3/08/2012

Video: A Manifesto of looseness by Kazys Varnelis

It is no longer a secret for many of us: our cities are obsolete. At least, the model of the 20th century appears to be incapable of adapting to new challenges. For many, cities need new urban interfaces more flexible, responsive, capable of problem-addressing. This fact has been mentioned, quoted, and repeated in many blogs — here included — as well as newspapers and other books. As we are shifting from the post-industrial cities into the smart cities, more and more books, projects, discussions and other lectures are growing to either explain the mechanisms of this new model or to highghlits its limits, its complexity. Nonetheless, cities are slowly but surely engaging into this shift: these include Paris, Tokyo, Chicago, Berlin, London, New York, Boston, Dubai, Beijing, Osaka, Hong Kong, Shanghai, among others.
In this video, below, the historian and theorist of city and architecture, Kazys Varnelis goes back to one of many progresses over the 20th Century: urban mobility, precisely car as core element. This lecture is part of the Smart City Expo in Barcelona on December 2nd, 2011.
One aspect of cities of 20th century is vehicle, or more broadly transit. As people left rural areas for the city, mobility became crucial in city planning making private-vehicle ownership mandatory. This is the case of cities like Los Angeles with about 80% of car use. Even in cities with a highly use of urban transports — subways — such as Tokyo, car played, and continues to play an important role in city planning. As cities are growing over hundreds kilometers shifting into megacities, car becomes central, not only for residents of suburbs as well as for residents of center to commute inside/outside, from/to the city.
Yet car is now associated with fast-growing cities, environmental issues, resource scarcity, urban migration, energy issues (oil shortage), pollution, congestion and so on. And the list of issues is very long. While it is difficult to say whether or not this model of transit is obsolete, it, however, raises serious issues of pollution and congestion. Developed cities and developing cities are concerned with these issues with evidence.
This situation will not change soon even if propositions such as walkable communities are growing to become new trends, even if new types of transit will be invented such as electric cars. Indeed, while being downgraded car will still remain the core element of cities. Smart Cities may integrate cars. The invention of electric cars or smart cars are viewed to be the, if not, one of the solutions of the city in the nearing future. Perhaps. But would it be rather time to reconsider current urban interfaces to adapt to these environmental issues? Would it be rather time to pose the question of human technologies that generates failure? Human technologies in association with nature rather than versus nature? (Post-)Industrial cities are an example of failure. Or maybe resilience, which is interconnected with failure, may solve, at least address these complexities. But as a solved problem raises another problem to address, the question to ask is whether or not smart cities are the solution. Perhaps technologies may be a disaster. Perhaps smart mobility may raise a new type of pollution, of congestion. Perhaps not…

Suggested reading: Kazys Varnelis, The Infrastructural City, Actar Editorial, 2008

Anyway, Kazys Varnelis said not to have any specific expertise on this subject. Nevertheless as a historian of city, he posed in this video questions that will be more and more pertinent in regard with the emerging of the city of the 21st century — be it smart or not. These issues include: mobility and new types of transit in the era of post-oil, infrastructure, complexity, environmental protection, energy…
Here is the note that accompanies this video posted in his blog:
My thinking about complexity and the dangers it poses for us has been evolving fast lately and I am convinced that this is some of the most important work I've ever done.
According to Varnelis, the idea of complexity is a form of pollution and congestion. This may be considered as thought-provocative. This is at least what he aimed with this lecture. The best is to watch this video of his lecture below in case you have not watched it yet.



A Manifesto for Looseness from Kazys Varnelis on Vimeo.

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