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Tag "ecological urbanism"

How exactly are we using light? Are we lighting what we need or are we lighting the surrounding plus everything else, wasting energy? Light has become a resource in our western societies that is being taken as a given available with the flick of a finger.

Street lights are recorded to be as old as 1405 in the city of London. Back then lanterns were to be hung outside houses along major roads. Several standards and specifications were released for the candles used. Only in 1807 the first gas lams were introduced into Golden Lane in London to replace the oil lamps.

Europe light pollution
Image taken from Architect / Street lights and context lighting above the urban area in the background.

Street lighting has come a long way since then and today all urban roads and alleyways are lit. Actually over lit in most cases emitting much light unnecessary into the sky. A lot of the lamp designs are very ineffective emitting the light upwards were it disappears into the sky without brightening the context.

The same is true for many privat light around houses, front and backgardens. Light in the dark is only really effective if it is directed at a surface and the lamp design should reflect this. If not unnecessary light pollution is produced affecting the environment. We have reached quite high levels of light pollution in urbanised areas, with most parts of Europe are.

Europe light pollution
Image taken from Wikimedia / Europe being light. False colours show various intensities of radiation, both direct and indirect, from artificial light sources that reach space.

This pollution is causing foremost wast of energy but also has direct environmental impacts. This is known as ecological light pollution. Nighttime light may for example interfere with the ability of moths and other nocturnal insects to navigate. Lights on tall structures can disorient migrating birds.

These problems have only begun to enter the public discussion and some cities around Europe have started to redesign lighting concepts for streets and squares as well as other infrastructures. This is usually done in lighting masterplans were the existing and the new light sources are taken into consideration.

FOr example only last week a proposal to dimm the light on A roads in the UK during ‘quiet’ times was presented by the Highways Agency according to BBC. It is however argued for under the umbrella of cost saving rather than environmental points.

Light not only just purs like a liquid, but if it would it could look like this. Energy and light saving visualised beautifully by Sunday / Paper. Via The Atlantic.

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From sustainability to the new beauty in the following four books are put forward to start into 2012. The topics all address some of the concerns raised about cities in the past year or so and all contribute to the current discussion around changes in social and spatial organisation at large. With globalisation and technology social structures are changing requiring urban environments to be adapted. This will not happen tomorrow, nor is it a case of restarting in building it new from scratch. The only option is to keep transforming and by testing and engaging with the presented new thoughts and aspects we might take a step into this direction.

Not all cities are mega cities. In fact most of the cities are small to mid sized. According to the work Mike Batty had done together with Martin Austwick and Oliver O’Brian on Rank Clocks plotting city sizes in the US, only about 10% of the cities are mega or large. The rest of the cities are under 1 million in population size.

In terms of sustainability potential these large numbers of smaller cities could actually play a major role and this is what Catherine Tumber put forward in her publication Small, Gritty, and Green: The Promise of America’s Smaller Industrial Cities in a Low-Carbon World published by MIT Press.

There are so many problems the smaller cities face. From long terms decline due to the faltering of industries, massive transport infrastructures slicing them into non workable urban islands and social struggles related to working poor and general poverty reminiscent of postcolonial squalor. The biggest struggle however is the fact that they are excluded from the general debate of urban planning and theoretical thinking. They all practice urban planning and development, but with only little recognition and background.

Tumber argues that due to the smaller sized, shorter distances and proximity to farmland and recreation these smaller cities have a lot of potential to implement sustainable concepts and start integrating those in everyday urban practice. Tumber especially points to renewable energies, such a wind, food production and local agriculture as well as manufacturing skills. Its all about producing and consuming locally.

These ideas are not new and sort of resonate with early garden cities ideas, especially in the praise of size and population density. This is not at all a negative association, but more a practical application. Since here it is not about setting up a new place to live, which can in itself not be sustainable, but about reprogramming an existing one sustainability is given an additional dimension.

Small, Gritty, and Green Book cover
Image taken from archpaper / Small, Gritty, and Green, book cover, part.

