Rachel Armstrong

The University of Greenwich


This conversation is closed.


This Live Conversation with TED Fellow Rachel Armstrong will open on February 8th, 2012 at 1pm EST, 6pm UK time.
Join the conversation as Rachel discusses her view on ecological humans and city 2.0.

We are not machines but Ecological Humans. We depend on our networks for survival, like an oak tree in the forest, being made up of highly interacting and interdependent systems. For example, eating is not simply consuming ‘fuel’ to feed our body-machine but is a mutual relationship shared between our gut bacteria, our food and our bodies (which, in turn, are highly interconnected assemblages of specialised tissues). The way that we see ourselves influences the way that we operate through the world in all aspects of our lives - from health, to business and even space exploration!

Ecological Humans, imagine the City 2.0 as being grown from the bottom-up by its communities. It is underpinned by highly interacting and interdependent networks, which use dynamic fabrics that behave in life-like ways. These buildings can be described as Living Architecture that are capable of responding to the changes in our dynamic cities as only real ecologies can.


Will The City 2.0 be qualitatively different to modern cities? Or pragmatically, can the transition only be made as a series of incremental changes? What can we do to facilitate this transition?

What does being an Ecological Human mean to me? Can it help me find new or more effective ways of working?

Can we rely on biology to provide all the answers when it comes to sustainable building solutions? Is life a technology - and should we exploit it in the pursuit of more sustainable ways of building?

Closing Statement from Rachel Armstrong

Thank you so much everyone for joining me today and taking time to comment and share your thoughts. What an amazing set of discussion threads have begun! I am excited about how the TED Prize winner City 2.0, will turn out - which is the event that inspired the context for this discussion. Perhaps, beyond the immediate context of near-future cities - the idea of being an Ecological Human may help us imagine ourselves and the world around us differently. Maybe we can use this way of imagining the world so that we can find truly sustainable solutions for the places we live in. We could possibly also use this approach to help others understand what being 'ecological' might mean. Perhaps this way of looking at the world may have applications in other areas of our lives such as, in the workplace. So, again - a really warm 'thank you' everyone for taking time out to share your thoughts with me and offer your perspectives. If you would like to find out more about Living Architecture you may like to buy my TED Book http://www.ted.com/pages/tedbooks, which is available from Amazon.com, Apple's iBookstore, and is also on the Nook platform.

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    Feb 8 2012: What is the role of biology in our twenty first century cities? Will we have space for native biology if we're not only going to see one third again more people in urban environments, living more densely and with more people moving from rural to city lifestyles. Can biology be viewed as a technology that can help us generate more sustainable solutions for city living spaces? These kind of questions may be addressed best by the practice of a new kind of science called synthetic biology. Most of us will equate synthetic biology with genetic modification - which is something that I do not do myself. But is it more broad than this - certainly the way that I personally view synthetic biology. I consider this science as being the way that we design and engineer with nature and living systems. In other words using a set of tools and materials that are Ecological in their very nature. Machine based tools need to be checked and adapted for their ecological compatibility because they constitute a barrier between human design and the natural world - but biological systems share a common language with nature through the laws of physics and chemistry. In my TED Book Living Architecture http://www.ted.com/pages/tedbooks I describe the range of these kinds of interventions that range from agrarian techniques to biotechnology. They constitute a powerful portfolio of possible ways of shaping our living quarters. Because they are powerful they need to be considered carefully but they do offer us something new and different to machines. Modern architecture finds the biological system too slow for its liking. But if we really do find some of the properties such as, robustness flexibility, the ability to deal with the unexpected and the capacity for surprise valuable then there are a new range of opportunities (and challenges - which include ethical ones) available to us.
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      Feb 8 2012: Let's be sure to incorporate Algae technologies for Carbon Capture and Wastewater treatment into our cities to make them truly sustainable.
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      Feb 8 2012: Hi Rachel,

      Here's a thought - http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fractal-Planning-Solutions-Ltd/109017094107?ref=share

      It's basically a fractal spatial framework for urban development which is generated through principles of cellular growth... it's also capable of synthesising a "web" of natural habitat into the fabric of any proposed settlement.

