Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Esozoic City

A growing worldwide movement is looking at cities through the lens of living systems. In countless practical projects, city dwellers are re-connecting with the soils, trees, animals, landscapes, energy systems, water, and energy sources on which all life depends.

For the moment, this movement is mostly bottom-up, small-scale, and low-budget. It’s a barely visible mosaic in which rivers are restored by volunteers, car parks are depaved by activists, trees are planted by community teams, rainwater is harvested by neighbours, gadens are tended by school students, and nesting boxes for birds are installed by twitchers.

A lot of this work is carried out by community groups working street-by-street. As more small projects are completed,the to-do list expands. People notice that there are neglected parks to transform, gardens to revive, roadside verges to plant, empty roofs to green. There are vacant lots, abandoned buildings and empty malls to put to new use.

The fact that most of these actions are small does not diminish their significance. Change bubbling up from the bottom is how complex systems change – and cities are no exception. Besides, this proliferation of green shoots creates new work for for city managers and policy makers to do: Nurturing these thousands of tiny patches, removing obstacles, linking them together.

A startling question begins to be heard: Pull that weed out of its crack in the sidewalk – or let it grow?’

The Esozoic City (The Doors of Perception)

Greening the Concrete Jungle

Whether the cities of the Anthropocene will be environmentally sustainable or not depends on how the slum districts of developing world cities evolve. Will cities follow the inefficient North American model: suburban sprawl of highway-linked satellite towns, or rather the closely packed high-rises of Hong Kong and Singapore? Seoul is one example of how a city can transform in a couple of decades – from a filthy slum in which one-third lived in low-rise squatter settlements, to a shining functioning city of metro-linked skyscrapers in which most of the 25 million population live in healthy surroundings.

Apart from a few examples, most cities were never designed or planned, they grew - sometimes over thousands of years – in an ad hoc pattern. Occasionally, sections would be entirely rebuilt according to architects’ plans, but these opportunities were usually the result of disasters, such as earthquakes or bombings, or because of grand schemes, such as slum clearance, industrial development or large-scale municipal constructions, such as a new highway or transport system.

Now architects are having to re-think the city in the age of high population, strained resource use and global environmental impacts. In some places, such as Tianjin in China, planners are designing entirely new cities for the Anthropocene, trying to avoid errors of the past and achieve a sustainable solution from the outset.

Sustainability in the new urban age (BBC Future)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Urban Aquaponics

Aquaponics is a method of combined fish and vegetable farming that requires no soil. The farmer cultivates freshwater fish (aquaculture) and plants (hydroponics) in a recirculating water system that exchanges nutrients between the two. Wastewater from the fish serves as organic fertilizer for the plants, while the plants clean the water of fish feces and urine. The net result: a 90 percent reduction in freshwater use compared with conventional fish farming, and a significant reduction in added nutrients such as fossil fertilizers. The system can be run without pesticides and, because the fish environment is spacious and clean, without antibiotics.

I had first heard about aquaponics from a friend in Nashville, Tenn., where I ran the North American branch of Franke, a Swiss espresso equipment supplier. I was intrigued by the method’s natural resource efficiency and its potential for large-scale urban cultivation. But it took me until this moment in Graber’s lab to recognize how dramatically aquaponics would change my life and that it could radically change how we feed the booming cities around the world.

The Farming Technique That Could Revolutionize the Way We Eat (The Atlantic Cities)