Dear Architecture Graduates: Be Ready, Relentless, and Lucky

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A couple of months ago, I wrote a piece for my mid-career architect friends who had recently lost their jobs, titled “Dear Unemployed Architects: You’ve Been Given a Gift.” With it, I got lots of gifts back and not all of them flattering. Taught me a few lessons.

Extra time is not a gift for recent grads; you achieved a milestone and then fell into the abyss of no jobs. So my article made you angry; I apologize. Since then, I have been pondering how to help newly minted graduates find jobs, knowing that the odds are stacked against you.

 

You are in a tsunami, or actually two. There’s the recession, which is a depression for construction (25-30% unemployment) plus the industry is seeing large scale changes with permanent job shifts. It’s stunning.

Knowing that context doesn’t help you get a job. Maybe it will help you get more creative, take bolder action, be quicker to adapt. You need to be more prepared than anyone else, relentlessly persistent, and lucky – at the right place at the right time with the right answers speaking to an open mind.

Some people will get jobs. You want to be one of those. That’s your job right now. Position yourself to be one of the few, not one of the many. Make forward actions every day.

 

Here’s a few ideas. They fall into job searching, surviving, and the long view. It’s a long list… by no means complete. Take what fits you.

  1. Plan your priorities. What matters to you? Location, firms, project types, your role, the people you’ll work with, multi-disciplined firm, money? What must you have to survive, and what will you forfeit for now?
  2. Investigate firms as though you were becoming a partner. Get everything you can about their work, clients, people, recognition, other offices, philosophy, history. Craft your resume and letter to fit the kind of work that they do.
  3. Make your own very simple letter head, card, and portfolio cover. Be consistent and clean. While it’s the content that counts, we are designers. Clean, simple works.
  4. Better to show three great projects than ten mediocre ones. Edit and create good stories.
  5. Select your projects and stories to fit a particular firm’s interests. For example, if they do hospitals, use hospital projects or at least institutional projects. Research their project type and talk about key issues. Treat your submission and interview like we do marketing RFQ’s.
  6. It’s your story. Tell it well, compelling, dramatic, true, highlighting your best moments. Have very short versions, and also more detailed responses.
  7. If you have a sense of project types or methods that you are intrigued by or that you think will have more work, then become an expert in trends and case studies. Write up your findings and begin blogging about it. Find firms in that area.
  8. Unlike any prior generation, you can research and establish your identity online. And form architectural networks. Use it extensively and creatively. More on this down the list.
  9. Know recent case studies in BIM, green building, Revit – the big three that will get you a job now. Be conversant. Publish ideas online, become an expert.
  10. Potential growth areas (beyond the big three – BIM, Revit, and green tech): prefab, laboratories, research facilities, shared or community facilities, security of all kinds, health, aging, renovation, historic preservation, mixed use, public spaces, various high tech materials such as nano-tech, digital integration such as signage, rfid, sensors, smart grid, ubiquitous computing. More tech sends you to certain types of AE or EA firms. In KC, engineers are the first hiring because they are involved in the stimulus package ARRA money. It may not be your first choice, but you will meet wonderful people that can influence your career and be friends for life.
  11. Work in related fields like interiors, suppliers, contractors, planning, landscape, community development, government, corporate, facilities management, and so on. Many have architecture departments. It will help you get an architecture job later or you might find your calling in these related fields, some which have stronger prospects than general architecture consulting.
  12. Make quick speeches – 45 second responses – for major questions. Your best projects, best teachers, why you chose this field, what projects or architects do you like, where you see yourself in five or ten years, what are your special talents, why do you fit this job. Essentially: What will you bring to my firm?
  13. Be active on Architizer and key groups on Linked In.
  14. Be creative with online tools, witness this google story.
  15. Build an online presence – perhaps more critical than a resume. Share ideas, develop relationships, ask questions. Update daily; it’s a commitment.
  16. Make videos and podcasts. Post links to your network.
  17. Find people that can help you; look for their online or real time activities and be there.
  18. Go where the people go with whom you want to connect. Do not sit back.
  19. If your resume isn’t working, ask what didn’t catch their eye. Ask to see a good example but be thoughtful about asking. If the moment doesn’t seem right, don’t ask.
  20. Be persistent. Keep your name in front of them. Be succinct. Don’t linger.
  21. Know what projects are being planned in various cities. Cast a wide net. Find out who is pursuing them. Send your resume etc to those firms.
  22. Move to North Dakota. Really.
  23. If you are traveling, go places that you hear have work. Always look for work.
  24. Don’t limit to just firms who are advertising. Work will pick up and you want to be the one. Try to get a sense of the firms that have new projects on the horizon.
  25. Our interviewees talked with their future co-workers, who always gave their opinions the moment the door shut. Know who they are too, as much as possible.
  26. Be nice, charming if possible, and humble. You’re new. They earned their spot.
  27. If you have friends with jobs, keep in contact, let them know how you are doing and what new stuff you have developed. And ask about jobs, projects, other firms.
  28. Do not let three days pass without posting useful information to your blog.
  29. Ask everyone what else they would do, who they would call, if they were looking.
  30. Do not sit at home. Go to the library, café, museum, park. Learn ideas, it will trigger new thoughts.
  31. Be flexible, adaptable, in every way. Keep your priorities in order.
  32. Be frugal. So much material exists on living cheaply. Draw on your friends and family and offer something in return. Do work for people, take care of things for them. Share costs. Give what you have to get something back.
  33. Many AIA chapters allow new grads to join for free for a year. Become active. Get to know people. Keep your ear to the ground and find out where you would like to work.
  34. Visit at least one architect’s office every day. For places you really want to work, keep on the regular rounds – say once every couple of weeks. Otherwise, make it a new place every day. Stop in, say hello. Ask if the person you know is available. Just checking for possible jobs. Stay under 1 minute. If you have some idea for them, even better. Drop it off, with your resume, business card, and a note attached. Blend face-time with online time.
  35. Learn to communicate in words, written and verbal. Join a toastmasters group or equivilent.
  36. Be more places, try more things, with clearer answers than the next ten people. Or next 100. It’s the Olympics of job searches; leave no rocks unturned.
  37. Be able to say state your strengths in under a minute and be compelling. Tape it and listen back or try it on someone. It’s no fun but you’ll improve through practice.
  38. Be flexible with your approach but not in your priorities. Get the best deal that you can given the landscape. And then make it into a gold mine or move on when you can.
  39. Blog about local projects and events. Take pictures, show progress, make comments. Document changes in the city, photographs, stories.
  40. Blog about happenings in the architecture and design communities. Same deal – take pictures, make comments. Encourage people to use you as a broadcaster.
  41. Write book reviews; post on Goodreads, your blog, twitter, linked in, and facebook.
  42. Volunteer at community events. Be seen. Get to know people.
  43. Mentor others. You have more benefits than you might realize. Highly educated, with drawing, design, and construction skills, plus recent college experience. Share it with people younger than you. Or older.
  44. Look for mentors. They may be on twitter or be your neighbor. Take their advice seriously, think about it, and ask for more. They will like you for it. We all know it’s tough.
  45. Ask your AIA to assign a mentor or grow one from the people you meet. Make arrangements for regular conversations, on the phone or FTF.
  46. Be observant. Always think: what does that mean for new buildings, my career?
  47. Find out where there are jobs and in what industries. Think if there is an architectural component. Will they be building, remodeling? Bird dog it.
  48. Keep in touch with your university weekly.
  49. Draw. Paint. Make music. And yes… blog it. or sell it if possible. You are building reputation, improving your skills, and staying motivated.
  50. Imagine your whole life. Here’s a futures method for seeing further down the road from a wonderful futurist, Verne Wheelwright.
  51. Sell stuff on Ebay, Amazon, or Craigslist etc. Avoid debt. (Easier said…)
  52. Help your neighbors. And as one commenter said, do not be afraid to make money. Just make sure it’s clear when you are offering a favor and when you are looking for paid work.
  53. Become a commenter on urban or community activities. It’s not hard to be outspoken, but it is hard to be effective. Comments online are frequently worthless. Not on the NY Times. Some brilliant commenters – learn from them. They rank the comments. Become a highly ranked commenter.
  54. Walk the streets, document, create commentaries, a typology or ranking.
  55. Remake your space. Then do it again. Become versed in distances between chairs, required space for various tables and chairs, the shapes for walking, sitting, etc. Go to public spaces and see if theirs are effective. Then… yes, draw it and blog it.
  56. Make found art.
  57. Plant, grow stuff. Help in a community garden. Fresh food and getting dirty uplift the spirit.
  58. Link music to architecture. Art to architecture. Arch and interiors, signs, colors, streets. Study it. Write your thoughts and theories about it.
  59. Create a group of like-minded friends or unemployed neighbors. Chat regularly.
  60. Stay in touch with your family and friends – they are no doubt concerned about you. And they may have ideas, they may be a good shoulder or sounding board.
  61. Add education if you can afford it and have an urgency. Study something that you care about and makes you unique. For me, that’s strategic planning and communications. It took me 25 years to be ready for that. What is your special interest? So many areas outside the construction world go hand in hand with architecture. Economics for example. Business of course. Animation, environmental studies, public admin, education, journalism, art, law.
  62. Copy George Plimpton. He famously experienced high profile jobs, then wrote bestsellers about them. He boxed, played pro football, did stand-up, performed a high-wire act. Get a temporary job in one of the places you might later want to design. A sports venue, a library, a school, a shopping center, a hospital, public housing, and so on. You will forever own hands-on expertise.
  63. Or frequent these places and get to know patterns. You may never have the time to really do this again. Document it, and yes… make white papers, post them on your blog.
  64. Go work in Haiti with Cameron Sinclair’s Architecture for Humanity – if you can afford it.
  65. Go to New Orleans - last I heard they don’t have enough architects or builders. Find out who got federal money, what firms are working on it. Apply there.
  66. Journal. Keep some of it just for yourself. It’s one of the best lifelong habits and proven to make your career more focused and life more inspired.
  67. Exercise. If you’re not in shape, get there. If you are in shape, keep doing it every day. It boosts your energy, attitude and mental abilities. Stay positive.
  68. Be in touch with your spirituality. Develop your beliefs. Meditation in any form keeps us steady and happy. Plus good ideas come when your mind is alert.
  69. If you are getting interest, but no jobs, then ask why – very politely. Ask who might need your skills. And shine up your work next time, even if you just rearrange the order.
  70. Never take the same material to two job interviews. They will know it. You and your work will look tired. You need to be fresh, ready to work tomorrow. Even if you just change the order of projects, wear a different shirt, renew your ideas every day.
  71. If you are stuck, if days and weeks are going by with no bites, then change what you are doing wholesale. Change your approach. Rewrite your story. Practice out loud. Find a ready audience to play act. Record yourself. Improve your story.
  72. Write down everything that happens in your interviews. Think what went well and what didn’t. Be better next time. (These are marketing skills; marketing is like looking for a job every day, except with better resources.)
  73. Try to find out who got jobs and why. See what you can learn. If you can talk to these recent hires, see if they have any other leads that might make soon.
  74. Be nice to whoever you talk to in the firm, including the front desk person. They give more information after you leave, count on it. Even if it’s just a smile or a look, people tune into these small gestures. It all matters.
  75. Don’t wait; keep moving, because it’s your life and you want to spend it well. I believe that jobs where you serve people – like retail, libraries, hospitals, and restaurants – aid architects in learning how to read people. Very useful skill. Do that while you’re looking for a job in the industry.
  76. Be persistent.
  77. Don’t give up. There may be no better advice.
  78. Continually re-assess. Be sure that this is what you want to do. Don’t be afraid to try something else.
  79. Don’t get stuck on the word architect or designer. Deconstruct your skills – CAD, codes, rendering, model-building, construction, observation, documentation, analysis, history, building technologies, presentations, team building, community development, foreign languages. What are your skills?
  80. Teach English in China or some other country. Teach English as a second language in US; learn some other language. I guarantee long term value.
  81. Read my other list - there’s ideas for inspiration and rethinking your life.
  82. Read the comments – the first few hated it and you might relate.
  83. Read the later comments – they gave tips, links, and stories about their positive experiences.
  84. Keep your finances orderly. Get a delay on loans if possible.
  85. Take daily walks. There’s a lot of research about why walking is healthy. For architects and designers, there is the added value of being part of the environment, the streetlife. Make notes, sketches, photos. Create an album of your observations.
  86. Go to planning commission, municipal art commission, economic development, and school board meetings, even public auctions of real estate. Those developers may need some help. More than that, you will learn the process of building and running cities. And yes, please, blog it. It’s your opportunity.
  87. Don’t complain. And if you must, do it privately in your journal or while taking a walk – by yourself.
  88. From an unemployed friend: you might feel the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Be aware of these stages and take care of yourself.
  89. Get help before you need it desperately, whether emotionally or financially.
  90. Draw or paint every day. Steven Holl does.
  91. Listen to music every day. Daniel Libeskind does.
  92. Dance. With or without someone else.
  93. Hang out with positive people. That might be your regular friends, your 90 year old neighbor, or your kid sister. Or your priest. Moods are contagious. Avoid negative people. Cynicism is also contagious. Breed positive ideas.
  94. Use humor. It recharges a beaten spirit. Along with running, meditating, yoga, sleep (but not more than 7-8 hrs) and helping someone else. All work like a charm.
  95. Start a business. Every business started somewhere. You can build things with just a business license. Think about it. Do odd jobs. Team with your friends or unemployed colleagues (who might become friends) to do larger projects. I sewed tablecloths and napkins for a new restaurant. Ask around.
  96. Stay focused on why you are here and what really matters.
  97. Write me if you need encouragement or ideas. Twitter works @urbanverse.
  98. If your first option doesn’t work out, have a second option before you let go. It’s called wing walking. When traversing two wings, hang on to the first one until you’re clearly secure on the second.
  99. Check out Bob Borson‘s Ten Reasons to be an Architect and Ten Reasons to Not be an Architect. Do you relate to these lists?
  100. Look at my delicious links on jobs (56) and on architects (126). Eight crossovers. Try searching the whole list for unemployment too. and inspiration.
  101. Try to keep perspective – see yourself in the future. This time in your life will be very important. It’s a watershed era. You will think about it when you’re 80.
  102. When you get a job, help others. Return to your college, tell your story. And yes… blog about it. No matter if it’s what you wanted or not, it’s an unfolding. Make your story.

