Here's how Ecotopia 2121 is re-imagining life in earth's cities

This isn't one of them, this is a shot from Fritz Lang's 1927 film Metropolis. Image

Utopia, a book by English statesman, lawyer and clergyman Thomas More (1487-1535), turned 500 years old last year. A fictional rendering of social philosophy, the book describes an exemplary society on an imaginary island in an unknown place faraway across the seas. Coined by More from the Greek ou-topos, meaning no place, or nowhere, the word utopia has become adopted in the English language to mean a place where everything is ideal or perfect.

In celebrating Utopia’s 500th birthday, the Ecotopia 2121 project, of which I am the coordinator, is harnessing Thomas More’s spirit to predict the futures of 100 real cities around the world – if they somehow managed to become super eco-friendly.

Of course, modern utopias need to be eco-friendly to overcome the global environmental crisis. Given that cities may be home to 80 per cent of humanity by the end of the century, they can only be sustainable if environmentalism is one of their core features.

The cities of Ecotopia 2121 are presented in the form of “scenario art”, which involves a review of both global and local environmental challenges as well as their unique histories and cultures. This allows for a diversity of future scenarios rather than one common vision of the “future city”.

What you will see below are a series of artworks, but this is not an art project. We use art as a means of analysis and communication.

With that in mind, here are six ecotopian cities of my own creation that emerged from the project, one from each inhabited continent.

Accra 2121

Accra, the capital of Ghana, is exposed to disastrous floods every year. This has been made worse by climate change, as well as unregulated construction and dumping in and around its waterways.

In our imagined future, locals seek to procure housing above the floodline, by building low-cost tree cabins in the nearby forest.

Accra 2121. Image: Alan Marshall/author provided. 

Ghana has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, but by 2121, the forest has become a home for some of its citizens.

Accra’s new residents would protect the forest ecosystem from those who would destroy it, such as the logging, mining and oil companies.

London 2121

In the summer of 2121, during an economic downturn, 100,000 pensioners take to the streets of London, the British capital, to protest cuts in pensions and education, shutting down the entire city.

They bring along their grandchildren to give them something interesting to do as they mind them. By summer’s end, the protesters despair at the government’s poor response, so they take matters into their own hands, staging a permanent occupation.

London 2121. Image: Alan Marshall/author provided.

The pensioners convert some 20km² of London into a large eco-village, transforming unoccupied offices into homes, sowing garden lots on street corners, and setting up eco-businesses to trade products and services.

In the process, all the children get free education from their experienced elders in these various green arts and crafts.

Los Angeles 2121

The southern Californian city of Los Angeles once had a great network of tramways, but this was systematically bought up and then closed down by a group of conspiring auto-manufacturing companies.

Los Angeles 2121. Image: Alan Marshall/author provided. 

As the world’s oil is depleted by the end of this century, cars will become useless and trams could make a comeback in Los Angeles. The unused freeways could then be redeveloped into vegetated greenways. Such greenways are suited for pedestrians and cyclists, but they could also act as ecological corridors, connecting populations of wild plants and animals around the city that would otherwise be isolated.

Retired cars could then serve as part of the fabric of high-density buildings, creating an architectural style whereby people live and work in smaller structures and within tighter-knit communities. This would mean cities such as Los Angeles would not need to sprawl further into the countryside and wild lands.

Rēkohu 2121

Known in English as the Chatham Islands, Rēkohu is an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, 680km southeast of New Zealand. It’s the ancestral home of the pacifist Moriori people, who came to wear the feathers of the native albatross in their hair to symbolise peace during the 500 years they lived on the archipelago.

In the 19th century, British sealers and Maori warriors from New Zealand discovered the islands. The sealers decimated the colonies of the animals and introduced devastating diseases to which the Moriori had no immunity. Then the Maori staged a violent takeover of the islands, slaughtering or enslaving the remaining Moriori.

Rēkohu 2121. Image: Alan Marshall/author provided. 

The Moriori refused to give up their pacifist ideals to fight against the invaders. While this history suggests pacifism is only going to get you killed or enslaved, the Moriori who survive today believe otherwise. They maintain that their pacifism meant that they lived in a peaceful society for five centuries.

By 2121, their small capital city on the lagoon is home to a peace school that expounds the virtues of pacifism to the rest of the world.

Salto del Guairá 2121

The Guairá Falls along the border of Paraguay and Brazil were once a natural wonder. The cacophonous roar of their seven columns could be heard many kilometres away and, for many years, the falls were a major attraction. They were also the economic lifeblood of the nearby Paraguayan city of Salto del Guairá, which thrived on tourism.

In 1982, however, the Brazilian military government blew away the rocks over which the water fell, to create a reservoir for a dam. Many Paraguayans mourned the passing of their much-loved falls.

Salto del Guairá 2121. Image: Alan Marshall/author provided.

By 2121, though, both the falls and the city have re-emerged in splendid style. The dam has collapsed through neglect and local people have regained control of their land. They set about rehabilitating the falls as best they can, turning their home into a scenic eco-city that attracts tourists once again.

Tokyo 2121

After a nuclear meltdown just out of town, a vast radioactive cloud sweeps over future Tokyo. Everyone must be evacuated. A few hardy “nuclear families” tough it out in “moonbase” homes, which are impervious to radiation.

Everything these families eat and drink must be produced and recycled within these homes. When they step outside, they must don protective clothing or “moonsuits”.

