Thursday, 13 May 2010

Design, Time and a New City


The general discussion around Ecological Urbanism or Sustainability in an urban context is very often not about design. It is about technical aspects, about technology and science. Very much in the sense that Kiril Stanilov pointed out in his post, planning but also the design of are focused on the implementation of technology. Stanislov points out that his was the invention of the modernist movement and it changed the city dramatically. But is also poses the question of what roe can design play now? And to actually play a role again it needs to move beyond acting as a mere container for technology. Clever cities in the sense of computers might be fun for computer scientists but in terms of everyday life and spacial experience there might be little gain. This current discussion here on urbanTick has beside the post by Annick Labec on the Architecture of R&Sie not featured this aspect enough and in a second instalment of this discuss there would need be to focus more clearly on the design aspects. This is not to say that technology doesn't matter, quite the opposite, but it has to be put in a context or better a network.
The Atom is the past. The symbol of science for the next century is the dynamical Net. The Net is the archetype displayed to represent all circuits, all intelligence, all interdependence, all things economic and social and ecological, all communications, all democracy, all groups, all large systems [Kevin Kelly, Out of Control in Richard Rogers, edited by Phillip Gumuchdjian, Cities for a small planet, page 146].
Similar to the design aspect, time, features very little in the debate. Already the concept of past present and future is applied in a very limited sense. Usually learning form the past means to borrow ideas and implement them in the present. Retro doesn't apply to the current environmental problems we have today, the condition have changed dramatically in the last forty years. But also much shorter time scales do not yet play an important enough role in the city. The complete infrastructure is designed to cope throughout with peak flows, even though most of the day the general use is half or less of this amount. The importance of flows and networks as discussed by Duncan Smith play the important part here. Again infrastructure of flows is a product defined largely by the modernist concept of the city and it would be very interesting to discuss new emerging concepts of an integrated approach.
This is then in a next step also very much dependant on scale and for an Ecological Urbanism to be effective it has to cover aspects throughout the different scales. This I believe is a very positive thing though, because it brings disciplines closer together and highlights the relationships between the scales. This requires the planning to become more dynamic and the old categories have to be reshaped into dynamic categories. This is especially interesting regarding social aspects of an Ecological Urbanism. In a distinct post, DPR has pointed out the importance of the social apexes. Through out the social scales from society, to neighbourhoods and groups to individuals everyone plays a role. Since sustainability is something everyone is involved, as Luis Suarez has discussed, the city requires everyone to take part it has the potential to transform the relationship and define it anew. It could become a tool to overcome the dogma of the machine city, the city that serves, the city as an infrastructure and free the citizen from being a user. And under the title used by Stanza for his contribution this could create the 'Emergent City'. A new relationship under the aspect of an Ecological Urbanism could see the people becoming an active element in the urban context with attributed capacity of creation and decision and lead to a more engaged and participatory urbanism, were responsibility could have a meaning again.
To archive this involvement education has to be part of the plan. Sustainability is to some extend a question of education and knowledge. To understand things in such a way, of course there is education needed. I don‘t think it is an accident that sustainability appears together with a systemic understanding of the world in the early seventies of the last century. The discovery of the system description enables to become aware of action impacts and raises the key questions of sustainability.
The first satellite picture from outer space in 1959 gave these new thoughts an image. The whole world could look at it self and capture the finiteness of our living room. And it is maybe still the most powerful image to support all activities around sustainability. Sustainability is also about images > Spaceship Earth [in Fuller, R.B., 1982. Critical Path 2nd ed., St. Martin's Griffin.] as Martin Callanan has beautifuy illustrated with his work 'A Planetary Order'.

Image taken from limcorp.net / The earth from outer space.
Image taken from limcorp.net / The earth from outer space.

It is not about one field of action where sustainability haste to take place in such a manner. First, sustainability has to take place through all scales up to a global level in all fields. Every action is embedded in a system of elements, relations and impacts; every action has to be taken in awareness of this fact. Every action matters through all the scales. But all partners need to be on the same level of understanding. Sustainability is also about equal rights. If you want to build solutions for the future and have people working with you, every citizen has to understand the system very well. You have to have a commitment with simplicity. Every child should know the design of his or her own city. They should design the city even, because if you can design the city you can understand the city. If you understand the city, you will respect the city [Jaime Lerner on public transport in Mau, B., Leonard, J. & Boundaries, I.W., 2004. Massive Change, Phaidon Press. Page 59].

I would like to thank the people who contributed to this now closing series of posts on the topic of Ecological Urbanism very much for their participation. Those are, in order of appearance: Duncan Smith, Luis Suarez, DPR-Barcelona, Annick Labecca, Martin John Callanan, Stanza, Kiril Stanilov.
It has been produced on very short notice and contributors have reacted enthusiastic and thanks to them this series of post turned out so well.
The topics discussed have provided many insights and have stimulated especially in cross combination a wider range of thoughts. In this sense and with the topics in mind that were highlighted by the debate as in need of more attention I am please to announce that a second instalment of the discussion of Ecological Urbanism is in planning and should take place in two month time. With this we are for now closing the contributions on this invited series on Ecological Urbanism on urbanTick. In the mean time please leave comments and suggestions, it would be great if we could extend the discussion further. If you are interested to contribute in the next format, please drop me a note and we can work out the details.

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