Overcoming huge difficulties makes life more poignant. Friendships from this time period will always seem more vital and deeply connected. You will be co-survivors. There is nothing small about this recession for architects and especially for recent graduates. You may send 100 resumes without a response. Don’t despair; just find a better way, change the formula to favor you.

Get used to a career in a field experiencing sweeping change. We are retooling the industry. It’s a double tsunami – the recession and massive changes. You need to retool and keep retooling. It’s going to take your full attention, agility, and some luck. Luck in terms of being at the right place, talking to the right people who are paying attention. Best way to increase your odds – sling more mud and be more strategic.

 

Yet you have some advantages. You are a digital native. Working in CAD and online is second nature to you. Your elder colleagues will depend on you for that. We have always talked with new graduates about design and theory because we know that colleges focus on those aspects. Now we also will rely on you for technological skills. And a sense of the new social world. Show people how it’s done.

 

Failure is allowed early in your career with minimal penalties. Play this card strategically. You will be able to chalk it up as experience. Celebrate any and every small success, accomplishment, and lesson. Don’t fear failure; learn from it.

Mastering the architecture profession is a 10-20 year process. Five years out, you will know all the parts except the business and management, but you need many more trials of design, construction and working with clients. By ten years, you’ll have seen most cycles and be able to adapt.

As hard as they may seem, learning BIM, Revit and green building take far less time than mastering the full profession. Concentrate on one or all of these. Each is perhaps 2-6 months of study or experience. Practice every day. Perhaps some firms will open their training sessions to you. You might ask. Or get the AIA to form a program with the firms. They are also looking for ways to keep you in the profession.

We want younger architects to remain committed to the field. We need another generation. So you have some leverage. Think how you can explain – very quickly and in a most compelling fashion – what you bring to a particular firm. Have excellent evidence of your skills. You will find work.

That’s my best random thoughts for surviving a deep recession; it’s lengthy and yet not comprehensive. If you want explanation, please ask. Or if you think this list is a complete waste, say it and why. Someone may learn from your comments – like me. Do you have other ideas for job hunting? or useful stories? If you got a job, please share how you did it, what was the key?