Does a city posses its very own spirit and identity? Daniel A. Bell and Avner de-Shalit argue in their new book The Spirit of Cities: Why the Identity of a City Matters in a Global Age published by Princeton University Press that actually they do. The authors draw on the ancient Greek concept of city spirit and argue for the rediscovery of the local urban spirits around the world especially in connection to todays globalisation.

Earlier publications have picked up on this topic and characterised cities in such a manner as to work out distinct identities. Saskia Sassen in Cities in a World Economy and more recently Martina Löw in Soziologie der Städte
(sociology of cities). THe concept of the citiy spirit is, as Löw points out, closely entangled with the city marketing that has been very popular in the past fifteen years as a tool to distinguish, present and attract.

Bell and de-Shalit look specifically at nine modern cities: Jerusalem (religion), Montreal (language), Singapore (nation building), Hong Kong (materialism), Beijing (political power), Oxford (learning), Berlin (tolerance and intolerance), Paris (romance) and New York (ambition). Of course soe of them sound like external concepts. Especially Paris and the age old topic of romance, hey but never mind it shapes the place in a certain way and this identity hold the potential to develop something specific and relevant.

Each city is portrait in a lot of detail making good use of story telling as well as combining theoretical aspects with practical experience. A good read for travellers of thought.

The Spirit of Cities Book cover
Image taken from the Atlantic / The Spirit of Cities, book cover.

“We have to find our way back to beauty!” Lars Spuybroek argues in his new book The Sympathy of Things: Ruskin and the Ecology of Design, published by V2_publishing, for a revised approach to design culture moving away from the technological practice of modernism towards a more romantic notion of art in the sense that beauty always combines variations, imperfection and fragility. Spuybroek bases his arguments on John Ruskin‘s aesthetics. Overall the book is a project to wrest these topics out of the Victorian era into the present. This is achieved by combining the five central themes of Ruskin: the Gothic and work, ornament and matter, sympathy and abstraction, the picturesque and time and ecology and design in combination with more recent thoughts on aesthetics by philosophers such as William James and Bruno Latour.

It becomes a projection of a world of feeling and beauty in such a way as it completely does a way with the fundamentalism and absolutism of modernist conception of design.

The Sympathy of Things Book cover
Image taken from il giornale dell architettura / The Sympathy of Things, book cover.

Graphical representation of information are in every case an abstract representation. Often to represent a point of view or a standpoint is required and depending on this the representation is biased. In Picturing the Uncertain World: How to Understand, Communicate, and Control Uncertainty through Graphical Display published by Princeton University Press, Howard Wainer is looking at the phenomenon of information display of statistical data and the possible complications.

The book is less about graphics than numbers, although graphics do play an important role. Similar to Dona M. Wong’s Guide to Information Graphics and also like Tufte’s Books The Visual Display of Information and Envisioning Information the correct representation is at the heart of the text. However, Wainer focuses more on the conditions and the explanations than the design.

Wainer is a longtime expert in statistical graphics who works as a research scientist for the National Board of Medical Examiners and as an adjunct professor of statistics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

The examples are discussed in detail in order to really get the reader to understand the points Wainer is to make. This has the advantage that for a number of the examples the reader also comes to finally understand the actual meaning of the graph probably well known to him. The book draws from a great range of examples including Charls Joseph Minard’s plot of Napoleons Russian Campaign, Florence Nightingale’s Diagram of Mortality and William Playfair’s Wheat Prices graph to name a few.

The book is written in a very accessble language and takes time to explain the details as well as linking it with current facts and events that enlighten the presented problem further. Definitely a great read for data enthusiasts.

Picturing the Uncertain World Book cover
Image taken from Borders / Picturing the Uncertain World, book cover.

Wainer, H., 2009. Picturing the Uncertain World: How to Understand, Communicate, and Control Uncertainty through Graphical Display, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Bell, D.A. & de-Shalit, A., 2011. The Spirit of Cities: Why the Identity of a City Matters in a Global Age, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Spuybroek, L., 2011. The Sympathy of Things: Ruskin and the Ecology of Design, Rotterdam: V2_Publishing.

