"If people do not have a direct bodily or kinesthetic relation to their city they will never develop responsibility. The sustainable city is not so much about the ‘hardware’ of the city but the very behavior of the city and how people treat the city. The sustainable city is about behavior and about creating a simple set of rules that educate people to act and behave in a sustainable way."
- 3 years ago
A city is not a T-shirt
In the era of rapid urbanization, we are all trying to understand how numerous processes and phenomena shape our cities: globalization, post-industrialization, entrepreneurial cities, creative classes, clustering industries, networked societies, etcetera. All cities are in need of grand theories that can function as instruments for making these cities the best cities.
But that doesn’t work, according to Musterd & Murie. Their book is a conclusion of 4 years of comprehensive empirical research in 13 major European cities. “Cities are context”, the authors say, implying that cities are multi-layered entities that have been shaped over centuries by their economies, cultures, politics, technologies and institutions. This has resulted in cities with different roles (capital cities, industrial cities, educational centres) and different population compositions. We must be cautious to draw general conclusions from these roles, functions and compositions. Reality is extremely differentiated. In order to gain or maintain importance, cities have to capitalize on elements of their rich histories and individual assets. There is no golden formula that can attract the creative class to every city. Cities should be considered one by one. Each city’s history and the legacies from history are important influences on their future, but they are not determinants.
Next to the importance of a city’s path dependency for urban development, the authors found that an individual’s choice for a city depends on certain factors. The research shows that key actors (professionals and managers) in creative and knowledge economies choose a place to work and live based largely on personal networks and ‘hard’ conditions, and less on ‘soft’ conditions. These soft conditions are certain amenities that a city has such as tolerance, diversity, openness and ‘nice environments’ (yes, Richard Florida’s conditions). These amenities do play a role, however, in the decision whether or not to stay in a city, but are not important in a city’s competitiveness. Personal networks and hard conditions are much more important, making up for about 80-90 percent of what the location decision is based on. Relations with friends, familiy and professional colleagues - personal networks (or individual trajectories) - and available space, accessibility, tax regimes, etc. - hard conditions - are the most important factors.
So the factors on which MANY cities have based (part of) their competitive strategies on in the past years turned out to be the least important. Say goodbye to Richard Florida, it’s time for a new hype.
- 3 years ago
"never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
— great quote from the well known cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead … for all of those who believe in the power of community involvement and participation
- 3 years ago
short reflection on urban ecosystem services
if green and blue structures in cities are to become significant in cities based on the services that they are capable of provide (Improve air quality, control Micro climate, Noise reduction, Rainwated drainage, Improved water quality, Increased groundwater recharge, Wastewater treatment, Flood protection, etc) we need to engage residents in a dialogue with the ecological processes happening in them
- 3 years ago
"Urban environments are produced and constructed through social processes made up of different relations between actors, negotiation strategies, decision-making, resources, rules of action and ideas (Jacobs & Appleyard, 1996). This public arena of social actions and relations brings about a political/democratic dimension within public space development processes, and since individuals think differently and have different backgrounds, cultures and powers, oppositions and conflicts often emerge (Berman, 1986; Francis, 1989). Different stakeholders claim spaces in order to carry out desired activities or achieve a desired state (Carr et al., 1992). Generally, there are contrasting economic, socio-political and symbolic interests and views; and from these differences, disagreements about how cities and their urban elements should be created come about (Bentley, 1999). Hence public space is always a space of conflict; it represents a struggle over who controls it and who has access to it, who determines its make up and how it is produced (Deusen, 2002). This suggests various aspects we need to pay attention to, related to the importance attributed to public settings, the role of producers and users and the meanings which lie behind their actions."
— On conflicts in the production of urban environments and public space … Mauricio Hernandez B. in Contested public space development: The case of low income neighbourhoods in Xalapa, Mexico
- 3 years ago
"Planning, as an explicit exercise of imagining the future, is about “dreaming the possibility of change”, imagining how to “start out on a journey” in mutually acceptable ways, rather than, as in the ideas of the urban designer/planner’s, “dreaming destination”. If there is a destination implied, it is a process dream of a democratic society which respects difference but yet collaborates, and which can live sustainably within its economic and social possibilities and environmental parameters"
- 3 years ago
New approaches to public space: “Reclaim-Test-Evaluate-Establish”.