 

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons by Martin Pettitt “Wing Walking Display Lowestoft Air Show,” uploaded 28 July 2008.

 

Images of Future Cities: Courtesy of Makers by Cory Doctorow

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While reading Makers, you get caught up in the lives of Lester, Perry, Suzanne and the rest. There are villains and heroes, celebrations and catastrophes. Doctorow gives an addictive read; my thumb rapid-clicked the Kindle page button to move the words faster and faster.

While I was captivated by the story, that’s not my focus here. I’ll save the story for you to read – no spoiler alert required.

The wealth of new images in Makers lets us peer into one scenario for 21st c cities. In this future, we live on a whimsical, resource-limited planet that I might love but also fear, particularly as an architect.

What Can Makers Teach Us About Possible Futures?
Here’s nine intriguing images, all plausible enough, and a few that scare the bejeezies out of me.

  1. New Work. “Capitalism is eating itself.” In the “New Work” program, big corps fund small teams of inventors, build production and distribution systems, and reap profits for a few months till the copycats undercut prices. An entire product line evolves from bright idea to obsolete in 6-9 months.
  2. DIY Inventors. While the idea is not new, garage inventors play a far more significant role when innovation and production move at light speed. These 21st c mechanics twist left-behind appliances, toys, computers, ie, today’s consumer goods, into adaptive reuse products and environments.
  3. Dead Malls or Ghost Malls. Abandoned big box retail and indoor malls called dead malls and ghost malls become hotbeds for creative start-ups and shanty towns. In Makers, even shelter evolves from found objects.
  4. Shanty Towns. Homeless folks flock to former suburbs and build elaborate slums, rather than living crammed into urban doorways or under bridges. The construction style seems born from the squatters villages in Mumbai or Delhi, except apparently with better infrastructure and code compliance. Structures reach 3-4 floors and sport skywalks and whimsical shapes. Shops occupy first floors with residences and restaurants above. Children play in streets and community order is maintained through ad hoc leadership. Idyllic? Yup.
  5. Transportation. Crowded planes sound more like today’s bus travel experience, but otherwise seem unchanged. Corp jets sit idle and are cast off for parts. Fewer people have cars, taxis still exist, and walking 30 minutes to get lunch is normal. The main characters’ vehicle consists of two Smart Cars mashed together for more interior space.
  6. Cities and Architecture. Reused malls, poorly maintained public streets, crowded airports all sound feasible, although a bit frightening. It’s today’s cities only dirtier. New forms of architecture include the shanty towns described in quaint, organic terms. Coffin hotels sound a lot like Tokyo’s capsules. http://bit.ly/QYQKb
  7. Robots. As an early example in the book, Boogie Woogie Elmos are reprogrammed to drive a stripped down Smart Car. A synchronized Elmo-robot team operates pedals, wheel and gear shaft, and responds to voice commands. Other robots rearrange and construct theme parks in response to visitors’ feedback. If you like something, just rate it with your joystick, and it moves forward in the exhibit; hate it and its banished.
  8. 3D Printers and Scanners. This equipment produces anything from a doll to a car part to a door. Once programmed, 3D machines and robots do all the heavy lifting; really they are the Makers in this book. Seemingly, theme park exhibits transform completely for our satisfaction – and so I imagine, why not the real world? Sure to send quivers into any AEC pro.
  9. Goop. The raw material inserted in the 3D printer, referred to as a type of Silly Putty, becomes a high-tech commodity. 3D printers can be programmed to only accept certain types of goop, much like printer cartridges today. Free printers are loss-leaders while profit comes from selling goop. Goop can be made of recycled materials melted down and mixed with epoxy. The key ingredient for all products, whether assembled by robots or extruded from 3D printers, is junk.

What Do I Love and Fear About Makers’ World?
Innovation celebrated, freedom from big business, robots constantly building cool things, rides that reinvent instantaneously, handmade cities with lively communities – what a fantastic world!

OTOH grand gestures seem completely missing in action. No mention of beauty other than humans and some of the Disney experience. The rest sounds like Frankenstein cities, assembled from cast-offs and gerry-rigged to new uses.

Architects and engineers would be part of the design/build crew – making, remaking, and programming robots. The rapid-fire change means we would learn from failures faster, do it better tomorrow. That’s fantastic, actually.

Does Makers Include Architects, Engineers or Contractors?

As it is now, we fear our mistakes since a botched design can live for decades. Or as Frank Lloyd Wright said: we plant ivy.

Frankly, some lessons are not at all clear until a place is built and used. On every project, the designer says “drat!” about something, “aha!” about something else. We live and learn with regrets; find joy in happy accidents. But we rarely get to fix problems. A missed opportunity is just that; gone.

With assembled structures and swarms of construction robots, we could improve a space constantly. Need a bigger assembly space? send the bots. More doors or windows? Better shading devices? Fire up the 3D printer. Thinking on your feet and working with existing resources become a new form of modeling at full scale. Thrilling! Design/build as performance art.

I would truly welcome this world, even though the pressure to perform would be enormous. Imagine, nearly instant turn-around!! Lag-time would disappear.

Yet, I bet architects, engineers, and construction folks would be far less useful or common. The concept of citizen inventors extends to citizen architects and builders too.

Those Professions Formerly Known As…
In this low-scale, robot-constructed world, expertise may be nearly worthless in design and construction. Computer models would set design parameters for spans and fire codes, even for functional uses and types of experiences. Want quiet and peaceful, pick Option 21058; workspace for call centers, pick Option 84205.

Instead, in the Makers world, we survive by the worthiness of our ideas. Buildings are built and perhaps rebuilt or modified in a day. We design, hit the send button, and then boom, it’s built by robot swarms and 3D extractions.

Services are shortened to schematics and oversight. Explaining what is needed, and what is possible will be accompanied by robot-built models. Presentations might be daily events, so gear up communication skills.

While knowledge of the field is essential, with automated design and construction processes, the number of people working at each role could be substantially reduced. Innovators, synthesizers, folks who can think across platforms, communicate ideas, and know how things fit together would be at a premium. Production jobs in today’s world and folks that make it happen may be less essential.

Picture cities as anthills, emerging from a million small actions instead of grand schemes orchestrated by experts.

How Much of a Stretch?
I’ve taken Doctorow’s ideas and asked: what would this mean for entire cities? If we had this technology, these sensibilities and resources, how would we make buildings? Furthermore, what would it mean for those of us that love to make cities? I hope the author is tolerant of my stretch.

Imagining the future is the best way to shape it and the only way to prepare ourselves.

Makers presents a scenario that is far from an architect’s dream. It’s a tough environment for engineers, planners, and contractors as well. Even city leaders and developers would have to step aside for this tsunami of citizen action.

Just as content and media platforms have become free for publishing, if materials and real estate lose their economic clout, and design/build processes are automated, active users will create cities.

Would you choose to live in Makers world?

You can buy it here: http://bit.ly/5rw5gH
You can read more at http://craphound.com/makers/

What Is Geo-Engineering? Cool, Clear Images

These images complement my last article: How Technology Will Shape 21st Century Cities: Geo-Engineering, which was a bit skimpy on pics, heavy on narrative.http://bit.ly/43oNLs  Here are four more illustrations. One diagrams options, two rank them in cost-benefit analyses, and one does both.

The one that both diagrams and analyzes: New Scientist gave the most comprehensive version with a 3D image of options with rankings. http://bit.ly/13zjI7 Space mirrors (or reflectors, shields) rank highest overall and most expensive. Aerosols, cloud seeding and afforesting are shown as good options for less cost.

