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Designing cities of the future March 4, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in design, environment, life, nature, science, technology, urban, world.
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IwamotoScott's City of the futureThe signs of urban decay are there for those who have the eyes to read them: leaking water and sewage systems, roadways deteriorating under the weight of too much traffic and buildings crumbling from smog and acid-rain, rotating black-outs and a strained electric grid, problems with water contamination and garbage disposal. Will the aging infrastructure that holds together our cities with a fragile network of wires and roads and pipes be sufficient for this century, let alone the next one?

I’m not talking about whether these things are fixable. All it takes to keep things running is a lot of money and perhaps some improvements in materials, such as replacing ashphalt pavement with concrete, or cast iron pipes with pvc plastic. But all this work is merely maintaining the status quo — how are we planning for the cities of the future?

The lead story on the WorldChanging website suggests that many cities in the developed world have racked up huge “infrastructure deficits” — backlogs of needed work on existing systems, as well as demand for new systems — and quotes a U.S. study which estimates that it would cost $1.6 trillion dollars to bring everything up to date. “Most of the infrastructure we use today was designed a century ago: some of it is based on ideas that go back to the Roman Empire,” says writer Alex Steffen.

“Essentially all of it was designed for a world without climate change, resource scarcity or any proper understanding of the value of ecosystem services. In other words, most of the systems upon which we depend are not only in a state of critical disrepair, they’re out-dated and even out of touch with the realities of our century.”

The article suggests five new ways to prepare our urban spaces for the future:

  1. Adaptive and creative re-use – making the best use of what’s there
  2. Whole-system missions – taking into account the impact of systems on society and nature as a whole
  3. Resilience and survivability – the social and infrastructure net needs to be sustainable and be able to cope with whatever climate changes or epidemics the future holds
  4. Distribution – efficient movement of water, power and other services
  5. Wild ideas – creative thinking can change the world

HydronetAs an example of creative thinking, Steffen points to the design which won one of the Regional Prizes in the History Channel’s “City of the Future” competition. The design by San Francisco architects IwamotoScott takes the city and transforms it using creative ideas like a “hydronet”. The description by Geoff Manaugh on the Bldg Blog sounds like a science-fiction fantasy:

“The project reimagines the entire San Francisco peninsula in the year 2108 A.D., having been overlain, if not completely replaced by, a kind of prosthetic hydrological landscape – complete with underground rivers of algae which will be cultivated as a source of hydrogen for fuel…. Architecturally speaking, the city will sprout a whole series of new structures, including multi-angled fog harvesting machines, tendril-like towers along the waterfront, subterranean transport tunnels, and biologically active reservoirs buried beneath the streets.”

My imagination is really caught by this concept of a truly living city, imagined as a whole system, not just a series of bits and pieces put together all “higgeldy piggeldy”. And like good science fiction, everything imagined here seems not too far from the realm of possibility. Would you like to live in this city? Check out this and other concepts, and vote for your future here.

For more images, check out IwamotoScott’s photoset here.

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1. paula - March 10, 2008

Gillian – I’ve been meaning to write several comments. Unfortunately all in the head at the moment as time is in short supply.

But before things move on too fast I’d just like to say this is an extraordinary photo – it conjures up so much in my imagination. Thank you.

ps How did you do it? If that’s not too presumptuous.

2. eyegillian - March 10, 2008

Hi Paula – I think this is an extraordinary photo, too… however, it’s not mine. It’s one of the images on the architect IwamotoScott’s flickr site (http://www.flickr.com/photos/isar/sets/72157603824013896/). I’ve pointed to it in my article, but I keep forgetting to add links to the photos. And if I can figure out the html to put photo credits below the pictures, I’d do that as well. I’m still learning…

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