Building the World

January 19, 2018
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Cities as Destiny

Cities may rebuild the world. Image: “Cirrus sky panorama.” Image: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos.

We started talking about all these things that we could do if someone would just give us a city and put us in charge,” said Eric Schmidt, CEO of Alphabet. Sidewalk Labs, subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, won a public competition to design a part of Toronto’s waterfront. Some of the proposed winning ideas:

Sidewalk Toronto:

  • heated pedestrian lanes to melt snow;
  • self-driving bus system;
  • taxi-bots and van-bots for shuttles;
  • transit and bike-shares;
  • street side parks and public spaces;
  • tunnels for utilities, making grids easier to reach and repair.

Throughout history, cities have espoused new visions. Baghdad was drawn in three concentric circles during a vision. Singapore was the spontaneous agreement for an economic and cultural nexus, celebrating diversity. Brasilia was the first urban design built to be seen from the air. Will Toronto take the next step to realizing a new vision, if chosen as Amazon’s HQ2? Prime Minister Justin Trudeau termed the project an “innovation hub.” Some question sensors and data collection, also planned, challenging Sidewalk Labs’ claim: “privacy can be baked into the design.”

Which 20 cities made the short-list for Amazon’s HQ?. Image: München Tram 20. Wikimedia commons.

Toronto, along with Boston, made the short-list for Amazon’s second headquarters. Boston’s note: “We would like to move Boston forward in the process so we can continue to learn more about your community, your talent, and potential real estate options.”  Holly Sullivan, Amazon. While 19 cities in the United States made the list, one Canadian city joined the elite twenty: Toronto. Toynbee, in Cities of Destiny, explored cities that shaped history. What are your ideas for the future of the city?

Wingfield, Nick. “Amazon Chooses 20 Finalists for Second Headquarters.” 18 January 2018. The New York Times.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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January 13, 2018
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Statues as Exchanges

“William Whitner extends a hand.” Image: hmdb.org

Need a winter coat? Hat? Check the statue. Anderson, South Carolina, residents hang a spare coat or hat upon the extended arm of a statue of William Whitner. The South Carolinian is known to energy historians: after conferring with Nicola Tesla, Whitner harnessed power in nearby Rocky River shoals, soon expanding to the Portman Shoals of the Seneca River. The Portman Shoals Power Plant became Duke Energy. Whitner sided with alternating current champions Tesla and Westinghouse (and against direct current advocate Edison) in the “current war.” As a result, Anderson, SC, became known as “The Electric City” becoming the first urban center in the United States with a continuous supply of power. Later, the TVA would do so on a broader basis. Whitner is immortalized with a statue in the center of Anderson (other monuments in town could also serve). When Carey Jones, Main Street Program, saw homeless people lacking winter gear, he extended a hand by hanging a coat on Whitner’s bronze arm. Soon, town residents emulated the practice, making warm clothing readily available to all. Cities have an opportunity to combine public art with sharing outreach. Is there an extra coat in your closet? Maybe a statue near you might extend a hand? In Boston, could sculptor Nancy Shön’s “Make Way for Ducklings” serve as an exchange for children’s clothing?

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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January 1, 2018
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2018: Celebrate the 8’s

“Green 8 in a Sea of Blue.” Earth Observatory Image: https://eoimages.gsfc.nasa.gov.

Seen from space, the Americas look a bit like a green 8 in a sea of blue. One glance reveals our planet is made of regions, not nations. Rivers do not stop at lines arbitrarily drawn on a map: transboundary waters are shared resources. Another interconnection: land use, including transport. Great rail systems of history such as the Trans-Siberian or Canadian Pacific railways redefined connection through rapidly advancing transit technologies. Now, electric highways, autonomous vehicles, and hyperloop transit could link continents in innovation.

In 2018, Canada, Mexico, and the United States debate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Negotiations should include transboundary water resources; legal precedent of the Colorado River Compact may help address current considerations. Nafta truckers could pioneer automated highways that might steer negotiations. But Nafta may be too small to address macro issues.

