Building the World

September 28, 2018
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Coastal Cities, Flooding, and Climate Change

Flooding in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photographer: Gul Cratt, 2006. Image: wikimedia.

Many of the world’s great cities were built as ports, welcoming ships, trade, and opportunity. Singapore is an example. So is New York. Coastal cities must contend with typhoons, hurricanes, rains, and flooding. With climate change, so-called “thousand-year floods” are happening more frequently than such a name might indicate. During Hurricane/Super Storm Sandy, New York saw Wall Street underwater. Another problem? Sea-rise. Here are some of the cities that may suffer inundation: Shanghai, Osaka, Alexandria, Miami,  Rio de Janeiro, Amsterdam. Dhaka (19 million) is especially threatened, with danger beyond the capital city: Bangladesh may see 17% of land underwater and 18 million people displaced. Jakarta (10 million) is the fastest-sinking city in the world with 13 rivers merging into Indonesia’s Java Sea on which the coastal capital is located.

Copenhagen rebuilt for climate change . Image: wikimedia

How can coastal cities defend themselves against rising seas and flooding from storms? One approach is rethinking city surfaces from hard asphalt to spongy grass. Copenhagen decided to redesign the city after receiving six inches of rain in two hours during a 2011 storm. Over 300 projects from large parks and greenways, to tiny garden plots with bioswales to absorb rainwater, began the transformation. New York followed suit, forming a partnership with Copenhagen to exchange ideas and measure results. Copenhagen and New York may be cities of different size, but the problems of sea-rise and flooding threaten all coastal cities (and, of course, island states and nations).

But it’s not just physical infrastructure that makes a city resilient. It’s also another kind of infrastructure: governance. The Sustainable Solutions Lab (SSL) in a 2018 report “Governance for a Changing Climate: Adapting Boston’s Built Environment for Increased Flooding” recommended a joint state-municipal commission to deal with increasing climate impact. Governance suggested: 1) reform existing tools including acts and laws; 2) coordinate water/sewer, transport, energy, and telecommunications to a common standards; 3) combine scientists and government agencies in a climate advisory team; 4) establish governance and district-scale flood protection. University of Massachusetts Boston Sustainable Solutions Lab‘s previous reports on Boston included financing solutions to climate change, and a feasibility study of harbor barriers.

Governance for a Changing Climate: Adapting Boston’s Built Environment for Increased Flooding. Sustainable Solutions Lab. Image: Boston’s Zakim Bridge.

Coastal cities might look to Boston’s approach as one model that cities can enact. Cities have a unique capability to address climate change.

According to Michael Bloomberg, three-time mayor of New York, cities can respond faster to climate change because they can pass laws quickly, decide upon structural change, fund urban design initiatives, and coordinate governance. The Global Covenant of Mayors, representing 9,149 cites housing 780,804,596 people worldwide, signed a Climate & Energy agreement to bring cities together to respond to climate change. Bloomberg and European Commission Vice-President Maroš Ṧefcovič co-chair the board; Christiana Figures, architect of the Paris Agreement and founder of Global Optimism, serves as vice-chair. The mission combines initiatives with inclusion to achieve a just, low-emission, resilient future. Cities may be the first responders to climate change.

Barron, James. “New York’s Next Nickname: The Big Sponge?” 27 September 2018. The New York Times.https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/27/nyregion/new-york-flooding.html

Glennon, Robert. “The Unfolding Tragedy of Climate Change in Bangladesh.” 21 April 2017. Scientific American. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/the-unfolding-tragedy-of-climate-change-in-bangladesh/.

Global Covenant of Mayors. https://www.globalcovenantofmayors.org

Holder, Josh, Niko Kommenda, Jonathan Watts, “The three-degree world: the cities that will be drowned by global warming.” 3 November 2017. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/ng-interactive/2017/nov/03/three-degree-world-cities-drowned-global-warming/.

Kruel, Stephanie, VHB; Rebecca Herst, Sustainable Solutions Lab; David Cash, McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies. Sustainable Solutions Lab, University of Massachusetts Boston, “Governance for a Changing Climate: Adopting Boston’s Built Environment for Increased Flooding.” https://www.umb.edu/editor_uploads/images/centers_institutes/sustainable_solutions_lab/Governance-for-a-Changing-Climate-Full-Report-UMB-SSL.pdf

Lin, Mayuri Mei, and Raki Hidayat. “Jakarta, the fastest-sinking city in the world.” 13 August 2018, BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-44636934/.

University of Massachusetts Boston, “Governance for a Changing Climate” 28 September 2018. https://www.umb.edu/news/detail/umass_boston_report_laws_revamp_for_good_governance_in_climate_change_era.

