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Tag "scale"

Population Growth – a Problem of Scales

The end of October has according to the UN office for statistics officially marked the population growth reached 7billion. This is seven billion individuals living on planet earth, an astonishing number. On October 31st the 7th billion child was born.

Astonishing it is in regards to the unprecedented growth during only the past 200 years. Back in 1927 the world population was recorded as only 2 billion and in 1804 it was just 1 billion. 

UN 2004 projections
Image taken from Wikipedia / World population from 1800 to 2100, based on UN 2004 projections and US Census Bureau historical estimates.

The number however, is only calculated, an estimate at best. The UN statistics office specifies the error margin at 1%. Translated to the time window the 7th billion individual will be born, this margin is 12 month. This is six month before or after the end of October.

This margin might be quite good in relation to the 200,000 years modern humans already inhabit planet earth. Even across the past 100 years, since the beginning of the dramatic population growth, this might seem like a acceptable margin. 

To make the story easier accessible to the general public the UN chooses to award the title of the 7th billion inhabitant to an individual, personalising the message. This has been the practice for the past 3 instances where the population crossed the billion mark. 

The UN officially choose a baby girl named Danica Camacho born in the Philippines as the 7 billionth inhabitant. Previous title holders are 12-year-old Adnan Nevic of Bosnia Herzogovina born in 1999 and Matej Gaspar from Croatia, who was number five billion, born in 1987. It is to a large extend of course a political decision. To give the title to a child born in the region of the former Yugoslavia torn apart by war the years before is a clear signal of hope and welcome.

UN 2004 projections
Image by Elvis Barukcic/AFP taken form the Guardian / Adnan Nevic in Visoko.

On this personal level the decision of course touches a very different scale. For the individual the error margin of 12 month makes a dramatic difference. A year holds so much for a pre born and newborn. Also for the rest of us, actually 6’999’9999 live can change in this time drama dramatically. This makes it difficult to relate to the error time frame. 

The understanding for global management of challenges has increased dramatically over the past decade. From a very local management a sense of global awareness has entered the current debate. As an example, last weeks multi billion financial support deal reached between the members of the European Union to help other members has been supported by countries from around the world, including China. 

This globalisation has developed very early related to economical activities, but has with the more recent sustainability discussion, the image from the moon and Buckminster Fuller, developed into a new paradigm for evaluation and decision making. Complexity has risen sharply of course and it has of been fuelled by the development and application of relevant technology.

This tie between global and local has especially for the cities become an essential aspect of management. The growth of urban population has since 2007  overtaken the countryside. In this sense the population growth is specifically relevant for the management, building and thinking of cities. 

The discrepancy between the scales from global to local more and more are become an lock in problem. The relevance  and presence of mobility between the scales is essential for the dynamic development of cities and the wider the gap the more difficult it becomes for elements to link in on any of the scales.

After all scales are an theoretical classification to grasp the complexity of cities. Many of the elements however, represent relevance on a number of different levels acting as links and at the same time can be a source of contradiction. 

Just as the individual child represents a successful new start for a family or a community even, it is stylised as an icon of the world population representing all and everyone. Where the individual destiny and everyday struggle stand against the permanence and duration of the race as such the scales are not relevant any longer. And this might be after all, a model for  dynamic conceptualisation of a scale independent description of presence also in the context of cities.  

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For today NASA has scheduled the final mission of the Space Shuttle launching the last flight into space of the now 30 year old shuttle program. The mission STS-135, will be a a 12-day mission to the International Space Station. It will use the Atlantis space shuttle and carry a crew of four and the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module containing supplies and spare parts for the space station. The STS-135 astronauts are: Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim.

Space Shuttle on launch pad
Image taken from cnet / The space shuttle on the launch pad, being prepared for the mission.

Atlantis is scheduled to take off at 11:26 a.m. ET today, weather permitting, on NASA’s final shuttle mission after three decades and more than 130 flights, with a landing at the Kennedy Space Center set for July 20. If Atlantis misses its launch window on Friday, there are additional opportunities to launch on Saturday and Sunday mornings, when the chances for favourable weather increase to around 40% and 60% respectively. If the delay continues after that, the next window for launch is likely to be Saturday 16 July.

