Week 4: Making Cities Sustainable

MOOC Summaries - Designing Cities - Sustainable Week 4: Making Cities Sustainable

“Ecological Urbanism… Transportation and Growth… Managing Water… Flooding… Green Infrastructure and Renewable Energy…” 


  • 4-1: Introduction
  • 4-2: Ecological Urbanism
  • 4-3: Transportation as Growth Armature
  • 4-4: Managing Water - Flooding and Scarcity
  • 4-5: Green Infrastructure and Renewable Energy

4-1: Introductory Discussion

  • This week is about making cities sustainable.
  • Designing with nature should be fundamental but we have forgotten to design with nature, resulting in the problems and consequences we see today (such as rising sea levels and global warming).
  • We can tackle these problems through ecological urbanism and transport, and also through green infrastructure, managing water (including fresh water supplies, managing floods arising from rising sea levels, and water scarcity) and renewable energy.
  • Design with Nature is the book title of Professor Ian McHarg, and was a very important book. His idea was about how we should not try to engineer ourselves out of every situation but to use the forces of nature where we can.
  • The added challenge today is that nature is now changing dynamically too i.e. not static.
  • This week’s videos will share some of the most cutting-edge technologies and ways of designing nature or with nature in cities worldwide.
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/49

4-2: Ecological Urbanism

  • As an idea for making cities sustainable, landscape considerations have increased exponentially in the last 60 years.
  • Started as landscape urbanism, and has also evolved into broader concepts like ecological urbanism and more focused considerations like landscape infrastructure.
  • First, landscape urbanism. It did not see city and nature in opposition but considered a more integrated approach that wanted to synthesize buildings, infrastructure, natural ecology and culture.
  • An example might be a park that served changing programs and uses and hence was a platform for social and cultural interactions. Or seeing the city’s systems and infrastructures as having many relationships with each other.
  • Landscape urbanism has its critics; amongst the criticisms are that it encourages sprawl, focuses too much on process, superficial greenwashing, and over-reliance on a large park as a primary tool.
  • At the same time, several ideological threads have also emerged from landscape urbanism, such as:
    • landscape infrastructure (focuses on the economic and ecological);
    • ecological urbanism (more inclusive approach that curates works of urbanization connect to ecology, but feels like a survey of disparate projects than a clear idea).
  • Landscape considerations can bring civility, health, social equity, and economic development to a city.
  • Next session: transportation as an armature for growth.
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/41

4-3: Transportation as Growth Armature

  • Transportation plays an important role design of cities.
  • Balanced/Sustainable transportation: efficient connections, effective use of scarce resources, lower carbon emissions, and high quality of life.
  • Transportation is how we get around, know the city, meet neighbors and have interactions (planned and spontaneous); it can also be inclusive and lowering income equality (e.g. escalators of Medellin, Colombia).
  • Five principles to realise the potential of investments in transportation:
    • Movement and urban form relationships with each other (e.g. routes to trade/markets/schools etc, global connections etc);
    • Frequency, speed and reliability of transportation service within the city creates competitive advantages for the city globally (e.g. Erie Canal made New York’s future; airports in the 21st century such as Hong Kong International Airport);
    • Interactions amongst different types of transportation creates strategic location for cities, and for sites within cities (e.g. high speed rail in U.S. northeast mega region);
    • Location of stations and transfer nodes creates value (e.g. Transit-Oriented Development);
    • Transportation design shapes shared human experiences i.e. shared public realm instead of a personal sheltered vacuum, thus building a sense of community.
  • Transportation must pay attention to changing demographics.
  • Thoughts on history of transportation, economics and city design:
    • it is not just getting from point A to point B;
    • in history, human settlements developed to provide safety and stable food supplies, and transport brought people together for self defense, and sharing of food and resources; this sharing became the markets of today;
    • as markets between cities thrived, people started travelling between them and needed better means of travel (e.g. turnpikes to canals to railroad, highways etc).
  • Transportation in future must serve a word of rapids flow of goods and people, efficient global supply chains, big and small companies, and high speed idea exchange.
  • Five examples of the future:
    • Hong Kong International Airport;
    • U.S. Northeast mega-region;
    • connected regional transit systems;
    • strategic plans that integrate land use planning, transportation networks, and resilience to stress/climate change/extreme weather (e.g. Singapore);
    • High Line in New York City.
  • Transportation has the power to shape form, function and quality of life.
  • Next time: managing water in scarcity and flooding.
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/59

4-4: Managing Water – Flooding and Scarcity

  • Sea levels are rising and global warming is reducing fresh water supplies – how should we think about cities design and location (especially coastal cities) and enhance the supply of drinking water?
  • Have to tackle water scarcity and prevent/mitigate floods.
  • One way: design with nature i.e. let nature do the job through natural features (e.g. aquifers, forests etc) as flood barrier, disperse pollutants, or purify and store water.
  • However, developers and governments often treat a site as a clean slate, even when it contains natural water elements and vegetation.
  • Designing against nature can be catastrophic; hence are floods and mudslides “natural” disasters?
  • Compare what happened in the Netherlands and in Hurricane Sandy; also see how Singapore is making itself more self-sustainable in water, harvesting urban storm water on a large scale and building flood control infrastructure (that can also be a top recreation attraction). Other examples include Philadelphia, Portland, Shanghai.
  • To keep our cities safe from floods and supplied with fresh water, we have to design with nature.
  • Next class: green infrastructure and renewable energy.
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of  https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/61

4-5: Green Infrastructure and Renewable Energy

  • To make cities sustainable, designing green and zero-carbon cities has become even more important.
  • Green infrastructure can have multiple uses/benefits (e.g. parks that absorb water), which differs from traditional gray infrastructure, which are usually single use.
  • Examples of green infrastructure include green roofs that reduce energy use through cooling and insulating buildings; trees that also filter air pollution, absorb noise, and reduce wind loads; green stormwater infrastructure.
  • Green infrastructure might cost more at the beginning, but in the long term, it is typically more cost-effective (given its range of benefits).
  • Urban agriculture and growing crops locally also reduces energy as reduces the miles food travels to our cities. At the same time, growing vegetables in vertical infrastructure can lower costs.
  • Green infrastructure also has human benefits: they make a city more enjoyable, and restore mental health.
  • Cities are filled with stimuli which tend to have a negative cognitive impact; in comparison, nature can restore mental energy, and people living closer to open green spaces deal with the demands of life better.
  • Transportation can also be converted into green infrastructure (e.g. Cheonggyecheon expressway turned stream and park in Seoul; High Line in New York City etc).
  • Green infrastructure is thus sustainable; we can be even more sustainable by by reusing waste, buildings and materials, as they contain embodied energy (e.g. Hammer by industrial site, Stockholm); some statistics why this matters:
    • Existing buildings account for over 40% of the world’s primary energy consumption, and for 24% of global carbon dioxide emissions;
    • Heating and cooling buildings and provision of hot water account for about half of the global energy consumption in buildings.
  • Renewable energy comes from natural sources that are continually replenished.
    • Today, around 16% of global energy comes form renewable energy (~10% traditional biomass, 3% from hydroelectricity, and 3% from others such as wind, solar, and geothermal energy);
    • Case studies include Sonnenchiff Solar City in Freiburg, Singapore’s Super Trees, Vancouver and its brand of urbanism “Vancouverism”.
  • Return to this in Week 9, where eco-cities are explored.
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/75

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photo: depositphotos/cienpies

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