      Also, just worth noting that it can be adapted to site specific configurations (as illustrated in presentation doc's available at the link above), and is intended to provide a background "matrix" for urban design rather than a prescriptive development plan.

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    Feb 8 2012: Future cities will need to have some qualitatively differences to modern cities but change does not mean tearing down what already exists. This is simply silly. In my book I refer to 'extreme recycling' of cities where structural elements such as concrete and steel that mature with age are kept in situ and new kinds of 'skins' that have more biological-like and dynamic materials in them can start to perform some of the kinds of functions that we'd normally attribute to plants. Most of us will not be able to live in Masdar and sustainable enclaves so one of the biggest challenges that I hope that living technologies can address is in our existing building stock. I think that we will firstly experience a series of incremental changes as some of these new technologies can increase the quality of the local environment in physical but also in terms of its psychological impact. We need to make room for nature in our cities. We can be inventive about what this actually means now that we are able to design and engineer with biological systems to the degree that we are currently able. But we also need to respect our environment and also the wishes of communities. Facilitating a transition towards a City 2.0 (as the TED Prize states) has really got to start with a change in mindset as to what is possible, education, addressing infrastructures, meeting the needs of populations and lastly changing the way that our architectures are made. In that order. Also this is just my opinion and I am very keen to hear your views as to how change may be possible - it is so vital for a humane future in cities - and so pressing upon us!
  • Feb 8 2012: "Future by Design" - check it out on Netflix, a great doc about Jacque Fresco and his take on this!
    • Feb 8 2012: Saw that, that's a good counterpoint to Open Ecology. Centralized vs. De-Centralized.
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    Feb 8 2012: I have trouble differentiating between the Natural world and the Artificial one. Where do we draw the line between organic and synthetic? Is there a line at all?

    I think that projects like Open Source Ecology Project (http://opensourceecology.org/) will end up providing the blueprint for "ground up" sustainable living. That is, unless legislation make these sorts of things impossible.
    • Feb 8 2012: DeCentralized vs. Centralized is perhaps a more important difference in building the future.
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        Feb 8 2012: Great observation! I agree that the top down form of order is the one that we have become accustomed to when thinking about dealing with our cities - and we have yet to articulate exactly what we mean by or how we deal with ideas of 'bottom up' forms of order in cities - or anywhere else for that matter. One of the biggest challenges this century will be finding the principles through which we 'design with emergence'
        • Feb 8 2012: I'd suggest that we could easily "design with emergence" by mimicking key structural functions over different scales of time, place and pace (i.e., ecosystem/ecotope/planetary). Many ancient cultures did (and still do) exactly that.
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          Feb 8 2012: But, who is the "WE" who designs with emergence???
          I mean, isn't it true that many of those in the know buy land dirt cheap when they have inside information on city development....and then sell the land to the city. In turn the city to developers.....and these want to make the most profit possible.

          Isn't profit the most important for them? How do we get these folks to grow a conscience?

          I'm I missing something?
      • Feb 8 2012: And how do we ensure that the systems of coordination, communication and feedback are sufficient and strong?
        • Feb 8 2012: That would seem to depend on who "we" is. The De-Centralized Model relies on local control so the "we" would be fewer people.

          The "we" in a larger or global sense would require extensive and robust coordination, communication and feedback systems.
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    Feb 8 2012: Can a city be solved? A distinguishing feature of the life of a city is that it is not made but evolved in collaboration with its inhabitants. In other words – cities are long-term projects that engage with both top down and bottom up ideas and processes.
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      Feb 8 2012: Hi Rachel,

      I am by no means an expert in anyway-shape-or-form, but from an initial perspective yes, a city can be solved - although I might imagine it a little easier to start from scratch. Trying to apply organic ideas to a machine like system could be frictional - if I fertilise my laptop, I should not expect many improvements. Not that you want to hear that. But I would imagine an intermediate stage - or transition period - possible for existing cities, whereby you get cyborg cities (I use the term loosely)

      Something that seems sensible to me would be to define some fundamentals. I think a city should be adaptable and flexible like an organic species rather than a machine designed for a specific purpose. Changing to it's own environment for survival.

