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Moving forward: can technology help us achieve the sustainable cities

Tomorrowʼs think tank today


Image by Andrew Birds
FOREWORD

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 fom 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”1 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 how to achieve a dynamic one by
understanding the limitation we are currently facing in the UK cities and 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
networks

Abstract: Since there is an ever growing emphasis on the need for urban regions to become more sustainable,
i hope 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 city.

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

Introduction: The core groups endless change to our landscapes and mapped
out new territories termed; the city. These
As in all matters, religion has given regions saw trajectory social development
foundational roots to many ideas and concepts coupled with an increase in population growth.
challenging our preconceived understanding of This put a huge pressure on the rural farmers to
the human existence here on earth. meet consumerism demands, and when the
Although this is a contested philosophy in traditional labour intensive work of the
today’s divided views, there has been a countryside could not meet the demands,
struggle to connect to God in our early history technology make it possible to mass produce
where a deep respect for nature manifested as a food mechanically, gradually loosing profits
symbol of God’s presence in nature. and forcing a wave of migration from the
Thus a bond between Nature (God) and the countryside to the city. Eventually leading to
created; Human, through the European uneven distributions of economical gains.
philosophical idea of the Judeo-Christian This life-cycle has proved a reality for most
belief, assimilated this to the divine unity of cities in both the developing and developed
the heavens and earth. countries across the world and has become the
According to this bond, God completes his symbolic struggle for hundred of years
‘creative work’ and positions humanity as between nature and technology.
stewards over the rest of nature.
Technology emerges, viewed as a separate How technology shapes nature
entity from this bond and becomes an As technology has come into being through the
independent structure to represent the change necessity to resolving issues of survival, it has
in thoughts of the church where by humans, not taken any formal design processes or
have been selected to complete God’s work. styles, however each era of technological
Efficiencies and reliability of innovative advancement can be chronological dated.
technologies had greatly improved community Cultural influences imposed by beliefs have
both socially and economically and also dated technology. Nature shaped by the
as the development of more tools came about, the its inhabitants still need to
this became a necessity to resolving other
constraints. Furthermore decades of industrial
In a sense technology was viewed as a tool for development, and urban expansion, land
survival, and a problem solving mechanism. consolidation and numerous roads and railways
This greatly aided both the philosophical and built, paint an image of the development of the
moral belief at the time and technology was urban region as nature subordinate to the
welcomed but by a few. demand of the people.
Perception of the natural environment
Connection between land, nature and The image of our urban cities are a fragmented
technology mix of different concerns and aspiration
Technology has facilitated and centralised occurring simultaneously. At an instant a
population growth. These patterns of growth collection of visual and audial information can
can be mapped around regions where influence our experience of a place.
advancements of technology are seen. This
heavy reliance on technology has resulted in an
The scope of landscape sustainability encourage a socio-environmental awareness to
"Landscape associates people and the production, consumption and waste
place." Land "means both a place and behavioural patterns of the municipals.
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-where
experimented and proven. Experiments which resources were abut for man’s usage, and
are now the most fundamental challenges we allowed technology to overcome the rules of
are facing today, is the stepping stone to the natural world.
implementing sustainability. We were left with a century of extraordinary
Sustainable landscapes suggest a lifestyle ecological decline. However understanding
which prompts sensitive living, co-existence how we fit into a cycle of consumption within
between the three core groups; nature, human the environment which is vastly different from
and technology, with a dynamic equilibrium of that of the industrial revolution was a new
change and counter changes. However a mixed challenge and could only be understood
relationship of denial, acceptance and action, through the investigation of the effects left by
although healthy is potentially reducing the the industrial revolution.
rate of action.
To address these issues, a sense of balance is The definition can be misunderstood to mean;
needed to restore the conflicting relationships that all is well in our consumption rate as long
between the groups. as replacements can be made.
The World Commission on Environment and
Development (WCED) in 1987 published a The small steps taken to build sustainability
report known as the Brundtland report into the local landscape in discreet,
commissioned the first sustainable model based manageable chunks which people can observe,
on ecology, economy and eqaulity. It try, put to experience and improve, are
summaried sustainable development as that actually, large steps for humankind.2
which:
“Meets the needs of the present without The implementation of sustainability in our
compromising the ability of future generations landscape should not be implemented through
to meet their own needs” an action plan which is derived from a
The general assembly of the United Nations scientific discovery, this could be marginalising
accepted the concept however each individual different social groups, or methodically
countries making a pledge and commitment, dictated using the media outlet but through an
that fit only within their social structure and action plan consisting of five constructive
rejected anything that threatened their structures: value, belief, expectation, attitude
economic growth i.e USA. Moreover the and action. It allows personalised interpretation
scientific results, were not convincing to all, and individual responses.
especially to smaller private companies and The five individual structures can be regarded
social religious groups. Never-the-less there as:
were slow responses to the policies in the Values: Through the appreciation of nature an
report and implementing the strategies, would awareness of different ecosystems and life
mean subtle changes such as advocacy and organisms
small sustainable landscapes pilot schemes to

