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  • Jul 17 2011: Dear Adam, dear discussion colleagues,

    May i ask some counterquestions? Is it plausible we are at crossroads - we have technology, but it does not arrive to the people who are now unknowingly building the future megacities?

    And does it mean that out of 660 future megacities of 10 million people only few ,winners, like Singapore or Portland, oregon will arise? The ,winners, who will succesfully manage triangle of energy, water and food needs of their citizens.

    Or does it mean we should rather envision future of ,smaller but beautiful, towns...66.000 communities of 100.000 people? Can only smaller communities sustainably deliver food, water and energy?

    Will winner communities - if i may call them so - be determined by geography, water and fruitfull land access, education, number of interwoven institutions, current economic wealth and high tech knowhow? How does one ensure each community on every continent knows where and how to get access to ingredients to ,best practice, city/town of the future?

    My final, most burning question, how to influence the ,slum, leaders in Asia, Latin America, Africa, Arabic and other communities? They - unknowingly - might in fact be the designers of future, most populated, cities? Do we give them an iphone with access to ,best practice, database, how do we somehow just educate them?

    Forgive me many questions, i hope to learn from you. Just pick the one you think is most urgent or sensible.

    Good dreams to everyone.
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      Jul 18 2011: Erik

      These are important questions.

      The technologies that delivered food, energy and water resources that saw a global population growth for 3-6 billion people will be come under immense pressure to manage the rise to 9 billion.

      Whilst I take the point regarding megacity sustainability vs mid-size towns and small cities the evidence points to a somewhat different picture of consumption in cities as they grow.

      You might be interested In the work of Geoffrey West at Santa Fe who suggests that a city which doubles in size consumes less proportionately than a smaller connurbation.

      I can't see his speech from TED. Global last week but it is a compelling point.

      The question, assuming his analysis is correct, is how you manage that growth to ensure sustainability and in our view early intervention is key to integrate the underlying infrastructure of a city and it's energy, mobility, communications and water needs.

      We don't really do this currently. So how can we?
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        Jul 18 2011: QUOTING Adam "We don't really do this currently. So how can we?"

        I'd say let's start with a better metaphor!

        Bear with me, here a throw :) ;

        A MINDSET PROPOSAL :

        Idea;
        Let's think of a city as a Mango;

        Why?
        Some city developers see a city as an onion with layers... Not very tasteful, ugly and countless layers metaphor. Result of this vision; city development is 1.000 parallel and crossing processes, nobody oversees, costs 'always' skyrocket. City is onion : The cities 'smell', lot's of people crying in (future) slums.

        Some city developers see a city as a piece of rock out of which by hammering and carving a beautiful Michelangelo statue can appear. Although it opened my mind on looking at city development as an art, not a very flexible metaphor; When you hit hard on a rock it breaks, so everybody is carving with a toothbrush, the city won't get anywhere.

        So I propose a Mango, better suggestions welcome!

        HOW :
        In previous post I said I am 'obsessed' with adding a simple duality in development; SURVIVAL and LUXURY.

        Than Adam used the word 'core needs'. I think this is the era where survival and luxury overlap.

        So a TRIOLOGY :

        1. Survival
        2. Core
        3. Luxury

        1. A tough skin; created and maintained by the 4 elements for the peoples and cities physical survival as a whole.
        2. The core, the big pit; People have core needs, these are high end innovations bundled together with the sole purpose to save you time. We can't choose minimalist water and energy use meaning we have manual labor for washing clothes, having to walk by foot everywhere and have no electricity from 8 pm.

        3. Once the skin and the pit are clear, we can think of the edible juicy fruit in between. This is luxury. All the flavors, all the freedom we can imagine.

        To the Mango it does not matter what happens with the edible part. The mango plant is wired for continuity, generational survival through having a tough skin and a core which makes it possible for healthy 'babies' to be born
        • Jul 18 2011: I love mangos. I like your analogy. The "non-regular" communities in Latin America I am familiar with function on the survival level as crazy as it sounds. What we need to do is find the pieces to the puzzle that move them to the core level. Some I have seen in Mexico City get there, but it takes years. So here is my modest type proposal to get to the core:

          1. Housing: provide a way for people to make their own cinderblock. Most of the houses in Mexico City end up there, help them get there.
          2. Water: This is probably the single biggest concern for the future. Perhaps some simple catch-water cisterns, plus the government easing up and providing at least access to public water at the "entrance" to the area.
          3. Food: local tianguis, traveling markets are everywhere in Mexican cities. Can we find a way to let them prosper (sponsors small business people) and allow residents to buy subsidized food on a sliding scale.
          4. Health: Preventative medicine available in a local home. More children die of amoebic dysentery than starvation.