      This is vage I know, but it might spark some ideas...

    • Feb 8 2012: We need more imagination & ecological responsibility from our engineers, but we'll only get that through more involvement and oversight from the public. We have relied on engineers to "fix" the problems with straight-line solutions, many of which created new ecological & social problems, which we tried to engineer solutions for, again, with similar results. Tools can help us or harm us, it depends who is using them and how much thought is given to the outcome. How do we encourage people to be more thoughtful about the world increasingly pressuring us toward being insular in life, but global in our private digital realms?
      • Feb 8 2012: i agree. I think this only comes about through holisitc education and better interconnected working across environment disciplines.
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    Feb 8 2012: When I was writing my TED book on Living Architecture http://www.ted.com/pages/tedbooks - which I am eternally grateful to Tom Reilly for suggesting and Jim Daly for seeing the idea through to fruition – I began to realise that ‘living architecture’ was not a product but a process that could be used for problem solving.

    As the implications for ecological thinking became apparent, I was keen to find a context in which it might be possible to test how ecological principles could be applied to a variety of different challenges.

    The TED Prize City 2.0 challenge [http://blog.ted.com/2011/12/06/ted-prize-2012-goes-to-the-city-2-0/ ] started me thinking about the seemingly insurmountable issues that our cities will pose over the coming decades. It invites us to collectively craft ‘one wish’, which will collectively ignite the actions of the TED community and set them on the path towards sustainable change in our cities worldwide.

    This conversation is entirely separate to the TED Prize but has been inspired by it. The idea of a future city offers a framework in which I’d like to start to explore the possibilities that a new kind of thinking. I’d like to explore what this approach may have to offer us in dealing with the unknown and also with the more mundane aspects of our daily lives.
    • Feb 8 2012: One wish? More accessibility and less mobility (or as the EU put it, decouple economic growth from transportation)
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    Feb 8 2012: The definition of a living technology is one that possess some but not all of the properties of living systems - in other words, it appears life-like but is not truly alive. These qualities can be found in living things like bacteria and algae which you've probably heard a lot about in sustainability forums but you may be less aware of the kinds of materials and chemistries that can be programmed to perform life-like jobs - like harvest sunlight and turn it into a biofuel, or paints that can 'eat' pollution, or artificial reefs that could be grown by cities on the inter coastal zone as a way of sustainably reclaiming them. Again, I go into more detail about some of these technologies and possible uses in my book http://www.ted.com/pages/tedbooks but I think it would be remiss not to raise the question of the ethics of designing with life-like systems. We are used to gardening and animal husbandry which we have found ways of dealing with culturally and I think that living technology provides an opportunity to think of ourselves as Ecological Humans and ask further questions about what this means for us and our role within our society and newfound partnership with nature and its systems - that is, of course, if you'd like to explore what this idea of being an Ecological Human might mean. I'd really recommend Jane Bennett's book on 'Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things' and Steve Fuller's provocative 'Humanity 2.0" - I've found these texts useful and stimulating.
  • Feb 8 2012: Ecosystem existed long before human. Dinosaur interacted and gone, human did/still do, someday they will be gone as well or not? So 2.0 is possible under what conditions? Population is the key for a city. Go back to Eden - almost zero population? Unlikely, but what then? "Good" people interact with ecosystem without "bad" people interference is another choice. :) Go explore the Mars or Moon and start the 2.0 over there, perhaps. :)
    • Feb 8 2012: The 2.0 could be started in areas ravaged by disasters and wars. Why not put all the international aid, support, and effort into developing model cities? Help Haiti finally reach self-sufficiency, move people back from eroding coastlines, build sustainable communities near seasonal floodplains -- let's move toward a society that works in concert with nature, instead of constantly fighting it. ESPECIALLY when the world community is footing the bill.
  • Feb 8 2012: I'm always fascinated by the progression of cities from the dark, sooty realms that arose during the Industrial Revolution, the more recent movement toward "livable cities", and sci-fi's take on population hubs as the natural world reclaims the cities lost to urban decay (even Talking Heads' "Nothing But Flowers"). However, I'm troubled by the lack of discussion of sustainable development in disaster zones. The Indonesian tsunami is a perfect example where the public isn't involved in the discussion of how to rebuild an area likely to suffer repeated destruction from sea level rise. If mother nature so violently uproots these people (in a way no government could), why isn't the global outcry to rebuild for the future?
  • Feb 8 2012: While cities increase population density and lead to centralization. Then there is the move toward a more decentralized society. Both have pros and cons. How does ecological design of cities find balance?
  • Feb 8 2012: I'm thinking of the issues migration and pollution interplay. What role would migration play in the context of a ecological humans made city?
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    Feb 8 2012: It occurred to me when I was writing of my TED Book [http://www.ted.com/pages/567] that all the Grand Challenges that we currently face are not ones control and command issues related to simple situations but complex ones - that require participation, engagement, collaboration and interdependency.

