Future of Transportation – Futurists Twitter Chat Thursday 4:00-5:00 EST #apf #futrchat #transit

The Association of Professional Futurists (APF) is hosting its fourth twitter chat  on Thursday, January 20, 2011 from 4:00 – 5:00 p.m. EST. hashtag: #futrchat. You can find information about the first three here . (education, money, work) 

Is 21st c transportation just more of the same?


During the 20

th century, transportation innovations exploded. You might even call it the century of transportation. We not only invented new types of vehicles; we created new infrastructure and new lifestyles celebrating them. Technology transformed from walking and animals to bikes, boats, trains, cars, trucks, buses, planes, and spaceships. I even adore some oddities like dirigibles and segways.

High speed transportation is sexy, no doubt about it. We have a love affair with these coolest new gadgets. And it’s cost us immeasurably. Cars in particular caused new development to stretch further and further from city centers. And they use fossil fuels. Both are now seen as huge mistakes.

Embedded as transportation is with energy and politics, arguments in the US may wage battle well into midcentury. Meantime developing countries aim for that middle class image, wanting cars before decent housing and causing traffic jams that last for days. But that’s now.

We want to talk 2020, 2030, 2050 – what will be our needs, what constraints, and what options will we have for transportation?  What does mobility mean in twenty or thirty years?


Backlash and penalties

Slow cities, car free cities, transit oriented development, walkability, smart growth, density, and so many other urban trends tie to strategies to reduce the influence of the car on our lives.

One massive debate is: better cars or live car-free? In fact, better cars such as electric do little to reduce greenhouse gases unless we have power plants that produce renewable energy.

It’s easy to see transportation as a topic of things; vehicles are objects. However, they are deeply integral to our daily lives, affecting how we behave, our friends, where we live and work, how healthy we are, even our personal identities. Are you a walker, a rider, a driver, a co-user, or a telecommuter?


Transportation 21

st century style

How will we travel in 2030 or 2040? What is the impact of the internet, telecommuting, and social media? How will augmented reality, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence change transportation options? How will transportation be different in mega-cities, smaller cities, towns, rural, across the globe, or into outerspace?

What new technologies could transform the way that we travel and commute? What is the impact of life safety, security, and crime on transportation? What new infrastructures are worth the expense and trouble to build? Will sharing bikes and cars go mainstream? Will there be a crash or a wimper after peak oil? What aboutautonomous vehicles, robotics, and road trains? And (wincing), what’s holding back flying cars and jetpacks?


Will transportation transform our lives as it did in the 20

th century? Will we become smarter about choices and their consequences?  Will we choose to ‘un-tech’ our mobility?  Will we choose to stay still?

I bookmarked almost 200 links on the future of transportationhere and 140 on transithere

Please Join Us – an open tweet chat

You are welcome to join the APF #futrchat and voice your views on the future of transportation. We’ve hosted chats on the future of education, the future of money, and the future of work. These chats are fast and intense. I always learn enormously, like scanning futurists brains.

Jennifer Jarratt and I will co-host; Jennifer with intriguing questions and I with ideas, more questions, and retweets. You can do the same, add links (if they pertain and are not promotional ads), and help us think more clearly, more vividly about the future of transportation.  

What do you think about the future of transportation?

Join us on Twitter by searching for #futrchat. Please use #futrchat in your tweets, and the Question #, as Q1, Q2, Q3 etc. 

As alternative to twitter.com, here are two sites where you join the chat.

Images:Nissan Torii,Shweeb monorail 



21st century cities: B is for Backward Futures

Here’s my January series: the ABC’s of 21st Century Cities. Yesterday I explored the Artificial Intelligence. Today we’re moving onto B.


I love Venice Italy. It feels like it’s made by its people. Far more than shelter, the city was their outerwear. They embodied it, creating hidden niches and twisted routes, commanding and confusing outsiders.

When there, I feel like I am living in a dream. I am immersed in a distinctive urban experience filled with tactile, sensory experiences. Yet it’s real. Venice exists. How did they build a dream?

Backward futures draw upon the sensory life, the connection between people and place, and the art of crafting things that existed before intensive automation. The engine and the computer chip fundamentally changed us and how we make, use, and know cities.

The value of resourceless

During the Depression, global unemployment sat at 25% for most of a decade. People learned lessons that created the Greatest Generation. According to Strauss and Howe, the next generation will develop a similar philosophy. The conflict that pulls us out of this high unemployment may be the way we develop cities and our lifestyles.

  •     Instead of only growth, many developed nations including Europe, China, and some American regions will be shrinking and aging. Frugality lessons will abound.
  •     For the past seventy years, cities have prospered by strong growth. For the next fifty years, quality is key, an important topic I cover in more detail in future posts.

Slow cities

Inspired by a similar movement in slow food, Citta Slow and the Slow Movement reject fast food, fast highways, and fast living in favor of mindfulness and attention. They aim to reassert mindful living and connection to the land, food, and other people as an anti-dote to stress.In bioregionalism and localism (similarly permaculture), people buy local, organically grown food, shop in locally owned stores, and connect to a regional identity based on indigenous resources and historic patterns (reference Alexander ‘Timeless Way of Building’ and Mouzon’s ‘The Original Green‘).

