Saturday, 28 April 2012

Re-Birth of Community - Opportunity from Disaster

Scale informs all of our decisions in planning our new urbanism. The village as a community - lego'd up to the scale of a small town - evolved to a neighborhood of a city. The difficulty of sharing vision becomes one of the primary impediments to sustainability. 

Our home, our village, we shall rebuild it

Available in Bahasa
In September this year I visited a number of communities in Yogyakarta, in Java, Indonesia, who were rebuilding their lives and homes after experiencing a series of natural disasters. The reconstruction process which I saw is perhaps in example of post-disaster community participation at their best.
Our home, our village, we shall rebuild it
For progress on reconstruction and rehabilitation after the natural disasters in Java, please visit this link: Building on Success: JRF Effectively Respond to Multiple Disasters in Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Do you have experiences on community participation during post-disaster rehabilitation? If you do, we’d love to hear about it.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

US Cities in the Global Economy (MGI)

McKinsey Global provides numerous background insights into urban impact. In this case they focus on US cities and the role they play in the global economy. Do they lead? Do they coordinate with others in global circular economies? Interesting questions and numerous facts (highlighted below). Check it out - and move to a city near you (TIC - really - escape to the desert!)

Urban America: US cities in the global economy

In a world of rising urbanization, the degree of economic vigor that the economy of the United States derives from its cities is unmatched by any other region of the globe. Large US cities, defined here as those with 150,000 or more inhabitants, generated almost 85 percent of the country’s GDP in 2010, compared with 78 percent for large cities in China and just under 65 percent for those in Western Europe during the same period. In the next 15 years, the 259 large US cities are expected to generate more than 10 percent of global GDP growth—a share bigger than that of all such cities in other developed countries combined.
Large cities by GDP
The overwhelming role that cities play as home to the vast majority of Americans but also as a dominant driver of US and global economic growth argues for a keen focus on their prospects. MGI sheds new light on the role cities play in the US economy and gauges how large they loom in the urban world overall. Other highlights of the research include:
  • The United States has a broader base of large cities than any other region, and that explains their greater economic clout.
  • Of the 600 cities that MGI expects will account for 60 percent of global GDP growth by 2025, nearly 1 in 7 is in the United States.
  • Today, the metropolitan areas of New York and Los Angeles are the world’s second and sixth largest, respectively, by GDP.
  • A considerable swath of middleweight cities enjoy relatively high incomes that help explain the great overall importance of cities in the US economy. The country has just over 255 middleweight cities, and the top 28 cities, after New York and Los Angeles, contribute more than 35 percent of US GDP.
Still, US cities face turbulent times ahead as the economy strives to recover from deep recession. Policy makers must also confront the dampening impact of deleveraging on economic activity, cope with persistently high pockets of unemployment, and manage an aging population over time. Business and government leaders need to find ways through these difficulties if cities are to play their part in the US economy’s growth and renewal. In the past, diverse US cities found many different ways to expand and become more prosperous. Although there is no single recipe for success, starting from a robust platform of economic clout will provide advantages.

Sustainable Operations in the Future City

The 2012 Sustainable Operations Summit in New York

It's near impossible to attend them all. I'm in Doha - this was in New York - so the net is our medium and allows us to follow the flow from afar. It's about economy - and community flows - and people. At the heart of it - the People:

Monday, 23 April 2012

Grass Roots Solutions - or Big Brother?

Such a choice!!! Will Doig of Salon contrasts alternative tracks to the future in a solid article about our new urban infrastructures. I am of the mind to leverage the power of people to reach to problems and contribute to solutions - through the application of appropriate technologies as contrasted to the big brother master control approach where centralized management becomes the (single point of failure) crutch of a disengaged drone public....

Your next mayor: A computer

Technology is helping cities control everything from traffic to disease. But who should control the technology?

Three years ago, 100 Parisians volunteered to wear a wristband with a sensor in it. The sensors measured air and noise pollution as the wearers made their way around the city, transmitting that data back to an online platform that created a virtual map of the city’s pollution levels, which anyone with an Internet connection could take a look at.

It was simple, elegant, effective — and a peek at the urban future, when “smart cities” will collect data of all kinds (in all kinds of ways) and use it to make themselves better places to live. The Paris wristband project shows how these efforts are already taking place, as urbanites conceive of solutions to their cities’ problems through creative uses of technology. It’s urban resourcefulness at its finest.