The space shuttle mission started back in 1972 and opened an aera with the launch of the Columbia in 1981. The program was troubled by its cost, a reckoned $198.6 billion. With a total of 134 mission, This is about $1.4 billion per flight.

THe retirement of the shuttle came as a result of political vision and games with former President Bush announcing changes in the NASA targets aiming to launch a new program to send astronauts back to the moon. The retirement of the shuttle was part of the plan to free up cash within the NASA for these visions. The program was however by President Obama scraped as it was already running out of hand in terms of cost and timing. Currently there seems to be not really a plan for what comes next. The current political climate could maybe even feature a privat provider of space explorations being involved. A number of commercial space missions are in planning, with the Vigin Galactic being only one of them.

Space Shuttle on launch pad
Image taken from dailygalaxy / Hubble looking at distant nebula.

The dimensions of the whole Space Shuttle program were massive. Not only in terms of cost but also in terms of staff and vision. The conquest of space is a old dream fueled by global rivalry and politics since the early fifties of the last century. The Space Shuttle program was a bold statement taking the mission on a next level by basing it on reusable technology as opposed to the one way missions launched earlier.

As the Guardian n puts it: “The failures of the shuttle could easily eclipse the programme’s achievements. But aficionados point to a long list of triumphs. The shuttle hauled three of Nasa’s four “great observatories” into orbit – the Hubble Space Telescope, the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and the Chandra X-ray Observatory.”

Above all the shuttle enabled the building of the International Space Station. A massive structure for longer space mission and extensive experiments. A controversial project, it has a decade to prove its worth as an orbiting science lab. With a price tag of $100bn, that is a tall order, but if nothing else, the station taught astronauts how to build complex structures in space. This might be something to prove of value in the future depending on the projects for future missions.

Certainly the Space Shuttle has contributed a lot to the identification of millions with space missions and is a beloved symbole for technology and achievement. It establishes a connection beyond earth, projecting into space. Thus opening the lid on a experiment in to dimensions far reaching firmly putting human kind into relations.

Looking back at Charles and Ray Eames famous power of ten movie from 1977, it becomes clear what the sort of dimension are the Space Shuttle program has unleashed. The dimensions of the actual flight might not be very special, but the outreach of the programs and missions launched from the shuttle are. LIke the Hubble telescope and several spacecraft hitched a ride into orbit on the shuttle before embarking on their onward journeys. The Galileo probe went to Jupiter, Magellan mapped Venus and the European Space Agency’s Ulysses spacecraft conducted the first survey of the sun’s environment.

Putting the dimension in place is one way of starting to get to grips with the scale. Some interactive versions extend on the Power of 10 idea making it possible to link in by allowing interaction and jumping between the scales and references. Nikon has in 2005 put together a really nice online version of such an interactive scale comparison called Universcale.

Nikon Univescale
Image taken from brainpicking / Screen shot of the Nikon Univescale web app. Click to have a play.

UPDATE 2011-07-08

The Atlantis has successfully left earth and is on its mission, expected to dock at the International Space Station on Sunday. It will be a 12 day mission.

Nikon Univescale
Image taken from NASA / The space shuttle Atlantis leaving the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 11:29 a.m. EDT.

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London is almost ready for the Royal Wedding later this week on the 29th of April. Preparations have been going on for weeks and the media is completely ull with details and stories covering the latest developments. Prince William is getting married to his long term partner Kate Middleton in a ceremony at Westminster Abbey. The event is expected to be the biggest of its kind ever and attract a world wide audience of some 2 billion viewers on TV, radio and internet. Copmared the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana aracted a world wide audience of 750 million and the last Superbowl in America set the national audience record at 111 million viewers.

flags along Regent Street
Image taken from the hotmeganews / The flags along Regent Street in London transforming the space and time warping it back to the beginning of the last century.

