web analytics

— urbantick

Tag "social context"

In many ways cities are developing a pressurised and highly specialised environment in large areas driven by competition. It is buzzing environment defined by constant change at fast pace where everyone who slows down risks to drop through the loopholes in the system.

For this is an extreme and very narrow view of urbanised places it describes an image cities have fostered for years in order to compete and grow at such a rate they don’t recognise themselves. It os attractive and offeres opportunities, however only really works as a concept if there is an opposite pole it can be balanced with.

Image taken from aureon / Book spread, view of the islands.

The countryside is fading away in such a role as balancing pole due to many and complex interwoven reasons, mainly economical ones. However, the slowness creating a relaxed atmosphere of rural areas is inspiring to a number of projects and visions recently. The villages and the traditions are not forgotten, they still have their power and intensity if we only pause and look, stop and experience.

Insular Insight: Where Art and architecture Conspire with Nature is a Lars Muller Publication, edited by Lars Muller and Akiko Miki in collaboration with Hiroshi Kagayama on a large scale project to develop such a thing as public capitalism or an investment in culture.

The book documents the project developed by Soichiro Fukutake, a Japanese businessman who invested in art and he community on islands in the Seto Inland Sea in Japan, bringing the place, the art and architecture together to shape an spirit and way of life. He believed contemporary art to be the best way to inspire people and transform an area.

Image taken from aureon / Book spread, inside the Teshima Art Museum.

In various projects with renown international artists and architects a series of instaations permanent and temporary have been built in the ast on the Setouchi islands of Naoshima, Teshima and Inujima in the Seto Inland Sea. Contributing artists and architects include James Turrell, Tatsuao Miyajima, Tadao Ando, Rai Nito, Ryue Nishizawa, SANAA and many more. Many of the works are set as art houses where artists and architects have actually worked together to create permanent locations for installations. Then there are aso larger infrastructural buildings such a port terminals and museums buit as part of the investment.

Image taken from aureon / Book spread, artwork ‘The Secret of the Sky’ van Kan Yasuda.

These infrastructures are essential to the change the efforts have brought about the islands. The project has lead to a dramatic increase of visitors to the islands. In the past twenty years the number of guests has increased from about 20’000 to over 620’000 a year. economically this is a very big change, but definitely this is also a turning point for culture and especially society on the smal islands.

This is of course seemingly pushing in the same direction as any city does with unconditional aspiration for growth and change. However, at the hart of this project lies the desire to conspire with nature and this book is a manifesto for it. It offers more than just a documentation or a catalogue of the realised projects, but is a discussion and presentation with background and contextual details. Renown writers such a Peter Sloterdjik, Nayan Chanda or Eva Blau contribute essays to this discussion the founder Sochiro Fukutake want to be carried out into the word. A manifesto for stillness and slowness.

Insular Insight
Image taken from fontanel / Book cover.

Muller, L. & Miki, A., 2011. Insular Insight: Where Art and Architecture Conspire with Nature, Baden: Lars Muller Publishers.

Read More

Architecture is not only about building a new house. There is a wider context to creating spaces for people. Very often this is overlooked already in the planning and in the process. The social and cultural impact for both neighbours and users as well as the community is often a byproduct the wider public becomes aware if it results in conflicting interests.

To integrate these wider community aspects as part of the planning process, thinking ahead and thinking a projects as part of wider network of activities and places is a challenging and particular way of programming a project that require a multidisciplinary team. Architects, even if they wish they could, can not quite think this far out of the box.

Testify! Exhibition
Image taken from Studio Freireiss / View into the Testify! exhibition. It will be on until the 13 of November 2011 at the NAI in Rotterdam.

The new NAi Publisher book Testify!: The Consequences of Architecture‘, edited by Lukas Feireiss, presents a selection of 25 projects that all are designed to address this wider context of architecture. The subtitle sort of hint at the after life of a project, but really the projects are aiming to include the consequences from the innitial idea.