They create community economic development (CED) collectives to build networks for education, housing, health, and environmental needs.


Cities for people

Jan Gehl calls this back-to-the-future approach “cities for people.” His aim: lively, safe, sustainable, and healthy cities. He cites fewer streets and highways like San Francisco, bike paths like Copenhagen’s, better streets like Melbourne, and pedestrian paths like Venice. He says cities are meeting places “by the people and for the people.” Rather than cities based on streets for cars, we have life between buildings.A people-first strategy is obvious in highly walkable cities like Zurich, New York, and San Francisco.

  •     Encourage people to stay, not take the fastest route out of the city.
  •     Make cars uncomfortable by mixing them with other traffic.
  •     Increase congestion rather than decrease it.
  •     Have lovely attractions like restaurants, shopping, public spaces and interesting streets.
  •     People like to be where there are people. Create places for sitting and watching.

Simple cities

Who knows the life of walking, biking, and carriage rides more than the Amish? What do you imagine cities would look like based on their principles?

  •     Primary uses within walking distance
  •     Narrow shaded streets to accommodate horse carriages, bikes and walking
  •     Lower scale buildings that house work and living spaces
  •     Gardens growing food, barns with farm animals, chickens, etc
  •     Making things – furniture, food, clothing
  •     Community spaces for meetings, events, entertainment and education
If we add scale to the buildings, broadband, lightrail, solar and wind power, the simple city would likely reduce our eco-footprint to half that of typical urban westerners. And still be fitting and livable for contemporary lifestyles.

End of the suburban development pattern

New urbanism re-introduced the values of traditional neighborhoods as an anti-dote to suburbs: mixed use, tight lots, increased density, walkable streets, excellent public spaces, smaller retail/residential, cars to the back, front porches, and extra dwellings at the rear. As sustainable development interests grew, the two movements found common ground in compact growth.


While this back-to-the-future solution solves walkability issues, cars still dominate, detracting from the original aspirations. In town centers, parking lots fill the land. In the residential blocks, people come and go in cars. Only when cars become a second, third or even fourth transportation option (after walking, biking, and buses/transit) do energy, livability, and health metrics improve.A long list of trends reduce the role of the car: communication technologies, business practices from hierarchies to networks, changing job patterns, increased energy costs, carbon emissions, desire for better lifestyles, health concerns, aging, and extended families that can relieve daycare trips.

  •     Models for refurbishing suburban neighborhoods are slowly emerging. The Sprawl Repair Manual makes unused space functional. Streets and sidewalks are connected. Residential and commercial infill large yards and parking lots.
  •     Car-free or limited-car developments are increasing.
  •     Rather than houses and buildings as expenses, make them into producers – energy, farming, home office, day care – much as the family farm or shop once serve as the center of income.
  •     Transportation shifts from auto-dominated to a mix of walking, biking, transit, and cars including car sharing.

B stands for buses and biking; both are useful backward futures.


The untech city

I didn’t write this post as a balance to yesterday’s high-tech AI, although perhaps subconsciously I did. While AI, IT, and augmented reality extend our knowledge and experience of places, they also filter our connections to the sensory experience of place.In the backward future city, we can be more present, more mindful, more attentive to our whole self, and actively spatially engaged while frequently AI favors the brain and eyes.

For example, do you find that you sit too still when you’re at a computer? When I draw by hand, I stand and move. At a keyboard, I am in a frozen position, only my hands and eyes moving.

Cities, buildings, and work spaces should make us move. And they should fit like outerwear. Like Venice.

Next, C is for Co-creating.

Images: Copenhagen, Venice, Amish County, PA, Suburban fix from The Sprawl Repair Manual, Shrinking populations 2050


Giving thanks for imagination, creative genius, and flow. #letsblogoff #architecture

In tribute to November’s annual eat-fest, the Let’s Blog Off  gang asks: What makes us thankful? You can read my blogging friends’ thoughts on Thanksgiving here . They will make you laugh, cry, remember, relate, and even get organized. I am thankful for people who dare to imagine and push boundaries. Maybe people like you?  


One of my very closest friends knew a lot about imagination. You could say

 Gordon was a creativity guru or a midwife to ideation. He used metaphoric stories to reveal the mysteries of originality and release the visions you hold deep inside.

For instance, a cow chewing its cud for hours performs the miracle of making milk. Creativity is like that. The imagination needs freedom to gestate. You can’t measure it, you can’t see it, and you sure as hell can’t sell it until the idea is ready. That peculiar work of invention frustrates bean counters no end. Yet new ideas depend on wandering, experimenting, failing, and recreating, on linking thoughts and images in strange wondrous ways and allowing explosions.

I live for the moments of feeling that rush of ideas, the joy of inspiration, being in the flow. It’s an out of body time where I may not notice food or drink and surely not time passing. I’m the cow in the field imagining a world that does not yet exist.

Every day someone is creating something so startling that you can hardly breathe when you see it. Your body reacts, prickles on the neck, tears of pure awe. You feel their genius. Yet few seeds of brilliance ever escape the womb of the imagination. We forget them before we can draw or write. The sketch doesn’t fulfill the vision. Others throw up roadblocks; it’s too large, too small, too bizarre, too too too many lines. Who knows, someone says it’s just too… And it will never be built.