Is it now time to extend the north american discussion, to a broader regional scope? Afta Nafta. Decisions about water quality in one nation may impact another; transit links continents, not countries. Oceans may ultimately determine the fate of cities: from Natal to New York, many are coastal. What if everyone in the Americas learned at least one of the languages of their neighbors? Language-based education and cultural exchange might stir innovation in areas such as shared water resources, intelligent highways, public health, and rights. Could there be a regional tour of beauty, instead of a tour of duty? Xchange students and volunteers could form corps maintaining readiness for disaster response (by definition, regional) while practicing environmental service, in an updated CCC of the Americas. Potential logo? Green 8 in a Circle of Blue.

It might be noted that 8, viewed on the horizontal plane, is the infinity symbol. System scientists may suggest that two interconnecting loops could form a renewing system. The infinity symbol was the creation, in 1655, of John Wallis (he also served as chief cryptographer for Parliament). Whether it remains infinite or not, our shared environment depends upon our actions. Perhaps it is time to dedicate at least one year, per decade, to improvement of our shared resources: celebrate the 8’s by honoring interconnection.

“Infinity Symbol” Image: wikimedia commons

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December 22, 2017
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Sinking Cities

Jakarta: originally Jayakarta or “Victorious City.” Muhammad Rashid Prabowo, photographer, Wikimedia commons.

Jakarta is sinking; sections of Indonesia’s capital city have lost 2 inches per year. Buildings in this dense city of 10 million people weigh down coastal land. Residential and business development increased demand for drinking water. Drilled wells, legal and illegal, caused the city to sink further. Draining urban underground aquifers is “like deflating a giant cushion.” Experts warn Jakarta must fix the problem within this decade. Climate change is worsening the situation: sea-rise could bring water even closer, as much 36 inches. Other cities may take note. Subsidence plagues Mexico City, built on a drained lakebed. Boston, shaped by landfill, contends with subsidence as well as sea-rise. New York is vulnerable to storm surge. The Erie Canal linking New York to the Great Lakes may hold promise as inland waterways play a new role in water protection. Inland Waterways International may offer innovations.  Coastal cities might find guidance from the Urban Harbors Institute in Boston. The East Coast of the United States is particularly vulnerable to sea-rise because of the steep sea-level slope just offshore that keeps the Gulf Stream channeled. Climate scientists place New  York, Boston, Norfolk, Ft. Lauderdale, and Miami on the watch list. Put a price on it? Coastal storm “Sandy” flooding New York and New Jersey in 2012 cost $50 billion. Sea-level rise brings inundation, flooding, erosion, wetlands loss, saltwater intrusion, and damaged sanitation systems. Meanwhile, Jakarta is sinking faster than any city on the planet. As goes Jakarta, so may go other coastal communities. When the problem is solved, Jakarta will give new meaning to its original Javanese name: Jayakarta or “Victorious City.”

Brown, Sally, Robert J. Nicholls, Collin D. Woodroffe, Susan Hanson, Jochen Hinkel, Abiy S. Kebede, Barbara Neumann, Athanasios T. Vafeidis. “Sea-Level Rise Impacts and Response: A Global Perspective.” Coastal Hazards, edited by Charles W. Finkl. Springer, 2013.  http://www.springer.com/us/book/9789400752337/.

Climate Central. “These U.S. Cities Are Most Vulnerable to Major Coastal Flooding and Sea Level Rise” 25 October 2017. http://www.climatecentral.org/news/us-cities-most-vulnerable-major-coastal-flooding-sea-level-rise-21748. 

Crowell, Mark, Jonathan Westcott, Susan Phelps, Tucker Mahoney, Kevin Coulton, Doug Bellow. “Estimating the United States Population at Risk from Coastal Flood-Related Hazards.” Coastal Hazards, edited by Charles W. Finkl, pp. 245-66. Springer. DOI:10.1007/978-94-007-5234-4.

Kemp, Andrew C. and Benjamin P. Horton. “Contribution of relative sea-level rise to historical hurricane flooding in New York City.” Journal of Quaternary Science 28.6:537-541.