As the Gestalten puts it in short: “Testify! The Consequences of Architecture gathers 25 projects from around the globe that have taken the chance to open themselves up to critical self-reflection, submitting to a non-biased evaluation of their work from a lived-in perspective.”

Favela Painting Rio
Image taken from Lushlee / Favel Paintingin Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The project was developed by the Dutch artist duo Haas and Hahn, starting in 2006. As presented in the publication: “In the heart of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, the Dutch artist duo Haas and Hahn fostered pride and created jobs by painting enormous murals on concrete structures and residential facades. Through colour and imagery, the neighbourhoods have been given a fresh face and a point of media contact from wich to present themselves anew.

The publication accompanies an exhibition currently at the NAi in Rotterdam presenting the projects in space, to showcase the NAi’s engagement and work. A umber of the projects presented were initiated around an engagement with the NAi worldwide. This is of course a very noble thing to do but is, as the book illustrates, definitely a necessity for many urban locations.

This integrated view of spatial planning and the actual implementation is not new but has not founds its feet in practice. Since the fifties this is part of the theoretical planning discussion and pops up every now and then. It has lead to some participatory planning processes in the west, but not as elaborate and far reaching as this new publication proposes it.

The publication comes in four chapters with an introduction by Ole Bouman. Chapter one is ‘Urban Acupuncture: Reprogramming the City’, chapter 2 is ‘Smooth Operators: Interventions in the Public Realm’, chapter 3 ‘Reach Out: Spaces for Learning and Community’ and chapter 4 is ‘Exploring Horizons: Pushing the Boundaries of Architecture’.

Image taken from monkeyking on flickr / This photo was taken on August 6, 2010. Documentation of the Cinema Jenin in Jenin, a small city in the West Bank. Here the opening festival of 5-7 August 2010, which included the screening of several films as well as musical performances and other cultural events.

The book has a very designed and styled approach tot he topic. From the words to the images everything is cool and flashy. It brings the content a long way and is definitely helpful for the communication of a good cause. At times it is however almost over enthusiastic about itself, at the brink of invention.

Some of the projects you might have heard of already, but there will be others and complementary ones as well as new aspects of contextual and responsive architecture. Especially overall and in combination across the presented project, the book manages to seed the idea of thinking architecture in a wider context. It might not happen tomorrow, but it will sink in a stick.

Inkwenkwezi School Capetown
Image taken from Architype Source / Inkwenkwezi School Du Noon Township, Capetown, South Africa by Noero Wolff Architects, 2007. As presented in the publication “Through intelligent architecture with the aid of government and international support, a school in a poverty-stricken neighbourhood in Cape Town has become a safe place and a hub for youth from all over the Cape to gain the necessary tools to overcome their difficult situations and escape the traps of poverty through education.”

Participating are 2A+P/A, iAN+, ma0, Arup Foresight, at103, atelier d’architecture autogérée, Cinema Jenin, Decolonizing Architecture, dhk architects with towthink architects. Alejandro Echeverri Arquitectos, EcoLogic Studio, KARO* with Architektur+Netzwerk, Haas & Hahn, Li Xiaodong Atelier, Antanas Mockus, NAI Matchmaking, Noero Wolff Architects, Grávalos & Di Monte Architects, Enrique Peñalosa, Project Row Houses, raumlaborberlin, Sambuichi Architects, Senseable City Laboratory, Skateistan, Studio Gang, The Winter School Middle East, TYIN tegnestue, Zecc Architekten.

Testify! will be on display at the NAI until 13 November 2011 after which the exhibition will go on tour.

Testify! Book Cover
Image taken from iitaias / Book cover.

Feireiss, L. ed., 2011. Testify!: the Consequences of Architecture, Rotterdam: NAi Publishers.

Read More

After having missed the official start of the workshop yesterday I joined the workshop team. Today was not only very hot but also very productive. Moscow is some 39C, maybe more depending on the source. So the water spender machines are in constan use and the cartridges have to be changed frequently.