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

August 27, 2018
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Art of Change

Times Square, New York City. Image: wikimedia

Climate change can be difficult to picture. That may be why, in part, politicians and citizens alike find it hard to grasp, and even more challenging to take action. But what if Mel Chin‘s “Unmoored” caught your eye? Displayed in Times Square, New York City, the artist’s work addresses the prediction that by the year 2100, six feet of water may slosh the great white way. Urban denizens, and tourists, can download the app, pointing a phone camera at various structures to see which ones will be afloat, and where boats may replace taxis and other vehicles. Will lessons from the Netherlands be part of the solution?

Will Miami soon be underwater? Image: wikimedia

Or maybe you prefer winters in Florida. This December, Xavier Cortada‘s “Underwater HOA” campaign invites residents of Pinecrest to place signs on their lawns showing how many feet of water will need to rise before inundating their property. Watercolor paintings that serve as background on the signs will be made with the very melted glacier water that the campaign hopes to stop. The installation opens in December. One month later, January 9, 2019, the signs will come down but the work will start: a citizens’ organization will meet at Cortada’s house to address climate change in the area of Miami. Can the invisible be made visible? What is the art of change?

For more: “12 Artists On Climate Change: A dozen artistic responses to one of the greatest threats of our time.” By Zoë Lescaze. 22 August 2018.  T AGITPROP 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

June 22, 2018
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Migrants and the Renewal of Culture

“Detail of Cyrene bronze head, circa 300 bce.” Image: British Museum and wikimedia.

Migrants have been a source of change, and renewal, throughout history. Cyrene, founded in 630 bce, several miles south of the Mediterranean Sea in Libya, became the first of five flourishing cities called the Pentapolis of Cyrenaica. Cyrene’s migrants brought fertile minds to a new land: it was here that Earth’s circumference was first determined by Eratosthenes. Fresh thinking, fostered in an atmosphere promoting science, technology, and art, produced an early map of the stars, the mechanics of doubling a cube, and research that developed prime numbers. The poet Apollonia was also a resident of Cyrene. What policies and cultural practices fostered such innovation? In today’s world, with migrants on the move and in the news, can we draw inspiration from Cyrene to build a better future?

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

April 27, 2018
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Bridges to the Future

“London Bridge Illuminated at Dusk,” by photographer burge500, 2006. Image: wikimedia commons.

The land of London Bridge just announced a span to a better environment, banning single-use plastics. The UK government states the measure will help eliminate any increase in what is estimated as over 150 million tons of plastic in our oceans. As a result, one million birds and 100, 000 sea mammals die from ingesting or getting trapped in plastic waste. Particularly concerning are smaller pieces of plastic like Q-tips and plastic straws that slip through filters into rivers and oceans. Scotland earlier led the ban on single-use plastics; the new law will be introduced across the Commonwealth.

In the United States, such environmental considerations are up to states and cities, banning or taxing single-use plastics: California was the first state in 2014; Boston recently joined the increasing group of cities with an urban plastic bag tax.

Corley, McKinley. “Another Big US City is Banning Single-Use Plastic Bags.” 18 December 2017. https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/another-big-us-city-banning-single-use-plastic-bags/

Nace, Trevor. “UK To Ban All Plastic Straws, Q-tips, and Single-Use Plastics.” 25 April 2018. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/trevornace/2018/04/25/uk-to-ban-all-plastic-straws-q-tips-and-single-use-plastics/#cb4a4ff11383

Thanks to Cherie E. Potts for suggesting this topic.

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

 

April 13, 2018
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Tale of Three Cities: Sydney, Australia

Sydney Opera House. Photographer: Steve Collis. Image: wikimedia.

Already the most populous city in Australia, Sydney’s headcount will double in the next four decades. Solution? Divide Sydney into three separate metropoles: Eastern Harbour City, Central River City, and Western Parkland City. Eastern has the Sydney Opera House and airport. Western will get its own airport, with the new city built as an “aerotropolis.” In-between, Central River will attract the best of both sides, it is hoped. New transport infrastructure, road and rail, will fulfill the strategic goal of “30-minute cities” offering travel from home to work in a reasonable commute. How will the new urban plan honor the First Nations? Australia has experience in city development: the town of Cooma expanded rapidly when chosen as headquarters for the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority, bringing water and electricity to rapidly growing Australia. Megacities, urban centers with more than 10 million people, are on the rise: in 1960, there were just two – New York and Tokyo; more than 40 megacities are expected by 2030. Will Sydney set a precedent?

Brooke, Kathleen Lusk and Zoë G. Quinn. “Badu Gili: Water Light.” 30 June 2017. Building the World Blog. http://blogs.umb.edu/buildingtheworld/2017/06/30/badu-fili-water-light.

Lo, Andrea. “Why is Sydney being split into three cities?” 12 April 2018. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/12/asia/sydney-three-cities/index.html.

United Nations. “The world’s cities are growing in both size and number.” http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/publications/pdf/urbanization/the_world’s_cities_in_2016_data_booklet.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

April 6, 2018
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Haute Cuisine

Will city skyscrapers grow food, for a new twist on haute cuisine – high cooking? Here, Bosco Verticale in Milan, Italy. Image: wikimedia.