          Can you pass another mango please?
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        Jul 18 2011: to Michael M. Yes! the first mango lover is in.

        'non-regular' that sounds interesting. It sounds something anew can be born there. Not regulated, enslaved, a general public willing to collaborate to get 'survival' organized sustainably.

        Great you proposed, are you seriously interested to get something going in the era you live?

        As a starter;
        1. Housing; make their own cinderblock. a. they need some money to buy resources. Do the slums have a lot of asbestos? Than this is an idea worth looking at; http://www.openideo.com/open/how-might-we-improve-health-care-through-social-business-in-low-income-communities/concepting/asbestos-conversion-plant/ don't know the details but it sure sounds like a great social business.

        In general this OpenIDEO social business challenge in Caldas is worth looking at for Latin America. ; For water, food and health you can catch some great idea's there.
        • Jul 20 2011: Paul
          I lived in Mexico City for almost 20 years. I do not live there now, bu twould love to go back some day.
          There is not much asbestos in the way they construct houses. The construction runs like this (it might take one individual years to get to the finish however)
          Cardboard/wood/tin/anything
          Buy laminated fiberglass for the roof
          Build a concrete foundation with steel rebar on the corners(still perhaps covered with whatever)
          Buy cinderblock and stack it (most time without mortar at first) for walls. This where helping people make their own cinderblock could shorten the construction time. It would also help with other costs. It could get people down the list more quickly.
          Put mortar between the cinderblock reinforced by the rebar.
          Put in a permanent roof
          Put in Windows (maybe even with glass)

          The asbestos recycling though sounds great.

          I will look at the OpenIDEO site.

          "Slum" neighborhoods are called different things in different countries. Some call them asentamientos, some paracaidistas (lit. parachutists), the governments and their agencies dance with them for years, somtimes moving them out, but often times not. Many times they are eventually recognized and given infrastructure support. I like the term, "non-regular" rather than some pejorative term. They do seem to drop in almost overnight in some places.

          As you point at, getting to the core stuff is the single most important move.
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        Jul 28 2011: Michael, if you would look at about 1 km2 of non-regular to become regular as a possible butterfly effect example. What would be the googlemaps zoomed in link? Would be happy if you could post it here :)
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        Jul 31 2011: Just to follow up on the recent comments about West's talk on scaling theory of cities – the lines are interesting, but the scatter is REALLY interesting.

        1. Economies of Scale – the data are pretty solid that there are economies of scale in the ‘metabolism’ of cities: the bigger the city, the less energy use per capita. Metabolic theory in ecology posits that this ‘sub-linear’ ¾ scaling arises out of the fractal nature of the distribution network that delivers energy and resources most efficiently. The key thing to consider is even on those log-log plots which fit the theory nicely, there is still some scatter around the line. And considering these are log-log plots, an apparently small deviation from the line can be quite large in absolute terms. So the scaling theory of cities is useful not for the overall trend (economies of scale) but for identifying the weird outlier cities that are *unusually* efficient, whether they be large or small.

        2. Acceleration of innovation/creativity – the ‘super-linear’ scaling of creativity is very much related to work by Cesar Hidalgo and others on economic complexity. Key here is the modularity of skills/tools/ideas that allow for rapid adaptation in response to unforeseen opportunities or stresses. Again, here where we should be looking is at points that deviate from the line – what is it about those cities that are *unusually* creative and innovative relative to the rest, large or small?

        3. Small or Large cities: There are and will be both, so we should plan for both, and by looking at deviations from the line we can explore whether the same mechanisms are responsible for the unusually efficient small cities as for the large ones (points below the line). If so, then advances in urban planning for small cities can apply to large ones too. If not, where is the break in scale where different mechanisms apply?
    • Jul 18 2011: Whether big or small the key is long-term planning and not just allow the cities and slums to grow haphazardly. This causes inefficient resource allocation, water and sanitary concerns, and ultimately electrication issues. Decision makers must understand and appreciate long-term demographic trends i.e. set forth regulations and enforcement to go with the planning.

      Key evolution of a mega city is how to get from the slums to a sustainable city environment. Are the slums going to be collapsed inward towards the city or simply be improved i.e. do we engage in large scale relocation or improve the slums in situ?
      • Jul 20 2011: Richard
        My own opinion is you help them where they are. They are there, like it or not. See my thoughts above about Paul's "mango" posts. Governments pass all sorts of regulations and sometimes try enforcement. Eventually they help with infrastructure in many cases. Getting the non-regular areas to a place of sound livability concentrating on shelter, water, food, and health concerns is the key I think.

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