ABA Environmental Law Division Student Writing Award (2007)
Coastal wetlands are an under-recognized urban asset which form the backbone of a unique and critical ecological system every bit as important an infrastructure component as subways, schools and parks. Such wetlands are not only an important habitat, but have an important role in improving water quality, reducing storm damage, and serving as the gateway to natural resource education or enjoyment for dense populations with limited opportunities to experience the natural world. However, modern industrialization and urbanization has taken a heavy toll on these fragile resources; our urban coastal wetlands are literally slipping away before our eyes. This situation has not gone unnoticed by planners and legislators; a whole generation of water quality laws and related planning activity has taken place; however, these strategies have more recently had a limited impact in conserving urban coastal wetlands. This diminishing rate of return may be chalked up to the reliance upon top-heavy federal strategies which are unable, by either design or law, able to address the non-point source pollution impacts scattered across thousands of individual residences or businesses within a dense and expansive watershed. Even regulatory strategies which provide a seat at the table for local governments fail to provide a link between environmental goals and local activities which have the greatest impact on wetlands. It is clear that the next generation of urban coastal wetland regulatory protections must be rooted deeply within local governments, whose policies and choices have the greatest potential to save wetlands. Land use strategies for urban coastal wetlands must encompass a wide variety of watershed activity, and have a high potential to make an immediate impact by both embracing comprehensive strategies and dictating the terms of urban growth.
The further development of large cities is not only a rising global phenomenon, but also a necessary environmental goal; without clustered urban growth, our world will only sprawl outward across vast distances and devour green space. However, urban populations have an unmistakably negative footprint felt perhaps strongest upon their own coastal wetlands. Effective wetlands regulatory strategies must realize that such urban growth – and the localized tools which keep it growing – is not necessarily incompatible with wetlands conservation; indeed, by tethering regulatory protection strategies to future growth, towering skyscrapers may bolster tall reeds.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/caleb_christopher/4/