Tumber, C., 2011. Small, Gritty, and Green: The Promise of America’s Smaller Industrial Cities in a Low-Carbon World, Boston, MA: MIT Press.

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Space in the city is subject to transformation on different time scales. It is being built and rebuilt constantly and not only by diggers and cranes, but also though the decisions and makings of individuals programming the space.

Theories and practice on this have been neglected for some time and it has been deemed old fashioned to pick up on them. However, more and more the discussion around the production of space and the making capacity of individuals also regarding the conception of space, has gained momentum. A number of aspects probably have lead to this, including the availability of new technologies which requires more dynamic and more subjective conceptions of space.

Fun Palace
Image taken from SLCL.CA / Cedric Price ‘Fun Palace’ diagram. “Automation is coming. More and more, machines do our work for us. There is going to be yet more time left over, yet more human energy unconsumed. The problem which faces us is far more than that of the ‘increased leisure’ to which our politicians and educators so innocently refer. This is to underestimate the future. The fact is that as machines take over more of the drudgery, work and leisure are increasingly irrelevant concepts. The distinction between them breaks down. We need, and we have a right, to enjoy the totality of our lives. We must start discovering now how to do so.” – Cedric Price (From Agit-prop to Free Space: The Architecture of Cedric Price).

In his new book ‘ReplayCity – Improvisation als urbane Praxis’ Christopher Dell brings together an refreshed view on these practices and conceptions. The book is published by Jovis and is only available in German at the moment. The book is organised in three parts, the first one on the city and urban practice, the second on e on improvisation and space and the third part on music and space.

Dell is arguing that the cities have become more complex also because of size and number of people living together, but also has identified a shift in the questioning of the city. He points out that the question no longer is ‘What is the meaning of city?’ but now would be ‘ What produces the city?’

One of the topics for example that is discussed in the book as part of the improvisation and everyday negotiations in space is the aspect of the politics of space.Here it is the discussion around the use of order as structure, form and function of space as defined by individuals, groups or organisation. This does to some extend tie in with Hagerstrands three basic conceptions of space and time where he focuses on restrictions and constraints. This is a much more negative definition Hagerstrand proposes and its great to have it reformulated here by Dell.

The book sources the great thinkers of the past ranging from Kant, to Lefebvre, to the Situationists with Guy Debord and de Certeau. It however also features Peter And Alison Smithson with CIAM or Cedric Price and other great names of the architecture scene of the mid twenties century, very much related for examples to the publication ‘Radical Games‘.

Image taken from metronature / John Cage’s A Dip in the Lake is the exploration of a city by means of a ‘random’ soundmap that leads performers, listeners, or participants to places they may never have been before. The score identifies up of 427 locations within a city. The ‘locations’ are either very specific (such as the intersection of two streets), or more general (such as ‘a park’ or ‘Lake Ontario’). Recordings are made at each of these locations, and divided into 10 groups of 2 (quicksteps), 61 groups of 3 (waltzes) and 56 groups of 4 (marches). These groups of recordings are then mixed live by the performers.

The discussion is cleverly organised and the improvisation terms as well as practice is used to discuss the wider questions of space and city ranging all the way to the design of cities. The book puts forward a very clear theoretical base and argues without loosing sight of the goal consequently along the activities and actions of citizens as the driving element of spacial production. Dell manages to bring the reader to think about the city as a dynamic pice that is constantly shaped and reshaped. This is not a new idea at all, but it has not been presented in such a consequent and updated form for the past thirty years. Dell would not put it this way but essentially what he talks about is the congruence of form and activity as Carl Stinitz put it in the Hypothesis to his article in 1968 ‘Meaning and the congruence of urban form and activity‘: “There is a high overall level of congruence between form and activity. Congruence is defined as consistency between the physical form characteristics of an environment and the attributes of its activities”. And this is definitely an upcoming topic that will, as a concept, be extremely useful especially in connection with the available technology of distributed mobile computing and sensing.

