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    Jul 22 2011: As I understand, Adam suggests to get to the core of the problems "generated" by the fast growing cities. The worst problems are rooted in our contemporary urban infrastructure.

    Having no Self-sufficient sustainability contemporary cities cannot survive on their own. They are extremely vulnerable, because they totally depend on monopolized energy, water or food suppliers. The city is paralyzed if some of these suppliers have serious problems. I see only one way to improve these gigantic urban infrastructures: re-construct every district in a way that every building would have something to offer to a local sustainability plan, such as a solar energy system on a roof, a greenhouse, a garden, along with an advanced waste management and innovative sewer and water systems.
    Energy, food and water major suppliers will be needed in any case, because it's still impossible to create real sustainability in any big city.

    However replacing conventional transportation with small gasless cars and bicycles within each district would help. Cities will need to re-do the existing infrastructure, and road systems, allowing only major streets for commercial delivery and public transportation. However this reconstruction and re-planning will take much longer than 50 or 60 years.

    I keep saying that developing small town-like communities would be like growing healthy cells in a deadly sick body. Eventually a new lifestyle, with a different rhythm and a little more wisdom will take over. Funny as it may seem some new fashion, say, new sporty little cars, beautiful architecture, can create a quick peaceful revolution in our minds and in our whole existence......
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      Jul 22 2011: Simone

      You have captured part of what I am saying. It is my-our contention that inefficient planning for the needs of a new-growing city, up front, you risk locking in a profile of consumption + energy, water, mobility, etc, which is higher than it would be if you found the mechanism to aggregate those things at the first stage of planning development....

      Some of your suggestions for the retrofitting existing cities have their place. Though I would arguethat an effective means of driving a change in perspective-behaviour amongst city-dwellers and citizens would need to happen and we all know - not least policy makers - that creating a change without doing very unpopular things to taxation and costs of living is a tall order.

      I think your vision of smaller, cell like developments, has a place in the fabric of existing, developing cities. However I think the utopian ideal of a world of small, sustainable towns, whilst desireable, is not a solution. As I have mentioned in other threads, the work of Geoffrey West at Santa Fe Institute is compelling on this point. When a city doubles in size its energy needs typically only increase by a factor of 0.8. There are energy economies of scale....

      So I return to the fundamental point of the conversation. An equivalent of a new city of 1 million people a week will be created over the next 30 years. Two-thirds of the infrastructure associated with that growth is yet to be developed. Therefore we have an opportunity to get that development right in places like China, India and rapidly emerging economies.
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        Jul 22 2011: Adam, I think you are spot on with importance of early integrative planning, and the problem of locking into a profile of consumption. A classic example of this problem is Los Angeles which is now so far down the path of Freeway Hell that it is extremely difficult to undo. Given these constraints, one critical goal of early planning should be creative ideas for NOT HAVING TO lock into a profile - In other words, the planning should actively enable diverse, low infrastructure, bottom-up innovation that is inherently adaptive. This type of thinking is emerging in the business world as they try low cost experiments that enable 'external R&D' so that failures happen early and successes to emerge from the pile.

        One model for systemic urban planning that enables bottom up innovation may be natural ecosystems. To quote Gil Friend, we can learn from 3.8 billion years of open source R&D in the natural world for systems-level innovations -- not just design lessons from individual organisms that produce, for example, the best waterproof glue in the world, but lessons from complex adaptive systems that don’t know the meaning of waste.

        On the point of small sustainable towns - one huge issue to deal with there is that lower density living creates potential conflict of land use for food production and protected ecosystems.
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          Jul 22 2011: Thanks Eric and welcome the the conversation.

          I keep reflecting back to earlier thoughts shared in the conversation about the part that city slums play in driving growth of cities. They are, by their nature, relatively unplanned and the types of solutions to the challenges of living in the compact urban environment are unquestionably creative and often lack a complex infrastructure that is hard to unpick as you say....

          How do you think we can achieve the things about slums that we want to capture - density, high levels of economic activity and conscientious conservation, recycling, etc - without the things which clearly make living there undesirable to people once they reach a certain wealth threshold - poor sanitation, associated issues with health, access to power/ water, etc....

          How do you unravel the complexity of these organic settlements?
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        Jul 25 2011: Absolutely, this dynamic balance between integrated planning/infrastructure and decentralized, bottom-up, solutions to local problems is embodied in the slums vs planned eco-cities discussion. There are many urban designers who are exploring what we can learn from slums and favelas for sustainable design, and what elements require more planned infrastructure. Mitchell Joachim, also a TED Fellow, would be a great one to talk with. (check out his 'Urbaneering Brooklyn" project). I'm no expert on this, but I think historically one reason urban planners looked to slums for inspiration is that the over-planned cities risk feeling sterile. So any planning that is explicitly designed to facilitate and encourage organic evolution of locally specific idiosyncratic character will likely also create a more adaptive, resilient, and comlplex sustiainable eco-cities. win-win!

        Unraveling this complexity of organic settlements I think could be achieved by: a) engaging urban designers who specialize in how to make things NOT FEEL planned, and b) systematically mapping the landscape of moving parts to find keystone nuggets of planned "unplanning". I touch on this briefly in my comment below about complexity.

        I'm curious if anyone in this discussion has experience with "planned unplanning"?
        • Jul 25 2011: Eric (Adam), dear discussion colleagues,

          Your question on ,planned unplanning, triggers memory of a saying by Japanese poet.

          "when you do not know the river, you have to cross the river by touching the stones". For me that means - You discover as you go, and learn from each discovery.

          Geoffrey West of Santa Fe ( earlier mentioned by Adam; lectures available via you tube) suggests in one of his lectures that we might want to learn from nature on how to develop ,seemingly, spontaneously the cities we need.

          You suggested earlier in conversation, we need to find area for further research with most impact. Intuitively the suggestion of Geoffrey West to try understand optimum design of nature , eg forest, as a blueprint to a city, seems very promising.

          Thinking through that metaphore i see that eg trees optimise their structure around resources (water, sunlight). A city design should do that as well. Slums do that.

          More thoughts on what we can learn for cities from nature processes on planned unplanning?
        • Jul 26 2011: Eric
          I have not had direct planning experience, just experience with the people who live in those non-regular areas. They could care less about their carbon footprint or ways to make sustainability possible. However, they are creative. They do work hard. They are the ones living on the edge of the chaotic system. They are the ones who will experiment with all kinds of ways to get water, electricity and shelter. Yes, we can learn from them. I do believe though that they need to be helped in very specific ways to be able to obtain that food, water, and shelter.

          Eric R. thanks for the note about West on Youtube. I do want to go see those.
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        Jul 25 2011: Hey, Adam. A New Sustainable Small town is not about small thinking, or small deeds. I'm talking about Slowing Down fast growing cities, by giving people more choices to live and work elsewhere. Moreover, lets do not forget that the old small Florence once produced art, architecture, poetry, science and innovation that feeds our postmodern culture as one of the most powerful and influential sources.

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