Of course digital media is part of this these days and the official web page is central to this. However, the twitter feed will come from @clarencehouse. The general twitter tag for the occasion is #rw2011 or the #royalwedding. The official facebook page with 360’000 likes is also covering the events in detail.

Royal Wedding Route
Image taken from the the Sun / The plan of the route between Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey as chosen. Guests and the wedding couple will be traveling along it. Prince William and Kate Middleton will be traveling in the golden carriage if the weather is nice otherwise in a car.

The dressing up of the city as the venue is of course most obvious with the decoration that has been put of in the lead up to the Royal Wedding. Most notably are the coverage of British flags as shown above in Regent Street. It transforms the place completely and give a very different feeling from the usual Christmas decoration. The flag as such still has this official and important touch to it. It almost turns back the time to represent London one hundred or at least fifty years ago with a bit of steam and fog.

Then there is the change in security. It already is a big topic in London anyway but now police have stepped up and security has been tightened. The main focus is on the route between Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey of course, but also other major areas and attractions are being prepared.

Royal Wedding Security
Image taken from the toledoblade / Security is being checked and implemented across London.

There is a lot of money involved an additional guest in London and the UK in general are expected to help boost the economy.
The goverment is also very much involved with a lot of hopes to gain some benefit from the event directly. A number of oficial goverment web page feature the wedding as their current top priority. For example HNE on how to stay save during the Royal Wedding of course or DirectGov with the public service view on it.

With the day being declared an additional day off there is more time for employees to spend money. Merchandising is expected to make huge amounts by selling all the flags and cups and plates. The BBC says: “Restaurateurs and hoteliers can now look forwards to a two year bulge in tourism numbers, with the 2011 wedding to be followed by the 2012 Olympics.” The UK Gift Company, which specialises in Royal items anticipates an upturn in business of about 30% to 40%.

Royal Wedding Seating Plan
Image taken from the BBC / Seating plan for the guest at Westminster Abbey. The structuring of the seating in groups is following clear ordering principles.

The seating is following a detailed ordering system of who is sitting where and next to whom. The arrangements have taken weeks of negotiation and preparations. 1900 guest will be seated. For everyone else there is an app for that, to take you round Westminster Abbey in 3D with a lot of background information. However, it will cost you a few bucks.

Royal Wedding Seating Plan
Image taken from the BBC / Layout of the cutlery on the table for Prince William and Kate’s wedding reception.

Of course the planning of details goes further into details with small gestures and practices. From a city scale right down to how to dress for the wedding, how to greet and of course how to eat. The Royal Wedding has its very own layout of cutlery on the wedding reception table. The BBC has the details on how to manage all the different pieces. However, the BBC comments: “It’s quite simple – start at the outside and work in as the meal progresses”

The guest list has only been released, but very much in the nature of the time has shortly after ben declared public data and the Guardian data blog features it, with the option to download the list as free data. Maybe you get a great viz out of it!

Visualisation using many eyes by IBM / Bubble chart using the open data of the Wedding invitation list, coloured by nationality. Click to interact.

The organisation of the wedding reflects the strong hierarchical organisation of the Royal concept. Both practically and socially, it is a clear structure of ranks with the Queen at the top end and this will be reinforced through practice on the day. Practice is feeding into al elements of the wedding, from invitation to seating, even to traveling, there is a very strict guide on who is leaving when for Westminster Abbey. Of course the most practical way is the addressing of people respecting the individual rank. The five levels after the Royals are: the Duke / Duchess, followed by the Marquess / Marchioness, followed by the Earl / Count or Countess, followed by Viscount / Viscountess, followed by Baron / Baroness, as described by Debretts.

There is a lot more to the Royal Wedding than just a couple getting married. It is not about the two individuals Prince William and Kate Middleton, but about the bigger idea of Royal and State. The event is a far reaching demonstration of a very old aristocratic practice and represents the position of England in general as part of the world.

