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Moving forward: can technology help us

achieve the sustainable cities


The overview of this essay is to examine how effective, implementing sustainable

initiatives can change our urban cities, in what context this should be achieved and what
the future eco-city would mean to the UK cities.
Sustainable measures have to been implemented in response to the issues of social
economical and environmental changes in cities.

The essay is written from a point of view of connecting with the reader, through five
points; value, belief, expectation, attitude and action. I believe that these individual
pillars play a pivotal role in advocating an understanding of sustainability and therefore
forms the body of this essay. The view “Sustainability; is achieved through an act of
affection for our landscapes” and that each individual makes up the vast urban network
and has a collective responsibility to acknowledge and adopt a lifestyle congruent to
working within a wider system of inputs and outputs.
With this in mind the main focus will be on landscapes, the infrastructure that
surrounding it and how these components when overlapping interconnect.

The overall success of this essay derives in whether a more distilled image of what an
eco-city comprises of and the type of transformation needed to achieve this. This essay is
not an advocacy; how to achieve equilibrium societies, but is an attempt to understand
the limitation we are currently facing in the UK cities, how we are implementing
technology to resolve perplexing demands and its effects in achieving those strategies.
“Moving forward”: How can we transform our urban cities into sustainable

Abstract: Since there is an ever growing emphasis on the need for urban regions to become more sustainable,
to better understand how we (as Landscape Architects) can improve the functionality of our city through
informed designs and bridge the gap between the aspired self-sustaining city and the possible sustainable

Keywords: Bio-mimicry, ecology, Nature, Strategies, Technology,

Introduction: The core groups heavy reliance on technology has resulted in an

endless change to our landscapes and mapped
As in all matters, religion has given out new territories termed; the city. These
foundational roots to many ideas and concepts regions saw trajectory social development
challenging our preconceived understanding of coupled with an increase in population growth.
the human existence here on earth. This put a huge pressure on the rural farmers to
Although this is a contested philosophy in meet consumerism demands, and when the
today’s divided views, there has been a traditional labour intensive work of the
struggle to connect to God in our early history countryside could not meet the demands,
where a deep respect for nature manifested as a technology make it possible to mass produce
symbol of God’s presence in nature. food mechanically, gradually loosing profits
Thus a bond between Nature (God) and the and forcing a wave of migration from the
created; Human, through the European countryside to the city. Eventually leading to
philosophical idea of the Judeo-Christian uneven distributions of economical gains.
belief, assimilated this to the divine unity of This life-cycle has proved to the reality for
the heavens and earth. most cities in both the developing and
According to this bond, God completes his developed countries across the world and has
‘creative work’ and positions humanity as become the symbolic struggle for hundred of
stewards over the rest of nature. years between nature and technology.
Technology emerges, viewed as a separate
entity from this bond and becomes an How technology shapes nature
independent structure to represent the change As technology has come into being through the
in thoughts of the church where by humans, necessity to resolving issues of survival, it has
have been selected to complete God’s work. not taken any formal design processes or
Efficiencies and reliability of innovative styles, however each era of technological
technologies had greatly improved community advancement can be chronological dated.
both socially and economically and Cultural influences imposed by believes have
as the development of more tools came about, also shaped the technology in to a static time
this became a necessity to resolving other where it to can be dated in history
In a sense technology was viewed as a tool for Furthermore decades of industrial
survival, and a problem solving mechanism. development, and urban expansion, land
This greatly aided both the philosophical and consolidation and numerous roads and railways
moral belief at the time and technology was built, paint an image of the development of the
welcomed but by a few. urban region as nature subordinate to the
demand of the people. By comparison nature
Connection between land, nature and has lived as dynamic an open system
technology Perception of the natural environment
Technology has facilitated and centralised The image of our urban cities are a fragmented
population growth. These patterns of growth mix of different concerns and aspiration
can be mapped around regions where occurring simultaneously. At an instant a
advancements of technology are seen. This