Topics for today were processing, processing and processing. In between we had some short exercises concerning the interactions between virtual and real spaces. With this we want the students to start investigating in many directions and from the beginning to mix both worlds. YOu can follow the progress either on the workshop facebook page anOtherWorkshop, or on twitter @anOtherWorkshop with the #vvsr tag.

In a simple string of actions parameters for twitter mining were extracted from virtual user generated online information that was recreated and reinterpreted and put back online. The resulting stories of object and place produced a list of key search terms. Surprisingly there were many very successful search terms found in this way maybe no one would have thought of otherwise. It turned out that cleaning and smoke and pipe are actually very popular words in the world of Russian twitter users.

In a simple processing query, the terms were requested through the twitter api and visualised according to the day of the week, in columns and time of the day, in rows.

keyword "труба" ("pipe")
Image taken from the flickr account of anOtherWorkshop, generated by Yulia and Masha / This is using the Russian search term “труба” (“pipe”). Basically through out the week people are talking about pipe.

The tool that offers the most direct interface between the real world and the virtual literally is the Tales of Things. The platform to link memories, stories and thought via virtual content to any real world object. Obviously the students liked this hands on and easy accessible tool and started to log their stories.

There is the wonder full tale of the ghost of the house, who lives on in one of the buildings on the island and sort of leads it in to a positive future (from his seat in the rain pipes). Or there is the sad-sweet description of the girl/young lady who’s face is printed on the chocolate bar that used to be produced on site on the island, or the confusion created by words if they are used in the same sense in a different context.

Image taken from the flickr account of anOtherWorkshop, generated by Zvezdnii and his colleague / The “object” – chocolate bar, sportig the girl on the cover. It is actually a rather disturbing facial expression if you think about it for a moment.

The day was rounded off with a late night lecture at Strelka by Hans Ulrich Obrist starting only after 10 pm local time. The talk is covered by urbanTick on twitter.

Just for the records the input presentation given today.

Read More

The general discussion around Ecological Urbanism or Sustainability in an urban context is very often not about design. It is about technical aspects, about technology and science. Very much in the sense that Kiril Stanilov pointed out in his post, planning but also the design of are focused on the implementation of technology. Stanislov points out that his was the invention of the modernist movement and it changed the city dramatically. But is also poses the question of what roe can design play now? And to actually play a role again it needs to move beyond acting as a mere container for technology. Clever cities in the sense of computers might be fun for computer scientists but in terms of everyday life and spacial experience there might be little gain. This current discussion here on urbanTick has beside the post by Annick Labec on the Architecture of R&Sie not featured this aspect enough and in a second instalment of this discuss there would need be to focus more clearly on the design aspects. This is not to say that technology doesn’t matter, quite the opposite, but it has to be put in a context or better a network.
The Atom is the past. The symbol of science for the next century is the dynamical Net. The Net is the archetype displayed to represent all circuits, all intelligence, all interdependence, all things economic and social and ecological, all communications, all democracy, all groups, all large systems [Kevin Kelly, Out of Control in Richard Rogers, edited by Phillip Gumuchdjian, Cities for a small planet, page 146].
Similar to the design aspect, time, features very little in the debate. Already the concept of past present and future is applied in a very limited sense. Usually learning form the past means to borrow ideas and implement them in the present. Retro doesn’t apply to the current environmental problems we have today, the condition have changed dramatically in the last forty years. But also much shorter time scales do not yet play an important enough role in the city. The complete infrastructure is designed to cope throughout with peak flows, even though most of the day the general use is half or less of this amount. The importance of flows and networks as discussed by Duncan Smith play the important part here. Again infrastructure of flows is a product defined largely by the modernist concept of the city and it would be very interesting to discuss new emerging concepts of an integrated approach.
This is then in a next step also very much dependant on scale and for an Ecological Urbanism to be effective it has to cover aspects throughout the different scales. This I believe is a very positive thing though, because it brings disciplines closer together and highlights the relationships between the scales. This requires the planning to become more dynamic and the old categories have to be reshaped into dynamic categories. This is especially interesting regarding social aspects of an Ecological Urbanism. In a distinct post, DPR has pointed out the importance of the social apexes. Through out the social scales from society, to neighbourhoods and groups to individuals everyone plays a role. Since sustainability is something everyone is involved, as Luis Suarez has discussed, the city requires everyone to take part it has the potential to transform the relationship and define it anew. It could become a tool to overcome the dogma of the machine city, the city that serves, the city as an infrastructure and free the citizen from being a user. And under the title used by Stanza for his contribution this could create the ‘Emergent City’. A new relationship under the aspect of an Ecological Urbanism could see the people becoming an active element in the urban context with attributed capacity of creation and decision and lead to a more engaged and participatory urbanism, were responsibility could have a meaning again.
To archive this involvement education has to be part of the plan. Sustainability is to some extend a question of education and knowledge. To understand things in such a way, of course there is education needed. I don‘t think it is an accident that sustainability appears together with a systemic understanding of the world in the early seventies of the last century. The discovery of the system description enables to become aware of action impacts and raises the key questions of sustainability.
The first satellite picture from outer space in 1959 gave these new thoughts an image. The whole world could look at it self and capture the finiteness of our living room. And it is maybe still the most powerful image to support all activities around sustainability. Sustainability is also about images > Spaceship Earth [in Fuller, R.B., 1982. Critical Path 2nd ed., St. Martin’s Griffin.] as Martin Callanan has beautifuy illustrated with his work ‘A Planetary Order’.