Recently I have been finding some interesting initiatives by which some cities are creating new public spaces in areas that were previously underused. Such initiatives are based on what I would call a “Reclaim-Test-Evaluate-Establish" approach of which I will show you an exciting example.
Inspired by New York’s Plaza Program, San Francisco’s "Pavement to Parks" is a program that creates spaces for people reclaiming excess roadway, through the use of simple and low-cost design interventions.
The first step was to recognize that San Francisco’s streets occupy 25% of the city’s land area (more space than all of the city’s parks). Many streets are considered to be excessively wide with high underused space (something that happens in most cities around the world).
The “Pavement to Parks” projects seek to temporarily RECLAIM these unused spaces and quickly and inexpensively turn them into new public plazas and parks.This is done by a temporary closure of the street and the installation of a new public use with the help of temporary activities, seating, landscaping, and treatment of the asphalt.
The reclaimed space becomes then a public laboratory where the City works with the community to TEST different uses and designs. After trying different configurations the space is EVALUATED to see if whether the temporary closure should be a long term community investment and ESTABLISHED as a permanent public space.
This is the case of the "Castro Plaza". After being tested and evaluated for over a year, the Castro Plaza was made permanent by request of the community. The trail period provides the designers all the information they needed to create a public space that is tailored to the desires, needs and routines of the community. Something that would definitely contribute to the sustainability of the project.
In times where there is a shortage of resources, where there is a high demand for local public spaces and green areas, where municipalities can not cope with such demands, where there is the need of actively involving communities in the development and management of their public areas, it seems to me that a “Reclaim-Test-Evaluate-Establish" approach can be very useful. Having said that there should be much more support and attention given to initiatives such as the Park(ing) Day.
Images from Pavement to Parks program
- 3 years ago
The failures of growth and the sustainable degrowth proposal:
The paradigm of economic growth has dominated politics and policies since 1945. Environmental concerns were introduced later but always subordinated to growth objectives. Expectations of win–win, sustainable growth through technological and efficiency improvements, have not been fulfilled. The present economic crisis opens up a social opportunity to ask fundamental questions. Managed well, this may be the best, possibly last and only chance to change the economy and lifestyles in a path that will not take societies over climate, biodiversity or social cliffs.
The idea of degrowth is emerging as a response to the triple environmental, social and economic crisis.Sustainable degrowth may be defined as an equitable downscaling of production and consumption that increases human wellbeing and enhances ecological conditions at the local and global level, in the short and long term. The paradigmatic proposition of degrowth is therefore that human progress without economic growth is possible."
— What would this mean for cities ? - from Crisis or opportunity? Economic degrowth for social equity and ecological sustainability - François Schneider, Giorgos Kallis, Joan Martinez-Alier
- 3 years ago
"Cities alter the urban landscape to a point where water hardly reaches soil for filtration and drainage, and rooftops squander solar energy that nature had used productively."
— Two very simple, but many times forgotten, ways in which cities affect the environment. By Pavlina Ilieva and Kuo Pao Lian in Learning from Informal Cities, Building for Communities
- 3 years ago
Finding sustainable urban models in a very different context
Planners, architects, designers are “always” trying to create places that enhance sustainable ways of living, ways that are more environmentally sound, more economical, or more conducive to the building of community. Today we talk a lot about high-density and walkable neighborhoods, transit oriented developments and mix use, waste and water management schemes, self-organized and resilient communities. Neighborhoods that include new, modern-stylish designs and sophisticated technologies have become the new model for achieving sustainable urban development and are trying to be replicated/exported all over the world.
However it seems to me that there is the dubious assumption that making an area, garden or building look nice will go hand in hand with more sustainable and eco-friendly living. This has been shown in a recent research (Just Environments : Politicising Sustainable Urban Development) where it is argued that today sustainable urban development decisions are mainly based on the believe that more gardening, tidiness, recycling and eco-technologies will solve our environmental problems, ignoring deeper unsustainable societal structures. In short this means that one can live in a nice, green and tidy neighborhood but still live live in a very environmentally unfriendly way (with airplane use, car use, high levels of energy intensive consumption, etc).