collection of visual and audial information can socio-environmental awareness to the

influence our experience of a place production, consumption and waste
behavioural patterns of business in the cities to
beginning with.
The scope of landscape sustainability Therefore these strategies brought deliberation
"Landscape associates people and about consequences of implementing the
place." Land "means both a place and strategies would have on their citizens.
the people living there," and the roots of
scape suggest an active, sensual, In 1992, the UK released the Local Agenda 21
aesthetic partnership with other life” 1. dossier, after the Rio summit, the first strategy
outlining a sustainable policies for the UK.
Landscape is the median in which technology The report was is in some way a representation
and nature interact and where the conflicts are of what our past generation have unintentional
evident. It is also were resolution can be ignored During the Industrial Revolution-,
experimented and proven. Experiments which which allowed technology to overcome the
are now the most fundamental challenges we rules of the natural world with the extreme
are facing today, is the stepping stone to gains of wealth. We were left with a century of
implementing sustainability. extraordinary ecological decline but
Sustainable landscapes suggest a lifestyle understanding how we fit into a cycle of
which prompts sensitive living, co-existence consumption within the environment which is
between the three core groups; nature, human vastly different from that of the industrial
and technology, with a dynamic equilibrium of revolution where resources were abut for man’s
change and counter changes. However a mixed usage, but at the same time, the definition can
relationship of denial, acceptance and action, be misunderstood to mean; that all is well in
although healthy is potentially reducing the our consumption rate as long as replacements
rate of action. can be made.
To address these issues, a sense of balance is
needed to restored the conflicting relationships The small steps taken to build sustainability
between the groups. into the local landscape in discreet,
The World Commission on Environment and manageable chunks which people can observe,
Development (WCED) in 1987 published a try, put to experience and improve, are actually
report known as the Brundtland report large steps for humankind.2
commissioned the first sustainable model based
on ecology, economy and equality. It The implementation of sustainability in our
summarised sustainable development as that landscape should not be implemented through
which: an action plan which is derived from a
“Meets the needs of the present without scientific discovery or methodically dictated
compromising the ability of future generations but through an action plan consisting of five
to meet their own needs” constructive aims: value, belief, expectation,
The general assembly of the United Nations attitude and action structure. It allows
accepted the concept however each individual personalised interpretation and individual
countries making a pledge and commitment responses.
that fit only within their social structure and The five individual aims:
reject anything that threatened their economic Value: through the appreciation of nature,
growth. Although there was a slow response to Believe: life cannot be sustained without
the policies in the reports’, subtle changes nature,
such as advocacy and small sustainable Expectation: knowledge of what your choice of
landscapes pilot schemes were to encourage a action means today