 

Geoengineering_3d_newscientist

 

A diagram only: The University of East Anglia (on Next Big Future) created a simple illustration of solutions.http://bit.ly/1l0IEA

Geoengineering_options_diagram

A cost-benefit analysis comes from the impressive report by The Royal Society. Aerosols come out best and surface albedo (light, reflective surfaces) either in cities or on the desert rank worst. Space reflectors or shields also rank high in efficacy but are not affordable. http://bit.ly/4jAytC (I featured this one in a September posthttp://bit.ly/35GuU9.) Heres the full report:http://bit.ly/37pFFp 

 

Geoengineering_royal_institute

 

Another ranking of the solutions: As presented at an October symposium at MIT (on CNET), Phillip Boyd of University of Otago rated five categories of climate engineering based on four factors. The researcher considered all options a minefield of social and political factors. The symposium participants voiced a great deal of skepticism and caution, with far more testing and life cycle costs analysis recommended before any action is taken. To which I say, amen!http://bit.ly/1Wc6nC

 

Geoengineering_ranking_greente

 

Geo-engineering is no panacea for climate change; sustainable development and practices plus mitigation efforts are essential, necessary steps now. The conversation and testing on geo-engineered remediation picked up pace this year. We need to be informed and proceed cautiously b/c errors could be devastating. Public debates and global negotiations are beginning, and should be openly transparent. See my original analysis for more detail.http://bit.ly/43oNLs

Check out my delicious bookmarks on geo-engineering too.http://delicious.com/CindyFW/geoengineering

How Technology Will Shape 21st Century Cities: Geoengineering

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In October, I covered a list of 20 items from The Futurist magazine’s Outlook 2010 (Nov-Dec 09 issue http://bit.ly/xFR5C) that will shape 21st c cities. http://bit.ly/154×84 Now I am adding other trends, ideas, and forecasts beyond their list. I addressed megacities, water, robotics, and whole cities in the first four. http://bit.ly/2CZkcS http://bit.ly/4Cmu32 http://bit.ly/1TGe4T http://bit.ly/47hhNH This article considers a significant new technology: geoengineering.

Science Fiction or Global Mandate?
While climate change and global warming remain controversial, arguments about solutions elevate tensions exponentially. One option under consideration, geoengineering or intentional climate manipulation, makes scientists and engineers sound like science fiction fanatics. http://bit.ly/1Sok5B Simulated volcanoes? Ocean algae? Flying mirrors? Consequently, people arrive at the negotiating table in polar-opposite camps, lines in the sand, as either evangelists or naysayers. http://bit.ly/K0uz7

Yet undeniably, we have been practicing geoengineering unintentionally at least since the birth of industrialization. http://bit.ly/2Hpq1S http://bit.ly/1pfZ4A Now we are faced with engineering the planet’s climate intentionally and cooperatively. As Stewart Brand, environmental pioneer, says: We are as gods; we might as well get good at it. Moreover, we have to get good at it. http://bit.ly/7ZcQ3

We, Not Us Versus Them
Among the most vexing issues is coordination among nations. On geoengineering, we act for the whole planet and everyone is a participant. Already people and nations commonly practice local weather experiments. Last year, China openly seeded clouds to reduce the chance that the Olympics would be interrupted by rain. http://bit.ly/3dphXY

None have attempted to implement climate change on a global scale, yet the commotion surrounding options grows daily, which makes action increasingly likely. This week, the US Congress held hearings and undoubtedly similar talks are taking place in every country. In just a few months, geoengineering has moved from a sci-fi fantasy to a necessary global conversation.

Where Does Geoengineering Fit?
Geoengineering necessarily begins with a slate of options surrounding climate change to figure out if we can avoid it all together. Possible solutions focus on three types of intervention, according to Jamais Cascio. http://bit.ly/1jFCvi We can prevent, mitigate damage, and remediate or reverse global warming.

  1. Prevention in terms of cities and buildings is part of the goal of sustainable, or green, solutions. Reduce use of fossil fuels that emit carbon by switching to alternative energies and by conservation. Conservation involves energy efficient buildings defined by USGBC’s LEED program and the UK’s BREEAM assessment. http://bit.ly/D6G5T  Changing the built environment occurs one building and one district at a time and will take decades. More immediately, changing behavior could happen immediately, yet in fact, social change also takes years, if not generations. Consequently, prevention is just a portion of the wedge solutions and other options are needed. http://bit.ly/3XqERa
  2. Mitigation refers to reducing catastrophic threats, such as protecting coastlines, (see 21st Century Cities: Water http://bit.ly/4Cmu32), modifying agricultural practices, and conserving water to decrease resource conflicts. These solutions do nothing to prevent progressively worse problems of an increasingly warm atmosphere.
  3. Remediation attacks climate change head-on by slowing or reversing global warming. Geoengineering is at the heart of remediation and also considered in the menu of wedge options. http://bit.ly/3XqERa The effects to temperatures can occur within a year although transforming the planet’s ecology may take decades or longer. Therein lies one of the risks; we won’t know the results in real time.

Prevention is the rallying cry for most environmentalists, me included. Building owners, government agencies, the public and AEC professionals increasingly mandate sustainable development. Regardless of remediation, prevention is an entry point for long-term stability, good design, and healthy lifestyles.

Are We Ready?
Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 Indonesian tsunami indicate that most if not all countries have enormous mitigation problems. The massive costs of preemptive change are dwarfed by the images of these destructive events and the loss of life. Yet investing in huge infrastructure projects for future possibilities falls far behind the needs of today’s crises. The question is: how many people and cities are we willing to sacrifice? Close to home most would say, none at all.

Consequently, while geoengineered remediation initially strikes many people as “you have got to be kidding me” and then as, “no way we can control the side-effects,” the fact is that we – or someone – will attempt massive geo-engineering climate change. We need to be experts for protection and most likely for proaction. That essentially is the debate. And it’s a debate that is past due.

Geoengineering Options
The types of geoengineering approaches fall into two categories, according to The Royal Society. http://bit.ly/37pFFp

  1. Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) or long-wave approaches pull CO2 out of atmosphere to slow global warming by capturing and burying or by allowing it to escape the atmosphere. Includes reforestation, bio-char production and storage, air capture or carbon capture at source and carbon disposal, and ocean fertilization e.g. plankton or algae blooms.
  2. Solar Radiation Management (SRM) or short-wave increases surface reflectivity (albedo) or blocks sunlight. Options include space shields e.g. giant orbiting mirrors, stratospheric sulfate aerosols, cloud seeding, and cloud brightening with seawater.

Stratospheric aerosols (such as simulated volcanoes or aerosols released from airplanes) are the best investment although it requires continual implementation while urban surface albedo (light colored cities, deserts) is the least effective. In general, CDR/long wave is considerably less effective at quickly altering temperatures than SRM, although has better efficacy over time. (Lenton & Vaughn 2009) http://bit.ly/14wsNZ

What Will It Mean to Us?
In terms of the built environment, lighter, more reflective surfaces are part of sustainable design, both LEED and BREEAM. Over time, cities should become lighter and greener with less solid, dark surfaces. Some geoengineering solutions may be built into the fabric of the city and highly visible, such as one proposal to create reflective artificial trees along roadways. If that option became as prolific as say power lines, our urban landscapes would be substantially altered.

Environmental changes would also affect us. Dimming sunlight could have massive implications for our experience of place and the effect on plant life. Aerosols will lighten the sky, change sunrises and sunsets, and could damage the ozone layer. Changing deserts or fertilizing oceans could be a difficult if not disastrous ecological option. Reforestation reduces farm land, which affects food production and livelihoods. Yet these options warrant full consideration including open debates about possible consequences.

In addition, unintended consequences could include increased humidity, drought, and possible health implications of various aerosols. All of these risks are potential, not pre-determined.

I considered the ethics of geoengineering and outlined ideas in these posts: http://bit.ly/35GuU9 http://bit.ly/1HIIiw  We need to continue with prevention and mitigation full-speed while we fully weigh geo-engineering.

How Do We Choose?
The difficulties of agreeing on the best options, determining risks, and measuring the impact, especially given the 20-30 year time lag for climate change, makes geoengineering thorny. Moreover, the mandate of “do no harm” and allowing reversibility increases our struggle 1000-fold. Implications must be considered in systematic terms, the potential consequences are enormous, and frankly, we still won’t be completely certain.

According to Lenton and Vaughn, our choices depend on how quickly and drastically we act.

By 2050, only stratospheric aerosol injections or sunshades in space have the potential to cool the climate back toward its pre-industrial state, but some land carbon cycle geoengineering options are of comparable magnitude to mitigation “wedges”. Strong mitigation, i.e. large reductions in CO2 emissions, combined with global-scale air capture and storage, deforestation, and bio-char production, i.e. enhanced CO2 sinks, might be able to bring CO2 back to its pre-industrial level by 2100, thus removing the need for other geo-engineering. http://bit.ly/14wsNZ

A future of a healthy atmosphere will only occur through a combination of changes to behavior, building and city choices, mitigating possible damage, recovery after catastrophes, and, yes, large-scale global engineering solutions – intentional, beneficial, accidental, and sadly, even malicious.