But it may not last. The smart-city movement is at a crossroads. With the market projected to be worth $16 billion by the end of the decade, big companies like IBM and Cisco have much grander — and more profitable — ambitions than these small-scale projects. They’re going all-in on smart cities, with designs that supposedly do everything from end traffic jams to prevent disease outbreaks to eliminate litter. “Almost anything — any person, any object, any process or any service, for any organization, large or small — can become digitally aware and networked,” said IBM Chairman Samuel J. Palmisano at the 2010 SmarterCities forum in Shanghai. “Think about the prospect of a trillion connected and instrumented things —cars, appliances, cameras, roadways, pipelines …”

Indeed, the goal of these companies is not just to participate in the evolution of smart cities, but to connect and control virtually everything with massive operating systems that will run these cities in their entirety. “Everybody wants to be the architects of these systems because then you own them forever,” says Greg Lindsay, author of “Aerotropolis” and an urban-technology reporter for Fast Company. “You could say it’s sort of a land grab.”

Which of these futures should smart cities shoot for — the bottom-up model or the top-down version? A few weeks ago, Lindsay and Anthony Townsend of the Institute for the Future debated just that question. It’s easy to feel a knee-jerk reaction against the top-down, evil-corporate-overlord schema, but it has some things going for it. Rio de Janeiro is perhaps the closest thing the world currently has to a top-down smart city. Two years ago, IBM built an enormous, Mission Control-like facility for Rio, from which emergency services, transit, traffic, air quality, weather, contagious disease outbreaks, landslides and just about everything else is now monitored and managed. “Eighty interchangeable digital panels project live video feeds from 450 cameras,” is how the Daily Beast described it, “plus a dizzying array of tricked-out Google Maps of schools and hospitals, car accidents … and close to 10,000 GPS-tracked buses and ambulances.”

It’s an undeniably nimble and efficient method (assuming the system doesn’t crash), and will come in handy when Rio hosts both the Olympics and the World Cup in the next four years. But it also consolidates power in the executive branch and creates an unsettling scope of surveillance. Its greatest novelty, however, may be that the system effectively puts a corporation, IBM, partially at the helm of a city of 6 million people.

“It has something like 70 different city departments under it,” says Lindsay of Rio’s system. “You create this entanglement where IBM almost becomes part of the city government. You couldn’t untangle it if you wanted to.”

Not to mention the fact that IBM is a computer company, not an urban planning consultancy. In his debate with Lindsay, Townsend asserted that the companies vying for smart-city dominance “know nothing about cities.” In fact, he said, despite having one of the biggest smart-city divisions in the IT world, IBM just hired its first urban planner last year. Why so little interest in what makes cities tick? “That’s probably the whole arrogance of the technology culture,” said Lindsay. “I think the software industry sees urban government as having failed.” Their attitude is: “‘We will come into your city and we will fix it.’”

It sounds, frankly, like Robert Moses all over again. New York’s “master planner” was notoriously uninterested in conforming his grand designs to urban nuances, with terrible consequences. Which is why the other way to approach smart cities, from the bottom up — referred to, naturally, as the Jane Jacobs method — is not only less risky, but holds vastly more potential.

“I always go back to the fundamental question of what cities are for, and what they do for us for free if we let them,” says Adam Greenfield, managing director of Urban Scale, an urban-technology consultancy. Rather than looking at cities as things that need to be be “fixed” by a distant force from on high, he sees technology as a tool to enhance a city’s existing strengths — starting with its residents themselves. “I go back to a book I read called ‘The Uses of Disorder,’ which suggests that cities are about maximizing interface between you and others,” says Greenfield. “You’re connected to a variety of people and providing the city itself with information and insights.”

A great example of maximizing the urban interface is SeeClickFix, an online platform that lets people report local infrastructure problems, from leaky hydrants to dangerous intersections. Other users can then “Like” those reports, Facebook-style, so city administrators can see which projects their citizens consider most urgent. It also saves local government the expense of monitoring every square foot of the city by itself.

There are other examples of bottom-up smart city thinking. In Seattle, 500 residents attached electronic trackers to pieces of their trash so that the items could be followed through the sanitation system to pinpoint inefficiencies. In Singapore, a group from MIT is developing a website that will show real-time movements of in-demand urban amenities, like cabs during rush hour. And a New York designer named Leif Percifield is prototyping a solution to his city’s combined-sewage overflow problem, in which thousands of gallons of raw sewage are dumped into the rivers when it rains. It would cost untold millions for the city to fix this problem; instead, Percifield is placing sensors in the sewers that will detect when the overflow is happening, so residents, who can opt to be automatically notified, can choose not to flush their toilets till the overflow has stopped.

Greenfield admits that these could be seen as a raw deal, government shunting its responsibilities onto the people. “But looked at from another perspective,” he says, “it’s empowering.” It’s a bit like how Twitter has become a place where people get their news — sure, a media company could have built and run a similar system itself, but on Twitter we send the links around for free, and gladly.