1 William McDonough & Michael Braungart National Geographic Press, 2002

2 Thayer, Jr, 1994, p. 309


Attitude: Harvesting a duty to better social ecological impacts our design has on a place.
attitudes amongst neighbourhoods and The fourth principal implies ecological design
communities, should include communities as users, this
Action: through the implication of action brings added benefit of acknowledging the
congruent to the conservation of the requirements of the user but more importantly
environment and the preservation of ecological to resolve issues that may be overlooked in the
habitats. design process. The fifth principal advocates
effective design transforms awareness by
Eco-cities providing ongoing possibilities for learning
To first achieve a sustainable landscape with in and participating.
the urban region a language of landscape must
be developed to be fluent with other city Landscape and cognitively
designers and the and disciplines, As core landscape have become inaccessible in
most urban regions, it has ‘widen(ed)
Eco-cities are different from sustainable-cities, dislocation between surface and core
although both are aspiring to attain the same [values]’6.
result. Eco-cities attune to the flow of natural As solution are derived from place [Ryn, Cowan,
processes and ecologically intelligent design 2009, p. 73], understanding how the surface and
function like an organism where small changes core of the landscape affects one another is the
are evident. This organism accounts for all the starting point to acknowledge the ecological
three core groups (nature, human and processes present.
technology) and an addition component; Surface value are those that one can engage
design. and immediately interact with and core
In Ryn. S and Cowan. S, book titled (values) properties are those which can not be
‘Ecological design’ design principals were seen immediately but are the ecological
listed to achieve ecologically sustainable operations in the landscape [Thayer, Jr, 1994,
places. They have suggested; p.140].
The design of a place not only gives an area a For a designer surface values in the form of
unique identity but also should “attune to the aesthetic carry great importance and often
particulars of place” 3 therefore having intimate determines whether a project moves into the
knowledge of a place allows for a more next stage. The core values, sometimes
sufficient designs and thus deeper overlooked, however is the most important
consideration for the ecological value. The element in which the ecological and
second principal accounts the ecological technological implication of the landscape
impact of a given design on the area. Initial [Thayer, Jr, 1994, p.141] can be found.
assessment should be carried out to analysis This oversight at the primal stage of a design
the ‘ecological cost’4 which is similar to the often begins the invisible affects that pressure
economical cost of a design during the design the ecological processes already present on
process. site. If a landscape is transparent, such as a
The third principals suggest that design should rural site any effects of the land is evidently
be congruent to working nature and be able to seen, however this may not function well in an
function within the organism, and as nature urban area.
lives, dies and is reborn; it is “continuously
broken down into its basic components and
rebuilt into new living forms”5 to minimise the

3 Ryn, Cowan, 2009, p. 77

4 Ryn, Cowan, 2009, p. 72

5 Ryn, Cowan, 2009, p. 73

6 Thayer, Jr, 1994, p.140

Networks and enhance the qualities of the local

Like networks found in nature, urban cities landscape.
must also have networks that links all
components of a city. These components, Energy cycle
formed from both the core and surface values As an environmental issue, carbon dioxide
should be transparent in the way in which we emissions are the most vivid and short term
engage with the landscape. By making our catastrophic evidence to the environmental
designs compatible with the living nature degradation, thus the government has enlist
around our cities, these agendas can be drastic targets in the ‘the U.K renewable
achievable. Energy Strategy’ published in 2009, listed
Competitions found within the networks need below are some of environmental targets:
to be managed but in relation to the other • 15% of our [the U.K] energy comes from
components. Just like nature, exchanges in renewable sources by 20208.
energy between cells is the most important • More than 30% of our electricity generated
element in maintaining the functionality of the from renewables
cell, in the city these energy found in the waste, • 12% of our heat generated from renewables,
production, and consumption cycles not only and
has the potential to reduce the negative impacts • 10% of transport energy from renewables,
it has on our atmosphere but, if managed
through conservation, can lower consumption The aim of the strategy is challenges, but with
demands and therefore reduce production rate. the strategy outlining a body of private
business and governmental bodies as well as
Life cycle: ecology local and region public participation this
‘In nature waste equals food’ 7 challenge than shifts to whether strategy
Nature unmanaged and self-sufficient is in its would be cost effective,
entirety a phenomena, its system of
consumption and waste is a process which is Consumption and production cycle
carried out by many living organism on a
constant basis. This trading off of waste and In the 1999 government report tackling the
renewal of resource is a vital process a city can subject of sustainable economies it described
adopt. An example of a business living like an the key issues the U.K were facing regarding
organism would enable the business to levels of consumption and production. These
generate its own heating, electricity and issues addressed in the next report’ Changing
resources. In landscape this processes are Patterns’9 published in 2003 after the World
present but are not activated. The process of Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD)
photosynthesis, well known and simple energy detailed the actions and their aims were to
cycle could be implemented to provide a prompt:
conserved energy to use in street light or as in
practice to be use for heating house. • Better products and services, which reduce
Design rooted in the nature is to close the loop the environmental impacts from the use of
of impact and wastage. The way nature energy, resources, or hazardous substances
works results communities that sustain