    Two decades after the internet breached the domestic and commercial realms we have become familiar with the idea of complexity - on a daily basis. Whereas once the world may have appeared to be ordered in a hierarchical manner – now it appears to be impossibly entwined and forged from networks and interactions that are ephemeral, transient and fundamentally uncontrollable.

    Is it possible to reconcile this subversive view of existence with a working view of our presumed cosmic order?

    We might imagine this new complex framework in which we are inextricably immersed as being an ‘ecological’ one.

    We are Ecological Humans.
    • Feb 8 2012: Rachel, how do we transform that command and control model to more open, self-organizing and organic ways of doing things? What strategies exist to work with on the ground city officials and administrators who may resist such openness, engagement, and participation?
  • Feb 8 2012: Interesting idea. Cities are controversial, some say all problems come from them, some say they are the basis of civilization - according to wiki "The word civilization comes from the Latin civilis, meaning civil, related to the Latin civis, meaning citizen, and civitas, meaning city or city-state"

    Not sure why our current cities aren't "ecological" given humans are part of nature and made these decisions.
    • Feb 8 2012: Daniel, I completely agree. We are part of Nature, irrevocably immersed in living systems (until death anyway). All we build or create are artifacts of Life.

      Civilization existed before cities.
    • Feb 8 2012: The first part of your talk is based on the assumption that civilisation is something good! but why do we think so?
      A lot of changes has happened from the time we (human species) went to cities about 8thousand years ago. We can not easily judge and say that was a good change or bad change. but we have a tendency to think that civilised life is better than tribe life. Which reminds me of missioners.
      I think our cities are not ecological because they are not in harmony with nature and our environment and they are not sustainable. For example our garbage is not recycled our ecosystem is not connected in all parts which for a forest is different.
      • Feb 8 2012: One of the hurdles in getting people to engage within cities is that most problems are solved by removing them from the city -- trash is collected & taken away, electricity is produced elsewhere & imported in (also applies to water, fuel, etc). If people don't understand what happens when they flip on a light switch or turn on a faucet, or, alternatively, what goes down the drain, or who deals with their trash, they are unlikely to make sustainable changes. How do we make this understanding part of the collective knowledge again? Traveling to a 3rd world country, many people have a more basic understanding of cars and urban agriculture than we do here in the US
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          Feb 8 2012: Agree - it's not unlike our food supply, and the difference between buying packaged chicken from a grocery store and experiencing the process of raising, slaughtering and eating a chicken. We're often disconnected from these realites in the first world. How do we reconnect and make a compelling case - a "need" - to think differently?
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      Feb 8 2012: Daniel, whether humans are 'ecological' in their nature or not is again a matter of whose perspective you are viewing the world through. This is a very personal set of decisions and there certainly is no right or wrong. But let me attempt to address something of your insight as to the 'ecological' nature of humans. When we think of ourselves in mechanical terms - we are separate.The issue is a complex one with theological roots and also scientific ones. Theologically speaking if humans have a 'special' role in the world they are apart from 'nature', especially animals because they are favoured by God. That is a gross oversimplification but Steve Fuller covers the complex origins of Christian thought and its impact on modern culture in his book Humanity 2.0 http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/sep/25/steve-fuller-time-for-humanity . The other aspect is that science requires humans to be distinct from nature to create technology and make interventions otherwise the investment in technology, is meaningless ... here is a an article in Nature that starts to look at this issue. 1. Fern Wickson, “What is nature, if it’s more than just a place without people?”, Nature 456, 29 ... Ultimately, this is a form of belief and way of looking at the world. We choose to think of ourselves as being separate or connected - and connected by degrees.