Revelations 2010

This year,ultra towers,kinetic structures,new towns,urban agriculture, andflying security robots transformed our images of 21st century cities. A few are absolute revelations. I am thankful for the spectacular ideas and courageous acts of imagination and fortitude that survived the maze of barriers and naysayers. 


1. The Seed Cathedral reframes architecture as sustainable and ephemeral – a new paradigm beyond theCrystal Palace and theblur building. 60,000 shimmering filaments carry Millennium seeds that will give birth to a future bio-diverse forest. 



2. In the aftermath of the catastrophic Haiti earthquake,Architecture for Humanity bypassed the usual routes of bureaucracy and organized working communities of Haitians toenvision a vibrant future, starting with new housing and schools. 

3. Living City Design Competition recognizes cities that are making extraordinary efforts to envision a socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative civilization. Can your city meet the challenge? Submissions due in February.



4. The secretive

Underbelly Project flaunts the work of street artists on subterranean walls of an abandoned New York subway station. Watch an inspiring short video via the NY Times. 



5. Outside Mexico City,

Container City adapts lowly shipping containers into a miraculous mixed use village. Imagine what we can do with junk.



6. Non-Sign II near the Canadian border conveys a simple message of… air.

7. Of the hundred-odd books I devoured, a few absolutely blew my mind. Do not miss:The Original Green by Steven Mouzon (drawn from deep knowledge, a manifesto on society, sustainability, and architecture),Cartographies of Time by Rosenberg and Grafton (stunning images of ancient to contemporary timelines reveal belief systems through the ages), andThe Watchman’s Rattle by Rebecca Costa (has innovation outpaced our brains?)


What sparks your imagination?

Do you look for people with purple hair, unexpected shoes, carrying a tube or drawing tools, or walking with a different gait? They hold some particular energy, the bodacious ideas churning in their gut, planning to capture the thing before it disappears. Perhaps that person is you.

It’s a bit of madness, by some standards. We all have it. We may camouflage it, forget it, fail to cultivate it, but we surely flung it around as children. Back when we wore fuscia boots, finger painted, and skipped. Someone somewhere told us our drawing, singing, dancing were not good enough and bang!  The imagination snapped inwards, afraid of further castigation. Is yours still hiding, damaged by thoughtless words, snooty looks?   

Gordon’s final lesson: you have a masterpiece inside you. If you go to your grave without painting it, it will not get painted. No one else can paint it. Only you. 

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the ideas that you share and the miracles you create. 

What makes you thankful?

    • Think how it is to have a conversation with an embryo.

      You might say, “The world outside is vast and intricate.

      There are wheatfields and mountain passes,

      And orchards in bloom.

      You ask the embryo why he, or she, stays cooped up

      In the dark with eyes closed.

      Listen to the answer.

      There is no “other world.”

      I only know what I’ve experienced.

      You must be hallucinating.  –Rumi

Images:Imagination Allows by Gaping Void Hugh McLeod; Lead Pencil StudioNon-Sign II, Blaine, WA;Container City, Mexico;Seed Cathedral at Shanghai Expo by Thomas Heatherwick;The Underbelly Project, New York City;Boatanic Floating Farms, Amsterdam 

Cap and Trade’s New Champion May Wear Red #green #energy #election


When Jennifer Hicks, @SB_GreenBiz, editor ofSmartBrief on Sustainability, asked me to submit a brief comment on the election regarding environmental issues for their 17,000 subscribers, I said I would be honored.

Here’s my brief plus the background analysis.

Cap and trade’s new champion may wear red  : While environmentalists have few victories to tout in the election, one major hurdle was crossed. Instead of making every vote a party split, as happened on the 2009 American Clean Energy and Security Act, cap and trade and other energy measures can be addressed as issues, not political scores. While Democratic votes are nearly assured, Republicans can now lead the way. The success of cap and trade in curbing acid rain, reducing regulations and allowing the free market to work opens the door. If also tied to job creation, climate change may finally have a champion, clothed in red.


What happened, really?

The election sent thirty House Democrats who passed cap and trade (ACES) home on Tuesday, so some claimed these environmental soldiers were doomed by their vote.

However, exit polls showed a different story. Voters overwhelmingly stated that their primary concern was the economy (52%). Energy concerned only 4%. (the deficit was second at 8%). All issues with the exception of the economy held absolutely no sway for the vast majority of the voters.

Plus half the Democrats that voted against ACES were also ousted. This was not a vote against – or for – the Cap and Trade Crew. So long as Dems pushed and GOP said “Hell No,” energy legislation was dead and completely discounted by American voters due to the oppression of economic misery.

This election was clearly about the economy and jobs. Period.


Lost facts and a confused America

Tell me, has any Congress in history registered so many significant wins and conveyed them more poorly to Americans? Erroneous messages have gone viral. If people only hear conflicting narratives with no clear answers, no compelling vision, then they will be confused.

Clearly explaining complicated issues is essential to successful governance in the 21st century. Never in human history have there been better tools for creating or conveying messages. Washington needs drastic new ways to make difficult topics – like climate change and cap and trade – clear enough that we can agree or disagree with them.