This demonstration solely is based on practice, routines and established rites and in this case culminate in the wedding ceremony. This is the reason for the practice to be of such importance because only through its celebration it can be established and such an occasion is the perfect practice this structure can celebrate. The bigger idea is the hope that this wedding will put everything in to place.

This of course centres on the Royal family but reaches out from the palace to the wider London area, to national politics, to the society of this country and its related nations, to international politics and ultimately to the world. With this there are a lot of people and groups very keen on getting some positive benefit directly from this ceremony foremost probably the Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative Party as they are trying to deliver massive financial cuts and keep the people quite, but definitely other such as Boris Johnson for London and the upcoming Olympics 2012 and then of course the rehearsal of hierarchical structures will act as a boost to older traditions and society structures probably feeding into the Big Society idea the conservatives are trying to sell. It of course a big celebration of everything that has rank and name, but it pulls in the normal person too. Formost with the announcement of the Royal Wedding day to be a national bank holiday, an extra day off. With this you’ll be buying a lot of good will. Of course then you also have the representatives and identification figurs featuring at the Royal Wedding, such as the Victoria and David Beckham, Joss Stone, Rowan Atkinson, Guy Ritchie or of course Sir Elton John.

These practices are employing symbols and simple seemingly elements such as flags all the way down Regent Street, but exactly this is what lets people create their identity and reinforces a practice of space and lets the Wedding become a great event.

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The Fukushima nuclear disaster that is ongoing in Japan as a result of the devastating earthquake and the massive Tsunami has now been reassessed and the severity leve is now raised from level 5 to level 7, the same as Chernobyl. This means it is not just an accident, but the worst case scenario with massiv impact on environment and people on a long term scale.

Long term in this case is really a different matter. Talking nuclear material is blowing all human timescales with numbers beyond anything comprehensible. As the New York Time has put it in a recent story: “The death of a nuclear reactor has a beginning; the world is watching this unfold now on the coast of Japan. But it doesn’t have an end.”

Fukushima Plant
Image taken from socio-economics history, source www.digitalglobe.com / The Fukushima nuclear power plant after the earthquake and tsunami.

The use of nuclear technology around the world has been for the past 70 years and is ongoingly generating nuclear wast for which no real solution has been found as of yet. The wast is continuing to be active and dangerous even as wast and so far simply the only solution is to store the was safely. The problem is the time scale at which a safe storage will need to be found. It is not for a hundred years, not for a thousand years, not ten thousand years, actually no one really knows how long it would need to be. Some say twenty five thousand, that would be the half live of some of the radioactive materials, but it is likely to be a lot longer, Plutonium-239’s half-life is at 24,000 years. Some of the radioactive materials have a half-life of more than 100’000 years. This means a wast storage solution would need to be safe for this amazingly long period.

This brings planning problems with it that are far beyond anything human kind has been challenged with. One of these problems is a practical one that illustrated the dimensions very nicely. How to make sure the storage is known about and safe for the duration of it being there? How to marke the location in a way that people in ten thousand years still can understan they should not be digging in this area because the nuclear waste is still extremely dangerous? This brings very simple questions with it, for example what language do people speak in ten thousand years, or in fifty thousand years? Or maybe what signs would they understand if we don’t know about the language?

Klenze Akropolis
Image taken from wikipedia, source www.digitalglobe.com / One of the very old site and structures dating very, very far back, the Acropolis in the city of Athens. Here in a painting by Leo von Klenze “Reconstruction of the Acropolis and Areus Pagus in Athens” (1846).

In comparison cities are about 4000-7000 years old. Some of the very old elements of London are for example about 2000 years old. The oldest cities data back to about 7000 years to the times of the very first permanent settlements. Urban structures have evolved and increased in size, but planning is dramatically short termed in this over all context. Some infrastructures are amongst the long standing elements, like the Roman viaducts for water delivery and of course the longest standing elements are the elements relating to traditions, rites and practices. As of which elements the very fundamental concept of permanent settlement actually rests.