Image taken from pro-qm.de / ReplayCity book cover.

Dell, C., 2011. Replaycity: Improvisation als urbane Praxis, Berlin: Jovis Verlag.

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Farming in the urban context has become a buzz term in the last couple of years. During this time it has evolved from Guerilla Gardening to become a proper concept of growing vegetables for consumption within the city.

Large scale aspect of farming as discussed for example in the latest bracket ‘on farming‘ by Actar are also part of this discussion. However the smaller scale project community projects have a lot potential. This both, in therms of the community or neighbourhood and the urban context.

Het Nieuwe Water
Image taken from Brooklyn Grange / View of the Brooklyn Grange rooftop farm in the urban context.

Some of these project are based on long term business models and intended to become self sustained, marketing the products and selling it to the community or delivering it to dedicated restaurants.

A great documentary by Petrina Engelke is showcasing some initiatives in New York pushing these concepts and delivering profits in many aspects to a wider community. This ranges from activities, events to teaching and information. For example the Brooklyn Grange rooftop farm or the bobonyc restaurant where ingredients are sourced locally very literally.

Large scale urban farming might technically be difficult with its limitation for heavy machinery, leaving it a labour intensive project. However it shows a great potential for community and in this context, labour as a recourse is provided.

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The different manifestations of the city and cities are something that slowly is gaining ground. Today planners and project managers have started to think of the subject they are working with as being fluid and to some extend ephemeral in nature. There is no one solution, thats already hard, but everything keeps changing.

This understanding is the basis for the Jovis ‘Multiple City: Urban Concepts 1908-2008‘ publication by Sophie Wolfrum and Winfried Nerdinger. They argue that “the complex and multi faced city becomes the multiple city”. This is also based on the observation that there is no sovereignty of interpretation of individual position.

This leads to a very interesting position of multiplicity which is present through out the book. The argumentation is constructed in sixteen chapters all addressing different aspects. Usually for urban concepts, they are simple and aggregated. You get to read about the three point plan or as Kevin Lynch divides the elements into five groups, but having so many is unusual.

However, all of the proposed aspects today are well known concept, both theoretically and practically. Take for example the ‘Netzstadt – Network City‘ coined also by Franz Oswald and Peter Baccini at ETH in Zuerich in the 1990s or the ‘Patchwork City’ concepts as well as ‘Urban Icon’
and ‘Telepoli’ which recently with availability of new data and technologies has a sort of revival (eg see John Reades) are all very familiar key words.

This is however the point. Multiple City reflects on current urban development against the background of urban concepts over the past 100 years. It is possible to trace the history of multiple manifestations, parallel strategies and diametrical developments.

For example the chapter Situational Urbanism, Performative Urbanism discusses theories such as ‘la derive’ developed by the Situationists with Guy Debord and continues the though process with a contribution by Ian Borden ‘Performance, Risk and the Public Realm’ of course on skateboarders.

L'architettura della città
Image taken from Library ETHZ / Aldo Rossi, L’architettura della città, 1968, Kat. Nr. 7.10

Another chapter “‘Tessuto Urbano, the city s collective memory’ Sophie Wolfrum combines three concepts into one that beautifully works in this context. Those are Maurice Halbwachs ‘The Collective Memory’, Also Rossi’s ‘L’Architectura della Citta‘ and Karl Schloegel‘s ‘Im Raum lesen wir die Zeit (In Space we Read Time)’.

The book is set in the context of the hundredth anniversary of the Department of City Planning at the TU Munich in 2008. The department was founded by Theodor Fischer in 1908. He was a visionary city planner and contributed extensively to the expansion projects of the Munch urban Area.

Palm Jumeirah
Image taken from eikongraphia / THe Palm Jumeirah in Dubai features in the book Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown in the chapter ‘City as Image, Urban Icon’.

This is picked as the starting point for the book. Instead of just looking back, the editors let the authors developed the sixteen key concepts taken from the past 100 years into virulent topics of todays cities. This approach goes beyond the normally dominating topics of sustainability and mobility, which are of corse part of many of the discussed topics. But the book manages to introduce new perspectives and especially establish links between them. With this the ‘Multiple City’ really comes to live and a picture of many possible multiplicities emerges showing the complexity urbanity can be thought of today.