Looking Ahead
In fact, it is possible that only a few of these geo-engineering options will be necessary. Furthermore, the entire budget may be less than $10 billion, a relatively small global investment. The questions are: which options, who pays, who is liable for failures, and the extraordinarily sticky issue of who controls the projects. Furthermore, the risk of geoengineered terrorism is quite likely.

In other words, geoengineering will be part of everyday life and responsibility will fall on every country and individual, just as other security and environmental issues do today. New fields will emerge in geo-engineering, science, business, military, geo-ethics, and if there is to be solutions at all, in global diplomatic security and negotiations.

In the next article, I’ll look at more technological influences on 21st century cities. The goal here is 10 additional city-shaping ideas, and this is the fifth in the series. Thanks for reading and retweeting. Questions, comments, and ideas welcome!

image: http://pesd.stanford.edu/news/science_progress_geoengineering/#

 

Trends Shaping 21st Century Cities: Whole Cities, Living Buildings

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Last week, I covered a list of 20 items from The Futurist magazine’s Outlook 2010 (Nov-Dec 09 issuehttp://bit.ly/xFR5C) that will shape 21st c cities.http://bit.ly/154×84 Now I am adding other trends, ideas, and forecasts beyond their list. I addressed megacities, water, and robotics in the first three.http://bit.ly/2CZkcS http://bit.ly/4Cmu32http://bit.ly/1TGe4T This article considers the city as a whole system.

The Whole City

We see the modern, industrial city in parts. One segment is for houses, another for industrial, and entirely other areas for shops and offices. Consequently, we drive or take public transit from place to place. In the mid 21st century city, we will use and create whole cities and buildings differently than we did industrial cities.

Several forces are causing cities to change shape. First of all, commutes in cars are expensive, dangerous, and time consuming. No one likes to sit in congestion for hours every week but they do because their jobs and their families are separated by miles. In the past twenty years, new ideas such as New Urbanism and walkability emerged to change that, which will become evident in the next few decades (see Living Cities below). Second, women in the workplace increased reasons to have home and work closer. In addition, higher energy costs, aging population, and environmental problems influence new urban patterns, as will virtual and augmented reality. 

Perhaps most significantly, cities are now seen not just as machines for moving people and produce but as places for living. The Project for Public Spaces looks at how to create engaging public spaces that focuses on distinct places (see diagram).http://www.pps.org/ People seek higher quality, diverse urban experiences and engaged communities.  

I consider how looking at whole cities shapes 21st century built environments: the Living Building Challenge and Living Cities.

1.      The Living Building

The Living Building Challenge by Jason McLennan pushes the idea of sustainable building beyond energy efficiency; instead, structures or districts generate more energy than they use. They return energy to the grid to be used by others and are measured on six performance areas: Site, Energy, Materials, Water, Indoor Quality, and Beauty and Inspiration.http://bit.ly/3Nd8l2

An earlier model called the triple bottom line also accounts for the quality of life in terms of: people, planet, and prosperity; or sometimes referred to as: social equity, ecology, and economics.http://bit.ly/bR2cX  I worked on a 3,000 acre adaptive reuse of a former naval base in North Charleston SC called Noisette with BNIM and Burt Hill architects that used the triple bottom line approach.http://www.noisettesc.com/ The developer, John Knott, went to great effort to incorporate a whole system approach to build a community, not simply bricks and mortar, and subsequently was recognized by ULI and ASLA for urban design excellence. Ecology, heritage, and arts as well as economics drove decisions.

Clearly, the push to consider social equity, wellness, experience, education, social justice, etc in measuring the impact of building choices will reshape future cities. We are beginning to frame questions about cities not in single terms such as congestion or real estate values. Instead, the city is seen as a place of distinct experiences for building communities.

2.      Living Cities, New Urbanism, Smart Growth

Larger questions concern the shape of the city. How will peak oil affect cities? How do we attract growth, jobs, and new residents? Do we continue to invest in new infrastructure and abandoning existing districts? Boulder and Portland have zoning regulations to control growth at the perimeter. Brookings Institute is one of the major proponents of contained development, called Smart Growth.http://bit.ly/4yDOGp

A number of models and theories support various cures for industrialized, car-based cities, and clearly I shouldn’t even try to summarize it too briefly. My point is simple (and hopefully not overly simplified): these ideas have certain commonalities and compatibilities, although not always creating precisely the same impact on cities.

The New Urbanist movement promoted the first major concept for post-industrial cities in terms of public spaces, pedestrian-oriented, and mixed uses so that major services were within walking distances.http://bit.ly/fhGhg  Related patterns emerged as walkability, density, green cities, compact cities, traffic calming, and even slow cities, which are based on the idea of slow food and a less frenetic pace.http://bit.ly/4hshXh All of them address anti-dotes for industrial cities, and have by and large compatible intentions.

Each concept relates to the idea of the quality of life, the experience of the city, and reconnecting life and cities.

Furthermore, the idea of the agile, resilient city, the adaptable city is emerging. In other words, while modern cities traditionally are planned, infrastructure built, and development begins, new cities may emerge in a more flexible way. Any city that relies chiefly on cars as transportation will continue to be dominated by transportation systems, an extremely costly, rigid form. Similarly, fixed rail system creates a very obdurate infrastructure.

In reverse, if some elements become more transient or mobile, others may become increasingly durable. For instance memorials and cultural institutions may represent the citys heritage, thus making gps devices even more necessary for wayfinding. Every change creates a counter movement. In this case, some buildings may be assembled, and easily moved, while others may be built to last. (see posts on augmented reality http://bit.ly/1y7rqI.)

 

Looking Ahead

To create completely new urban shapes, many elements come into play: technology, demographics, sustainability, economics, and attitudes. Furthermore, while these trends address positive actions, cities are also places of decline and sometimes complete societal collapse. 

While I previously said I would write about geo-engineering and infrastructure in this post, I saw that to think of those topics comprehensively, whole cities came first. Technology including geo-engineering will be next.

How Robots Will Shape 21st Century Cities: Constructing and Using Cities

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Last week, I covered a list of 20 items from The Futurist magazine’s Outlook 2010 (Nov-Dec 09 issuehttp://bit.ly/xFR5C) that will shape 21st c cities.http://bit.ly/154×84 Now I am adding other trends, ideas, and forecasts beyond their list. The first article outlined three comprehensive topics, The Great Urban Divide, Megacities, and Poly-Centric Regionhttp://bit.ly/2CZkcS, and the second one focused on water and cities.http://bit.ly/4Cmu32  This article will cover robotics and cities, which, like water, deserves an entire article.

Extensions of Humans

Marshall McLuhan, renowned for “The media is the message,” also invented the notion of technology as extensions of humans. Every technology extends our bodies or minds. Therefore, the hammer extends our hands, the car extends our legs, and the computer extends our minds.

The robot promises to extend our capacity in continuously surprising ways. Furthermore, robots threaten us because unlike other machines, they act autonomously. Their potential raises significant questions: Will robots someday replace, harm, or even overthrow us?

Sixty years ago, in anticipation of the potential threat, Isaac Asimov created the three laws of robots: 1) They must not harm us. 2) They must obey us, except where they do us harm. 3) They must protect their own existence unless it conflicts with laws 1 or 2.http://bit.ly/3VKhF0 With great foresight, Asimov framed our moral dilemma when robots were still just an idea. Yet his laws have been broken already in the field of military weapons, spurring debate by robot-ethicists. http://bit.ly/HkQLO 

These questions become increasingly complex with the advancement of artificial intelligence (AI), also called singularity.http://bit.ly/oxKV1  Ray Kurzweil anticipates that we will see robots with human intelligence in the next few decades. The singularity moment is defined by the Turing test. Can a machine engage in natural conversation?http://bit.ly/xVoh6

As robots invade every aspect of living and working, its definition evolves. The University of Texas Robotics Research Group defines a robot as: “An automatic device that performs functions normally ascribed to humans or a machine in the form of a human.”http://bit.ly/3VKhF0  Which begs the question, when is a machine a robot? For example, is a car a robot?

I would make the distinction that a machine becomes a robot when it is able to perform its primary function – such as transportation – without human interaction. For example, the Lexus car that self-parks is operating in that function as a robot car.http://bit.ly/1Xihx6

I consider robots and cities in three areas: construction, mobility, and daily functions.