Tokyo 2121. Image: Alan Marshall/author provided.

But because Tokyo is suddenly depopulated, it’s not nearly as noisy and stressful as before. If “hell is other people”, as French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre suggested, then Tokyo 2121 is utopia.

Wildlife also rebounds, albeit in a mutated manner.

Why Ecotopia 2121?

These six scenarios are but a small sample of the 100 that were produced within the Ecotopia 2121 project. Some readers will be delighted and others confused by the method of the project and its results.


Part of the point of utopianism is to be provocative. If you like your future riddled with self-driving cars and the magic of nuclear energy, then maybe these scenarios are not for you. And you’re likely to dismiss them as fantasy anyway.

But to study utopias – and formulate alternative scenarios to how we now live on this planet – is not an escape into fantasy. It is an active response to the many technological fantasies cast about with extravagance and excess into our lives right now.

These fantasies bind us to an unsustainable and unlivable future. If Ecotopia 2121 is but a collection of fantasies, at least they would do less harm to the planet we live on.The Conversation

Alan Marshall is a lecturer in environmental social sciences at Mahidol University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Green roofs improve cities – so why don’t all buildings have them?

The green roof at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC. Image: Getty.

Rooftops covered with grass, vegetable gardens and lush foliage are now a common sight in many cities around the world. More and more private companies and city authorities are investing in green roofs, drawn to their wide-ranging benefits which include savings on energy costs, mitigating the risk from floods, creating habitats for urban wildlife, tackling air pollution and urban heat and even producing food.

A recent report in the UK suggested that the green roof market there is expanding at a rate of 17 per cent each year. The world’s largest rooftop farm will open in Paris in 2020, superseding similar schemes in New York City and Chicago. Stuttgart, in Germany, is thought of as “the green roof capital of Europe”, while Singapore is even installing green roofs on buses.

These increasingly radical urban designs can help cities adapt to the monumental challenges they face, such as access to resources and a lack of green space due to development. But buy-in from city authorities, businesses and other institutions is crucial to ensuring their success – as is research investigating different options to suit the variety of rooftop spaces found in cities.

A growing trend

The UK is relatively new to developing green roofs, and governments and institutions are playing a major role in spreading the practice. London is home to much of the UK’s green roof market, mainly due to forward-thinking policies such as the 2008 London Plan, which paved the way to more than double the area of green roofs in the capital.

Although London has led the way, there are now “living labs” at the Universities of Sheffield and Salford which are helping to establish the precedent elsewhere. The IGNITION project – led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – involves the development of a living lab at the University of Salford, with the aim of uncovering ways to convince developers and investors to adopt green roofs.

Ongoing research is showcasing how green roofs can integrate with living walls and sustainable drainage systems on the ground, such as street trees, to better manage water and make the built environment more sustainable.

Research is also demonstrating the social value of green roofs. Doctors are increasingly prescribing time spent gardening outdoors for patients dealiong with anxiety and depression. And research has found that access to even the most basic green spaces can provide a better quality of life for dementia sufferers and help prevent obesity.

An edible roof at Fenway Park, stadium of the Boston Red Sox. Image: Michael Hardman/author provided.

In North America, green roofs have become mainstream, with a wide array of expansive, accessible and food-producing roofs installed in buildings. Again, city leaders and authorities have helped push the movement forward – only recently, San Francisco created a policy requiring new buildings to have green roofs. Toronto has policies dating from the 1990s, encouraging the development of urban farms on rooftops.

These countries also benefit from having newer buildings, which make it easier to install green roofs. Being able to store and distribute water right across the rooftop is crucial to maintaining the plants on any green roof – especially on “edible roofs” which farm fruit and vegetables. And it’s much easier to create this capacity in newer buildings, which can typically hold greater weight, than retro-fit old ones. Having a stronger roof also makes it easier to grow a greater variety of plants, since the soil can be deeper.


The new normal?

For green roofs to become the norm for new developments, there needs to be buy-in from public authorities and private actors. Those responsible for maintaining buildings may have to acquire new skills, such as landscaping, and in some cases volunteers may be needed to help out. Other considerations include installing drainage paths, meeting health and safety requirements and perhaps allowing access for the public, as well as planning restrictions and disruption from regular ativities in and around the buildings during installation.

To convince investors and developers that installing green roofs is worthwhile, economic arguments are still the most important. The term “natural capital” has been developed to explain the economic value of nature; for example, measuring the money saved by installing natural solutions to protect against flood damage, adapt to climate change or help people lead healthier and happier lives.

As the expertise about green roofs grows, official standards have been developed to ensure that they are designed, built and maintained properly, and function well. Improvements in the science and technology underpinning green roof development have also led to new variations on the concept.

For example, “blue roofs” increase the capacity of buildings to hold water over longer periods of time, rather than drain away quickly – crucial in times of heavier rainfall. There are also combinations of green roofs with solar panels, and “brown roofs” which are wilder in nature and maximise biodiversity.

If the trend continues, it could create new jobs and a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy – alongside many other benefits. There are still barriers to overcome, but the evidence so far indicates that green roofs have the potential to transform cities and help them function sustainably long into the future. The success stories need to be studied and replicated elsewhere, to make green, blue, brown and food-producing roofs the norm in cities around the world.

Michael Hardman, Senior Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Salford and Nick Davies, Research Fellow, University of Salford.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.