Image taken from limcorp.net / The earth from outer space.
Image taken from limcorp.net / The earth from outer space.

It is not about one field of action where sustainability haste to take place in such a manner. First, sustainability has to take place through all scales up to a global level in all fields. Every action is embedded in a system of elements, relations and impacts; every action has to be taken in awareness of this fact. Every action matters through all the scales. But all partners need to be on the same level of understanding. Sustainability is also about equal rights. If you want to build solutions for the future and have people working with you, every citizen has to understand the system very well. You have to have a commitment with simplicity. Every child should know the design of his or her own city. They should design the city even, because if you can design the city you can understand the city. If you understand the city, you will respect the city [Jaime Lerner on public transport in Mau, B., Leonard, J. & Boundaries, I.W., 2004. Massive Change, Phaidon Press. Page 59].

I would like to thank the people who contributed to this now closing series of posts on the topic of Ecological Urbanism very much for their participation. Those are, in order of appearance: Duncan Smith, Luis Suarez, DPR-Barcelona, Annick Labecca, Martin John Callanan, Stanza, Kiril Stanilov.
It has been produced on very short notice and contributors have reacted enthusiastic and thanks to them this series of post turned out so well.
The topics discussed have provided many insights and have stimulated especially in cross combination a wider range of thoughts. In this sense and with the topics in mind that were highlighted by the debate as in need of more attention I am please to announce that a second instalment of the discussion of Ecological Urbanism is in planning and should take place in two month time. With this we are for now closing the contributions on this invited series on Ecological Urbanism on urbanTick. In the mean time please leave comments and suggestions, it would be great if we could extend the discussion further. If you are interested to contribute in the next format, please drop me a note and we can work out the details.

Read More

"In nature, organisms and species coexist in an ecosystem, where each species has its own place or niche in the system. The environment contains a limited number and amount of resources, and the various species must compete for access to those resources, where successive adaptations in one group put pressure on another group to catch up (e.g., the coupled phenomena of speed in the cheetah and evasive agility in the gazelle). Through these interactions, species grow and change, each influencing the others evolutionary development. This process of bi-adaptive relationship (in some cases can also assume a form of cooperation and mutualism) or reciprocal adaptation is know as Co-evolution, i.e. the evolution of two or more competing populations with coupled fitness."