A route to victory

If President Clinton’s or President Reagan’s experiences of working with the opposite party are any indicator, we could begin an era of smart legislation and a renewed cycle of prosperity. After woeful beginnings, each of these presidents worked with the other party towards important legislation. And they got re-elected.

Since Reagan’s staff invented cap-and-trade to deal with acid rain from power plant emissions, there is a Republican basis to use this tool. Rather than the huge costs the utility companies predicted, they spend $3 billion a year and save $122 billion! That is enormous financial success in anyone’s book. It worked so well, the Europeans adopted it for their carbon emissions. We are not explaining a new idea; this history is filled with positive facts to tell the story.

Furthermore, while thirty ACES Democrats were ousted this week, far more remained. So did all eight ACES Republicans. If President Obama works with the new Republican House leadership on significant carbon emissions legislation and past ACES supporters and new Democrats sign on, we have the basis for a successful bill.

That’s why I say with a mix of optimism (the GOP is mandated to govern) and realism (the Democrats, esp President Obama, must collaborate, persuade, and stand on real change on GHG’s): Cap and trade’s new champions may wear red.

Thanks SmartBrief on Sustainability

Thank you, Jennifer and SmartBrief for inviting me to comment.

What did you think about Tuesdays elections in terms of environmental issues – energy, rail, smart growth, waste, water, air – green building and green cities? I’d love to hear! 



 We did not come here to fear the future; we came here to shape it. BARACK OBAMA 2009

Images: Obama on CNN; Boehner on ABC News; masthead on UK Guardian; power plant on Smithsonian, carbon emissions from fossil fuels by end-use sector 2002 by Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

21st Century Cities and Architecture Need Possibilianism #sustainability #poptech


Have you heard of PopTech? Some say it’s TED for brainiacs, arguably more cutting edge, always looking for emerging thinkers. Andrew Zolli, lead curator, attended the same Futures Studies masters program in Houston I did (and where I teach), although our paths unfortunately never crossed.

PopTech is posting the best videos now; here’s one worth watching.   


Cowboy up or geek out?

The annual PopTech event was held in Camden, Maine last week. Neuroscientist and fiction writer David Eagleman gave one of those rare “don’t miss” talks about a notion he’s devised called: Possibilianism. Rather than simply “anything goes,” he says that science allows for any possibility that can be proven using the scientific method. In other words, we need to think of many alternative hypotheses and then apply the tools.

Approach ideas with an open mind. Rather than firmly committing to a single answer or “cowboy up” with a certain solution, we engage in active exploration. For the largest questions in the universe like dark matter and how the brain works, we don’t even have any good answers yet. So we need to “geek-out” until we have the needed data. Be comfortable to multiple possibilities. That’s what he means by possibilianism.

In short: Praise uncertainty.

I think it’s very clear that we made mistakes on cities and building design. We use too much energy, overheated the planet, and created cities of haves and have-nots where some parts are nearly unlivable and others are sadly ugly, lacking beauty or lovability. Plus sitting all day at work and in cars makes us unhealthy. That’s not to say all cities or all parts of cities fit this image but let’s face it, it’s enough that we need to make some serious changes.

Think about it: What else could we have done?

We need a heavy dose of possibilianism.


Here’s a wild thought: What would happen if tomorrow you woke up and your car was gone? Your neighbors’ cars and the pickup trucks were missing too. There were no taxis, only large-haul trucks and delivery vehicles too busy to carry passengers. Boom, you were caught with your feet and an old bike as transportation. What would you do?

I bet you would call into work and say you couldn’t make it. You would cancel all other appointments and walk your kids to school. Soon you would be taking the bus or rail and walking or riding your bike for shorter trips. Delivery trucks would replenish your kitchen pantry.

Over time, you would become physically fit, your wallet would be a little thicker with cash, and you would know people that share your routes. Plus, since transportation emits 28% of greenhouse gases, cities would immediately experience an impressive leap in sustainability. 

Cars are so deeply embedded it’s truly a challenge to imagine car-free lives, isn’t it?!

Car-fee cities


We don’t start completely from scratch. Several urban theories and their flagship examples lead the way on car restrictions, specifically,

CarFree Cities, New urbanism, Eco-towns in UK, and to some degree, the Slow City Movement

Many sections of cities and islands, most famously Venice Italy, are fully pedestrian.

  • Freiburg Germany (pictured) reclaimed the center of the city for pedestrian uses.
  • Curitiba Brazil created one of the most efficient networks of buses (BRT) in the world.
  • Bogota Colombia employed a combination of BRT, bike paths, and pedestrians-first policies.

A few new towns will be zero carbon, reduced-car developments for environmental purposes.


No doubt, we will not go gently into that good night of car-free cities. Too much has been invested, particularly in America and in perimeter development globally, China being the most eager recent adopter. Cars have the obvious benefits of convenience and security, and have long been status symbols (now not having a car shows status among some groups).

Plus, honestly, given an open road, cars are a blast! Dont all addictions begin with pleasure?

Two options – with and without cars – is bogus!

If we’ve learned one thing from the crazy world we live in, it’s that choices are not black and white, either/or; they are both/and. An entire constellation of possibilities waits for our imagination to ignite.