1 William McDonough & Michael Braungart National Geographic Press, 2002

2 Thayer, Jr, 1994, p. 309


Believe: That life cannot be sustained without ‘ecological cost’4, which carries the same
nature as we constantly surrounded by it importance as the economical cost of a design,
Expectation: knowledge of what our choice of during the design process.
action means tomorrow The third principals suggest that design should
Attitude: Harvesting a duty to better social be congruent to working nature and be able to
attitudes amongst neighborhoods and function within the organism, and as nature
communities, lives, dies and is reborn; it is “continuously
Action: through the implication of action broken down into its basic components and
congruent to the conservation of the rebuilt into new living forms”5. The fourth
environment and the preservation of ecological principal implies ecological design should
habitats. include communities as users, this brings
added benefit of acknowledging the
Eco-cities requirements of the user but more importantly
To first achieve a sustainable landscape within to resolve issues that may be overlooked in the
the urban region a dialogue from the designer design process. The fifth principal advocates
right through to the inhabitants of the city must effective design transforms awareness by
be created. This dialogue must be fluent in providing ongoing possibilities for learning
understanding the sensitivity of both the and participating.
cultural and economical status being sure not
cause an offense if the inhabitants do not agree A community is define by the biota (living
with the concept of sustainability and also not things) found on a site. This always gives
propose strict economic strain on areas which information of the hydrological, climatic and
are starting to develop. soil components and the sum total of all the
living, physical infrastructure and interaction
Eco-cities areJr,
Fig.2 Thayer, different
1994, p.from
140 sustainable-cities, dictate the community’s biodiversity.
although both are aspiring to attain the same
result. Eco-cities attune to the flow of natural Landscape and cognitively
processes, and function like an organism where As core landscape have become inaccessible in
small changes are evident. This organism most urban regions, it has ‘widen(ed)
accounts for all the three core groups (nature, dislocation between surface and core
human and technology) and an addition [values]’6.
component; design. As solution are derived from place [Ryn, Cowan,
In Ryn. S and Cowan. S, book titled 2009, p. 73], understanding how the surface and
‘Ecological design’ design principals were core of the landscape affects one another is the
listed to achieve ecologically sustainable starting point to acknowledge the ecological
places. They have suggested; processes present.
The design of a place not only gives an area a Surface value are those that one can engage
unique identity but also should “attune to the and immediately interact with and core
particulars of place” 3 therefore having intimate (values) properties are those which can not be
knowledge of a place allows for a more seen immediately but are the ecological
sufficient designs and thus deeper operations in the landscape [Thayer, Jr, 1994,
consideration for the ecological value. The p.140].
second principal accounts the ecological For a designer, surface values in the form of
impact of a given design on the area. Initial aesthetic properties carry great importance and
assessment should be carried out to analyse the often determines whether a project moves into

3 Ryn, Cowan, 2009, p. 77


4 Ryn, Cowan, 2009, p. 72

5 Ryn, Cowan, 2009, p. 73


6 Thayer, Jr, 1994, p.140
the next stage. The core values, (which are atmosphere but, if managed through
often overlooked), however is the most conservation, can lower for example
important element in which the ecological and consumption demands and therefore reduce
technological implication of the landscape production rate. In landscape, site planning
[Thayer, Jr, 1994, p.141] can be found. can create a network to act like a circuit board.
This oversight at the primal stage of a design Here any changes to the individual components
often begins the invisible effects that pressure results in a collective change for the whole site.
the ecological processes already present on These different components in city
site. If a landscape is transparent, such as a compromise of 12 living systems [Thayer, Jr,
barren site any effects of the land is evidently 1994, p.245].
seen, however this may not function well in an 1. Landscape ecology and biodiversity
urban area. 2. Culture, education and community values
3. Urban design, housing, built form/structure
4. Transportation and circulation
5. Agriculture (including forestry and material
fiber)
6. Water supply and use
7. Wastewater treatment
8. Storm water management
9. Energy supply, use and conservation
10. Processed material flows and recycling
11. Industry, employment and economy
12. Recreation

All of these living systems interact and overlap


In urban area if the core properties were visible
contributing to the overall sustainability of any
then we would be able to see how we impact
landscape. Moreover, the majority of these
our landscape. Car fumes rising and toxic
system are natural processes which allow a
waste be disposed in landfill site would send a
interactivity both in the core and surface of our
strong visual message about choices we make.
landscapes.
Network linkages
In the UK government has made of the last 10
Like networks found in nature, urban cities
years numerous documents outlining the
must also have networks that links all
sustainable strategies to manage all the 12
components of a city. These components,
living systems, but in different forms.
formed from both the core and surface values
should be transparent in the way in which we
engage with the landscape. By making our
designs compatible with the living nature
Life cycle: ecology
around our cities, these agendas can be
‘In nature waste equals food’ 7
achieved.
Nature unmanaged and self-sufficient is in its
Competitions found between components
entirety a phenomena, its system of
within the networks need to be managed but in
consumption and waste is a process which is
relation to the other components. Just like
carried out by many living organism on a
nature, exchanges in energy between cells is
constant basis. This trading off of waste and
the most important element in maintaining the
renewal of resource is a vital process a city can
functionality of the cell, in the city these
adopt. An example of a business living like an
energy found in the waste, production, and
organism would enable the business to
consumption cycles not only has the potential
generate its own heating, electricity and
to reduce the negative impacts it has on our

7 Ryn, Cowan, 2009, p. 128


resources. In landscape this processes are Consumption and production cycle
present but are not made active. The process of In the 1999 government report tackling the
photosynthesis, well known and a simple subject of sustainable economies it described
energy cycle could provide a conserved energy the key issues the U.K were facing regarding
ready to use in street light or as in practice to levels of consumption and production. These
be use for heating homes. issues addressed in the next report’ Changing
Design rooted in nature is to close the loop of Patterns’9 published in 2003 after the World
impact and wastage. The way nature works Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD)
results communities that sustains and enhance detailed the actions and their aims were to
the qualities of the local landscape. prompt:

Energy cycle • Better products and services, which reduce


As an environmental issue, carbon dioxide the environmental impacts from the use of
emissions are the most vivid and short term energy, resources, or hazardous substances
catastrophic evidence to the environmental
degradation, thus the government has enlist • Cleaner, more efficient production processes,
drastic targets in the ‘the U.K renewable which strengthen competitiveness, and
Energy Strategy’ published in 2009, listed
below are some of environmental targets: • Shifts in consumption towards goods and
• 15% of our [the U.K] energy comes from services with lower impacts.
renewable sources by 20208.
• More than 30% of our electricity generated
from renewables Waste cycle
• 12% of our heat generated from renewables, We must break the link between economic
and growth and waste growth 10 .
• 10% of transport energy from renewables, The Department of Environment, Food and
Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published a strategy
The aim of the strategy is challenges, but with report on behalf of the government, on waste.
the strategy outlining a body of private The first report published in 2007 set out
business and governmental bodies as well as initiatives based government reward schemes
local and region public participation this and penalties to try to changes the attitudes
challenge than shifts to whether strategy regarding use of landfills. The government’s
would be cost effective, 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,

8DECC, 2009, ‘The U.K Renewable Energy Strategy’ at www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/what_we_do/uk_supply/


energy_mix/renewable/res/res.aspx
9 Defra, 2003, ʻChanging Patterns:ʼ ʻUK Government Framework for Sustainable Consumption and Productionʼ at

www.defra.gov.uk/environment/business/scp/index.html

10 Defra, 2007, ‘Waste Strategy for England’ p.14 at www.defra.gov.uk/environment/waste/strategy/strategy07/documents/


waste07-strategy.pdf
recycling and composting (kg) decreased 26% Complexities of sustainable
since 2000/1 and a further 37% the year end development
December 200811, this may have been aided by Ecological Sustainability can be a complex
the 5% increase of Pubic awareness of system of non linear connection. As described
recycling12. previously, mimicking process cycles found in
Municipal waste which accounts for street, nature provide a glimpse to truly live with in
park, small businesses and borough waste has nature. However ecological sustainability
been recovered 48% for recycling ending would take on an added complexity of
December 200813. ambiguity. Nature functions within an open
The management of this waste, which includes system where it is open to effects from a
the collection, transport, treatment, and final number different elements. Contrasts to our
disposal activities, cost London an approximate urban cities functioning as a closed system all
£600m every year according to the Mayor’s likely outcomes and were calculated is
Draft Municipal Waste Management Strategy achievable only through the participation of the
published on January 2010. majority of inhabitants of a dwelling or a
region and with a clear understanding of key
concepts of ecology, equality and the
acknowledgement of
Analysis of the strategies Conlusion
The figures to date addressing individual issues
is commendable and progressive. However As tension between technology and nature
these are individual steps are still not persists with the move from embracing
integrated enough to nature by maintain the connection with the
With initiatives already in place that allow for spirit of God to experimenting with
an open system approach such as emission, technology as a tool of survival,
waste and over production trading there is still sustainability has become inevitable and
a substantial amount to still be done to meet necessary to bridge the gap between the
the aspired eco-city. al two. Ecological design enable for the
conflict to be resolve in a number of
stages. Although sustainability in
UK’s POTENTIAL FOR AN ECO-LONDON landscape is a long-term and often a
The transformation and commitment of the UK experimental strategy, landscape
government to address the environmental architects can aid in this pursuit by
dilemmas and has to be commened providing the knowledge of how gradual
Using the five design principals to achieving changes to natural systems should be
Eco-cities delicately managed. Instant results using
artificial materials, mass produced planting
using agrochemicals can be a benefit to
Casestudy urban areas.
Dongta, Shanghi, China- Eco-city Open space can be used to provide the
energy needs, such as woodlands can
reduce energy consumption by sheltering
buildings as well as cleaning car exhumes
in the cities.

11 Defra, 2008/9 ‘Waste Strategy report’ p.7 at www.defra.gov.uk/environment/waste/strategy/documents/waste-strategy-


report-08-09.pdf

12 Defra, 2008/9 ‘Waste Strategy report’ p.7 at www.defra.gov.uk/environment/waste/strategy/documents/waste-strategy-


report-08-09.pdf

13 Defra, 2008/9 ‘Waste Strategy report’ p.7 at www.defra.gov.uk/environment/waste/strategy/documents/waste-strategy-


report-08-09.pdf
BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books
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
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http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/15.05/feat_popup.html last visited 22/12/2010
http://www.farrside.com/
http://www.farrside.com/
www.decc.gov.uk
http://www.mcdonough.com
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

PDF's
http://www.un.org/ESA/population/meetings/EGM_PopDist/P01_unpopdiv.pdf
Douglas McGray, 'Pop-Up Cities: China Builds a Bright Green Metropolis': http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/15.05/feat_popup.html