Vitorino Ramos [1]
Image by Ben Fry / All Streets 

"Ne quid Nimis" [nothing in excess ]Sustainability can be, aside a trendy tag, a desirable life perspective with high impact within our cities system as long as we make a personal task. Luis Suarez pointed rightly in his recent post when talking abut individual consciousness.
Individual behaviour (usually manipulated by industrial consume model and mass media) has important consequences in the process of co-evolution between techno-sphere and the biosphere, as long as more population demands more resources. The crucial problem is not population growth, but the fact that population  keep consuming resources in an unsustainable way. There are sectors of world population that constantly generate pressure on demanding more resources only to maintain their lifestyle.
The concept of ecological footprint is very instructive as indicator of this phenomenon. The ecological footprint is a measure of how much biologically productive land and water an individual, population or activity requires to produce all the resources it consumes and to absorb the waste it generates using prevailing technology and resource management practices. 

Image taken from Nicholas Feltron web-site / FOOD (detail) from the Feltron Annual Report 2009. 

At this point, most people have the belief that science and technology will find the solution and take us through the path of "sustainable development." Technique and technology are important, as long as they are reinforced by common sense. If we maintain the same consumption patterns while increasing technological efficiency what actually occurs is a rebound effect known as the Jevons paradox which states that resource consumption increases when increases its efficiency. It means that when efficiency improves, production increases and therefore, consumption. Here, we can quote José Manuel Naredo, when he pointed "This technological optimism, in fact extractive, is therefore incompatible with life." If we consider that "the second law of thermodynamics can not be ignored."

Image taken from Masdar Media Center / Technique and technology for "new sustainable cities" at Masdar. 

The growth limits do not pass through the optimum use of resources, neither by improving technology. The boundary is defined by the law of entropy, that describes the degradation of matter and energy in the universe. In fact, economy is an open system that can not function without the input of energy and materials. According to Joan Martinez Alier[3], the conflict between economy and environment can not be solved simply with phrases such as "sustainable development", "eco-efficiency" or "ecological modernisation". The clash between economy and environment seems to be inevitable, and Martínez Alier adds that therefore, we still needs to invent something new, a vision that does not depend on politics, but rather on social movements that reinforce it.Proposal for a social approach to sustainabilityNicholas Georgescu-Roegen pointed that in the future the fundamental scarcity would not be due to energy (given the existence of solar radiation), but depending on materials, taking in consideration that Earth is an energy-open but materials-closed system. The question is not whether the 21th Century cities may be sustainable or not.  The crucial fact is that our entire system of production and consumption needs a deep revision. This can be achieved as long as we abandon "growth rates" and "development" (even if sustainable) as economic and political objectives and focus on other convivential and relational goods, which consequently will be reflected in all our achievements, including architecture and our cities. A clear awareness of the material and energy limits of our activities is essential to reach a balanced relationship within the system. It is possible that this will lead to courageous proposals as to stop or reverse the growth of our cities. Changing our mechanical growing paradigm and our production system would result in the conversion of economic activity as we know, which is deeply rooted in our collective unconscious as synonymous of progress. In this process of assimilation and conversion, will be crucial the community support to absorb the countless number of people who need to change their labour activities. At this stage starts to make sense to encourage activities based on convivential exchange of goods (in the sense pointed by Ivan Illich) [4], labour support and network assets in the creation of open source systems that allow appropriation and adaptation to the specific situation where apply (e.g. time banks, local currencies, barter of services, open source software).

Image by dpr-barcelona / Wellness' Thermodynamics.

