A friend of mine used to tell a story about a furniture maker who could not grasp the idea of architects preparing as-built drawings after a building was constructed. He wondered why buildings were not just built as drawn instead – as his furniture was. This comment has stuck with me for years. It comes to mind, in a sense, when I think about the constant struggles cities and communities face in order to accommodate growth. So I ask:
What if we build communities and cities as designed, populate them as they were planned for.
What if we just say no to growth – …” sorry folks, there is no more available housing; we are all full right now. You’ll just have to move on to somewhere else or we can put you on the waiting list?
What if we just put a ceiling on population capacity in the city …at least until its services and amenities could accommodate more growth without reduction in quality of life or additional use of energy.
What if we think beyond a net zero house or building but a net zero city population? Would this be the ultimate in sustainability?
What if we started by designing and building new cities to be inhabited by those people that are currently overpopulating our cities through the world.
I ask these questions, somewhat tongue in cheek but on the other hand I’d like to open up some dialogue with you and start to explore the possibilities, the benefits, and the detriments.
We have long dreamtof perfect cities. Could limiting growth, not only by limiting the developable area, but limiting the population, allow us to refine and perfect existing cities? Could it allow us to create new cities that take advantage of current technologies with the emphasis on sustainability?
I grew up in Queens, New York in the 60’s and 70’s. I watched the city grow, asnew development consumed Long Island, in probably the same way people in Queens did in 1750. Asthe land in Queens ran out families moved to New Jersey and Westchester where land and farms seemedunlimited.
I watched the flood gates open as people fled many neighborhoods of Brooklyn, and Queens, from what would be described in today’s terms as medium and high density mixed use, wherepedestrian friendly mass transit served theneighborhoods. People moved to the outskirts of the cities to get away from crime, filth, noise pollution and air pollution. Mixed use, with increased density, along with quality mass transit systems are great solutions formany land use and energy issues… but we need to be careful what we wish for and how it is executed. It can be great, except when the train is outside your bedroom window or you live above the 24 hour market.
Certainly we have learned from past mistakes and can make better decisions but we need to do it in a way to improve the quality of life which we all strive for.
Currently we are experiencing the population movement to the fringe of the cities for reasons that differ from those from when Igrew up. Urban dwellers moved away in search of increased space or manicured lawns. Shantytown slums are encircling cities throughout the globe. In his book “Planet of Slums” Mike Davis notes; “Residents of slums, while only 6% of the city population of the developed countries, constitute a staggering 78.2% of urbanites in the least-developed countries!”
Vast amounts of the world’s population are living in fringe slums such as those outside of Rio, or in Dharavi-Mumbai where it is reported to be the largest slum in the world with approximately 1.1 million inhabitants in less than 0.67 square miles..
There are extremely complicated political, social, and economic factors at play which contribute to these situations. AsUrban Growth boundaries arebeing established in our US cities such as it is here in Portland, Oregon, increased densities are necessary to accommodate the population growth. So I throw out these “what if” questions to you in hopes to open up a dialogue on net zero growth and see where it takes us. Can we design and build a city as drawn and populate it accordingly?
Broadacre City – Frank Lloyd Wright, by Kjell Olsen, Wikipedia
Queens – courtesy of Joey Wendell & Project Woodhaven
Portland Street Car – courtesy of Michelle Mitchell, first published in Between the Lines
Rio Favela Rocinha by Xan Latta, Flickr CC
Dharavi Mumbai photo by Alexis Dworsky, Flickr CC