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What's Next: Geoff Manaugh
Geoff Manaugh, 31 Dec 06

Limiting myself to a discussion of urban design and architecture, it would seem that 2007 will be a tremendously exciting year.

On the question of architecture's environmental impact, for instance, we should hopefully see design projects at all scales embracing principles of carbon neutrality – perhaps taking their cue from architect Ed Mazria, and what he calls the Architecture 2030 Challenge. This latter initiative is Mazria's attempt to include energy awareness in the architectural design process; as only two examples, the 2030 Challenge would add passive solar heating to all building types, from private homes to skyscrapers, and demand closer, regulated attention to the transport and sourcing of construction materials. Doing so, Mazria reasonably contends, would reduce the emissions footprint of new architectural projects worldwide. 2007 should also see Mazria's goals enthusiastically adopted by the architecture, planning, and design schools – and, if we're lucky, by private, large-scale, for-profit homebuilders, such as Toll Brothers and KB Home.

With any luck, then, we'll also see more effective and widespread use of non-fossil fuel energy, both in supplying power to architectural structures and in driving private and public transportation fleets. This could mean utilizing photovoltaics, flex-fuel hybrid enginery, tide and/or wind power, or even basic biofuels (harvested from algae farms, for instance); simultaneously, we should rid ourselves of the absurd phrase "dependence on foreign oil," since it is very obviously a dependence on oil itself that needs to be broken.

Meanwhile, and more specifically, I have high hopes for urban pedestrianization schemes, and for so-called "bicycle highways," which must include the conversion of existing roads and city streets to 100% pedestrian and/or bicyclist use. I look forward to seeing more plans for micro-parks, which are small – even temporary – plots of public green space (with benches, so that people can congregate); and for private mass transport, such as jitneys, share taxis, and minibuses, offering a more flexible and economically efficient alternative to tax-funded public mass transit. I would also like to see more intelligent water-management practices adopted by all cities and suburbs, including storm water reclamation and permeable paving schemes. Finally, to cut an otherwise very long urban wish-list short, I'd love to see more civic programs like Million Trees LA, an organization hoping to plant more than one million trees in the greater Los Angeles area.

On a less architectural note, I'd also suggest that we use 2007 to turn rapidly away from the current trend for ever more elaborate ways to purchase new objects. While it is true that the way we spend our money can change the world, this is not a call to buy more things. Whether the products we purchase are sustainably manufactured, fair trade, reused, sweatshop-free, "bright green," local, or simply well-designed, any such product-based model of worldchanging still psychologically limits us to a life defined by shopping.

Whilst trying to change the world, we should beware of turning ourselves into docile and self-congratulatory consumers.

In any case, I think perhaps the most important issue for 2007 – and for the upcoming decade, the upcoming century – will be the enthusiastic expansion of the human imagination. Being able to conceive of, describe, communicate, and thus help realize alternative human futures is something all too quickly overlooked in the application of today’s easier remedies for sustainable living. The poetic re-imagining of whole cities, nations, and continents, let alone personal lifestyles – even if the results are absurd, verging on science fiction – will help us realize, on a continual basis, that there is always another, better, and more interesting way of being human.

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Comments

Bravo on the stop shopping point! Sometimes I wonder how much green products just become a crutch for us to continue lifestyles that are structurally flawed when it comes to conservation and human rights. Consumption is not conservation, nor is it a human right.

Buying stuff is a large part of the problem. Perhaps refraining from our buying addiction will help us get things turned around.


Posted by: Siler on 2 Jan 07



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