1.      Constructing Cities and Buildings

While cars have been built with robots since the 1980s, retooling manufacturing plants and labor practices has taken three decades. Building cities with robots will even more complex. The first step is constructing buildings as prefabricated mass-produced buildings. Making parts or entire modular sections in a shop or factory lend itself to stationary industrial robots, which has been in practice for decades.http://bit.ly/2kFqGW More interesting are robots that function on site, such as for improving safety.  Or for aiding carpenters.http://bit.ly/3AQA2l Small caterpillar-like robots climb tall poles and perform checks, thereby protecting workers from dangerous tasks.http://bit.ly/1FeUGj At some point, I believe that workers will demand robots on-site, just as I imagine that soldiers look to drones as first responders to bomb threats. In the future, robots will build many portions of buildings at construction sites, such as this demonstration model that builds walls. http://bit.ly/11Xyf6 

2.      Mobility or Where’s My Flying Car?

We have used elevators for over 100 years, and escalators and moving walkways are nothing new. Trains and planes have autopilot functions. Imagine if our cars could be automated at that level, especially without tracks. London Heathrow Airport is building a personal rapid transportation system to open in 2010 with whiz-bang futuristic cabs.http://bit.ly/1BTP6Q The privacy unavailable in public transit or safety problems of private cars is solved with electric zero-carbon system. Completely autonomous vehicles are being tested.http://bit.ly/4APQZN Beyond the self-parking Lexus, the next step for these vehicles is sensing devices that monitor speeds and space cars properly, or stop accidents. Automated highway systems or intelligent highways would work with the cars to control traffic.http://bit.ly/35mQ0T

The Segway promised to revolutionize mobility, a highly over-estimated claim that merely demonstrates the difficulties of transforming transportation. New tech is just the first step; widespread adoption means changing regulations, urban design, and ultimately behaviors. This year, the company teamed with GM to add a Segway car, which promises to raise similar issues. Where do these vehicles belong – with cars, bikes, or pedestrians?http://bit.ly/avzDu It is a beautiful little vehicle that operates more like a golf cart than a car and seemingly would be at home in slower paced districts without congestion to minimize conflicts.

Flying cars already exist, the Moller being the closest to a true example http://bit.ly/22rAXQ. Much like the Segway, they lack a good fit in cities. We have to ask: How do we create order in the air to enable wayfinding and minimize crashes? How do we keep them out of commercial fly zones? Furthermore if you have mechanical failure, you have a crash landing instead of simply a stalled car. The safety and congestion problems of thousands if not millions of personal flying vehicles require far higher technology, training, and attention than we put on automobiles.

Finally, some of the most intriguing mobility devices are in eko-skeleton concepts. Strap them on and traversing a mile becomes a far simpler matter, both faster and easier.http://bit.ly/wuyUb Pedestrian distances to conveniences could be revolutionized by these various robots and transform how we use cities.

Here are a number of robots that we may see in coming decades.http://bit.ly/8jEcx 

3.      Daily Functions Using Buildings and Cities

You have probably heard of refrigerators that track your food and place grocery orders, or appliances that respond remotely such as digital recordings or coffee machines. Robotic vacuum cleaners (roombas) have been in use for over a decade, and lawn mowing for the past few years.  (Today HuffPo imagines these seemingly tame devices may try to kill us.http://bit.ly/4pPWLY – a joke or too close for comfort?) Maintenance technology is expanding to street cleaning with the Scarab, a sort of Wall-E for streets.http://bit.ly/1j2W8Y 

Swarming robots the size of a finger nail can carry small solar films and supply power on-demand.http://bit.ly/2DrFn They may sense room comfort, provide light, heat, air flow, or convey images from one space to another. Why go visit the boss when you can send a swarm? Furniture also looks to be smart and flexible, such as modular parts that re-assemble for chairs or tables.http://bit.ly/oWsmf Smart technology which uses reading sensors, codes objects with rfids and can automate our energy grid or transportation system is related automation on a massive scale. Robots and the Internet of Things http://bit.ly/XfDIw will do for cities and buildings what Gameboy did for board games.

Furthermore, how we use buildings and how we assemble and make things can be made easier with robots. Industry is constantly finding new ways to use robots, such as this Gap warehouse.http://bit.ly/19WpHr Cleaning, organizing, maintaining a house will become ever more automated. Robot, read me the headlines now.   

Looking Ahead

Robots will immerse our cities with automation and change how we live and work, no doubt, even who we are. For example, I might say I am not a robot, but my arm is, or my eye is. Transhumanism is reshaping how we define machine and human. http://bit.ly/41qWQs We will work with robots, and yes, I think even grow attached to them. Some will emulate humans or animals, and others will be strange forms or geometric shapes suited to some particular task. Robot as a term has been useful as a machine of the future; at some point, we will need far more specific descriptions. Building them, maintaining, updating, using, and teaching robotics are specialized career paths. Eventually, Robots 101 will be a basic course.

You can find more robot references on my delicious site (cindyfw). http://bit.ly/21qCK0

Next I focus on more technology that will shape 21st century cities: geo-engineering and nanotechnology.

photo credit: Hallucigenia Project, IATSS Research 28.1 (2004) by Shunji Yamanaka, Automotive Transportation Gallery, U of California Library, Berkeley

How Water Will Shape 21st Century Cities: Floating Cities, Wave Power, Coastal Protection

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Last week, I covered a list of 20 items from The Futurist magazine’s Outlook 2010 (Nov-Dec 09 issue http://bit.ly/xFR5C) that will shape 21st c cities.http://bit.ly/w1po5Now I am adding other trends, ideas, and forecasts beyond their list. The first segment included The Great Urban Divide, Megacities, and Poly-Centric Regions. http://bit.ly/2CZkcS This article covers three ideas involving water and cities.

Dry Mouths, Wet Feet
Water makes a claim on people and cities that is both undeniable and paradoxical. Both people and the planet are largely composed of water, and while we need it to survive, we tend to either be dehydrated or flooded, sometimes simultaneously. In fact, 900 million people are without clean drinking water today with estimates that 1.8 billion will suffer by 2025 and 2/3rds of us will be under severe water stress. http://bit.ly/46PnLY Water scarcity threatens not only the developing world but also parts of the United States in California and in the Colorado and Rio Grande river basins. http://bit.ly/4dEjPa Last year, Atlanta was on the brink of disaster. http://bit.ly/2QJOXW Furthermore, in the US, residential water costs have doubled in the past ten years, even as streets are flooding. It defies common sense.

A brilliant civil engineer told me that if you took the peak waterfall in an area, say 6-12 inches in a day which is an extraordinary amount of rain, and managed to hold it in place for a 24 hour period, you could solve the problems of urban flooding. Imagine a holding place on your property that could handle that run-off, use it for landscape or gray water, and you’ll save your city tremendous problems and lower your water bills as well. http://bit.ly/1bs00F

For buildings, we are concerned with conservation and net zero water buildings (from the excellent Living Building Challenge). http://bit.ly/1axHS9 For cities the problem is more complex. Water is part of the infrastructure for both water in (to drink, irrigate, etc), and water out in the form of sanitary sewers and storm water systems, including many cities which unfortunately combine the two. Where ground water is depleted, subsidence affects many cities dramatically with sink holes increasingly common. http://bit.ly/3Fpqoq Flooding and drought represent two other forms of disaster, witness the devastation of New Orleans and last month found Sydney in a red dust storm. http://bit.ly/htF7h

In short, we have over-engineered and misunderstood the magnitude and significance of water. With dryer, hotter climates and more people, sustainable water management needs to be built into our lives. To nourish 9 billion people, we will be modifying cities and learning new habits. Three exciting ideas may come into play: floating buildings, wave energy, and barriers to rising oceans.

1. Floating Structures
While floating houses have been common for decades if not longer, the thought of floating cities has intrigued designers with few successful installations. The Citadel floats on a polder which is part of the natural tidal plain of the Netherlands. http://bit.ly/w2YSv New Orleans Arcology Habitat (NOAH), a mega-structure city, houses a population of 30,000 people on a pyramid-like form. http://bit.ly/mofah The Lilypad by Vincent Callebaut is specifically planned for climate change disasters and would shelter 50,000 refugees. http://bit.ly/2DR7xZ Smaller scale temporary architecture offers immediate inspiration with this elegant wooden hotel in Helsinki. http://bit.ly/3oCzAJ Far-thinking visions of mid-century architects such as Bucky Fuller and Paolo Soleri are revived in these floating designs.