Taking this back to the question of how we can possibly manage to maintain the safety for hundreds of generations from the radioactive waste, it becomes clear how far beyond everything we know this goes. Its not that we have a memory as far back as the earliest cities, but at least this we have a conceptual history for the past 7000 years. However, this is about it, this far in the past a lot of things are pretty blurred and unclear. But what we need here for the radioactive mountain of waste is going a lot further into the future than that. So we better have a pretty good solution, it really is a timeframe more appropriate for mythology.

Image taken from wikipedia, source www.digitalglobe.com / Schematic plan of the WIPP facility with a system of underground tunnels.

The United States of America have in recent years made a move towards a more permanent storage solution. plans for a storage facility in the Yucca Mountain has been put on ice, but the nuclear wast is currently delivered to a Waste Isolation Pilot Plant WIPP, located approximately 26 miles (42 km) east of Carlsbad, New Mexico, in eastern Eddy County, for longterm storage. It is mainly for radioactive wast from the production and testing of nuclear weapons. The project planners do claim the site is safe for at least 10’000 years and have received the official confirmation to run it. Even though this is likely to be not long enough it is a hell of a lot of time.

A film documentary by Peter Galison, Pellegrino University Professor of the History of Science and of Physics, and Robb Moss, who teaches filmmaking in the Visual and Environmental Studies department, is soon to be coming out about this project with very fascinating background information about this US storage project and how the problems were approached.

They have decided on some form of granite pillars to mark the site with some plates describing the danger plu s the dissemination of the information to libraries world wide in order to increase the chance of the information to survive. However this part of the project is not to be placed on site before 2028, so plenty of time to redesign. A call for ideas was run earlier by the ‘Zeitschrift für Semiotik’ in 1982/83 and several ideas were proposed. Including nuclear priesthood, programable DNA or the genetically modified cats that can actually change colour upon coming near radiation.

I guess the call on this is still open and it will remain a challenge to deal with the wast we are producing in many sense but definitely here it is opening dimensions we are incapable of handling using traditional planning tools.

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The dramatic events of the last few days unfolding in Japan have definitely also had an impact on how we assess safety risk and stability. As the rescue and stabilisation operations are still in progress the full extend of the disaster is not as of yet to conclude. The scale of the destruction is massive, especially through the tsunami that followed the earthquake and which has basically washed away the whole North East coast.

Mappings are under way, from Google to open source projects. ABC news has put together, similar to the version of the Australian flooding, a before and after documentation. Etire villages and towns are flattened, the buildings simply gone. The force of the water can be seen in videos pushing houses down the road. An incredible force, something not imaginable and certainly not expected.

Japan 2011 tsunami
Image taken from Ann Fischer / Japan flag as a red ball with the tsunami wave rendered in 3d onto it. Data used from the NOAA image showing the expected wave hight.

The events have jumped out of scale very early on. The earth quake was the larges in Japan’s recorded history. But in many other ways, is has also shifted scales. The dimensions with the multiplication of the earthquake and the tsunami and now, as a result the looming nuclear emergency.

On a very spatial scale the earthquake had shifted the whole of the Japanese coast line by some 2.4 meters. Who said the land is a constantly stable entity? It is unclear what the impact of this movement and remapping and redrawing the coast lines might be the simplest task. Infrastructure has definitely been hit hardest, the rigid installations of roads, train lines, bridges, pipes and cables. To what extend there will bean impact on navigation both on land and in the air is not as of yet clear. “At this point, we know that one GPS station moved (8 feet), and we have seen a map from GSI (Geospatial Information Authority) in Japan showing the pattern of shift over a large area is consistent with about that much shift of the land mass,” said Kenneth Hudnut, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Japan is located on the Ring of Fire, the falt line around the Pacific Ocean where constant earth movement result in hundreds of earthquakes a year. However this scale is ver unusual and the 2011-03-11 earthquake was the strongest ever recorded in the history of the country.
Because of the location Japan is putting in a lot of effort to be prepared, probably Japan is the best prepared nation on earth for the case of an earthquake. At this scale however things are a bit different, it is simply overwhelming and complications pile in.