      • Feb 8 2012: i think a significant issue is that urban culture can be detached from nature by design. We are meant to relentlessly defy the effects of ageing on our bodies and faces, extend our lives to beyond the point of meaning and put off reproduction for careers (relying on technology to extend reproductive years). Fashion is a crazed market driven culture that eats up the world resources, requiring 4 seasons of new clothing every year - if the system is to be obeyed. Cultural systems are out of synch with natural systems.
        Similarly we are detached from industrial processes of food production and desensitized from the ecosystems that support our lives. Cities are designed as distinct from nature and are often oblivious to the waste that they produce, which is out of sight out of mind.
        Cities are still designed by market forces, which ignore the natural and cultural landscape that is so important for organic communities and meaningful urban places. Cities need to be resensitized to nature.
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    Feb 8 2012: I'm going to try to quickly cover the couple of outstanding questions that I promised to address as I am running out of time! I have been reading all the comments and totally welcome them all. I think that the TED Prize City 2.0 is really raising an important question about a 'wish' - in other words trying to locate the point of action, the kind of organisation that we're lacking that may help us address some of these essential yet complex issues in addressing the future for our cities. There is a lot at stake ... I'd call it our humanity ... if we don't change where we're heading - we'll end up where we deserve.
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    Feb 8 2012: Those contexts are just some very simple rules that it was possible to examine using the living technology that I have been working with since 2009. It has been an amazing experience being able to work with a technology that really does look as if it is alive but since it has no DNA, it is not called 'alive'. However, that this technology breaks a lot of rules that machines obey helped me look again afresh at the way that world appeared to be organised around me and how it might be possible to use the powerful visualisation that the technology offered as a way of re-imagining what may be possible. Take a look for yourself - this is a series of films that were taken of the technology - they are not animation but real footage of simple droplets behaving in a remarkably lifelike way. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFagK5Lshlg [credit Michael Simon Toon]
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    Feb 8 2012: 3) A system (or group of people) that work according to ecological and emergent principles also need an 'architecture' - in other words a strategy through which the participants can use to connect with and interact with each other. Without social codes, ethics and etiquette then the bonding or 'architecture' of the system breaks down. These forms of architecture do not have to be permanently fixed but they need to be present as they are vital for the participants to help them understand their role and limits within a group.
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    Feb 8 2012: 2) A system that is ecological and emergent is dependent on its 'metabolism' - the energy that it possess to keep it away 'from equilibrium' - that's a term used by Shroedinger 1944 to describe a signature of life. In an everyday setting we can think of the 'metabolism' as motivation, stimulation, cultural motivation and belief systems (I am sure that you'll be able to think of many more ways of keeping energy flowing in a community or a workplace). Without an internal energy to stop everyone reaching a point of inertia - or unproductively - spontaneity and emergent behaviour will not occur.
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    Feb 8 2012: 1) A system that is ecological and emergent is dependent firstly on its context - or its environment. This establishes just how much growth and self-organization any particular generative system can achieve. Think of a small office making great business, enough to take on new staff - the size of the office space will limit the emergent interactions in that group of people.
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    Feb 8 2012: This raises a very important challenge when dealing with ecological ways of working - that is the need for both top down and bottom up forms of coordination. The whole issue of emergence is one that is inherent to systems thinking and ecological thinking yet it provides a design and engineering challenge that has not been 'formalised'. How do we design with emergent systems? The short answer is that emergence alone is not enough to generate sustainable change other factors are extremely important.