We have proposed an open formula, which allows new variables in case anyone wants to contribute. With didactic vocation, it shows the increasing importance that relational goods must have against other "values" that until recently we thought unassailable.
[1] Ramos, Vitorino "Charles Darwin’s Scottis kilt " http://chemoton.wordpress.com/2010/05/05/charles-darwins-scottish-kilt/. Web May 07 2010.
[2] Global Foodprint Network. http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/. Web May 06 2010.
[3] Interview points by Monica Di Donato CIP-Ecosocial http://www.rebelion.org/noticia_pdf.php?id=81315. Web May 06 2010.
[4] Illich, Ivan. "La Convivencialidad" (Tools for Coviviality) . Barral Editores. Barcelona 1978.
This Guest post by dpr-barcelona | Ethel Baraona + César Reyes forms part of the discussion in the urbanTick series on Ecological Urbanismdpr-barcelona is an innovative publishing company based in Barcelona, specialised in high quality architecture and design books. With an international scope and founded by two architects, their titles vary from monographs and documentation of buildings to historical studies, collections of essays and dissertations. Showing a clear innovative way to bring the contents to the public, their projects transcend the boundaries between time and space from conventional publications, approaching to those which are probably the titles of architecture in the future.

Read More

Ecology is one of the most popular words nowadays. We all throw terms in frequently like sustainable, environment friendly, renewable, efficiency, green, climate change. It is now important for Companies, governments, politicians, individuals; to turn green. Some really respect the cause and care about themselves and the planet. While others take advantage of the situation; “green” is now a profitable brand. For good or for bad ecology is know trendy.

Image taken from CNN / In Copenhagen, Denmark, which has a reputation for accommodating cyclists, Jessica Eisenbraun gets her exercise riding around the city on her steel bike, which is older than she is but easy to maintain. Biking is the fastest way around the city, she says, when you consider how long it would take to park a car or take a bus.

“GREED Vs GREEN” Our contemporary societies are evolving from “greedy to greeny”. Bill Maher, an american comedian and critic said in his show; “greed isn’t good! In fact, is the common threat that runs through all of the problems that this country faces, from financial meltdown, to healthcare, to climate change. Americans will do anything to each other for money…” Twenty years ago greed and consumption were the key factors in any society. Things seem to be changing slowly. Unfortunately we needed get scared the hell out to evolve! We all now fear; Climate change, terrorism and the economy. As a result society is getting a conscious.

Individual consciousness seems to be the answer for this mess. Consciousness about our ways of life by consuming less and taking care of our selves and the environment. Italian Architect Andrea Branzi in his “Weak Metropolis Lecture” at the ecolological urbanism conference in Harvard talked about our attempt to change cities with major architecture projects, and how we must instead focus on smaller scale projects that will be able to penetrate households and cultures. It is in the conscious of the individual that ecological urbanism finds its roots.

Sustainability is the capacity to endure independently. The term is often used in architecture and urbanism for projects that respect or use a minimum of natural resources, the same term can be applied on individuals. The sustainability of the individual must be approached on how the individual takes advantage of the environment with the minimum impact over it. Environment relating to the geographical location, social and cultural surroundings of the habitant. This means that Andrea Branzi arguments are very strong. Even though a large amount of resources could be used in the construction process I do believe that well thought macro projects can bring benefits to a city and small projects like roof productive gardens (not only grass!) in each house hold can definitely create a huge difference on the sustainability of a city. Small viral green projects carried out at a house hold scale or at an individual scale will change the dynamic of the city. It will bring better quality of life to the habitants and it will lower the resources that the city requires.

Image taken from civileats.com / Roof of Abundance, a repot from the frontline of roofgardening in New York by Paula Crossfield. Details can be found in the ‘Roof Garden Rookies’ Category.

An informed individual is a conscious one. Nowadays we can find several web pages that will inform and measure the carbon footprint of individuals or small businesses. For example myfootprint.org, or one that I recently discover and that I really enjoyed is www.changinghabbits.org The ‘Changing Habbits’ project was initiated, designed and developed by Prof. David Walker and Prof. Rob Holdway of Giraffe Innovation. By responding to some easy questions this website will calculate your carbon footprint and will illustrate it in a fun way, at the end of the exercise you will have a perspective of your house hold habits and some simple tips on becoming greener and on improving your quality of life. The message is simple, wrong habits will make you a fat, ugly and unhappy person! So from a greedy materialistic frightened society we must change our ways into a conscious society. We all are ecological urbanists.