7 Ryn, Cowan, 2009, p. 128

8DECC, 2009, ‘The U.K Renewable Energy Strategy’ at
9 Defra, 2003, ʻChanging Patterns:ʼ ʻUK Government Framework for Sustainable Consumption and Productionʼ at

• Cleaner, more efficient production processes, Complexities of sustainable

which strengthen competitiveness, and development
Ecological Sustainability can be a complex
• Shifts in consumption towards goods and system of non linear connection. As described
services with lower impacts. previously, mimicking process cycles found in
nature provide a glimpse to truly live with in
nature. However ecological sustainability
Waste cycle would take on an added complexity of
ambiguity. Nature functions within an open
We must break the link between economic system where it is open to effects from a
growth and waste growth 10 . number different elements. Contrasts to our
The Department of Environment, Food and urban cities functioning as a closed system all
Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published a strategy likely outcomes and were calculated is
report on behalf of the government, on waste. achievable only through the participation of
The first report published in 2007 set out the majority of inhabitants of a dwelling or a
initiatives based government reward schemes region and with a clear understanding of key
and penalties to try to changes the attitudes concepts of ecology, equality and the
regarding use of landfills. The government’s acknowledgement of
following report published in 2008-2009
outlines the achievements of the aims, stated in
the 2007 report, of which at a national level;
household waste per head after reuse,
recycling and composting (kg) decreased 26% Conclusion
since 2000/1 and a further 37% the year end As tension between technology and nature
December 200811, this may have been aided by persists with the move from embracing
the 5% increase of Pubic awareness of nature by maintain the connection with the
recycling12. spirit of God to experimenting with
Municipal waste which accounts for street, technology as an tool of survival,
park, small businesses and borough waste has sustainability has become inevitable and
been recovered 48% for recycling ending necessary to bridge the gap between the
December 200813. two. Ecological design enable for the
The management of this waste, which includes conflict to be resolve in a number of
the collection, transport, treatment, and final
disposal activities, cost London an approximate
£600m every year according to the Mayor’s
Draft Municipal Waste Management Strategy
published on January 2010.

10 Defra, 2007, ‘Waste Strategy for England’ p.14 at


11 Defra, 2008/9 ‘Waste Strategy report’ p.7 at


12 Defra, 2008/9 ‘Waste Strategy report’ p.7 at


13 Defra, 2008/9 ‘Waste Strategy report’ p.7 at


Newman, P and Jeffrey, K. Sustainability and cities: Overcoming Automobile Dependence. Island Press,USA,1999

Thayer Robert L. Gray world, Green Heart: technology, nature, and the sustainable landscape. John Wiley & Sons, 1993

Ryn, Sim Van der and Stuart Cowan. Ecological design. Island Press, 2007

Shane, David.Grahame. Recombinant Urbanism: conceptual modeling in architecture, urban design, and city theory. John
Wiley, 2005.

Moore. A, S. Pragmatic Sustainability: Theorectical and Practical Tools. Routledge, 2010

Websites last visited on 04/01/2010 last visited 22/12/2010
Journal Articles
Helen Castle. "Dongtan, China's Flagship Eco-City". Architectural Design vol 78 no 5 (September/October 2008): 64-69
Robert Schafer."Climate, Water, Supply, Energy and Food-Challenges for the Future". Topos 60 (2007):16-21
Adrian McGregor. "Valuing Environmental Externalities". Topos 60 (2007): 22-29
Susan Anderson. "Portland: Urban Initiatives on Climate Change and Sustainability". Topos 60 (2007): 30-35
Pablo Lazo and Braulio Eduardo Morera. "Cities for Performance and Changes". Topos 60 (2007): 42-49
Hansjorg Kuster."Energy Supply and Land Use". Topos 60(2007): 92-94
Massimo Venturi Ferriolo. "An Ethic for the Landscape". Topos 60(2007):95-97
Craig Pocock. "The Carbon Landscape". Topos 61 (2007): 86-95

Douglas McGray, 'Pop-Up Cities: China Builds a Bright Green Metropolis':