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    Feb 8 2012: Let's think about what this might mean in the work place. If we think of ourselves as machines, we have a single job to do, wall ourselves away and invest all our energy in getting that job done. We work to the same pattern, the same programme and the same habits. In a machine, variety is not a good thing as if dilutes our efficiency. In an ecology, networks are all important. The first thing we would do in an office would be to make sure that our networks are healthy. If we have a particular task to perform we find out who can help us and use the network to find out a way around any issues that may result from the unseen challenges that beset us daily. An ecological approach to the work place would also see continual changes in practice that respond and evolve according to ongoing daily challenges and may evolve new systems of ways of working that do not need a centralised command chain to operate them. Ecological ways of working evolve rather than follow a rigid program which is then very disruptive when this is altered at central HQ.
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    Feb 8 2012: The political theorist Jane Bennett takes a very interesting view of the material world which gives it political agency. In other words, as we depend on more than ourselves for our well being then she believes that the world around us has meaning and therefore value. She describes the act of eating, for example as being a collaboration between the bacteria in our gut and our own bodies - neither one of these exclusively benefits or always 'wins' in this transactions - she imagines then that our bacteria, during the process of eating are part of us. So if we need to embrace and respect our body bacteria as a way of looking after ourselves this changes their meaning - for example, we may not take an antibiotic when we feel unwell as we would see it as being more harmful than good and would take a bionutrient instead to strike a better biological balance. This is a subtle but important change in the way we think about our environment. Machines seek to be sterile - and bacterial free. Ecologies are the consequences of healthy networks and balances .
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    Feb 8 2012: I'll address some of the questions that resulted from writing the TED Book on Living Architecture http://www.ted.com/pages/tedbooks. The first being what the idea of an Ecological Human actually mean? Could it help us find new or more effective ways of working?
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    Feb 8 2012: In my book http://www.ted.com/pages/tedbooks I have attempted to use an ecological framework to address a complex issue - such as the future city - as invited by the TED Prize City 2.0. Living Architecture, is the consequence of using a new set of tools and technologies in our acts of making. These are not machines, they do not work like machines at all but behave biologically. The portfolio of new tools, which are mostly based in synthetic biology and complexity chemistry, sets the scene for a new group of materials and architectural interventions that lie somewhere between the performance of machines and biology. These strange, new technologies blur the distinction between building and landscape and suggest that the 21 century marks the advent of synthetic urban ecologies. The book itself takes a multi-systems view of the potential applications of systems that are not truly 'alive' but possess living qualities. As 'living technologies' these properties can be exploited as new ways of 'making' things at many scales of operation ranging from the micro scale, to the city. The text explores the context and need for these kinds of new solutions that are compatible with a systems view of the world embodied in the ecologically engaged practices of Panarchy, Permaculture and Biomimicry. Living Architecture results from the strategic applications of living technologies and - importantly - is based on real world experiments.
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    Feb 8 2012: Is it possible that by thinking differently - using a new kind of ordering system - whether this might give us a set of tools that can help understand ourselves in a more connected, ecological context and may have an impact on for example : the way we live our lives, the way we make things and the way that we dream and build our cities??
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    Feb 8 2012: This method of approaching uncertainty has become so successful that we have even embraced this concept into the soul of our existence. Machines are really great for being machines. They command control through the consumption of natural resources and are belligerent to a fickle natural world. They keep us safe and in command.