The publication is in German and English, some preview pages can be found HERE.


Wolfrum, S. & Nerdinger, W., 2009. Multiple City: Urban Concepts 1908-2008: Stadtkonzepte 1908-2008 Bilingual., Jovis.

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China is going through massive changes at the moment ranging from economy and society to culture. The bilt environment is definitely also part of this. Was it just four years back only about bringing prestigious names and projects into the country has this evolved into a wide ranging ecology and sustainability trend. Probably fueled by the western input, Cina has leapfrogged directly into the sustainability discussion and this directly influences the project planing and delivery.

A lot of projects are now not only seeked for their architect’s prestigious name or the avantgarde design, but marketed for its sustainable value. If this goes together even better.

Politically China has already implemented long term strategies on how to develop expected growth sustainable with the twelfth Five-Year Plan and in 2010 also proclaimed ambitious climate targets. Since buildings use about 40% of the total energy consumption the built environment is an obvious starting point to reach such standards.

A new DOM Pulishers publication ‘Contemporary Green Buildings in China – Art and Architecture for Sustainability 2000-2010‘ is drawing a portray of the trend in sustainability architecture in China. The editors Christian Dubrau and Li Xiangning are not at all short of examples, on the contrary list is impressive.

The publication is largely informed by the project ‘Germany – China moving ahead together’ centers on modern and future oriented development plans. Part of this is the forum ‘Urban Academy’ which builds a platform for specialists focusing on social development and urban construction development in cities today. 40 architecture project are showcased, but integrates a series of art projects that challenge the same topic.

This partnership between the two countries is of course an interesting one. Germany with a far developed culture of sustainable discussion but also practice has a lot of expertise to export to China. Of course the challenge is to adapt the practice and technologies to the specific need and environment.

The projects discussed in this book cover a broad range. This starts with two Steven Holl projects (two of his books discussed earlier Urbanisms and Hansun) the fabulous Beijing Moma Apartment Complex and the massive Vanke-Centre. There are of course quite a few urban examples, together with a short discussion on sustainable urban planning approaches, but then there is also a range of refurbishment and revitalise as well as rural projects together with some community based projects.

One of the very interesting urban projects is the Ningbo Museum. A gigantic structure on an artificial hill. The area was cleared for an urban extension and dozens of rural villages were destroyed. On the site of formar rice fields, parts of the structure are bamboo concrete formworks and the rest ist built from bricks recycled fromt he former village houses.

Ningbo Historic Museum
Image taken from ArchDaily / Ningbo Historic Museum / Wang Shu, Amateur Architecture Studio

Two of the more rural projects that are very fascinating are the ‘Maosi Ecological Demonstration Primary School’ (not sure what the name is pointing out) and the ‘Namchabawa Visitor Centre’ by Standardarchitecture.

The school project was developed by the Department of Architecture – The Chinese University and build together with local builders as a community project.

Maosi School
Image taken from DomusWeb.it / The project emphasizes a scientific and transferable methodology: condition analyses, computer simulation experiments and field construction.

THe visitor centre by Standardarchitecture is a project in Tibet about 2900 meters above sea level. It is located at the entrance to an important pilgrim destination. The project similar to the Maosi School seeks to blend in with the landscape, but especially with the local culture. This is realised quite successful in both projects and does show a new type of Chinese architecture, a much more engaged and interested attitude the architects show here.

Image taken from archinfo.it / The center is located in a small village called Pai Town in Linzhi area in the south-eastern Tibet.

One thing that this publication definitely achieves is for a change to document an show a more subtile side of Chinese building projects. What publications so far usually have focused on is the size, the speed, the change or the costs. Such and approach tends to overlook the quality and sells buildings as consumables. What can be learned from ‘Contemporary Green Buildings in China’ is that there are good quality buildings with a interesting architectural style being built in China today. This is finally moving reports about China’s built environment beyond bilboard architecture towards a substantial development.

