Two recent articles discuss the future of urban planning and architecture. [praized subtype=”small” pid=”9d3ee2214959dec2f68d97fb4c3d24fe” type=”badge” dynamic=”true”], in its latest issue, interviews Mitchell Joachim, a teacher at [praized subtype=”small” pid=”a5e668469d53a26bd3ec1a9864e11643a5″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”] and partner at [praized subtype=”small” pid=”9ed14fbb138cda708cb9540f95eca82c” type=”badge” dynamic=”true”], a nonprofit focused on ecological design.
A kind of Frederick Law Olmsted for the 21st century, he spends most of his time thinking about how to reduce the ecological footprint of cities. It’s not a short-term project. “It took 15 to 20 years to get a hybrid car,” he says. “To change the basic paradigm for how we make buildings, 40 to 50 years. To change a city? That’s 100 to 150 years.” (…)
At the top of the agenda, Joachim says, is mobility and its inefficiencies. Citing [praized subtype=”small” pid=”972a6da1fb9b04864c0b58bdcbbaa22c9e” type=”badge” dynamic=”true”] statistics, he says that while 29 percent of the nation’s energy expenditure — what he calls “the suck”– now goes toward getting around, “in 50 years that will double.” Among the biggest sources of waste, he argues, is the automobile–not only in energy but in the space it occupies (cars, he notes, spend more than 90 percent of the day parked). For nearly a century, Joachim says, “cities have been designed around cars. Why not design a car around a city?”
In “Eco-Cities: Urban Planning for the Future” published last month, Scientific American explores various urban planning projects (Treasure Island in San Francisco, Dongtan in China and Madar near Abu Dhabi) aimed at reducing or even eliminating the environmental cost of city living.
On the Treasure Island project:
By 2020 it is scheduled to become one of the most sustainable communities in the U.S. According to a master plan from the engineering firm Arup, the 400-acre island would be home to 6,000 new apartments and condominiums surrounded by large buildings along the San Francisco coastline. The homes—and the adjacent businesses they supported—would get 50 percent of their power from renewable resources, including solar electricity and solar water heaters. In fact, the compact street grid has been oriented 35 degrees north of due south to maximize the exposure of the rooftop photovoltaics to sunlight—as well as to enable the structures to shield residents from brisk bay winds. All the buildings would be within a 15-minute walk of a ferry terminal to San Francisco. And residents could obtain much of their fresh produce from a local organic farm that would use as fertilizer the waste from the water treatment plant already on the island.
Among the first eco-cities ever announced, Dongtan was planned to be zero waste, energy-efficient, powered largely by sea breezes and free of vehicles running on fossil fuels.
A sheikhdom whose wealth rests on black gold is building a city that will not rely on any of it. Subterranean electric cars—dubbed Personalized Rapid Transit—will ferry passengers from point to point because the city of Masdar, whose name translates as “the source,” will be off-limits to automobiles. Solar power plants in the surrounding sand, already in early construction, will provide electricity for lighting and air-conditioning and for desalinating ocean water. Wind farms will contribute, along with efforts to tap geothermal energy buried deep underneath the earth. The municipality, which will ultimately aim to be zero carbon and zero waste, will boast a plant to produce hydrogen as well as fuel from the residents’ sewage, according to planners Foster + Partners. Perhaps most important for the desert city, all water will be recycled; even residents’ wastewater will be used to grow crops in enclosed, self-sustaining farms that will further recycle their own water.
What it means: with global warming, sustainability and high price of oil, I believe we’re starting to see some serious re-thinking about how cities are developed and morph. This will, in the long run, have tremendous impact on how local commerce is structured and obviously on how local search evolves. Any takeaways today? Not necessarily, but knowledge of long-term trends helps with new strategies and product ideas.