My car-free fantasy is a game of “what if,” a thought experiment played to its extreme. Imagine the possibilities, what would that option solve and what would it destroy?

That’s where possibilianism leaps in.

If you were designing a brand new city for you and your loved ones or making radical changes to your city, what would you choose? How would you create vibrant, thrilling, beautiful places to live? What would be your criteria? How many options can you imagine?

How would that new place be better than how you live now? How do you envision your better life? And how can you bring some of those possibilities into your real life?

Think about it: Are you a possibilian?


Related lists: “Green cities: Where to travel green” compiles 6 lists of top green cities.

Images:EPA Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Sector;Freiburg Germany;Tongzhou China,Tjibaou Cultural Center in Noumea, New Caladonia by Renzo Piano Workshop


Michelle Kaufmann Studio’s New Line of Net-Zero Prefab Designs #LEED #architecture


For forty years, architects have predicted prefab would become a major housing option. So far, it’s always sidelined by the flexibility and quality of stick-built. This month, Residential Architect features architect Michelle Kaufmann’s three new net-zero models.

Katy Tomasulo, Deputy Editor for EcoHome, writes in RA:

The Zero Series homes—Vista0, Ridge0, and Contours0—are designed to produce as much energy as they use, along with being healthy, efficient, and comfortable through the integration of efficient design and healthy, durable, and resource-conscious products. At the same time, the units, which range in size from 422 square feet to 2,643 square feet and start at $66,500, fill a need in the industry for more affordable options for architect-designed green homes.

“They make it more accessible to have thoughtful, green homes,” Kaufmann explains, adding that widespread acceptance of green modular housing means they can’t take more time to build, cost more than regular green homes, or be difficult to buy.

After permitting, the units can be built and installed in about four months. Building permit barriers have long been the fly in the ointment because city inspectors want access into wall and ceiling cavities. Once the drywall is installed at the factory, inspections of wiring and plumbing is impossible. Now factory certification programs are accepted in many jurisdictions, paving the way to prefab.

The houses are said to be less expensive than site built and offer some flexibility in configuration, size, and product selections. The basic models meet LEED certification, with upgrades such as solar panels in order to qualify for higher levels.

After seven years in business, Kaufmann’s prior Oakland CA venture fell victim to the recession last year. An established industry frontrunner in green prefab, Michelle Kaufmann Designs is now a subsidiary of Blu Homes, an east coast prefab home manufacturer.

Will prefab ever go mainstream? If so, is that time now? If not, what holds it back?

Living Large and Small: Trading Hummers for PUMAs Ain’t the Whole Story #blogoff

Some of my friends on twitter have this cool idea called a blog off. We each post on the same idea, which today is about living large by being small. We include a list of each others’ blogs at the end. Fantastic Idea!

The Problem of Big


It’s possible we began thinking bigger was better when we decided bigger meant richer, more powerful, successful, cool.

Size meant status. (Please save me from becoming too graphic, ok?) Bigger houses, bigger cars, bigger tv’s, even bigger meals. And bigger bodies, and bigger med bills.

This problem of size is a modern living problem, I think. Pioneers didn’t build too big; they were naturally frugal. Who wants to chop extra logs to build or heat a cabin? And the windows were mercilessly tiny – good for security, no doubt, but who can live without BIG glass? And the Great Depression, World War II – they saved gum wrappers and built Victory Gardens. No wasters among them.

Then came the hippy generation, free love and rock n roll. Wearing blue jeans and peasant blouses, car-pooling in VW vans to Woodstock, the long hair generation knew all about earth living. You might say they were wasted, rarely wasteful. Every little seed pod was treated like a royal gem.

Then we blew it. About forty years ago, houses, cars, cities, meals, waistlines, you name it, everything just grew. And grew. And grew. Why? Only answer I got is: Because we could. Pretty damn lame in hindsight. It’s sort of the Wal-Mart philosophy, right? Save more by buying more. Actually might mean you spend more because everything is supersized. But those unit prices dropped to the basement. Wow, look what I got for xyz dollars. Smart, right?

Now it seems the bill is coming due. And the thing about size as a yardstick for life – someone always has something bigger!!

Why Small?

Here’s my theory.

  1. We got too big. Doh!
  2. We saw environmental limits – generally, smaller is greener.
  3. Our keenest inventions are shrinking. 20th century – skyscrapers, highways, dams. 21st century  – gaming, Iphones, nano-tech and bio-tech.
  4. And then there’s this pesky never-ending down-for-the-third-count Recession that has put a strain on most everyone’s bank account. We must conserve.

In other words, small is cool. Big is ugly. Out with hummers, McMansions, and sprawl.

Now we want to be small. But… what’s small?


Small people? Really, I am very small human – five feet and under 100 pounds. In that big rocking chair, Lily Tomlin outdoes me. In other words, small is relative. Alice in Wonderland figured that out with those magic cookies. First that room fit; then it didn’t. Next to Shaq, everyone is small.

In other words, if we can play with size so readily, does small or big really matter?

Yes, it does. It matters because we got too big, consumed too much, and now we have to craft a strategy, an image of small that means beautiful. Small that we love, small that we identify with, small that ignites our dreams.

Is it possible to dream small and believe it’s big?