    We are Machine Humans.
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    Feb 8 2012: Since ancient times we have sought to gain control of the unknown, believing that the laws of the cosmos, nature and the human realm are knowable and ordered. The most powerful instrument we have used to unravel the complexity of existence and simplify it is the 'machine' - the idea of an object-based, hierarchical system that possess a mathematical order. The metaphor of the machine has been extremely successful, so much so that we imagine ourselves as machines. We think of our bodies of being made up of parts consisting of organs and tissues. At the very centre of these machine organs is a biological program, a complex chemical called DNA that literally runs the processes of our soft machine. When various parts of the body machine break down, we can replace them with other parts that do the same job and ultimately, since we are machines the logical conclusion is that we could indefinitely replace our body parts and achieve immortality. If we do not submit to complete mechanisation Ray Kurtzweil warns us that we will be replaced by superior life forms in an event horizon so profound that we cannot see the consequences for our species beyond it. He calls this The Singularity.
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    Feb 8 2012: Is it possible – given that cities are complex, therefore unpredictable – to generate any kind of impact (whether initiated by a 'wish' or any other kind of action) - on what is a conundrum and constantly moving target? Moreover, cities possess durations longer than a life span and inevitably outlive the jurisdiction of politicians and company heads who may be in any kind of meaningful position to oversee sustainable change.
    • Feb 8 2012: Fantastic questions! I definitely believe humanity can coevolve into a beneficial structural and functional force in living systems and the Panarchy. With us evolving into an urban species, cities are the key!
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        Feb 8 2012: Josh - thank you for raising the subject of Panarchy - I'd like to hear more about how you think that this approach - which fundamentally engages with the ideas of complexity and ecology that are so important to us right now - can actually work for people living in cities.
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      Feb 8 2012: Dear Rachel, thank you very much for providing us with a platform to share our ideas for the city 2.0! I think to generate an impact, the most important thing would be to make everyone feel like being part of something bigger than the sum of its parts. I live in Paris, but I don't *live* here, which means that I don't interact with my neighbors and that Paris doesn't care whether I am here or not. Yes, a city is constantly moving and evolving, but friendships made in a neighborhood -- or simple things like having a BBQ together -- or great things, like creating a park or painting the walls of a building -- can last forever and beyond the borders of the city itself. Everyone should be able to get involved with the city's changing shape -- but in fact, I wouldn't even know how, because the link between the inhabitants and the city / major / administration is missing.
      • Feb 8 2012: Simone, your post makes me think of the challenges faced when we see only the material aspects of a city. The type of social relations and bonds you detail are the life force. How do we create ways to ensure that these relationships and bonds are supported by the material system of cities?
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          Feb 8 2012: Felicia - this is a beautiful question. Machine thinking banishes our own souls and the life force of our cities from any notions of value. A wonderful city to live in does not have a material worth, unless it can be materialised in some way - through real estate. My deepest concerns are not even for our immediate spiritual well being but for our long term visions, goals and values. How can we in a secular, global society find ways of transcending the 'trap' of the material realm. Surely I understand that finance generates a certain infrastructure in a city experience but what really makes a great city are its people and how they live their dreams.
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          Feb 8 2012: I think art is a great facilitator for materializing visions... Look at JR or Banksy, they are transcending material borders... well, by using them for something else! It sounds stupid to say it, but painting the walls of a whole city and adding plants would -- at least for me -- transform it into a living space to which everyone would contribute. Grey walls, massive skyscrapers, and abandoned places always make me wonder why and how it could have come to this and what we can do against it.
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        Feb 8 2012: Simone, I think this is a great and wonderful observation. How do we maintain our sense of belonging, cultural diversity and participate in truly international cities? There are profound questions here about identity, politics and our living spaces. Indeed, as you note our cities are more than materials - they are its people and their communities - whether local or globally located. What concerns me is how this great spirit of humanity that is embodied in our cities can thrive when the forces that regulate our cities are so materially based ... working through the machines of industry and operating according to solving 'known' issues. Cities are subversive - how can we harness this spontaneity to grow truly fertile cities in the near future?
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        Feb 8 2012: "....painting the walls of a whole city and adding plants would -- at least for me -- transform it into a living space to which everyone would contribute...."

        If those responsible for planning cities would realize the value of green spaces in and around a city, painting walls would not be necessary.....Here in South Florida, you can tell where greed took over a city....buildings and cement everywhere....and where the planning commission took their time...bike paths, open spaces with lots of trees and green areas around the industrial zones. I think it comes down to who is in charge of city government.

        Some, sad to say have to call the police around here because neighbors try to knock down the trees that provide much needed shade, in order to put in a stamped concrete driveway worth thousands of dollars....they call this "progress"....I call it stupid.. Trees vs cement....trees win hands down.....but not everyone sees it this way.
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          Feb 8 2012: Mary, That is indeed totally heartbreaking to hear - there are some very deep issues about value that are so necessary to have when it comes to the nature of our cities. I agree with you in how topsy turvy our environments have become when inert surfaces are considered more desirable than living ones - mainly by property developers rather than civic communities I will also add. After all - we do not live 'in nature' but in architecture - this is our local environment and as Darwin observed, these intimate niches have a real effect on our well being. Again this raises issues about who is planning the long term for our cities. What is the long term vision for the places that we live in and how are we engaging our children and our grandchildren in helping us achieve these long term visions. I simply do not trust the 'market' to make any decisions that have any real impact more than a 3-5 year product cycle away. Leaving everything to the marketplace has simply productised the future - and it's not a real future - it's just a drawn out version of our present.
        • Feb 8 2012: This is also true when looking at the economic impact of the housing crisis -- everything has relied on building more & more, buying bigger & bigger, further & further out. So many lost jobs that didn't exist just a decade or 2 before. Media reports have you believing the only way back to economic security is for the construction industry to rebound! But for whom will they build? & sell? & profit? We need an economy that relies on more than "selling people new things" to survive. In any case, even solar energy projects are being proposed hundreds of miles away, instead of on the buildings that have room for, & the need for, these more sustainable solutions.
    • Feb 8 2012: Rachel - great initiative. Cities are indeed at the very heart of a better tomorrow. However, I am slight;y confused when you talk of 'conundrum and constantly moving targets'.. regarding the UK for example, these are not moving as they have been passed through both Houses and today the Carbon Budgets are UK law.
      Furthermore, all cities in the C40 have a Climate Action Plan: http://live.c40cities.org/cities/
      There is still a lot of work to be done (obviously!); a lot of which involves getting transitional/developing countries such as 'ChIndia' on board who, for all our sakes, must not make the same industrial centralising; closed systems thinking mistakes that we have made over the past generation.
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        Feb 8 2012: Antoine - I agree that measures are being taken to address carbon counts but the big picture is that this kind of legislation is simply buying us time whilst we look for a real paradigm shift in ways of making - that invert the current situation from being damaging or neutral for the environment to being actually beneficial to it. I cover a few of these ideas in my book http://www.ted.com/pages/tedbooks
        ... which I am referring to for want of time :) However, the conundrum and constantly moving targets are twofold - the obsolescence of buildings - that once they are built are no longer ideally fit for purpose or have already outdated technology/solutions AND the ever changing nature of the public in terms of employment, the use of public space - dynamic things that aren't measurable in carbon credits that have an impact on the experience and design of cites. However, I do concede that making positive efforts to use energy more carefully efficiently and resourcefully is something to be actively celebrated and pursued. It's not not the whole picture of a thriving community or a successful city.