This event of course also draws attempts to compare to earlier events and history is once more unrolled. There is a lot to uncover and the Japanese disaster history is long and the society pretty battered with events, in this sense a very strong nation always has been able to cope with the most dramatic of events.

Kobe earthquake 1995
Image taken from Wikipedia / The Great Hanshin earthquake, or Kobe earthquake, was an earthquake that occurred on Tuesday, January 17, 1995, at 05:46 JST (16 January at 20:46 UTC) in the southern part of Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan. It measured 6.8 on the moment magnitude scale (USGS),[1] and Mj7.3 (adjusted from 7.2) on JMA magnitude scale.[2] The tremors lasted for approximately 20 seconds. The focus of the earthquake was located 16 km beneath its epicenter,[2] on the northern end of Awaji Island, 20 km away from the city of Kobe.

There are definitely two, that immediately draw up to this most recent one. The first one is the Kobe earthquake that destroyed the central part of Japan around Kobe on January 17 in 1995. The vast devastation included around 200’000 buildings the port of Kobe and large sections of an express way. The nation was unprepared and the disaster coincided with a economical down period making it even the more difficult to get the recovery on track.

The second event, also in relation to the unfolding nuclear aftermath of the distaster is the much older, but nevertheless very present, nuclear attack on Nagasaki and Hiroshima on August 9, 1945 and Monday, August 6, 1945 respectively. The attack not only destroyed with devastating impact the whole area, but contaminated the wider region. The impact reached far beyond structural damage and with long term effect through the radiation had vast social and psychological effects.

Japan 2011 and Nagasaki
Image taken from News Flick / Above: A destroyed landscape in Otsuchi village, Iwate Prefecture in northern Japan. Below: Nagasaki following the August 9, 1945 dropping of the atomic bomb “Fat Man”.

All these events drag through parallels of disaster and trauma mix up the times and pull these events closer together ignoring the usually in linear fashion imagined timeline. Are we going in circles.

Of corse int his context another event is very present, the Chernobyl nuclear accident on the 26 of April 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukrainian SSR. With Japan now struggling to bring the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that was badly damaged during the earthquake under controle these memories and experiences come back to live. In fact telling from the government reactions through out the world, especially Germany and Switzerland, but also Russia and the EU, nuclear energy was considered save and sound. Probably it was secretly being promoted as the solution for many countries to the global warming and sustainability programs. No one really was in the game with a large majority to lobby against the very powerful nuclear energy consortiums. Many countries have only recently revoken legislations to abandonne nuclear energy, such as Germany or Italy in 2008. Most countries are now however, revising and revisiting their active plants and plans for new ones. The recent events in this sense were a sudden wake up call with a good stirrup of settled perspectives and believes.

Clearly this goes way beyond just Japan. The impact on many levels from economy to energy are global. Technology is save and well developed but only to some extend. Nuclear energy production has changed since and because of the Chernobyl disaster, but still a large number of reactors currently running are dated, were built in the seventies and eighties. The earthquake has also, according to calculations by the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Italy shifted the planet on its axis by nearly 10 centimeters. Similar movement was reported also from the 2004 Chilenian earthquake in a National Geographic article. “should have shortened an Earth day by 1.26 millionths of a second, according to new computer-model calculations by geophysicist Richard Gross of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. For comparison, the same model estimated that the magnitude 9 Sumatra earthquake in December 2004 shortened the length of a day by 6.8 millionths of a second.” The Japan earthquake should be in about the same league. Even though this sounds very dramatic experts point out that such changes are part of the constant movement and changes of the planet. These measurements are based on mathematical models and not actual measurements. The changes are presumed to be much too small even for satellites to pick up.