Here’s some cool small:

small cars, small apartments, small houses, small towns (I love that vid). Part of American spirit is Small Town USA. Now we are making an entirely new era of small streets, smaller houses, and certainly smaller yards with New Urbanism.


So what is wrong with small?

There is such a thing as too small, for example those coffin hotels in Tokyo.


There is small without purpose – this

chair’s too small; these shorts don’t fit.

Small can mean efficient. Or it can be another word for scrimping, miserly, and small mindedness.

And it can mean dying, as in a town that used to be 150 people and became two. Except the husband died; now it’s just one. And one person running a town can be a bit sad. The Town of Me.


Too small is a lot like too big. Someone’s always going to dream something even more mini, micro, nano, quark-sized. You cannot win at this game; it’s a loser. Because the idea of “how much” is a function of deficit thinking. One pie with a missing piece; you just can never fill it up.

Welcome to Quality. Yup, it’s a value. When you say something’s better, you’re talking values. Values are one thing to you and maybe different for me; it’s what you care about, what matters to you. So you can’t say how much until you know what’s better, what you value.

If all you care about is size or quantity, then stick with bigger or smaller, how many, how few. Otherwise, let’s think about a boundless variety of delicious pies.

A lived-in fit

Now I think we have to scrap the whole idea of size. It’s not about small or big; it’s about fit. We need the best fit. And fit is more than size, it’s also of the right kind, the characteristics that suit your needs, your particular ideas of your life.

We have to think about the kind of place. Ok, we have to know how much as well, but I really want to know how well it fits, and then I can say how big or small it needs to be. Imagine a builder’s model kitchen and a boat galley do the same thing, one perhaps clumsily and the other with optimum craft. Better design creates efficiencies. How much comes after how well it suits its purpose.


In fact, it’s not the fit on day one; it’s the lived-in fit. The fit for all seasons and uses, my good moods and bads, my favorite moments and my security gaps. The place that enlivens me and protects me from the cold cruel world. Where I have my finest and my worst moments; where I am more of myself, relaxed and inspired, a safe haven for soaring ideas. For me, a home is my outer skin that holds me and my family into one larger embrace. My lived-in place supports intimacy and freedom.

Before figuring fit, we start with our wants and needs for today and the future. Then we build to that. Rather than specifications of monster sizes or teeny tiny efficiencies, think in terms of elegance and quality, richness in purpose, what matters most.

Because I’d rather have the most elegant, sustainable home that fits my aspirations and habits and those of my family. A house of my dreams is not too small, or too big. It’s just so, a lived-in fit.

Here’s my friends who also wrote about living smaller.

Veronica Miller at Modenus, A Small Life is Good, but Slow Down to enjoy it! 
Paul Anatar at Kitchen and Residential Design
 Is Living Smaller the New Living Large?  

Richard Holdschuh at Concrete Detail, Small is Beautiful but Relativity Rules
Nick Lovelady at Cupboards Kitchen and Bath,
Is Small Really Realistic?

Rufus the dog at Dog Walk Blog,How Much Does it Cost You To Exist for One Hour? Size Matters
Becky Shankle from Eco Modernism,
Is Living Smaller the New Living Large?
Saxon Henry’s Chair Chick,
Living Small (and Getting Shagged!)

Sean Lintow’s The Homeowner’s Resource Center,Building Smaller, Is it the Next Big Thing?



True Green: How Did We Get To #LEED? Or Where’s My Hanging Gardens?

 I am writing a series on sustainable design because there are a number of highly visible attacks against current practices. So far, I summarized the debate and broadly defined sustainability. This post is the first on how we got to this state of environmental affairs.

While I am no environmental historian, sustainable design deserves a long view, even if it’s a short version. Starting with the ancient world, here’s some milestones that I find most memorable.

Ancient Catastrophes

You might say that environmental damage begins the moment someone decides to make bread. Sounds strange, yes? Imagine, hunters and nomadic tribes can walk fairly lightly on the earth, leaving plenty of food for next generations. (Granted, there’s specific societies that over-hunted, vividly told by Jared Diamond in Collapse.)

However, since the beginning of recorded history, food production meant modifying eco-systems to farm. When we settle into a certain place or landscape and depend on it for generations, we fundamentally change it.

  1.  For starters, consider the Fertile Crescent, previously called Mesopotamia and Babylonia, now part of Iran and Iraq. Once the site of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the most flourishing paradise on earth became dry deserts unworthy of vegetation. Deforestation, canals to divert water to farming, and population growth transformed thriving forests and wetlands to barren deserts.
  2.  You might envision the Ancient Greeks as the ideal of balanced living? Three thousand years ago, through poor agricultural and deforestation practices, they turned marshes and oak forests into dry, barren land. Some say the magnificent city of Troy was decimated by soil erosion, burying the ruins beneath layers of weakened soil and sand. An ancient Dark Age ensued for four centuries, fortunately followed by the Golden Age and the rise of Athens.
  3.  The Romans diverted streams, deforested, over-mined, over-farmed, and paved large portions of watersheds. Jeremy Rifkin claims that Rome collapsed due to its inability to maintain agricultural production on declining soil fertility. Furthermore, sustaining massive infrastructure marked the beginning of the end for the Roman Empire.
  4.  Ancient Chinese mines turned forests and farms into wastelands. During the Bronze Age, the first known large scale copper mine operated for around a thousand years at Tongling, causing toxic soil and polluted water. Notably, they just moved their cities, leaving behind destroyed environments.

