  • Timothy Beatley (Theresa Heinz Professor of Sustainable Communities, Department of Urban and Environmental Planning, University of Virginia), “Biophilic Cities”
  • Murray Fisher (Executive Director, New York Harbor Foundation), “The Billion Oyster Project: Engaging Youth in Restoring the New York Harbor”
  • Damon Rich (Partner at Hector Urban Design, Planning & Civic Arts), “Between Superfund & Superstorm: The Riverfront That Newark Wants, 2008–2015”
Two students from New York Harbor School at work on the Billion Oyster Project. Photo by Ben Von Wong.