| Future Cities Will Be More Like Ecosystems That Enrich Society and the Environment|
By Tina Butler
May 30, 2008
As The World Science Festival continues in New York this week, specialists
in vastly diverse fields across scientific disciplines are coming together
to talk about ideas, problems and solutions. From Astronomy to
Bioacoustics, the dialogues about challenges and opportunities are rich
and inspiring. At the front of this year's festival rests the issue of
sustainability and how scientists, specialists and society will address
the imminent environmental and economic trials we are sure to face in a
rapidly changing and uncertain world.
One such dialogue is taking place in the event, Future Cities: Sustainable
Solutions, Radical Designs, where creative minds on the bleeding edge will
push the boundaries and definitions of what the modern city can be—from
vertical farms housed in high rises to stackable cars that fit together
like airport luggage carts—and how future urbanites may live, work, travel
At the center of this conversation is Dr. Mitchell Joachim, an innovating
architect and urban designer with a radical new vision for the urban
sphere. Dr. Joachim is engaged in a number of organizations and projects
that all seek to further an integration of ecological design principles
into the human space. He won Time Magazine's Best Invention of the Year in
2007 for his collaboration with the Smart Cities Group for the Compacted
Car and is a partner in the nonprofit design organization Terreform as
well as the mind behind the Fab Tree Hab project.
Dr. Joachim has a doctorate in architecture from MIT and master's degrees
from Harvard and Columbia in urban design and architecture. After working
as an architect at Gehry Partners and Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, he is
currently teaching at Columbia and Washington University in St. Louis.
Dr. Joachim took time earlier this week to discuss some of the challenges
of increasing urbanization, population pressures and making the case for
sustainability, as well as some of his upcoming projects.
Mongabay: What is the biggest problem facing cities today—the rapid influx
of inhabitants, inefficiencies in existing infrastructure, lack of
financial resources for improvements or some other issue?
Dr. Mitchell Joachim: In other words—what is key to keeping cities
The key to being sustainable is by not being sustainable! For example-
would you want your marriage/relationship to be "sustainable'? No, people
desire to be evolving, growing, living, learning, etc., not just getting
along for the next year. "Sustainability" as a term is not provocative
enough for cities. At the urban scale we need to think about integrated
and positive ecological solutions—solutions that fit holistically within
the metabolism of urbanity. Imagine cars in our future city; how can they
positively contribute to the local ecology? What kind of a car cleans the
air and accounts for 50 years of industrial pollution? Today we mostly
concentrate on cars in the city that are efficiency-based models. These do
less damage than previous cars, but still continue to exacerbate the
energy crisis. Neutral models are not much better. Neutral or zero
emission vehicles do no further damage, but don't alter the current
condition positively. A positive ecological mobility system is the most
provocative design goal for future cities. This means vehicles that are
powered by renewable sources, add to the energy grid, possess
intelligence, and scrub the atmosphere. Such as fuel cell vehicles with
green hydrogen reformation.
see more on this theory called transology and eoctransology
People wonder if sustainability is affordable... our Fab Tree Hab project
addresses this issue: In departing from the modern sense of home
construction, compilation of a budget for this living home prototype
inherently opens the debate surrounding decision-making and green
architecture. It is widely acknowledged that life-cycle costing methods
would provide more favor to conscientious home designs by including energy
cost savings and, more abstractly, accounting for reduction or elimination
of externality costs. However, this falls short of recognizing the
compound and continuous value of sustainable housing as an interweave of
systems, and it still places too much value on benefits received today as
opposed to tomorrow or hundred years from now. By rejecting the tendency
towards immediacy, and, likewise, first cost dependency, a true
representation of sustainable value can be achieved by explicitly
recognizing the adaptive, renewal, cooperative, evolutionary, and
longevity characteristics of the home. Our design explores the concepts in
that debate by including all five traits.
Mongabay: With the urbanizing trend and mounting population pressures,
what is the best strategy for integrating nature into the urban
environment while meeting inhabitants' housing, business and
Dr. Mitchell Joachim: We're often told that today's cities are "greener"
than, say, suburbs in developed countries. This is the Sprawl vs Sprung
debate: is it better to spring up tall densely compacted towers or spread
out across virgin land? Most of this argument is too complex to discuss in
a short answer. However, the transportation factor is a major
consideration. US transport uses 29% of our total energy needs-- this
figure is expected to double in forty years. Public transit systems
serving millions do greatly reduce the overall energy demand on cities. It
is safe to say tooling around in cars in suburbia is wasteful. Can we do
more? Yes: re-think mobility, especially form a life cycle perspective;
design vehicles that "fit the city" instead of cities accommodating
vehicles. Smart cars designed to move in flocks or herds, called "gentle
congestion" is one such solution.
Mongabay: What kind of resistance might one of these projects face and
Dr. Mitchell Joachim: What is the cost of inaction? To what extent can
cities be allowed to evolve organically, as opposed to needing the hand of
planners? In the future, we won't be around to discuss the cost of
inaction. Planners, urban designers and architects don't shape cities.
They never really have. For instance, in the field of Urban Design, you
can author the "design" elements but you can't create the "urban"
condition. Urbanity happens, with or without good planning and design. No
single constituency is responsible for the making of our cities. The best
hope for a practicing city designer is to evoke a riff or sensibility, not
a script tomorrow.
Mongabay: What is your next project?
Dr. Mitchell Joachim: A full scale 3d print model of Manhattan made from
materials found in Fresh Kills landfill. We calculate there is enough
waste material to make five such prototypes.