The common thread in all of these solutions is data, and much of it already exists, just waiting to be grabbed. “Your iPhone has eight sensors on it,” says Lindsay. “Think about the number of iPhones per city.” Cellphone signals, tracked en masse and anonymously, could be used to reorient transit service toward where it’s most needed, and to see how many people are visiting a city’s parks. It’s no more Big Brother-like than what already exists — the government can and does access cellphone location data all the time — so why not put that data to work for the benefit of cities?

Lindsay sees a day when the smart city has become so sentient that we can choose to have our phones make us aware of people in our immediate vicinity who would be advantageous for us to meet. A smart city could eliminate unused office space with a system that allows us to seamlessly share occupancy with strangers whose paths we never actually cross. In the future, we may even marvel that there was a time when cars sat unused 95 percent of the day.

“The city is already smart,” says Greenfield. “The intelligence is just bound up in the actions and behaviors of its users. If we harness that intelligence, we win.”

Original Aricle

Friday, 6 April 2012

A 1964 View

50 years can shift our POV certainly. But it is often productive to look at the our past view on a topic to see if/how we have progressed. What works - What doesn't; these refine and extend our vision. As we build the future, we must inventory the past!

Have you ever wondered what makes some cities better than others? In public access television pioneer George C. Stoney's 'How to Live in a City,' the argument is that it all depends on the quality of the public space. 
New York City folk singer and architectural critic Eugene Ruskin guides us through unique locales which illustrate the fine line between organic and sterile urban spaces. It all depends on a place’s ability to attract and sustain, even if only momentarily, a sense of community.

And while some spaces succeed and others fail, one may wonder whether if it was designer’s intention to drive people away, or not.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Open Source Cities

The Definitely right direction. The semantic representation of global resources is particularly useful. Open Source and Publicly Available!

Open Source Cities: aptly named: We live in an urban age. And while technology will surely make cities smarter and more connected, we know that what makes a city great is how we experience it as people.
The good news is that cities are becoming more open, more liveable, and more aware of their footprint on the planet. The idea of the city is undergoing a reinvention. You could say that the city is being open sourced, and we are all part of a global conversation.

We are busy constructing a platform for citizens of the world to connect with cities. If you'd like to get involved, please drop us a line. In the mean time, find us on Twitter and our Tumblr blog.

Livable Cities, Urban Mobility, Citizen Urbanism, Open Data, Ecological Design.

A global collection of the best ideas on the future of cities. Featuring in-depth interviews with visionary leaders and a survey of rich media content, Open Source Cities explores the discipline and tradition of open source collaboration as a model for systemic change in our collective urban present and future.

Plans for the site include a semantic “middleware” database of global resources to connect citizen urbanism initiatives with top-down urban planning and policy making bodies.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Emission Management at the Urban Edge

One of the base-line metrics going forward. Be it county, state, national, or global. Keeping an envelope (and noting the annoncement that UK greenhouse gas emissions were down 7% in 2011!  in the news this week-end). It's a baby-steps path forward. Can we do better in our urban systems by integrated monitoring and management infrastructures. With Individuals being aware of their aggregated footprints. The Urban Dome idea from Picarro is part of that envelope - emissions related to people, working personal and group actions, in their life choices and social context fills out the middle. 

Greenhouse gas emission thresholds adopted

Thresholds for greenhouse gas emissions that will trigger environmental analysis and mitigation measures were narrowly adopted Wednesday by the San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District board.
Directors voted 6-5, with Grover Beach representative Karen Bright absent, to adopt the thresholds despite objections from individuals and a home builders group.
But directors removed examples of mitigation measures that might be made mandatory in any local climate action plan over concerns some might think APCD was mandating those measures.
The board directed the staff to bring the issue back in a year with a list of projects that did and did not meet the thresholds.
In a separate 11-0 decision, the board asked the construction industry to provide data on mitigation costs for projects that exceed the thresholds.
Aeron Arlin-Genet, manager of APCD planning and outreach, said the guidelines will help implement Senate Bill 97 requirements for offsetting greenhouse gas emissions as part of the California Environmental Quality Act process.
“These thresholds will provide guidance to lead agencies, project proponents and the general public on how to implement SB 97 in a consistent and defensible fashion while streamlining the process for smaller projects,” she said.
Commercial and residential projects would not require analysis and quantified mitigation if:
  • The development is consistent with an agency’s adopted climate action plan;
  • The project would produce less than the “bright-line threshold” of 1,150 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year — the amount expected from a 70-unit urban residential subdivision, a 49-unit rural subdivision or a 40,000-square-foot urban strip mall; or,
  • The project’s yearly emissions do not exceed 4.9 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent for each employee and resident it serves.
The industrial project threshold would be 10,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions a year.
Arlin-Genet said 56 projects are expected to hit those thresholds by 2020.

Read more at the Santa Maria Times: