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February 2012

Future Proofing Cities Lecture Outline

Feb 14, 2012 10:00 PM
Craig Applegath

In preparation for a lecture I will be giving at Ryerson University’s Architecture School (on March 1st at 6:00pm), I have spent a lot of time thinking about the best way to structure presentation to provide listeners with a good mental map for the complexity that is urban resilience. One of the most interesting problems in exploring resilience is that it is an emergent phenomenon, a gestalt, rather than a linear, directly causal phenomenon. The topic of the lecture is Future Proofing Cities; Planning and Designing for Future Resilience. Below you will find a skeleton outline of the key concepts that I will be exploring. You will notice that the Whats and the Hows of building resilience capacity are outlined, but not the Hows. I plan to explore the Hows In the lecture (and in future blogs):

1. Planning for Growth and Density: Why Growth? The third great migration of rural populations (see Doug Sanders book Arrival Cities, for more on this) to cities around the world, as well as the ongoing overall growth of global population, will both put pressures on many cities to grow, but in doing so will also provide the engine for positive economic growth and urban development. It will therefore be important for cities to be able to respond positively to this pressure. Why Density? Increasing density is a very effective strategy to lower per capita costs of infrastructure capital and operating costs, as well as an important way of reducing per capita use of all types of energy – including energy for transportation, and heating and cooling of buildings (see Edward Glaeser’s book, Triumph of The City for more on this). Thus, increasing density increases a city’s resilience to future shocks and stresses associated with future energy price increases associated with either peak oil or increasing demands from developing nations.

2. Energy Performance: Why? The energy performance of various components of a city’s infrastructure and building fabric is a key determinant in a city’s resilience capacity. Reducing a city’s per capita energy consumption is an important means of reducing the future impact of any shocks or stresses associated with rising future energy costs. This is an extension of category 1.

3. Local Food Production: Why? Northern cities are very dependent on food supply transported great distances by truck from the Southern cities. Future energy price increases will therefore directly impact the cost of food – both as a result of the increasing cost to make the food because of agriculture’s heavy reliance on oil for all aspects of the food growing cycle, but also as result of the cost to transport food from south to north (see more on this in Jeff Rubin’s book, Your World Is About to Get A Whole Lot Smaller). Moreover, potential disruptions in food production as a result of climate change or sharp increases in energy could potentially disrupt the supply of food to cities. Therefore, developing means of producing food locally is an important resilience capacity building strategy.

4. Modularization and Redundancy of Key Infrastructure Systems: Why? Key infrastructure systems such as power systems, water systems, sewage waste processing systems, and communications systems are all vital to the healthy functioning of a city. The serious incapacitation or failure of any one of these systems would have both serious health and economic consequences. However, most of our important infrastructure systems are currently both at the end of their useful service life (with the exception of our communications systems), and in their current configurations and use, have almost no redundancy and no modularization (i.e., they are not independent enough from other components in case of failure.) Therefore, any significant damage to one part of our key infrastructure systems has the potential to create cascading failures through its adjacent parts. The best example of this was the North Eastern power outage in the summer of 2003. Therefore, re-developing our key infrastructure systems to provide for both modularity and redundancy will be key to building resilience capacity in or cities.

5. Integrated Metabolism: Why? Integrated metabolism refers to the integration of the infrastructures that provide metabolic service to a city, including its water system, its energy system, its food system, and its sewage system. Contemporary cities use infrastructure systems conceived of and in some cases implemented in the 19th Century. Power, water, food and waste infrastructure systems are all separate, and do not take advantage of the inherent natural biological and energy connections between them. The purpose of integrating these systems is to reduce the per capita inputs required to produce the same amounts of electrical power, potable water, and, and also reduce the per capita amount of non-usable organic waste. This would be accomplished by linking all of these systems together in modular networks that would allow that water used in the production and consumption of food to be reclaimed from sewage, that power could be generated from the digestion of waste, and that byproducts of this cycle would feed back into the food production as a source of nutrients. This sort of integrated infrastructure is scalable, modular, and could provide for the necessary independence in case of catastrophic failure or any part of the network.

6. Infrastructure and Building Fabric “Hardening”: Why? Well respected Canadian climatologist Professor Gordon McBean of the University of Western Ontario recently noted that as a result of atmospheric warming, over the next 20 to 30 years we could expect that 20 year storm events would become 2 year storm events. In Toronto we could expect to see more ice storms and more rains that would produce flash flooding. Also, the warming trends suggest a Northerly migration of tornado zones from the south and mid western USA that would increase the likelihood of tornado events in southern Canada. The warming trend, which he indicates is traceable to the “CO2 signal” will continue as long as CO2 levels continue to rise – which they are predicted to do for the next 50 years. Therefore, it will be important to develop strategies to increase the “hardness” and durability of our key infrastructure and building assets in the face of the increasing frequency and intensity of weather events.

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