Green Living in the City

At our Theology on Tap on January 12, Brigitte Shim of Shim-Sutcliffe Architects -- an internationally recognized and lauded architect and professor -- shared her insights on how “green living” can be achieved in the city. Her thoughtful and matter-of-fact style made this challenge seem realistic and achievable.

Central to this challenge is the need to view urbanism and ecology as “interwoven and not separate entities”. We need to “demystify” our preconceived notions that “urbanliving is bad” and “rural living is good”. These notions are founded on an historic “mythology of wilderness” in which we, as Canadians, equate nature with being in the wilderness.

Brigitte provided many examples of how urban living can infact be a very good and responsible way to live. The density in cities creates a shared consumption of resources, increased use of mass transit and other alternatives (e.g., walking, cycling) and decreased commute times. Additionally, this dense living also creates an opportunity for negotiation and discussion around sharing of resources. Unfortunately, many people are drawn to suburban living to live closer to nature, but this individualistic mentality of “my backyard” and “my fresh air” works against green living.

So then, if one chooses to live in the city, is it possibleto be connected to nature? Brigitte says yes! Ideally, we all want to “live in a village in the middle of the city”. Opportunities to incorporate and create nature within the urban landscape are possible; she shared examples of her own home, urban forestry initiatives, and her students’ project which examined Toronto lane ways.

The challenges we are left with:

1) Our actions and choices must be made in considering the sustainability of resources (ie., the “balance between human consumption and nature’s productivity”)

2) Our actions and choices must be made at both an individual and community level.


City living is indeed good! As we learn to become connected to urban nature in all its man-made and natural forms, we will be contributing to the redefinition of urbanism and ecology.

Reflection by Doreen Wan Min Kee (photo by Michael David Dizon)

You can watch a short excerpt from Brigitte Shim's talk: