ETech 09: Urban Futures

Chris Luebkeman from Arup. One of the first presentations on Wednesday at ETech 09. It was an interesting presentation, and he was a great talker but… I still don’t know what the point of the presentation was. It all felt like an introduction to something that we never reached:

Shows a photo of a very dull meeting room in Tokyo where he went to meeting a government minister. He asked why the room was so dismal. The minister said it was because they couldn’t be seen to waste public money. What does it mean to waste money? Is making a room pleasant wasting money? How would the decisions made there be different?

Peak urbanism. Urban populations will fall [due to overall population changing? I missed exactly why.] As your city infrastructure becomes superfluous what would you disassemble?

The context of what is normal depends on where you are. Toilets that squirt you with water are normal in Japan, not here. What would be normal for an eco city?

Urban Ageism — What should we be designing that is useful for ages 0-100.

The majority of the urban world live in informal developments.

Urban infrastructure wasn’t designed for everyone to have cars. They weren’t designed for downtowns to be abandoned. Imagine San Jose devoid of people [not hard to imagine…].

The modern breadline — people need food to survive. Shows a huge crowd of cars trying to get to the petrol station in Harare. How can you increase the resilience of our urban areas? Many people couldn’t work if they couldn’t drive.

Urban equality — is the question what we can/should be doing, or is it what should we not be doing? We use too many resources. How do we make things equal?

About 100 years ago, only 14% of Americans had a bathtub, only 8% had a telephone. The Panama canal got started, the Hindenberg zeppelin disaster. Our working day was reduced to ten hours a day. If you were a woman smoking in New York you’d be arrested. Only 8,000 cars in the USA, driving on 144 miles of paved road, at 10 mph in cities. But Studebaker made a car and you could choose whether you wanted an electric or petrol engine. The world’s largest cities were already multi-modal, there was diversity [not quite sure what he means there].

Hénard presented his future city ideas to RIBA in London, making a city dense, pushing services underground. At a similar time Ebenezer Howard had the idea of garden cities, distant nodes connected by good transport. We had this conflict, opposing ideas of density and sprawl. We know that our eco cities need to be dense in order for public transport to work.

“The future is always over sold and under imagined.” We, technologists, always over sell the future. Only a tiny amount of what we predict comes true. We had many dreams about what our lives would be like in the 1920s or 30s, and in the 1950s or 60s. Fantastic, optimistic ideas. “When we dream we can create.”

Huge numbers of people are moving to urban environments. Unsustainable urbanisation is a threat to security.

The Dongtan Eco City in China. The project is currently on hold for political reasons — the mayor changed. The city is all about transit-oriented design. If you plan a city for cars, you get cars. If you design it for people, you get people. 65% of energy for the town comes from rice husks.

Sustainable urbanism. Not everyone has the pirvlege of being able to experience nature as we can. They can’t all go to the beach.

If you could cut and paste anything out of your community, what would it be?

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