By 2050, 75% of us will live in cities, likely in high rise towers. Gustav Eiffel’s innovation of building up, supported by the force of curves and wind, demonstrated to the world that the future was in the sky. The Eiffel Tower of Paris is progenitor of today’s skyscrapers. In the United States, Chicago is said by some architects to have invented the skyscraper as a response to the city’s sudden population growth. When it opened in 1885, the Home Insurance Building reached 138 feet (42-meters) skyward, using steel in its structure: it was the first tall building to do so. 1892 saw the erection of the Monadnock Building, largest commercial edifice in the world, at the time. Fast-forward, and upward, Ping An Finance Center in Shenzhen, China reached a milestone: 1,955 feet (599 meters). By 2025, Asia will be home to more than 30 megacities: Tokyo, Shangai, Jakarta, Delhi, Seoul, Guangzhou, Beijing, Manila, Mumbai, Shenzhen top the list. According to Jorgen Randers, 2052, “The future will be urban, dense, and crowded.”

PingAn IFC, Shenzhen, China. Photographer: Posasihumvioa. Image: wikimedia.

Where will all those people live, and what will they eat? Some designers envision towers alive with bloom, absorbing rain, shielding sun, providing insulation, cleaning air, and perhaps even growing food. Examples include residential towers: Bosco Verticale, in Milan, Italy. In 2015, France’s capital passed a law mandating all new roofs be solar or green. Now, a further development: all Parisians may grow food on their premises. By 2020, the city known for haute cuisine may give another meaning to that adjective: more than 100 hectares (about 40% of a mile) of rooftops gardens and planted walls will grace the city, yielding 425 tons of vegetable, 24 tons of mushrooms. Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced a pan-Parisian “license to vegetate.” Metro operator RATP hosts a commercial garden; the French Post Office farms its roof, and even breeds chickens amid the aubergines.

Jacob, Sam. “Sky-rise living: Palace or prison? 11 January 2018. CNN Style. https://www.cnn.com/style/article/skyrise-living-sam-jacob/index.html.

Randers, Jorgen. 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years (2012) and The Limits to Growth (1972). http://www.2052.info/

Ye, Sonia and Cloture Achi, Sybille de La Hamaide, Louise Heavens. “Post office workers grow vegetables, breed chickens on Paris rooftop ‘farm.'” 26 September 2017. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france/agriculture-urban-roofstop/post-office-workers-grow-vegetables-breed-chickens-on-paris-rooftop-farm-idUSKCN1C11UX. 

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

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

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

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

October 14, 2017
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Capital Idea: New Nafta

Seeing earth from space, individual countries fade in the reality that regions may be the true nations. Image: wikimedia.

NAFTA is in the news, but it may soon be history. Now is the time for developing visions for a better, stronger, more sustainable, and kinder, regional alliance. One look from space shows not a troika of nations but a connected region. One aspect that should be added to current negotiations among Canada, Mexico, and the United States: water. The precedent of the Colorado River Compact may help address current considerations of shared water, especially transboundary aquifers? Another eau de vie, education: might scholarly and cultural exchange mingle the waters?

A new capital could signal the vision. It is timely. Recent earthquakes affecting Mexico City reopened conversation about the current capital built on a lakebed, not far from volcanoes. Should Mexico consider moving the DF? A federal district, such as Mexico’s capital or Washington, DC, is by definition its own moveable feast. If Mexico were to move the DF, could the new capital symbolize a regional vision embracing Canada, Mexico and the United States, in honor of shared resources? What architects should design the new city?

What’s in a name? Could TLCAN-ALENA-NAFTA become TAN? Image: wikimedia.

Finally, if Nafta emerges from current talks, it is time to unite nomenclature. How can there be a common vision when, at present, there are three acronyms for the same entity:

TLCAN – Tratado de libre comercia de america del norte https://www.sec-tlcan-mex.org/

ALENA – Accord de libre-échange nord américain http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/PDF/N-23.8.pdf

NAFTA – North American Free Trade Agreement http://www.worldtradelaw.net/fta/agreements/nafta.pdf

The new name might honor a letter from each treaty, resulting in a shared word with meaning in all three languages – TAN. Or initial the countries: cam or mac. But perhaps the alliance that really matters is bigger, representing the land as seen from space. Will these and other issues be debated at the XVII Congressional NAFTA & Border Issues Conference at the Library of Congress in Washington on 26 October 2017?

For more:

Eckstein, Gabriel. “Buried Treasure or Buried Hope? The Status of Mexico-U.S. Transboundary Aquifers under International Law.” International Community Law Review 13 (2011), Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.

McHugh, James T., editor. Toward a North American Legal System. (2012), Palgrave Macmillan.

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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