Posts Tagged ‘future’

Mark Hertsgaard and his daughterThat’s how Anna Fahey describes the response to climate change in her review of Mark Hertsgaard’s book, Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth. Hertsgaard discusses climate change from the perspective of a father. What will the next fifty years be like for his daughter? Fahey calls herself a “climate policy nerd,” but says that the parenting focus was new for her, despite being a mother of a small child. The other surprise was Hertsgaard’s emphasis on adaptation, which Fahey says has not been embraced until lately because it was seen as a form of surrender on the climate mitigation front. Fahey states:

Adaptation charts a middle path. It takes a problem of atmospheric  proportions and makes it local—and far more concrete. Focus on the imperative to protect ourselves and our assets makes it easier to come  to terms with the problem. Hertsgaard illustrates this with examples of  governments from cities on up—building infrastructure and developing  policy designed for the reality of climate change.

Local, concrete, and easier to come to terms with – this is why adaptation is important for designers and local government planners. Good examples of adaptation practices at the local level, though, are in short supply.

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A good graphic synopsis of climate change effects in the U.S. is found in an article by Wilbanks and Kates (2010) in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers (Vol. 100, No. 4: 719-728). The figure depicts the main impacts, but details are lost at this scale. What does the future hold for your neck of the woods?

Beyond Adapting to Climate Change (Wilbanks and Kates 2010)

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And this is good news. Next summer, twenty years will have passed since the Rio Summit and the Climate Change Convention, precursor to the Kyoto Protocol. Victories in the fight to address climate change have been few and far between ever since. The strategy to address climate has been top-down and international, with the highest hopes pinned on international treaties. These efforts are tremendously important, but frustratingly slow, and, in the meanwhile, climate change is underway. Cities are experiencing the impacts firsthand, and they are now beginning to act on their own behalf, not waiting for anyone else to save them. Perhaps they can drag their states and nations along with them. As momentum builds for climate action (mitigation and adaptation) in cities, opportunities for architects, landscape architects, and planners will grow too.

At the beginning of June, the C40 Large Cities Climate Summit was held in Sao Paulo. Leaders from the 40 largest cities in the world met to seek information and share strategies for dealing with climate. (Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, is the current chair of the C40.) Action by cities is critical – they will be the locus of most implementation efforts, they will be the place where most change-on-the-ground happens, and they are the home of most of the people on the planet. Cities matter. And much of the change-on-the-ground will involve the built environment and urban ecological systems.

For another perspective, listen to this Seattle Public Radio interview with Grist’s David Roberts, who discusses why city leadership on climate is so promising. It is called Can Cities Solve the Climate Problem?

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What do you do with the relentless stream of bad environmental news? The local newspaper today featured an angry reader comment that said we’d better enjoy the little time we have left in response to what is possibly the most significant environmental news of the week, the release of an IUCN report and UN presentation today on the dire condition of the world’s oceans. So, what do you do with information like this? Compartmentalize it? Use it as fuel for action? Feed depression? What? Does it feel like a disconnect to visit and enjoy some beautiful, “natural” landscape and then think that we’re on the verge of catastrophe?

Can designers be pessimists? Personally, I think we have to remain optimistic to act and to design. In teaching about the relationship between ecological science and design, I choose not to dwell on depressing information, but instead to focus on what positive actions are possible. Young people today have heard since childhood that the earth is on life support and that they were going to be the ones responsible for fixing it. That is an overwhelming message. At some point, the bad news becomes so great that action seems futile. The challenge is to acknowledge the bad news, but still see a way out, actions that you personally can undertake to make a difference. Designers, in particular, have much to offer, as they can often see potential where others cannot, and they can help others visualize new states of being, alternative realities. That’s a powerful response to otherwise overwhelming distress.

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In February 2011, Fast Company featured a blog post by entrepreneurship educator, Steve Blank, titled College and Business Will Never Be the Same.  The essence of the post: interdisciplinary education that includes design thinking is urgently needed in a “volatile, complex, and ambiguous world,” and most current educational models are inadequate for the task. His examples of better approaches were from design education – Stanford’s D-School (a graduate program) and Philadelphia University’s new undergraduate degree in Design, Engineering, and Commerce.

Blank’s post was a reaction to a question that has been in educators’ minds for some time now – a question perhaps best articulated by Colorado educator, Karl Fisch in a 2006 ppt-gone-viral video called Did You Know? Shift Happens. Originally prepared for fellow teachers in his Colorado high school, Fisch identifies some of the rapid changes occurring in the world. In the video, Fisch states “We  are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, [where they will use] technologies that haven’t yet been invented, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.” How do we do that? What should education in a period of rapid change look like?

The Silo Model

In the Fast Company article, Blank suggests we think about the model presented by the Philadelphia University program as one response. The graphics used by Blank depict the old silo model and the new, interdisciplinary model. The business world has a lot of things to say about all of this, by the way, including talk of the need for T-shaped people, or perhaps I-shaped people, to spur innovation in companies.

The Philadelphia Model

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In October of 2009, I made a list of what I thought might be outcomes of the economic collapse in the U.S. on landscape/land use planning. Which of these has come true? I think it depends on where you live. Here are my 2009 guesses:

Land use effects of a weak economy

  • A near halt to new construction, residential and commercial, dramatically slowing land consumption at the urban fringe
  • A slower pace(?) to urban infill; foreclosures creating abandoned neighborhoods
  • Rise in the number of renter-occupied structures/neighborhoods
  • A reversal of gentrification trends in some city neighborhoods
  • A wave of new dead malls and other grayfield sites, especially as retail contracts
  • Cheaper land prices – which could help efforts by land trusts, although it looks like their boom is over too
  • In rural areas, land conversion halted – a chance to re-think agriculture?
  • Fewer areas of second home development. Potentially land abandonment, like second home owners in foreclosure
  • In desperate attempts to appear “business-friendly,” communities give away the store – sacrificing, neglecting, pillaging the qualities of place that
    could have otherwise enhanced their chances of survival
  • The need to re-examine large-lot zoning given the collapse of rampant development. Which communities will allow cluster development now?
  • A focus on green retrofits rather than wholly new green construction
  • Local governments rethinking all basic services – including parks
  • Infrastructure costs need to be contained
  • Opportunity for more shared services across jurisdictional boundaries; collaboration between local govt and local businesses

Planning/design consequences

  • Desire for plans increased; desire to control/guide community destiny
  • Planning/design implementation funding is lacking – future funding uncertain
  • Mixed reception to visioning exercises – Desire to create positive change, but pessimism over future?
  • Value of community-building design implementation efforts high, if funding can be found
  • Need for creative vision – no more planning as maintainer of status quo
  • Green, livable community strategies still sought; local governments seek to differentiate themselves from their neighbors
  • Need to demonstrate relationship between good planning/design and economic development

And some questions about what landscape architects can contribute

How can the planning/design process reveal possibilities that might not otherwise be seen? How can visualization techniques build broad community support for actions that contribute to community survival, community resilience?

UPDATE: One factor that I did not consider in 2009 is that the federal government would embrace deficit reduction in the way it has, leading to the virtual abandonment of state and local governments in a time of need. The massive layoffs of local government employees, including teachers, was something that I did not see coming. Like many other progressives, I hope to see this reversed, accompanied by infrastructure investment.

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