Each situation literally changed history. Depleting natural resources transformed societies, destroyed cities, and depopulated regions.

In other words, people have degraded the natural environment for several millennia; we are nowhere near the first generations. Furthermore, more people with more technology and higher consumption patterns strains even the most abundant, finite resources.

Yet we didn’t learn. That disappoints me as much – perhaps more than – the fact that these societies continued to exploit resources despite substantial decline. They may not have realized critical nature of the environment. We do. We know it from their losses. We know it from our losses.


Do Ancient Blunders Matter?The decisions of these societies resulted in hefty near-term prices. Their errors were system-wide, damaging or completely destroying societies. Environmental destruction and its consequences are the part of the story on which I am focused. The Roman Empire’s search for adequate resources led them into rainy, colder northern climates, and stretched their capacity. Exposed to militant barbarians, civilization collapsed. The ensuing Dark Ages lasted nearly one thousand years.

In fact, the abuses of the early societies were feeble compared to the substantial environmental changes to come. They made regional errors and affected specific groups, the perpetrators. Plus they were restricted by simple tools. No machines, no electricity, and far fewer people. Their contagion was geographically confined.

However, the ancient Mesopotamians, Greeks, Romans, and Chinese did affect us. We are their future generations.

If the Romans had behaved wisely, if they had monitored resources, been peaceable neighbors, sustained a strong rural population and middle class, would they have ushered in the golden age of the Renaissance in the 5th or 6th century rather than the 14th century?

What if we were already a millennium further into our global development?

That’s an unknowable “what if” for a history that never happened.

We are not the first generations to damage the environment. However, we are the first to damage the whole planet. While atomic bombs empowered elites with the capacity to destroy entire cities and populations, environmental bombs sit in the hands of virtually every person on earth.

That’s extraordinarily difficult to fathom. Moreover, it’s even harder to change.

Images: Fertile Crescent Map, Iowa State University Public Images; Drought, photo: Infinite Unknown ; Hanging Gardens of Babylon: Wikimedia

True Green: What Is Sustainable Design Anyway? | on Construction Law Musings #LEED

Written on July 30, 2010 for Christopher G. Hill’s blog in Green Building, Guest Post Friday

 Noisette Rose

This week, Musings welcomes Cindy Frewen Wuellner, PhD, FAIA, architect, urban analyst, and founder of Frewen Architects Inc. Cindy teaches at the University of Houston Futures Studies Graduate Program. She is currently writing a book on the influence of social technologies on the design, construction, and use of 21st century cities. She can be reached at 913-961-1702 or on twitter as @.urbanverse

The Noisette Rose – A Triple Bottom Line Approach

For the Noisette Development in North Charleston, SC, in a collaboration of BNIM and Burt Hill Architects, we created a framework called the Noisette Rose. Based on the Triple Bottom Line concept, project goals combined concerns for Prosperity and People as well as the Planet. The Rose designates the qualifications and rates the success in meeting those criteria as radial arms around the circle.

The Noisette Rose effectively illustrates the complexity of sustainable design. While LEED and other models establish minimum standards for energy use, waste management, and so on, many experts consider sustainability environmental criteria alone will not achieve sustainable development. The Noisette Rose and Triple Bottom Line method describe that larger vision.

What is Sustainable Design?

Several organizations have defined sustainability in the spirit of the Triple Bottom Line.

  • United Nations: Development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” They added the three mutually reinforcing pillars of economic development, social development, and environmental protection.
  • US Office of Federal Environmental Executive: “The practice of 1) increasing the efficiency with which buildings and their sites use energy, water, and materials, and 2) reducing building impacts on human health and the environment, through better siting, design, construction, operation, maintenance, and removal — the complete building life cycle.”
  • USGBC: Certification defines “green building” as primarily environmental components and identifies five areas – site, water, energy, materials, and indoor environmental quality.
  • Cascadia Green Building Council: “A built environment that is social just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative.”

In other words, while USGBC has focused on environmental “green building,” several other organizations embrace social and economic terms as well. Consequently, it seems likely that sustainable development in coming years will extend beyond strictly environmental concerns and include all three areas of the Triple Bottom Line.

What Will That Mean to Our Practices?

The broadened goals warrant even greater clarity and precision in metrics, and ultimately to establish appropriate jurisdictions for compliance. Like the Noisette Rose, the value of each goal will be judged by how carefully we define excellence and track performance, and how effectively the combined criteria create true sustainability.

If environmental performance, being the most readily measured, is covered by building codes and regulations, it removes the question of the short-term marketplace. Similar to other life safety mandates that are the foundation of building codes, everyone plays to the same minimum standards. While individual heroics suffice for pushing knowledge during innovation, only mass adoption creates true environmental change. Voluntary efforts will always fall short.

As building owners, design professionals and users are discovering, we no longer can imagine sustainable design is achieved at occupancy.

The built environment no longer sits passively as a collection of boxes for shelter; experts, owners, and users collaborate with buildings and cities everyday to achieve environmental, social, and economic goals. The aggregation of individual choices determines performance.