Kimmelman, Michael. “Jakarta Is Sinking So Fast, It Could End Up Underwater.” 21 December 2017. The New York Timeshttps://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/12/21/world/asia/jakarta-sinking-climate.html

Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR). “A Stronger, More Resilient New York.” 11 June 2013. http://www.nyc.gov/html/sirr/html/report/report.shtml/

Yin, Jianjun, Michael E. Schlesinger, ad Ronald J. Stouffer. “Model projections of rapid sea-level rise on the northeast coast of the United States.” Nature Geoscience. 15 March 2009. DOI:10.1038/NGEO462. http://www.meteo.mcgill.ca/~huardda/articles/yin09.pdf

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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December 15, 2017
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Words and Swords

Word balloon types. Image: wikimedia commons.

Code talk and authorizations. What is the not-so-hidden code in a government directive that certain words or phrasing not be used in budget proposals, lest those words become swords killing the possibility of funding. Forbidden phrases: “science-based” and “evidence-based.” Word prohibitions include “diversity” and “vulnerable.” Authorizations throughout history have varied: some were a notes scrawled from parent to child, as in the Trans-Siberian Railway. Others were private handshakes made public, as in the New River. A few espoused values for the future of humanity: the Atomic Energy Act set the guiding purpose of peace. But de-authorizing certain code words by directive may be one of the few instances where values are so explicitly defined, and demanded. Summing up the reaction of many, Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, tweeted: “Here’s a word that’s still allowed: ridiculous.”

What do you think about “science-based” and “evidence-based?” What about the other directives? Can language ever be changed, or is it beyond directive? Abram de Swaan, of the Amsterdam School for Social Research, University of Amsterdam, observed that military conquests cause the spread of new wordings and even languages, but as soon as the newcomers are ousted, language returns to its natural evolution.

De Swaan, Abram. Words of the World: The Global Language System. Wiley 2013. ISBN: 9780745676982. Originally published, Polity Books, 2001.

Sun, Lena H. and Juliet Eilperin. “CDC gets list of forbidden words: Fetus, transgender, diversity.” 15 December 2017. The Washington Posthttps://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/cdc-gets-list-of-forbidden-words-fetus-transgender-diversity/2017/12/15/f503837a-e1cf-11e7-89e8-edec16379010_story.html?utm_term=.08926eab4d6a

https://www.cdc.gov

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December 8, 2017
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Electricentric MWay

Monterrey to Memphis to Montreal: Electricentric MWay? Image: Khaled, Wikimedia Commons.

Ford Motor Company is taking a right turn. The Michigan automotive manufacturer reversed a decision: instead of closing a plant in Mexico, they’ll dedicate an assembly line to build electric vehicles in Cuautitlán, near Mexico City. The EVs were originally slated to be built in Michigan, but now the Flat Rock plant in Detroit will build driverless vehicles, for sale in 2021. Nafta explorations are in progress: should a macro plan for a North American network of charging stations from Monterrey to Memphis to Montreal be sketched, and inked? Call it the MWay? Ionity set an example in Europe. What would the charging stations look like? When the United States Federal Highway was built, gas stations were planned. In fact, a Bostonian named Howard Deering Johnson made a fortune selling ice-cream at service stops and plazas on the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Turnpikes. Would McDonalds be the sponsor of the MWay? Nafta now has a singular opportunity for a strategic system of electric and autonomous vehicles, using regional advantage to rebuild a continent.

Boudette, Neal E. “Ford Will Build Electric Cars in Mexico, Shifting Its Plan.” 7 December 2017. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/07/business/ford-plant-electric.html

Colias, Mike and Tim Higgins. “Production to Mexico, Tags U.S. Plant for Driverless Car. 6 December 2017. Wall Street Journal.

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December 1, 2017
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100 Days to Power

Stone sculpture, Vancouver, Canada. Photo: wikimedia commons.

A promise, a bet, a race: Tesla founder Elon Musk made a deal. In 100 days, Tesla would build a 100-megawatt battery or turn it over to South Australian state if the deadline were missed even by a day. The battery, world’s biggest to date, is due to be on time for December 1. Why that date? It’s the start of Australia’s summer, the season of air-conditioning and power outages. French partner Neoen helped build the powerhouse that will store energy generated by its Hornsdale Wind Farm. Expected power? Enough to bring electricity to 30,000 homes. Australia, location of Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric, experienced an energy crisis earlier this year, as a result of exporting so much liquefied natural gas (LNG) that a heat wave challenged air conditioners. After Qatar, Australia is the largest exporter of LNG. Australia just closed a major coal power plant in Victoria.  Australia’s race to the future with partners Neoen and Tesla may mark a milestone for renewable power, especially energy storage.