Debrau, C. & Xiangning, L., 2011. Contemporary Green Buildings in China: Art and Architecture 2000 bis 2020, Dom Publishers.

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The ecological footprint of todays cities around the world has been subject for debate for a number of years now. With the majority of the worlds population living in cities this is an obvious thing to do in order to to optimise energy consumption to reduce the over usage of recourses.

In the two discussion on the topic Ecological Urbanism here on urbanTick and in parallel on DPR and ULGC we have started to discuss several related topics. Mainly in the second instalment we put a strong focus on spatial implications of this topic.

The same spatial interest was the main focus of a recent competition, the third Advanced Architecture Contest AAC organised by the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia. The contest series started in 2005 with the topic of ‘Self-Sufficient Housing’ and has evolved since. The second one was run under the title of ‘The Self-Fab House’ in 2006 and was then run a third time under the title ‘The Self-Sufficiant City‘.

Water Fueld
Image taken from bustler / “Finalist “WATER FUEL” which proposed the development of technologies that transforms salt water into energy, generating hydrogen in urban environments, to be utilized for transportation systems and urban consumption. The jury acknowledges this as the integration of energy production systems into an urban context and it’s ability to transform civic environments and foment the generation of energy by means of self sufficiency. These structures have been well designed and are capable of urban landscape integration”.

This third competition is now published in book form by Actar as ‘Self-sufficient City: Envisioning the Habitat of the Future‘. A small handy and compact overview of a selection of the 708 proposals received from a diverse 116 countries.

Clearly already the diversity of these contributions from such a variety of places makes this an interesting read. People with very different background, education and experience are developing idea related to the same topic.

The jury is a divers and prominent with for example Jaime Lerner on the panel. And the selected site is really one of the exciting cities, Barcelona. Here the argument is interesting and makes it very clear what the intention is: ‘The competition coincides with the 150th anniversary of the Eixample Plan for Barcelona, drawn up by the engineer Ildefons Cerda, which did so much for the concept of urbanism that served to guide construction of cities throughout the 19th and 20th centuries’.
THere are multiple way to read this of course, but one assumes that the intention is no less than reinventing the way cities are planned and therefor to take on the ultimate modernist, rational and successful (to some extend) planning model, makes sense.

Sky City
Image taken from bustler / “‘SKY CITY’ designed by Victor Kirillow from Russia which proposed the construction of urban mega structures, in which the city is stacked vertically to protect it’s green spaces, giving access to each level through future transportation systems”.

The proposals make for a great read and it is a very useful little book to have in the library to flip through, usually during these down times when the current project is just not moving forward, even though everything is in place and the concerns start to nag on the confidence with which the project was started. Exactly then this book might be of great help and inspiration. And who knows maybe it gives you just the kick to to takle these most pressing questions.

However there is a certain feel of architecture school project to it and of course as usual the projects you like will be documented a little to constraint by page limitations. Nevertheless of approaches and the wealth of different styles and visualisation methods make it very interesting and to me this was equally interesting as the actual title topic of the book.

To actually tacle such a vast amount of projects, the jury did a rather good job and the proposed winners and runner ups are definitely really interesting projects such as the ‘Water Fuel’ or the ‘Sky City’. Not that we haven’t seen anything like it before, but a new take on a tempting idea is still great.

Book Cover
Image taken from ayotdesign / The book ‘The Self-SUfficient City‘ by the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, published by Actar.

One of the nagging topics here is still not answered or maybe even got a bit forgotten about during the whole process. To me the title of the competition implies a certain reading of the discussion that is widely disputed and would probably be very hard contested as a concept and definitely as something worth archiving. The ide of the city as an independent unit, disconnected from everything else and in the sense proposed by the competition as ‘Self-Sufficient’. Can the urban area really be thought of without its links to the surrounding countryside, the wider context of the region, the country or the global links, migrations and flows at least between cities? This sort of ultra localism is probably not very healthy and tries to defeat the systemic reality of the ecological discussion. As Colin Fournier put it beautifully in his contribution to the second Ecological Urbanism series: “one should not lose sight of the fact that it’s very existence has always implied, by definition, the opposite of sustainability. Historically, the splitting of the city from the country was the moment when, both symbolically and materially, the culture of non-sustainability became consecrated and took off”.