2. Wave Power
Wave farms could hug the coasts of major cities and supply energy for the massive populations. Numerous proposals consider how to harness tidal waves into electrical power; some are visually elegant. Last year, Portugal opened the first wave farm but it has already been closed. The Sea Snake is an invention of Scottish company Pelamis Wave Power. http://bit.ly/4grUz5 Biowave power is under consideration for the bay of San Francisco. http://bit.ly/2vd1Vi

3. Protecting Coastal Cities
In coming decades, cities will grapple with rising oceans, threats of flooding, and increased storm events. http://bit.ly/17dHjw Beyond emergency planning for storm events, cities must prepare for chronic high water. Change should occur gradually (not like those crazy disaster films) unless the city sits truly below sea level as is the case of New Orleans, which places a city at risk of levee failure. Options include raising the ground elevation, allowing submergence by waterproofing such as a pool or submarine, abandoning facilities, floating as in item 1, or barricading between sea and city. Most would prefer the last option because it represents maintaining normal life except at the perimeter. Consequently, an era of expensive, elaborate sea walls, dykes, levees, seagates, and so on is coming. The Rising Tide competition to save San Francisco from higher oceans illustrates the need for adaptation, invention, and resiliency. http://bit.ly/3um1Ta For Chicago, UrbanLab invented the eco-boulevard to grow water resources in a closed loop system. http://bit.ly/2yZIKi

Looking Ahead
Water represents so many possibilities and problems as we aim to use it, but not drowned in it, and leave it for next generations. We have seen water problems emerging since the Great Depression and they continue to spread and multiply. Amazing inventions have accomplished huge steps forward yet we have not solved anything entirely. Sustainable water management and net zero water exist today; therefore I placed them in my descriptions of the present conditions, not in the future. Yet most places have not adopted these practices and we remain at the mercy of poor, aging infrastructure.

As it’s said: the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed. (William Gibson)

Next I focus on two high tech areas that will shape 21st century cities: robotics and geo-engineering.

Three Ideas That Will Shape 21st Century Cities: Urban Divide, Megacities, and Poly-Centric Regions

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The past two days, I covered a list of 20 items from The Futurist magazine’s Outlook 2010 (Nov-Dec 09 issuehttp://bit.ly/xFR5C) that will shape 21st c cities.http://bit.ly/w1po5 Now I am adding other trends, ideas, and forecasts beyond their list. First, a bit of context.

The Urban Century

As of 2007, more of us live in cities than not, which is an historic first. Furthermore, during the next four decades, the world population is predicted to add 3 billion more people and nearly all of that growth will be in cities.http://bit.ly/4DMSUD

In other words, during the past 10,000 years of civilization, we grew to the point that 3 billion people live in cities. Now we will add that many again by 2058.

Think about it: Are our cities prepared to deal with doubling size in the next forty years?

Cities In Crisis and Opportunity

Urban change will not be entirely incremental, just more and more of the same; cities will fundamentally transform, in many parts beyond recognition.

The reason I say this with such sureness is by looking backward. To see what lies ahead, futurists become great students of history. We look backward in order to see forward. If you look at 1950, cities are nearly unrecognizable. And 1900, even moreso.

A Very Brief and Recent History

When forecasting, I think about time in blocks or at particular milestones.

  • In 1900, London was the largest city, eight of the top ten largest were in Europe or the US, most people lived without in-door plumbing and many without power, and one of the largest problems was horse manure overwhelming streets. http://bit.ly/3qYMXD
  • By 1950, New York emerged as the first megacity and power and plumbing were solved in developed countries. However, cities beyond the industrialized west began to fall behind in their technology. The societies remained primarily agricultural.
    • You might say that’s the period when the urban divide emerged. Before industrialization, all cities were primitive – that is, they employed basic construction technology - and societies were primarily rural. Now cities diverged into two distinct paths. Power, transportation, and increasingly complex infrastructure arrived in some cities, and lagged in others. For those cities who industrialized, life changed immeasurably during the first half of the 20th century; it was a transformational change, not just more of the same.   
  • By 2000, Tokyo was the world’s largest and a sea change hit the rest of the top ten list. Only London and New York remained from prior lists. The other largest cities are entirely in developing countries. By 2015, London falls out of the top ten. Furthermore, Tokyo and New York hold their spots by retaining, not adding, people. They are barely growing.

1.      The Great Urban Divide

Growth in Asian cities is exploding. Mumbai, Delhi, Shanghai, Calcutta, and Jakarta lead the world through a combination of rural-urban migration and population increases (not true for China of course that has low fertility rate).http://bit.ly/1Fabe9 Each country has its own problems. While China has organized massive long-term development plans, they build sub-standard buildingshttp://bit.ly/3cBtnB and their cities’ air is the most polluted in the world.http://bit.ly/15i1cj. India struggles with squatters villages, infrastructure, transportation, education, and jobs.

Cities in developing countries grow at a rapid clip of 3 percent annually yes, those cities will gain the lions share of the next 3 billion people – while developed countries that have long been urbanized are maintaining existing population. Therefore, developing countries’ concerns are with massive amounts of new infrastructure, institutions and services while developed countries are repairing, renovating, and re-inventing. The Great Urban Divide looks to continue until the world population balances in mid- 21st century.

2.      The Rise of Megacities

Defined as cities with populations over 10 million people, 20-25 mega-cities will exist by 2015 (depending on how you define the circumference).http://bit.ly/16E5JR  While 6.9% lived in mega-cities in 1990, over 12% will be in the 23 largest cities by 2015. That represents an increase urban population from 98 million to 378 million people.

Imagine, in this 25-year period, 23 cities are adding 12 million new people each! Just the housing and infrastructure required is mind- boggling, much less jobs, education, health care, banks, shops, and so on. Look at your city and think about that magnitude of change. 

Moreover, almost all of that growth is occurring not in Toyko, New York, or London, but in India, China, and Indonesia. Even mega-cities are experiencing an urban divide. There are two forms: those more or less built by now, and those that are still building. They have one thing in common: all are scrambling for resources.

3.      Polycentric Cities

While developing countries are squeezing enormous numbers of people into incredibly dense megacities, developed countries are sprawling and eventually converging in what Sir Peter Hall dubbed the polyopolis, or poly-centric regions.http://bit.ly/3M3Pvk The distinction between mega-cities and poly-centric cities is due to transportation and historic growth. Polycentric regions emerge with multiple cities and urban cores, linked by networks in economically beneficial collaborations. Hall identified eight European areas as mega-city regions and three or four in North America.

Polycentric regions tend to be areas of highly developed technology and with historic social and political patterns. The problems are split governance and enabling a division of resources. In effect, with regional relationships paramount yet without centralized government, a new field of urban diplomacy and legal negotiations is emerging. 

Looking Ahead

While it may seem like this tale of divided problems means we don’t need to worry about urban troubles half way around the globe, that is folly. Two things are shared and deeply linked: the environment and the world economy. Collaboration, risk, opportunity all converge.

No one has yet to build the perfect city. We can learn from each other.

Next I focus on some technological ventures: floating cities, robotics, and geo-engineering.

 

What’s Next for 21st Century Cities? Part 2

Fuller_dome

Yesterday, I posted ten trends from The Futurist magazine Outlook 2010,http://bit.ly/xFR5C which I selected from approximately 80 topics and modified them to apply to cities. The trends were organized into ten domains. I covered five of them in Part I: Environmental, Government, Habitats, Health and Medicine, and Information Society.http://bit.ly/w1po5

 

Today, I look at the other four domains. (One area in Outlook 2010, “Business”, didn’t cover any issues with distinct implications for cities, as strange as that may seem.)

 

Lifting ideas from The Futurists’ prognostications and modifying them for 21st century communities, here are ten forecasts that will shape cities. I added comments in italics.

 

Lifestyles and Values

1.      Transit Oriented Cities. While 7 out of 8 Americans own cars today, only two-thirds will own cars in coming decades. We already see car sharing http://bit.ly/2gUsnk, more bikes and a strong push for public transit. The biggest change over time will be in denser, mixed used communities, based on infill and adaptive reuse to retrofit areas and for new developments.

