by http://www.pps.org/blog/happy-earth-day-reframing-the-environmental-movement/, Project for Public Spaces:
On this day in 1970, thousands of people gathered in New York City’s Union Square Park for the world’s first Earth Day celebration.
Those of us organizing events in cities all across the country were
excited about the promise of environmentalism - not only as an effort to
curb pollution and save the planet’s natural habitats and wildlife, but
also as a powerful citizen’s movement.
In preparation, we convinced Mayor John Lindsay to shut down Fifth Avenue from Midtown to 14th Street, and to close off 14th
Street and Union Square. Closed to vehicle traffic, these urban
thoroughfares transformed into lively pedestrian avenues as well as
stages for street theater and peaceful protest.
The mood that day was energetic and triumphant. Here we
were - students, workers, activists of all stripes - together and full of
hope, fighting for change in some of the city’s most historic public
spaces and streets.
Still, there was a heaviness looming over the event:
the war was still raging in Vietnam, and rumors of its expansion into
Cambodia were becoming more and more real (in only a few days, this
anger would reach a tragic peak with the fatal protests at Kent State).
Despite the sun and celebration, this was also a sweeping protest, and
environmental activism often went hand in hand with the anti-war, civil
rights, and student movements of the time.
We’ve made great strides since that first Earth Day - our
air is less polluted, we’ve cleaned up toxic dumpsites, and we’ve
overseen the passing of all kinds of environmental legislation - but
today’s cities face some even greater challenges.
environmental degradation, we also need to confront the increased
inequity within our cities; we need think creatively and together about
alleviating traffic congestion and unplanned sprawl; and we need to find
ways to address growing health disparities and uneven access to public
spaces and social resources.
We need a broader movement that can speak to all of these
issues - one that can speak to and for every community. In some very
exciting ways, the environmentalist movement of the 20th century has given way to a more localized focus on sustainable urban Placemaking in the 21st century.
Placemaking is both a philosophy and a process that works to
strengthen the connection between people and the places they share. I
was wary at first, when people began to refer to Placemaking as the “new environmentalism”
(I’m more concerned with the process and results, rather than any kind
of label or re-established “ism”).
But the term does make some sense if
we expand our usual definition of “environment” to include those places
we call home - our streets, neighborhoods, communities - the places where our lives unfold every day.
The practice of Placemaking is of course not new, though until recently it’s been a relatively quiet movement.
For decades, it has taken shape around citizen-led activism and
thousands of grassroots efforts. More recently, in places like Detroit,
public and private stakeholders have joined together to effect full-on
re-animations of neighborhoods, downtowns, and sometimes even entire
As the movement enters the mainstream, it is essential that every
sector of society participates in it. And we need leaders at all
levels - from community organizers to CEOs. The funding support
we are now seeing for Placemaking shows that foundations and even large
corporations are joining the cause, and recognizing the vital role
public spaces play in our cities and communities.
Today, nearly half a century after that spring day in Union Square,
the desire for transformative change is as strong as ever - though it has
taken a new shape.
Let’s continue to do everything we can to address climate change and
to protect our vast and troubled wildernesses - but let’s remember that
this is just one aspect of saving the Earth.
Let’s also work to
make streets safer, encouraging people to walk and bike more and to
drive less. Let’s continue lobbying for accessible and enjoyable public
spaces, and for public markets that provide communities with healthy
affordable food. Let’s stop building wide streets and sprawling parking
lots that exacerbate pollution and global warming. Let’s turn impersonal
and outdated strip malls into neighborhood centers that include
mixed-income housing, public squares, sidewalk cafes, and convenient
The Placemaking movement has emerged as a way to bring environmentalism back home.
We all care deeply about the places where we live, and there’s nothing
more inspiring than being able to see, and indeed be a part of,