Anyway, this is a crucial aspect of the current discussion and it is noted that to some extend this is absent from this publication. But maybe it doesn’t need to be and maybe it is less noted and influential on an architectural level. The competition does contribute a wealth of thinking, practical thinking to the very theoretical current discussion and this is an very important contribution that needs to be moderated into a more complete, informed and in the end realised reality.

Guallart, V. & Capelli, L., 2010. Self-sufficient City: Envisioning the Habitat of the Future, Actar.

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Wrapping up the second Ecological Urbanism discussion hosted by Annick Labeca, Taneha Bacchin, DPR-Barcelona and urbanTick.

Image by Krystian Czaplicki / Thruth – london england (2008).

Click the image to read this post on DPR-Barcelona

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A post by DPR-Barcelona, contributing to the second Ecological Urbanism discussion hosted by Annick Labeca, Taneha Bacchin, DPR-Barcelona and urbanTick.

Image taken from earth.geologist / Polarising microscope, wild M21.

Click the image and read this contribution on Urban Lab Global City.

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A guest post by Duncan Smith, contributing to the second Ecological Urbanism discussion hosted by Annick Labeca, Taneha Bacchin, DPR-Barcelona and urbanTick.

Connectivity and Sustainability in 21st Century Cities
Transportation is only one domain of urban sustainability, yet it is a critical aspect as connectivity is (arguably) the fundamental social and economic purpose of cities. Furthermore transportation has widespread consequences for urban quality of life, and of course for energy use and carbon emissions. This discussion is a reflection on a talk given by Prof Michael Wegener at CASA UCL.
The history of urbanism is one of massively increasing mobility, both within urban regions and between them in terms of travel, trade and globalisation. The graph below illustrates the dramatic change in vehicle miles over the last fifty years in the UK. This has been enabled by greatly reduced costs of motoring, through unprecedented fossil fuel exploitation and growth in the global car industry. Yet this change is fundamentally a result of social behaviour, that is the desire of people to maximise their opportunities and choice by using increased mobility to live, work, shop and socialise over greater and greater distances.

Figure taken from Department for Transport, 2009b / UK total travel distance by mode 1952-2008.

Wegener argues this era of increased mobility has ended. The threat of anthropogenic climate change compels us to massively reduce transportation carbon emissions, and commitments made for example at the EU level to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050 require massively reduced motorised travel and subsequently mobility. The second strand to this argument comes from the finite nature of oil supplies and the inevitable price increases as global supplies dwindle. Unfortunately these demands are in sharp contrast to major economic trends of increased globalisation, with greater interaction between cities, and specialisation with intensive spatially segregated economic functions requiring greater travel. Current urban form solutions to this potential conflict revolve around ideas of ‘networked’ and ‘polycentric’ cities, with multiple nodes closely integrated through public and active transport links.
Just as modernism fetishised speed and motorisation, technological fixes to urban transportation sustainability are constantly promoted and are always just around the corner. Amazing innovations in electric drive train vehicles can remove local pollution from cities, but will not overcome energy and carbon emission challenges. A more radical overhaul of the automobile is required. The humble pedestrian, bicycle and the tram/streetcar currently remain the best tools we have for providing connectivity and liveability, and the most successful cities for sustainable travel (e.g. Copenhagen, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Munich..) prioritise these modes. Progress relies on planning and design that enables connectivity through less energy intensive means, as well as a political consensus to tax fossil fuels, which research shows is the powerful means of influencing travel behaviour.


Duncan Smith is a researcher in GIS and urban geography at CASA UCL, completing a PhD on the topic of polycentric urban form and sustainable development. He also works as a research fellow at the Greater London Authority Economics Unit.

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