2.      Active Older Population. The oldest segment, Centenarians, is also the fastest growing and will double. Furthermore, this group along with people over 70 is healthier, more active and has more resources. They will demand buildings and public spaces that accommodate older bodies and activities and experiences that cater to their needs.

3.      Virtual Reality as Testing Platform. While The Futurist listed VR as an area to expand research on ethics and moral dilemmas, I think that that we will also see the AEC professions, government agencies and private developers test development ideas via virtual environments. Primitive technology at this time, it may soon be a mandatory means of sharing development plans. Design professionals always wanted more public participation – be careful what you wish for! It could be a tidal wave.

Science and Technology

4.      Brain-to-Brain Telepathy. Or brain-to-thing messages. For example, we can think our house warm, lights on, windows closed, or oven cooking. Particularly useful for people with health problems such as dementia or physical disabilities.http://bit.ly/4uVs39 The twitter house experiment demonstrates the possibilities.http://bit.ly/dFIaW

5.      3D Prototype Printing. These printers which are now used for fabricating manufactured parts and making architectural models will enable people to print objects ranging from building parts to containers to furniture.http://bit.ly/8p5zs Distribution, shopping patterns and object design will change as a result.

Work and Careers

6.      Growing Workforce; Shrinking Talent Pool. Financial concerns and healthy aging may add to the workforce with delayed or partial retirement. Yet a shortage of technology workers is looming. Workplaces would need to accommodate an older workforce, and public transit and nearby services become even more important. A countertrend is increased robotics which could reduce available jobs. Furthermore, education needs a full re-vamping, integrated into all levels of activity from personal finance to upgrading our employment potential.http://bit.ly/4fGV4D

7.      Terrorism Thwarted. Jihadist rehabilitations programs sponsored by Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and others may shrink global terrorism. To me, that sounds as amazing as a cure for cancer! However, perceived problems can still change behavior and people may seek protection with gated communities, secure buildings, and fortified corporate and government facilities.

8.      China Largest Economy by 2025. China will shift to consumer driven while the US slips from the top 20 countries in GDP per capita. In addition to being a location for possible development projects, China will exert cultural influence in design, innovation, and education that will influence cities and architecture globally.

World Affairs

9.      Post-Peak Oil Era. While developed countries will shift to alternative energy sources, nations such as Saudi Arabia will be faced with high unemployment, increased poverty, and slums. These countries may become more open or more insular.

10.     Information Warfare. Security of infrastructure from energy to transportation will become increasingly troublesome. We may find centralized solutions and ubiquitous rfid “smart” technologies can create too many weaknesses. In fact, data security could cause more “off-grid” behavior unless absolutely necessary, which would change internet dependent entertainment, communications, education, and work habits. A walk in the park may find a new generation of enthusiasts.

Adding yesterday’s list, that’s twenty images of the future that will change the way we use and build cities:

Colorful Solar Energy                      Transit Oriented Cities

Flooded Coastal Cities                   Active Older Population

Local Fragmentation                       Virtual Reality as Testing Platform

China’s Ascent                                  Brain-to-Brain Telepathy

Healthy Cities                                   3D Prototype Printing

Car-Free Cities                                  Growing Workforce; Shrinking Talent Pool

Suburban Woes                               Terrorism Thwarted

Sensors and Nano-technology     China Largest Economy by 2025

Augmented Reality                          Post Peak Oil Era

Telecommuting                                Information Warfare

 

However, the list is far from complete in defining tomorrow’s cities – not that The Futurist made any bones about it being a comprehensive survey, and they did not focus on cities in particular.

In fact, the lack of attention to the built environment struck me as a complete oversight, and inspired me to write these two articles. Cities are ascending, we are an urbanized planet for the first time in history. Surely that deserves our attention in 2010.

What’s missing? Off the top of my head: megacities, slums, robotics, geo-engineering, smart infrastructure, diffused energy sources, tribal communities, prefabrication, nanotech, and urban farming, just to name a few.

Many other critical trends will shape 21st century cities, which warrants another post – big ideas looming outside the scope of Outlook 2010.

In the meantime, what do you think of the 20 trends from The Futurist? Are any more critical, exciting, or terrifying? And what do you think might be missing?

 

Image: Buckminster Fuller: Dome over Manhattan, 1960, Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, Estate of R. Buckminster Fuller

 

What’s Next for 21st Century Cities? Part 1

Megacities_growth_nat_geo_soci

 

The Futurist magazinehttp://www.wfs.org/futurist.htm published their Outlook 2010 this month with forecasts in ten domains. Somehow none of the areas focus exclusively on cities or architecture, despite the fact that the world for the first time in history is now more urban than rural.

In fact, I would call this the urban century. One of the most critical issues we are facing is how to live in and create great cities.

No doubt, historically there are times when cities were truly spectacular – Athens, Rome, Rome again, Florence to name a few. They pulsed with culture, commerce, and a sense of community.

Then technology aided industrialization and automobiles, and now globalization and social networking. Cities are simply more complicated now. Actually that’s true about life all the way around.

Yet, even now, sometimes we build something brilliant. New York City’s Central Park, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Sydney Opera House, Beijing Olympics. At a particular moment, communities create genius in built form. Even with all the forces that tear us in multiple directions, it’s possible.

Lifting ideas from The Futurists’ prognostications and modifying them for 21st century communities, here are ten forecasts that will shape cities. I added comments in italics.

Environmental

1.      Colorful Solar Energy: MIT devised thin solar film that amounts to paint so translucent it can do double-duty as tinted windows.

2.      Flooded Coastal Cities: If we see 14 degrees centigrade warming, the oceans would rise 75 meters, which puts every coastal city at risk. Actually, I would modify this to far lower figures, say 2-6 meters, based on research, but still with devastating possibilities.http://bit.ly/2ZeePC  Heavier storm patterns will also increase damage, including risks to river cities.

Government

3.      Local Fragmentation. Local governments will exert more influence than national governments. Brookings Institute notes that fragmented metropolitan regions with multiple small municipalities damage the area’s ability to collaborate and attract jobs.http://bit.ly/bTdl6

4.      China’s Ascent. China, maybe Russia, will join the US as leading world powers by 2025. As the EU gains a unified voice, it will become a member of this group.

Habitats

5.      Healthy Cities. Cliff Moughtin, Urban Design, cites urban gardens and walkability as improvements to quality of life. Example: Freiburg, Germany.http://bit.ly/3TaRFE I would add the slow cityhttp://bit.ly/4hshXh and new urbanist movements.

6.      Car-Free Cities. Electronic sensors in Singapore charge cars as they enter the city. Paris aims to cut auto traffic by 40% by 2020, replaced with bikes.

7.      Suburban Woes. As energy costs soar, districts with spread-out services will spend more in transportation. That is, unless they build public transit and infill to create density, and address problems of aging infrastructure and next-generation residents as urban cores have learned.

Health and Medicine

8.      Sensors and Nano-technology. Health monitoring and even minor diagnosis and procedures will be done virtually, placing an additional duty on houses, especially bathrooms and kitchens. Furthermore, hospitals will be modified accordingly, shrinking examination rooms and beds while adding clinics.

Information Society

9.      Augmented Reality. Sensors, digital maps, and real-time data combine with social media to enrich our experience of cities.http://bit.ly/1y7rqI

10.     Telecommuting. US jobs filled by telecommuters could increase four-fold to 19 million by 2012. That many folks may have partial telecommuting in two years. Reduced road infrastructure could save $5 billion and wed recapture 1.5 billion commute hours. Changes to cities without rush-hour commuting would be enormous. Residences become base-camps for work and living, and neighborhoods – urban or suburban – become 24/7 communities.

That’s ten changes that apply to cities from the first five areas that The Futurist covered. They had many other points under these headings; I selected based on relevancy to cities.

Tomorrow I will add items from the second portion of their 2010 forecast. That post will cover: Lifestyles and Values, Science and Technology, Work and Careers, and World Affairs. http://bit.ly/1oLozQ

And looking at the list – where are robotics, geo-engineering, smart infrastructure, diffused energy, public space, public art, sacred places, tribal communities, local/global connections, prefabrication, mega-cities, slums, security issues, and urban farming to name a few?

Really, how could 21st century communities not be at the top of their list??