(I just realized that I'd left these running notes -- from a session at the Women's Forum in Deauville last month -- as an unpublished draft. They contain some quite powerful messages, so it's time to publish them.)
The idea of "sustainable cities" is a tremendous incentive to innovate in both economic, social, and "green", says Françoise Crouigneau, foreign editor of French newspaper Les Echos. She's moderating a session on the topic with Portuguese architect Livia Tirone; Chris Luebkeman, director of global foresight at engineering firm Arup; and Noni Allwood, who's leading Cisco System's projects on biodiversity.
Luebkeman leads with introductory remarks. "When it comes to the issue of energy, we have to share one planet. The context is very fascinating: change is constant, but the context is always very variable". If we go back in time, say 100 years, and look at the context: In 1907 for instance you were supposed to fix the engine of your automobile, today a car has a plastic shield basically telling you not to touch it. So the context is constantly changing. Studebaker in 1905 was building hybrid cars, with electric engines for city travel and gasoline for longer haul. He shows this slide:
"So, 100 years ago they were already using the most efficient systems!".
There are two issues as far as context goes: energy and people. Energy: it is clear to anyone that without energy there would be no economy. Like water for people, energy is vital for the economy. North America has used up 80% of their oil, and they had a great economy for the last 100 years. We still have lots of oil, but "Peak Oil" (the point at which the highest oil production is reached, after which there will be decline) is going to come very soon. In the world 600 million people are moving from the countryside to cities -- that's more than the US, Canada, Mexico and Australia together. We're confronted with the need to rebuild the livelihoods of all of them. Unsustainable urbanization is a threat to all of us and to global security.
Luebkeman talks about the Dongtan project, to build a new sustainable eco-city on an island outside of Shanghai, at the mouth of the Yangtze River, for (once completed) 500'000 people on an area of 8400 hectares (that's three-quarters the size of Manhattan -- current population: about 1.6 million). Arup is doing the engineering. How will it be developed? "We can't do the LA model; we need to marry density with quality of life. Instead of looking at formal urbanism (promenades etc), we are trying to look at performance first". Will create a compact mixed-use city, "it's actually a city of villages: a size of community people can relate to". That doesn't mean that Dongtan will be a utopian thing: it will be practical, economically vibrant, but "we will redistribute rather than centralize, which goes so against the embedded value structure of the whole industry today". In terms of ecological footprint, the European capital density is the most sustainable. A conventional city has a footprint of 5.8 gh/p (global hectares per person); Dongtan will get to 2.6 gh/p. "But in order to be sustainable, it has to go down to 2.2. Even though we're putting our best minds, technology, ideas, ingenuity, it's still not sustainable, we're still 15% off the mark".
Here an Arup artist rendering of the city:
Livia Tirone, who specializes in sustainable buildings: Cities are our primary challenge. Over 50% of the world's population now lives in cities. Cities are where the big impacts are. We spend 90% of our time in buildings, which is also (historically) a pretty new reality. Every 7 to 20 years the cost of a building doubles -- because of its operation's costs. (which means that there is a potential for spectacular savings in doing buildings that don't consume much). There are alot of barriers along the way to changing this habit of energy-consuming buildings, starting with inconsequential policies: very low value-added taxes on water and energy consumption, vs very high on solar panels: "There are too many confusing messages from politics".
There is a clear trend towards the compact city, also in the sense of multifunctionality, where working, shopping and living can be done all within a short distance -- that you can do most things on foot (the European model). And when it comes to the car, really in most cases accessibility is the issue, not mobility; public transportation that's efficient and attractive satisfies this need of accessibility. We probably will have to integrate new values, right to clean air, right to sun, right to green, not only square meters per person. One of the biggest challenges: decentralization of energy production and distribution.
Noni Allwood discusses a partnership between Cisco and the cities of San Francisco, Amsterdam and Seoul to find out how ICT can be applied to the problem of climate change. "We have found that cities are eager to define a broader extent to sustainability, not only related to environment". There are perhaps three things that a sustainable city must deliver: quality of life; respect for the ecosystem that supports it; equitable distribution of benefits across society. The interests of business, individuals and governments have to be aligned.
What can ICT do? Technology, including ICT, has always been seen as a culprit, generating impact and waste, consuming huge amounts of energy, creating waste problems. So the first approach was to minimize the chemicals used for manufacturing and decreasing energy consumption. But ICT can do much more:
- tech enabling many new forms of work, not only going to the workplace
- transportation (bus and trams of the future, beyond fuel efficiency, will also be about the services delivered to the passengers so that they are more inclined to use them)
- traffic congestion management
- social inclusion
- greater transparency in government
For instance, Amsterdam has 1000 municipal buildings spread around town, they wanted to explore how to use them more efficiently: distributing city services throughout the whole city of Amsterdam, bringing them closer to the citizen. Technology and infrastructure enable all that. It comes down to how cities are organized.
To a question from the audience about how to push these concepts into the US, Luebkeman replies: The European model of urbanism is more sustainable than that of the US, although even in the US there are various degrees of awareness. Portland, Oregon, has strict zoning; Phoenix, you can barely see the end of the huge houses. But as fuel prices go up, we're starting to see is a fascinating behavioral change: Wal-Mart 2 years ago saw that there is a 1:1 reverse relationship between their revenues and the cost of fuel, because their stores are out there, you have to drive to them. There is a slow awakening of the regions of America that have been in denial, and a beginning of looking at "what can we do?".
Added Allwood: In the US, most of the action has started from the bottom up, from cities.
Final word from Luebkeman: "Context is different, always."