Our best hope for restoring our urban cores -- and avoiding future catastrophes like what we are watching unfold in Ferguson, Mo. -- is to increase our appreciation of and demand for urban land. While Aldo Leopold's land ethic was originally framed around his appreciation for wilderness and his despair at man's "Abrahamic concept of land," his wisdom applies to our urban land, as well.
Leopold observed: "We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”
We abused and abandoned our urban land with little regard for the consequences, and continued to do the same as we sprawled into agricultural land and woods with our strip malls and subdivisions.
Leopold said it long ago: "Our bigger-and-better society is now like a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy." As Jason Segedy so eloquently chronicles in his Notes from the Underground blog, this propensity to replicate our infrastructure is both unprecedented and unsustainable.
But maybe things are changing. Recent demographic trends indicate more people are discovering the shortcomings of living in commodity-like developments. They see in urban land a community to which they can belong. And while wilderness may be absent, inside the urban core they can readily access parks, rivers and even Great Lakes that they can love and respect.
This is why efforts like the Lake Link Trail supported by the Cleveland Foundation and others are so important. And visionaries like Rich Cochran and Jim Rokakis of the Western Land Conservancy and its Thriving Communities Initiative strive to increase the demand for and the value of our urban land.
They recognize that unless we heal the wounds we have caused our urban land we will continue to cause even more wounds across our entire region. They are helping build a land ethic for the 21st century. One that is focused on turning abandoned neighborhoods into parks; creating green corridors to connect neighborhoods; using green infrastructure to capture our rain water; and creating livable-walkable neighborhoods that meld commercial, industrial, residential and recreational uses.
Revitalizing our urban cores will both create more opportunities for the poor and disadvantaged living in our inner cities, and it will reduce the paving of our wild and working lands.
Leopold's call for a land ethic was revolutionary in the first half of the last century. It remains so today. And it's time to bring the revolution to our urban land.