How to rethink a new urban model - OMS Intelligence Solutions

April 11, 2019

“Our world, the world we have inhabited during the last 12.000 years, is over. However, not a single newspaper from North America or Europe has published its scientific obituary,” Mike Davis wrote in his note How to build the Noah’s ark. There are a lot of things to do yet but we might be closer to know how. Then we will be able to sustain life as we know it, at least 12.000 years more.

The worst traffic jam ever in Madrid cannot be compared with the ones Moscow frequently suffers. Likewise, the pollution level in Barcelona or Seville does not reach the one Mumbai usually
has. Nevertheless, we are getting used to hear how motorized access to downtown areas in our cities is limited to certain amount of vehicles because it is harmful for breathing, how water supply in metropolitan areas is being restricted, or how the rivers in cities are affected by different kinds of industrial waste spills and the bad management of their basins. All these problems are imminent and represent a major challenge for every local government. We live immersed in a great global change and we definitely have to tackle these issues to keep our life standards within a broader framework that enhances every other living and non-living network, from an ecosystemic perspective. Currently, the quality of life is decreasing in most of our metropolis and; in order to avoid it, urban systems should be deeply rethought and regenerated at many different scales with a new city model in mind.

Since the battle that will determine the way we are going to co-inhabit the planet with both living and non-living beings will take place in cities, there is no other choice than discussing how are we going to shape them. This global challenge humanity is facing is outstanding and overwhelming mainly due population growth. One hundred years ago only 10 % of the population lived in cities. Nowadays, the percentage has grown up to 50 % (almost 3.500 million people). According to the UN, 75 % of people will live in cities by 2050. Hence, more than 1.500 million people will move from the country to the city in two decades and that will make this urbanization process the greatest change affecting the planet during the XXI century. This remarkable phenomenon that will give rise to new megapolis in China, Africa, India and South America, will be similar to the one that happened in England during the XIX century (i.e. Manchester and Glasgow). Consequently,  contamination, overcrowding, bad health conditions and many other issues, have to be considered to design these new urban tissues, which will necessarily drive us to rethink a new urban model.

First of all, Smart Design Since two decades ago, the most promising set of solutions to the problems mentioned above has been built around the notion of Smart Cities. The concept of Smart City emerges at the turn of the previous century and it seeks to improve the quality of citizen´s life, considering cultural and environmental issues through new design strategies and technology within our built environment.

The notion of Smart City goes beyond the concept of sustainability and it is grounded on the interrelationship between functional, environmental and socio-economic variables driven by technology. The traditional approach to Smart Cities usually understands technology as the final outcome instead of the means that might be useful to find a solution for city problems. This fact
can be partially explained due to the influence that big firms like IBM, Deloitte, ABB, Intel or Cisco have. We can find definitions of Smart Cities such as “the cities that use scalable solutions taking
advantage of information and communication technologies to increase efficiency, reduce costs and enhance the quality of citizen´s life” (Cisco) or either “the cities that optimize the use of available information in order to better understand and control resources management and operations” (IBM).

In other words: it seems that Smart Cities may be defined as the ones that are configured by a set of “Active Intelligent Solutions” (technologies and post-urban artifacts) obviating the deep
knowledge embedded in “Passive Intelligent Solutions” (related to an integral urban design able to establish a relationship between environmental strategies and socio-economic ones, within the territory) that should definitely be taken into account.

Efficiency, flexibility and economy of means and assets may be achieved in cities if they are configured according to “good basic design principles” and that is actually quite far away from what
design strategies that are only based on technology offer. If there is no good design grounded on solid principles, just the use of technology will not be enough to make it work.