True Green

Based my sustainable design work, research, and analysis, I am writing a series called True Green. A number of public challenges highlight the shortcomings of our current practices. Those questions range from inadequate energy performance and design conflicts to green washing and user complaints. These reactions are healthy so long as we respond and improve our practices. In particular, better data and improved education emerge as weaknesses.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.” It’s our collective job to make certain the well remains full. If we can do it forever, it’s sustainable.

Cindy and I welcome your comments below.  Also, please subscribe to keep up with this and other Guest Post Friday Musings.


True Green: What’s Wrong with Green Building, Sustainability, and Especially #LEED? #green #architecture


During the July #aiachat, architects sang the praises of sustainable design and green building. Kyle Lee @KyleLEED says, “Green design is not only ‘good’ but a necessity.” @tomorrowsproject says, “67% of our poll respondents say sustainable design is already synonymous with good design.”

Others cite difficulties with increased costs of construction and persuading reluctant clients. In other words, according to this group, ‘why’ we build sustainably has been answered. Consensus reached, amen to that. And then we continue to stumble on the ‘how,’ the pragmatics of execution. Increased initial costs and unwilling clients have long been the one-two knockout punches for sustainable design.

In fact, beyond the community of sustainable design experts, you can hardly miss the frequent challenges. Particularly fierce shots target US Green Building Council’s LEED certification system, the reigning model for green design.

What are the problems with sustainable design?
Here’s a brief recap of the major complaints.

  1. Poor Performance. Some buildings are not living up to their promised energy efficiencies. Legal ramifications of de-certification are flying.
  2. Credibility. The ever-present bugaboo, greenwashing, undermines the credibility of the entire green tech industry. As The Atlantic said, being green is just too easy.
  3. Conflicting Standards. The myriad of green codes, regulations, and standards such as LEED, state or city energy codes, and BREEAM confuses clients and experts. Sometimes the criteria conflict. Which should we follow?
  4. Low Standards. LEED isn’t strict enough. For instance, according to recent report by Environment and Human Health, Inc., the highest level of LEED (platinum) does not mandate clean air quality and allows toxic materials. Does LEED actually protect human health?
  5. Weak Design. Frank Gehry continues to profess allegiance to sustainability while condemning the methods, specifically LEED. Why don’t we simply let A/E professionals use their judgment?
  6. Lacks Vision. LEED doesn’t inspire designers. It fails to represent true sustainability in a holistic sense including social justice, beauty, spirituality, quality of life, and education. It’s simply a checklist, not a transformational concept.
  7. User Complaints. Most recently, people that live in LEED buildings have started their own anti-sustainability campaign.

Gives even the most devoted believer pause, doesn’t it? What happened to the magic? Where’s the spirit of enthusiasm that inspired a movement? Are we truly building sustainably? Is LEED completely inadequate? Is there a fundamental lack of public support?

How should responsible, environmentally-concerned AEC professionals respond?

From this list of attacks, I see a pattern of three significant types of problems.

  • Is LEED the best option for sustainable design? Several of the items (performance, user complaints, and conflicting standards) confront LEED. Does it need tweaks or a major overhaul? Or should we throw it out and move on to a better system?
  • Why is there a war between sustainability and design excellence? Can green building and good design co-exist? Gehry gave it air, but believe you me, he’s got a whole cadre of cheerers. Lines are drawn.
  • In terms of sustainable buildings and cities, where do we go from here? Is there support for sustainable design in the long run? And frankly, exactly what is sustainable design? (You might think I’d start here, but I’d rather jump into the middle instead, grapple with some particulars, build some context, and see how those situations influence the abstract idea of sustainable design.)

Sustainable design is after all the single most critical problem that the modern building community has ever faced. Rather than the promised upward trend of endless new technologies and progressive growth, we have discovered epic mistakes, some that are irreversible. Our buildings make people, ecologies, even the planet sick. We abuse energy, waste resources, and destroy natural systems.

So where do we start? How do we learn a new way of thinking? Watching the tsunami of environmental catastrophes aggregate, brilliant people have pondered the problem for decades. We have practiced many new ways over the past ten or fifteen years.

More than that, environmental damage represents the first massive step backward that the industrialized construction industry has ever faced. We don’t even have the patterns required for identifying, analyzing, and solving problems at this scale. It’s nothing short of a new way of living; a new way of being.

If in fact, we shape our buildings, and thereafter they shape us, are we sick too?

A True Green Series
I have my ideas. And I bet you do too. I plan to tackle this list, and perhaps a few other stray topics, over a series of posts.

I hope you’ll read, and more than that, I hope you’ll join the conversation – here or on twitter where you’ll find me as @urbanverse.

Because I sure don’t have all the answers, or know everything. I know what I know from my experiences and study. And thanks to the joy of internet and research methods, I can gather a lot of data.

I believe it’s important to open the conversation. Complaints deserve fair analysis. And I believe the more we challenge our practices, values, and solutions, the better our work.

Are we true green? Are you creating truly sustainable environments? Are we giving future generations a reasonable chance?

Hang on, bumpy road ahead.

Smog Santiago | Flickr – Photo Sharing!