Mcguire, Rod. “World’s biggest battery to be ready this week in Australia.” 28 November 2017. Associated Presshttps://apnews.com/a6cd45c5b5f141cf80f2bad43755295c

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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November 24, 2017
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Water Park

Marine life will be protected in Mexico’s new ocean preserve. Image: wikimedia commons.

Mexico created a macro water park; the Revillagigedo Archipelago will be the largest ocean marine reserve in North America. It’s a ban on all fishing in a protected zone of 57,000 square miles (150,000 square kilometers). Another prohibition? Extraction of natural resources. The grouping of volcanic islands is located on the crossing of two ocean currents, making the reserve a meeting and breeding site for marine life including whales. Mexico’s preserve avoids further hotel building. Another approach, in Singapore, is a marine life park within a resort, preserving 800 species. Marine reserves in the Pacific include a preserve of 193,000 square miles in Palau. As the oceans become increasingly challenged by many factors including overfishing, acidification, and plastic pollution, Mexico’s marine reserve is a gift to the future.

BBC. “Mexico creates huge national park to protect marine life.” 25 November 2017. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-42120610

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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November 17, 2017
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Bonn Voyage

Sunrise in Bonn, Germany. Image wikimedia.

The Conference of the Parties (COP23) met in Bonn, Germany to put the walk in the talk. COP23’s purpose? Make actionable those agreements, formed in Paris at COP21, addressing climate change. Among developments in Bonn, the Ocean Pathway will include waters not contained within specific countries. Other notable achievements: Powering Past Coal Alliance. World agreements, such as that achieved in Paris and followed up in Bonn, are relatively rare in history. Global time zones were agreed at the International Prime Meridian Conference of 1884, as a result of the work of Sandford Fleming, surveyor on the Canadian Pacific Railway. COMSAT invited companies around the world to join governments to build a new “railway” in the sky: communications satellite systems later resulted in the Internet. Bonn’s achievements at COP23 will determine the future, as participating nations (with a notable exception) work together to rebuild a sustainable world. Even where a country might not participate, states and cities continue the effort: We Are Still In.

Ellis, Jonathan. “The Bonn Climate Conference: All Our Coverage in One Place.” 13 November 2017. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/13/climate/bonn-climate-change-conference.html

Powering Past Coal Alliance. http://www.ym.fi/download/noname/%7B2ECC2AA5-F5D9-4551-BEC1-63C29DDB57A4%7D/132328

United Nations. COP23. https://cop23.unfccc.int

We Are Still In. https://www.wearestillin.com/cop23-press-release

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November 10, 2017
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Charging the future

Image: Devin sportscar, 1962. Will 2062 see a new model at one of Ionity’s charging stations? Image: wikimedia.org

Automakers BMW, Daimler, Ford, and Volkswagen will share equity in a new venture, building a network of charging stations for electric cars. Ionity, the joint venture, plans to install 400 units across Europe by 2020. Why? Most drivers charge their electric vehicles at home, using a 7-kilowatt-hour plug suitable for overnight charging. Ionity’s network, located along highways, will be faster: 350 kilowatts per hour. When cars catch up (presently, 50 kilowatts per hour is max capability), Ionity’s network will power up autos in ten minutes, while drivers stop for coffee. Another benefit? One plug fits all vehicles. When the U. S. Federal Highway was built, gas stations and related services expanded the economic value of the route. Similarly, Ionity will install their equipment in existing gasoline stations. Headquartered in Munich, and building the first stations in Austria, Germany, and Norway, Ionity opens for business in 2018. Electric cars are still a small segment of the vehicle sector: improving energy infrastructure will expand market share, charging the future.

McHugh, David and Geir Moulson. “Carmakers join forces in Europe to make electrics widespread.” Associated Press/Chicago Tribune, 5 November 2017. http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/sns-bc-eu–germany-electric-cars-20171103-story.html. 

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