Image taken from changinghabbits.org / cover illustration.

This guest post by Luis Suarez forms part of the discussion on Ecological Urbanism as an urbanTick series .

Luis Suarez was born, in Bogotá, Colombia and graduated from The University of Florida in design, construction and planning in 2005. He received a master in science of urban design from The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London. He is currently pursuing a Masters in Bioclimatic Architecture from The Isthmus School of Architecture for Latin America and the Caribbean. He is designing and building multiple projects in South and Central America with his established firm, Estudio ArQ.

Read More

The Ecological Urbanism conference 2009 at Harvard’s GSD ambitiously set out to define a ‘new ethics and aesthetics of the urban’, taking a design approach to developing a multi-disciplinary understanding of urban ecology. The contributions in the accompanying publication are highly diverse, contradictory even; ranging from small scale to the regional, practical to polemical, from favelas to futuristic utopias. The results are rich, muddled, often fascinating, and fail to reach any consensus on ecological urbanism. I propose here that a true multi-disciplinary understanding of urban ecology needs to interface between design and the social-sciences, particularly economics and geography, an approach rarely touched on in this volume.

In the introduction Mohensen Mostafavi argues that ecological urbanism can define a new set of revolutionary sensibilities and practices in design that challenge established socio-economic and political structures. Indeed the book includes many inspiring examples of small scale eco-architecture. The difficulty is whether architectural projects can really ‘scale-up’ to bring about city-wide and global change. Cities are not the result of architectural design, but emerge through complex social and economic (generally capitalist) interactions. Urban development is subject to this capitalist order, with iconic buildings used to brand cities to compete in global markets.

The choice of opening keynote for the conference, Rem Koolhaas, met with criticism as he is precisely the kind of ‘staritect’ marketeer that has engaged little with ecological urbanism. Yet he is ironically the only contributor to discuss greenwashing- an important concern for sustainable architecture. Even the oft-cited eco-cities of Masdar and Dongtan, while being larger scale and revolutionary in scope, have elements of greenwashing writ large, with UAE’s oil-money Masdar a small distraction from the insanity of Dubai, while Dongtan is a drop in the ocean in China’s coal powered western-style urban explosion (and may never be built).

Image taken from constructionweekonline.com / Masdar City, Foster & Partners. Eco-city projects provide a test-bed for comprehensive urban sustainability solutions, but how can these ideas be applied to the thousands of existing cities? The US $22 billion project is being developed in seven phases.

So how could a geographical approach contribute to an ecological urbanism? Well it would begin with cities as they are- urban evolution and retro-fitting are the priorities. Indeed several articles in the conference volume do discuss regional integrated urban assessment approaches, in terms of the many dimensions of sustainability such as energy, water and waste. There is also interesting discussion of the complex and productive social structures in slums, particularly in Mumbai.

A considerable additional challenge is to consider cities in terms of their global relationships and flows, the economic and power structures that define urban function and growth. Thus it is entirely possible for a city to be ecologically sound in its physical form, but embedded in environmentally damaging economic and political structures. London is a case in point, with positive moves towards local energy generation and sustainable urban form doing little to change the ills of a capitalist system in which it is a primary centre (London based BP struggles to contain environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico as I write). Very few articles in the volume grapple with these issues. One that does is Hodgson & Marvin’s critique of eco-planning, which convincingly argues that energy security and social and material reproduction concerns are the main roots of trends by capitalist cities towards improving self-sufficiency and adopting sustainability discourses.

In conclusion, an aesthetics of ecological urbanism in isolation cannot be sufficient, and the perspectives of economics and geography are needed to place cities in global structures. Interfaces between the design and social sciences are the most promising path for understanding local and global connections and creating an ecologically based urbanism.

This Guest post by Duncan Smith forms part of the discussion in the urbanTick series on Ecological Urbanism.

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.

Read More