Mar 4, 2013

Sustainable Cities Around the World: The Urban Observer

What makes a city green?
All Photos: Jennifer Lenhart, The Urban Observer
With an epically curated "green" eye, the observation skills of a scientist, and enough urban planning knowledge to build a perfectly carbon free city metropolis... I introduce you to The Urban Observer--a blog by Jennifer Lenhart.

Quickly becoming my favorite sustainability blog, Lenhart's The Urban Observer is a first hand account of "the everyday life and surprises of living an urban existence".  She's a PhD candidate at Wagensingen University examining urban climate policies.  Having lived all over the world (8 countries to be exact and over 25 cities), her blog is a reflection of her visits with incredible attention to the details making cities all over function so well. Just to name a few, she's captured the essence of Sevilla (Spain), Doha (Qatar),
Bonn and Berlin (both Germany), Paris (France), Geneva (Switzerland), and most recently, Seattle!

Icelandic urban gathering

Yoga in Jardin Du Luxemburg, Paris
Separated bridges and paths for cyclists or pedestrians make cycling a cinch in Geneva!

Besides noting the unique quirks and practical sustainability solutions each of these urban areas hold, Lenhart shares findings as an avid bicycle enthusiast and urban agriculturist.  Throughout her posts, you'll find her voice telling you that being a thriving, sustainable city is highly dependent on arts, culture, and community connection.  Yes, being green is more than being a relentless recycler!  

Jennifer, moving carbon free via bike!
Jennifer has even moved apartments using her bicycleà la the infamous Portlandia skit. Luckily, her move was no joke and the job went as smoothly and efficiently.  Recently, we posted an amazingly hilarious Danish commercial on our Facebook page after seeing it on The Uraban Observer.  As you can see, we're big fans.  It's not everyday you get to hear from the voice of a future urban planner set to create cities with climate sense.

Without further adieu, please enjoy the post below. In one of Ms. Lenhart's more rare entries, she does not share her own thoughts. Opting instead to feature a TED talk about a man with a vision, inspired by European cities. He's not an urban planner, he's a regular guy set to make his city the best place it can be. Not unlike herself, actually. Enjoy:

Taking over Texas, starting with Oak Cliff: one bike lane at a time
Author: Jennifer Lenhart

Jason Roberts of Dallas, Texas shares his story on “how to build a better block.” Following a trip to various European cities about 10 years ago, Roberts was struck by the livability of European city streets and public spaces – by bike, by foot, as well as spaces and places for the young and old to linger. He came back to Oak Cliff, Texas (a district of Dallas) with new visions for his city: to revamp the city’s historic architecture, to inspire the re-introduction of street cars, bring outdoor cafes and green spaces, and build a cycling reputation. With persistence and creativity, he has helped to turn the city-district around – one neighbourhood block at a time.  Roberts states, “I am not the leader of a bicycling movement… but I became one. And this is what I tell people all the time: if you are passionate about something, you are probably going to become a leader, because that passion will be broadcasted to the community and people are going to want to get behind you….So take that charge and run with it.”  
Roberts recommends three steps to help change your community:
  1. Show up – bring your skills
  2. Give it a name – identity
  3. Set a date and publish it – commit to change
  4. And I will add a fourth one – watch the video!

[Post originally posted on The Urban Observer on February 18, 2013]

Jennifer Lenhart is a Seattle native, but lives in Amsterdam since 2010 as a PhD candidate at Wageningen University examining urban climate policies. In 2005 she worked as an education assistant for Sustainable Seattle’s ‘Sustainability workshops’; before moving to Budapest, Hungary for a master in Environmental Science, Policy and Management ( After the master, she moved to Nairobi, Kenya with UN-Habitat’s Cities and Climate Change Initiative; next to Malmö, Sweden to work for its Enviornment Department. After the PhD, she hopes to return to the United States and put these lessons to action. In the meantime she enjoys Amsterdam’s bicycle paths, its farmer’s markets and urban agricultural initiatives – always with a camera close at hand.

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