So if this is true, are there any other models than the multibillion-dollar neighborhoods with all the so called features of urban sustainability?
Recently I found an article by Pavlina Ilieva and Kuo Pao Lian, showing how all the trendy “features” of sustainable urban design (high-density and walkable neighborhoods, transit oriented developments and mix use, waste and water management schemes, self-organized and resilient communities) can be found in a very different context. The examples of sustainable neighborhoods are not new and innovative areas in Scandinavia, Germany or the US but in the neighborhoods of the world’s poorest inhabitants. In the so called Slums, Favelas, Ghettos.
picture from digitaljournal
As said by Stewart Brand “to a planner’s eye, these cities look chaotic. However for biologist like me, they look organic. They are unexpectedly green, they have maximum density—1m people per square mile in some areas of Mumbai—and have minimum energy and material use. People get around by foot, bicycle, rickshaw, or the universal shared taxi”.
Of course living in Slums has many problems and I don’t mean that we all should live in them to become more sustainable. But there are many lessons that can be incorporated in to new urban developments (the Self-Generative Community or Rem Kolhass’ book and documentary "Lagos, How it works").
Pavlina Ilieva and Kuo Pao Lian argue that if we look beyond the poverty issue, slums can serve as an example of humanity in its most resourceful, responsible and aware of its surroundings. Is in it this what we are trying to achieve in sustainable urban development?
- 3 years ago
"We must overcome the growing perception that new “green” is our salvation. By analogy, the electric hybrid Toyota Prius is an energy-efficient car. However, when accounting for the energy used to manufacture a new Prius, one would actually save more energy by continuing to drive a mid-’90s Geo Metro. The same logic applies to our built environment. While all new buildings must be designed to meet the highest environmental standards, updating and/or adaptively reusing existing buildings close to the infrastructure our nation has built over the last 100 years is often far more sustainable than constructing new “green” buildings in the suburbs (or even downtown)"
— Joshua Prince-Ramus, Randolph Croxton, and Tuomas Toivonen, Special to CNN
- 3 years ago
Green buildings - alone - won’t save the planet
In some of my posts I try to express my concerns about the growing believe that green technologies or green buildings will solve our environmental problems. Although I do believe that these new technologies can create less impact than many of our existing constructions, I also see their growing promotion as a new business opportunity, one that many are trying to manipulate and take advantage of.
To rely on green technologies is to abstract and to de-individualize the responsibility we have towards our environment (if you pay a tax for CO2 emissions it doesn’t mean that you are doing better for the environment). Buildings alone wont do it and some even argue that it is citizens and their lifestyles that will achieve sustainability, not engineers, architects or planners (see eg. Julian Agyeman and Per Berg).
Even if we live in a zero-energy building nothing will be achieved if that house is part of the sprawling development of the city, or if the vertical garden demands more energy in its maintenance than the one it produces, or if we still drive to buy the milk (40% of all urban travel in the US happens within 2 miles & nearly all of that travel is by car!), or eat highly processed food coming from the other side of the globe, or follow our current consumption pattern of shop just for the sake of shopping, and so on and so on.
This seems to be the case in the United States where green-building technologies have become the latest thing in the market. In a CNN special report a group of American architects argue that the American building-design community’s vision of sustainability is myopically focused. They say that the so-called “green” buildings are simply not sustainable if (as it is now):”their occupants drive long distances every day, the energy they consume is carbon-intensive, their technology is too complicated to use or too difficult to maintain, their impact stops at the property line, they deny the use of pre-existing infrastructure or building fabric , they are conceived in isolation from larger, systemic environmental change”.
All these seem to be things that we all (planners, designers, engineers, … news paper boys, house wifes/husbands, doctors, firefighters, gardeners, farmers, teachers ….. buildings, cars, roads, etc, etc, etc) need to address in the development and everyday life of our cities.
- 3 years ago