A new urban model

After 15 years of experience designing and managing international projects of Residential Urban Districts and developing Affordable Housing for Emergent Cities, CITYTHINKING (CTTK) has
chosen not to follow only a technological approach to develop Smart Cities. Instead, CTTK uses the Principles of Ecosystemic Urbanism, which were developed by BCN Ecología, Barcelona, Mr. Salvador Rueda to generate Environmentally Certified Urban Scenarios for Residential Districts. A new model unites the Ecosystemic Urbanism and Sustainable indicators. Salvador Rueda stands that cities are not entities, living beings or intelligent organisms. He claims cities are ecosystems where living and non-living beings are intimately related between them and within the environment. Urban ecosystems are the most complex ecosystems created by humans but they should not be created only for us. We need to know how to co-inhabit with non-human beings in order to improve and enhance our own life standard within our built environment implemented in the territory. According to these ideas, the city model that was developed from the Letter for Ecosystemic Planning, focuses on four general topics that are based on more than 100 Sustainable

Indicators:

  • Compact morphology Balanced relationship between built volumes (compression) and open public spaces (decompression) to ensure citizen´s access to services, facilities, green spaces, not to waste energy and resources.
  • Complex organization Mixed and biodiverse organizational structure able to give rise to different activities, associations, juridical entities, creative communities.
  • Efficient metabolism Balanced exchange and consumption of energy and resources to set a self-sufficient supply system for a basal regime, grounded on water access, material and personal flows, low consumption levels.
  • Social cohesion Weighted coexistence achieved through income mix, universal access to public services and facilities, fair governance

Our City Model – concrete road map named SMART URBAN ECOSYSTEM (SUE) – helps both private and public stakeholders to take decisions and to draw multiple urban scenarios optimized
according to Building, Sustainable and Economic Key Indicators. It accelerates design stages and it integrates different disciplines during design processes. It radically saves time and drastically reduces costs both during design and building stages, since it is grounded on urban and building standardization. It is also inclusive and allows society to take part of certain design decisions because it is flexible, and adaptable.

In a short period of time, we can see a significant amount of successful case studies that are designed and managed according to the principles of Ecosystemic Urbanism. We are already working
in some of them in Europe, Canada and South America, from our headquarter in Seville. Currently, CTTK is building in Moscow the first ecosystemic neighborhood, the Spanish Quartier, which
will be concluded in 2019.

The Challenge and the figures
In order to visualize the global city growing we are constantly referring to in this document, it might be enough to understand that, according to the McKinsey Global Institute, there will be 440 million dwellings (meaning 1.600 million people) categorized as slums by 2025 and they will be settled in informal, hazardous and unsafe locations. Nowadays, there are 330 million urban homes that do not even reach minimum life quality standards and there are 200 million slums. According to this institute, just building the amount of affordable housing needed would mean to invest 650.000 million dollars per year, which means 1 % of global GDP. These figures are terrifying, especially if we take into account that in some of these cities the investment that should be done to fix solve their problems is equivalent to the 10 % of the global GDP. This situation is critical but it also means an outstanding chance for developers, designers, investors and global organisms.  Actually, just replacing current slums for affordable housing from today to 2025 would require an investment of 9 to 11 million dollars.

Even though we apply a suitable model to design and build Residential Urban Districts provided with affordable housing in emergent countries, there is a huge local problem regarding logistics and management since these countries do not have the proper means to build the massive amount of houses they have to build in such a short period of time. As an example, there is the need to build a city like Madrid (in terms of its size and services) in Lagos in just one decade, and there are thousands of cities like Lagos waiting for a solution to similar problems. Urban Ecosystemic principles are convenient both for nowadays urban structures, redesign of their energetic consumption and increasing of urban organization and complexity (Barcelona) and new cities extensions (Moscow, Hamburg) or co called Smart Cities from scratch – new projects mainly in emerging countries (Lima). These days the Industrial Society is grounded on resources consumption. Instead, we must realize we are within the realm of the Information and Knowledge Society. Therefore, we have to maximize the entropy in terms of information in order to reduce energetic consumption and to increase urban organization and complexity. This process requires an ecosystemic approach that takes into account deep interrelationships between human beings and things, which means co-inhabiting the world in order to maximize and amplify living networks, not only without damaging the environment, but also trying to cause a positive impact on it.

Author:

Pavel Vokáč, CITYTHINKING, SCII
Jose Maria Cardenas, CITYTHINKING, EDDEA

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