Nevertheless, the fact and especially the idea of the ground moving and with it changing the duration of the day as our basic rhythmic unit is really disturbing. It again points out that there are more interconnections apparent with each event than we usually are capable of perceiving and willing to take into account. In this sense the ongoing development of the disaster in Japan is definitely active on many scales with the power to shift these scales. Rigid structures are moved, ground is shifted, areas contaminated, towns erased. More over, security is destroyed, routines buried and safety washed away. A lot of lives have been lost bringing with it great human tragedies. Whole towns are destroyed and large urban areas such as Tokyo with around 35 million people at risk from the nuclear fall out of the badly damaged power plant.

This sudden dimension shift on spatial but definitely also temporal scales are are considerable part of the extend of the disaster for the individual as much as society, the town as much as the city and the nation as much as the world.

For support and donations Google has installed a central webpage for Japan 2011 support as one of many ways to help.

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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 heavy book about a heavy topic and in this case size matters. Since the book is a bout size and its content celebrates the vast extend of the land area covered or better involved one might understand the motivation behind the physical extension of this publication. However other factors might also play a part.
We are talking about Asia Beyond Growth – Urbanization in the World’s Fastest-changing Continent by AECOM former EDAW is published by Thames & Hudson.
The book starts with what has been leading the debate about the future of urban design and urban planning for now three years: “Today, for the first time in history, more than half the world’s population lives in cities …” and it adds quite rightly, and this is then also what the books really celebrates on the following 484 pages: “… and most of these cities are in Asia.”
It is sort of a monograph as the books author is AECOM former EDAW, a single planning and design firm. It is, however, not a documentation of their projects only, it is more sort of an extended report of experience and knowledge. It coincidently falls into place with the change of name. The company was formerly known as EDAW (all the projects and most of the experience dates back to the EDAW times) and has recently, late 2009 changed its name to AECOM, a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: ACM). They are proudly presenting themselves on the website as: “Today, listed on the Fortune 500 list as one of America’s largest companies, AECOM has approximately 45,000 employees located in 100 countries.”
The book however is about the companies work in asia an documents the drastic change, the massive amount of work done as well as the vast extend of individual projects. For this the authors make extensive use of photo documentation and graphs. And the publication seems to follows in the footsteps of well known publications that introduced this sort of graphical language, for example S,M,L,XL or Massive Change. This language seems to be at the moment very popular, i.e EndlessCity and I pointed this out recently in connection with the book Comeback Cities – Transformation Strategies for Former Industrial Cities published by NAi Publishers.
In twelv chapters the Authors discuss the challenges of planning in the Asian context and chare their experinces. THe photographs used to illustrate are a really big part of the book and there is also an online blog thatextends this and documents the photographers work for the publication work. You can find it HERE.
The problems faced by planners are very often similar. It is described in many examples through out the book. For example in the case of Shanghai: “These developments are often the scale of new towns, requiring comprehensive planning and amenities, but lacking the cultural or historical background that might lend the place a distinct identity.” Surprisingly still a lot of examples are then developed in reference back to the European city which is in turn stylized as an ideal type. We have all heard these stories of groups of Chinese investigators being sent to Europe to measure and document villages or entire town to replicate them back home in Asia. An we have all hoped this might be a single case or an exemption, but this might be more often the case than hoped. This really fuels the important debate about creation of identity which, to a large extend urban design is about, is an ongoing process. Probably especially in the Asian context, the role of foreign practices, mainly western offices, probably is more important than usually discussed. In fact the discussion about cultural export and ‘international style’ is not extensive enough in most cases. It is primarily about size and money and recently about work and jobs and less about the culture clash, export of values, believes,f culture and knowledge. The burning question here is, how interactive and emancipated this collaboration is. Probably one could argue that it is not the role of the international practice to lead this debate, but it should be left to other to do so. On the other hand who could this be, architectural critics, academic sociologists or even publishers? I believe it has to be part of each and every project and it is to a large extend part of the role and responsibility of the planner to be involved in an ongoing discussion around the impact and extend of the project in progress. And of course all the other disciplines have to be involved too, and in the case here especially when it comes to a publication. The book represents a clear position whether it is explicitly discussed or equally explicitly absent. And for me this is the main week point of this publication. It is a documentation of multiple facets of the Asian growth, a nice picture book, a heavy weight in your bag and definitely a document of its time of a certain subject, but it is lacking this discussion of a wider context for not to ask for an explicit standpoint.
This includes other areas of discussion and is not limited to the debate about westernization of Asia through planning firms. It continues in through the trend topics put forward. What I mean for example is that often topics are presented very shallow and with an sort of innocent view. Take for example the topic ‘It’s all About People’, already the topic is suggestive enough, there is no need for explanations, so the authors decide to illustrate it with photographs and minimal text. This text says:”In Asian cities, it is common for people to use the spaces between the buildings as outdoor living rooms. … In many places, it seems, all pieces of the city are used for and by people.” This is then illustrated for example with a fish market or a street with small mobile fast food stands. Not enough, it leads in directly the topic of the slums. Which is a bit odd in the context of what has been said about the topic: “In many places, it seems, all pieces of the city are used for and by people.” and showing a photograph of lots of these slum hutches crammed into a tiny space between high-rise buildings and streets. Another example is the photograph of the little boy, shown full front, as he urinates onto the street to illustrate that people in Asia do not use the public toilets. This sort of, by the authors, pretended innocence, while showing material left open for interpretation in multiple contexts (one of them might be a wrong one) gives the book a strange taste, which is definitely not intended.
So to conclude, this is a book in a tradition of thick and heavy architecture books (if such a category exists) on a subject that has been dominating urban design practice and planning for the past decade (not clear at this point in time how it continues). It is rich on illustration through photographs, graphs of illustrative and sometimes suggestive character and text essays on certain subjects. It does, however, at times have this character of uncertain shallowness or unidentified innocence that can leave the reader in the dark about the real aim.

Image taken from webster.it / it shows the initial cover, where it still says edited by EDAW and Denise Scott Brown. I don’t know what happened to this collaboration , since her name does not come up in the publication I have here. Only some of the chapter titles that start with ‘Learning from …’ suggest a connection, but could be a reference.

For an alternative view read Adrian Hornsby’s review of the book.

AECOM, 2010. Asia Beyond Growth: Urbanization in the World’s Fastest-changing Continent, Thames & Hudson.

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The topic of cycles covers a great range of scales. This could be ranging from body functions like the pulse to daily routines weekly repetition of free days to yearly celebration of festivals and goes all the way up to live cycles or careers. A lot of aspects of life are cyclical and there is continuous repetition.
A surprising category is the subject of sport. Talking F1, there are a number of careers of great drivers that are not linear. A great example is Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton’s careers. A big up and down and kind of unpredictable sequences. Button started of almost ten years ago as a promising driver, but hasn’t really won anything until this season. Hamilton on the other hand has won the title world champion in his second year, but is nowhere in his third.
There is a lot of talent involved, but a large part is also routine and practice. This applies to all areas of excellence. It does need the right format to fit the particular field, but then it takes time to build a confidence and routine. Some people claim it to be around 10’000 hours of practice to turn someone into an expert.
On the golf course things are similar. Online at History shots I came across this great visualization of the major performers on the PGA tour. If you are familiar with this sport from Hagen to Woods will tell you something, if not don’t worry just look at the curves and lines of the visualization and you’ll understand the joy, sadness, hope and tragedy of a great variety of careers.
Image from Historyshots

“Cycles of Greatness is a fascinating map of the history of all the great golfers over the past 90 years. From Hagen to Woods, it’s all covered; the amount of information is stunning. Any fan of golf will certainly enjoy this print.” Patrick Gleason, P.G.A. Professional
Image can be bought on the website directly, It is properly sourced, with a long list of golf references …!

Image from Historyshots detail

Interesting are how the careers are interwoven, as the rise of one player means the fall of some others. In the special zooms integrated on the main map, these details of tour rivalry are shown and it visualizes how these ups and downs are connected.

Image from Historyshots detail

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