7/05/2012

En route towards green cities…?

We dream of making green cities. A city is literally green as well as ecological. A city that produces food and energy, cleans its own water, recycles waste and holds a great biodiversity. A city that produces food and energy, cleans its own water, recycles waste and holds a great biodiversity. A city which might even be autarkic: A symbiotic world of people, plants and animals. Can this symbiosis between city and countryside offer essential argumentation to the global concerns regarding urbanisation and consumption? Can we realise in the next ten years an exemplary 'green' city which realises this synthesis? And could this be the Floriade 2022?
This is Winy Maas's comment about his master plan for Floriade 2022.
With Floriade 2022, Almere is announced to be becoming… a green city. Still, this time I paraphrase Bridgette Mainhold, the greenest city ever built!
A very ambitious master plan for the city of Almere and its population of 191,495 on a area of 248.77 sq km (96.05 sq mi). This will be for the Floriade 2022 horticultural expo and will include hotel, marina, offices and homes. This Floriade 2022 will sit in a 45ha-square peninsula situated on the lake to the south, Bridgette Mainhold notes.
Floriade 2022, Almere, The Netherlands | © MVRDV
Originally appeared on dezeen.

Basing on these renders, the project seems an enjoyable opportunity for the city of Almere. It is obvious that the aim behind MVRDV's master plan is to design a liveable city that puts green features as catalyser for the citizens. But what make cities liveable?
Floriade 2022, Almere, The Netherlands | © MVRDV
Originally appeared on dezeen

Apparently key elements to a liveable city must integrate resilience, inclusiveness and authenticity, as this infographic shows.
A livable and lovable city | The Philips Center for Health and Well-Being
Originally appeared on this big city

Perhaps…
Still, many observers admit the important role that green growth can bring to urban and rural environment provided that it will be inclusive, as clean in its treatment of environment, efficient in its use of natural resources, resilient, and meets the needs of all people, as this infographic below shows.
Inclusive Green Growth | WorldBank
Also appeared on Sustainable Cities Collective
> Note how dominant is green color as indicative of a 'green' inclusiveness

Allow me for being skeptical with the notion of "green cities" and my fear of a "greenwashing" tendency that is growing faster as expected in such circumstances — this has nothing to do with MVRDV's proposal as it is not built yet. I have aforementioned 'inclusive green growth' as core element of a liveable city. But these recent years concepts that include "resilient city" "smart city", "inclusive city", "eco city", "biodiverse city", "electric city", "mobile city", "self-sufficient city" and so on, are flourishing. And 'green city' is just another one. And the list will not be unsurprisingly complete as new thoughts and ideas seem to arise every day, every hour, every minutes…
Perhaps the most urgent task is to pose this question of how relationship between city and green in another way: can city and green be related? Can cities be 'green'? If so how can cities and green features be related? Can the act of planting plants be sufficient to make cities "green"? Or should we rather rethink cities in a new way that includes or better generates new ideas, innovative research in terms of planning, designing and constructing that includes building materials? This leads to this question: can we continue to invest on current building materials?
I have already said it: new research and vision are arising. As such for some researchers something is wrong with today's architecture. One of them is Rachel Armstrong who says to New Scientist:
The issue with modern architecture is that it is imagined through the framework and technology of the machine. We think even of ourselves as machines. Machines are good at taking resources and making objects but they're impenetrable to the environment and they are extremely wasteful.
In her book Living Architecture, Rachel Armstrong calls for fresh thoughts and a new vision in terms of architecture. On the recent 3/11 events and reconstruction of the Tohoku, Japan, she writes:

[A] new approach to architecture must be considered. The buildings that house our lives and our technologies must be able to combat extreme acts of nature.


As such:

Today, all buildings are designed and constructed the same way. They are the product of industrial, machine-manufactured processes, that are functionally inert and both unresponsive and damaging to the changing environment; today, our building account for 40 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, an even bigger carbon footprint than transport.

In this way, these green cities seem to have hear Rachel Armstrong's call for new vision and thoughts in terms of designing cities. But, as mentioned, planting trees, plants here and there will not be sufficient and efficient enough to respond to the urgent task to making our cities liveable, if, Rachel Armstrong points out, we still use today's materials and construction systems:

Our structures could become living objects, responding to the environment. Instead of our buildings remaining inert, they could adapt to or respond to the seasons, like parks and gardens, with living coatings responding to the availability of more or less wind, sunlight and water. Innovation in the technological functions of architecture is key to meeting these challenges.

Put it another way, green and city cannot be related if we do not reengineer city and building design that includes building materials in new ways.

All modern buildings are constructed in the same way: They employ industrial processes to use functionally inert materials that then form a barrier between human habitation and nature. Currently, the construction of our homes and cities from inert materials takes a toll on the environment, because buildings can't return anything of value to the biosphere. Instead, our buildings are little more than the site for the extreme consumption of fossil fuel.

In this context, if we follow Rachel Armstrong, green features and current building materials cannot match in harmony to make our cities liveable despite a progressive shift into admitting that a new approach to designing cities is highly needed. Put it simply, inclusive green features will not make cities green.
US Portal Service Green Roof | US Portal. Photo © pnwra.
Originally appeared on inhabitat

It is certain that it is too early to propose new materials capable of adapting or responding to environments — to limit to materials — as research and investment are needed. This may force us to try various scenarios and speculations to obtain the model of city that will fit with the 21st century challenging issues. Failure will be the key as new approach to designing buildings and cities for planners, architects, landscape architects, and collaborators. Test, fail, re-test, and perhaps, then after myriad of attempts, a new model of city may raise… providing that, to quote Rachel Armstrong:
architecture plays a smarter and more responsive role in the environment. 
Source: Inhabitat, dezeen

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