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A lovely vision of the future - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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May 8th, 2007


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02:44 pm - A lovely vision of the future
Here's a short piece on a recent plan to design an environmentally sustainable city in Abu Dhabi. I'm an environmentalist, but I'm also an ardent technophile and a devoted urbanite, and I find these images to be lovely and appealing. All too often, the images of environmental sustainability that are presented are hippy-like vistas of pit toilets, backyard compost heaps, and allegedly bucolic rural life, or at best they look a great deal like slightly dressed-up images of pre WWII first world poverty, with washing tubs, clothes lines, poor lighting, and occasionally even no refrigeration. Sadly, the far fringe of the environmental movement is (as is typical for non-mainstream movements) the most vocal, and the image they present appeals to few outside of this fringe.

In vivid contrast, the above design is an image of a smart, sexy city that looks both beautiful and livable. This seems like exactly the sort of thing Bruce Sterling had in mind when he wrote his brilliant Viridian Manifesto seven years ago. Dear gods, we need a lot more of this sort of thing, and a lot fewer far suburbs and huge SUVs.
Current Mood: pleasedpleased

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From:heron61
Date:May 8th, 2007 10:54 pm (UTC)
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I agree that other alternatives exist and are being used, but I've also seen an impressive amount of exactly the sort of rhetoric that I was thinking about. A few months ago, I ran into a series of essay and articles by someone who was part of a self-sufficient, environmentally friendly commune (I looked for the link and couldn't find it), and both the rhetoric and the way they were living was exactly the sort of thing I was describing (including either no or very limited refrigeration, I don't remember which) and I've run into no shortage of similar rhetoric or lifestyles among one fairly vocal sector of the environmental movement.

I'm certain that most of this is due to (as is so often the case) the most vocal elements of any group often being the furthest fringe, but there certainly is a lot of exactly the sort of rhetoric I'm talking about out there. This doesn't mean that other far more sensible people aren't out there doing the sorts of things you are talking about, but I hear far less about or from them and so it's more difficult for me to comment. I am however pleased they are out there. However, I've also seen at least some degree of anti-urban bias among even many fairly moderate environmentalists.
From:herbalgrrl
Date:May 8th, 2007 11:00 pm (UTC)
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Cities, wisely used, can make less of a footprint that rural areas used poorly. Look for urban sustainability blogs & you'll find there are plenty of people like me who think that green living can mean the best of having access to greenery & natural environs & also sleek, modern & techno efficient wonders.
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From:heron61
Date:May 8th, 2007 11:32 pm (UTC)
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I've also edited my post to help reflect the points you made.
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From:heron61
Date:May 9th, 2007 01:25 am (UTC)
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Gods yes, between those lovely marvels, improved efficiency photocells, and ocean thermal, there's really not much problem with power generation anywhere with either lots of sunshine or a warm-water sea coast.
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From:queerbychoice
Date:May 9th, 2007 12:26 am (UTC)
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I agree with the commenter who complained that the city looks like a giant computer chip. Trees and plants can be very environmentally beneficial and aesthetically pleasing to many different senses as well. I'm probably spoiled because I live in the "City of Trees" (Sacramento supposedly has more trees per square acre than any other city in the world of similar population size), but that city as pictured in the current plans looks like the most depressingly dead metallic desert imaginable.
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From:antayla
Date:May 9th, 2007 12:42 am (UTC)
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Yeah, it *could* use more houseplants. Maybe they could grow some beans up those walls or something.
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From:antayla
Date:May 9th, 2007 12:40 am (UTC)
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I also get frustrated with the idea that "sustainable" must mean low-tech, rustic and small-scale. I lived that way the entirety of my childhood, and I KNOW it is a hard way of life. I think these city folk who like to romanticize the lifestyle don't really know what they are endorsing... they've not had to chop firewood or pull weeds or clean out a barn. I don't think they'd really want to. Mass or large-scale production of goods can actually use less energy than small-scale operations because of economies of scale and greater informational resources at the producer's disposal.

The rustic lifestyle is only sustainable if the world is significantly less populated. What do they plan to do, kill all the extra people just so we can live a rustic life that leaves little time for art and science? No, I also think we should not abandon technology just because we made a few errors in method at the start of developing our tech. No need to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Granted, I also think it is best to work with nature than against it. You get more mileage that way. For example, our bodies have been conditioned by aeons of evolution to follow natural seasonal, monthly and daily cycles; yet we still live by alarm clocks :P. Why NOT spend more time in winter sleeping (as I know MY body wants to do) and spend less energy powering lights and suchlike in winter? A few simple changes in societal custom could go a long way in reducing energy usage and would be easier on us too. Never mind that you generally get fewer hours of daylight (and less solar energy production) during winter months.
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From:aekiy
Date:May 9th, 2007 02:16 am (UTC)
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What do they plan to do, kill all the extra people just so we can live a rustic life that leaves little time for art and science?

From what I can tell, many people seem to assume that an apocalyptic cataclysm is on the way and the population will be significantly reduced as a result -- everything else is an extension of this religious belief.
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From:heron61
Date:May 9th, 2007 03:29 am (UTC)
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Indeed. As far as I can tell, the general apocalyptic mania started with the fringe Protestants (where it has remained popular for the last 350+ years) and spread out during the 20th century into fringe political groups on both the far reactionary and far progressive ends of the spectrum, as well as to groups that have few overt political positions or affiliations. This largely seems to be an American phenomena, and it's one that annoys me no end. The progressive fringe has traditionally been a major force for social transformation - the radical labor reforms proposed by the US wooblies and anarchists of the 1900s & 1910s became mainstream policies during the 1940s. Now, much of the similar fringe is infested with a mixture of nihilism and apocalyptic mania, and I find that deeply depressing. "Y2K", and "Peak Oil" are the most obvious examples of these beliefs, but there are a great many others.
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From:aekiy
Date:May 9th, 2007 03:37 am (UTC)
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ya.. which isn't to say that a systematic crash of some sort isn't possible (as it appears countries may have crashed in this fashion in the ancient past; IE, Uruk), and to certain degrees I think worst-case-scenarios should be used for the sake of cautionary thinking. Once it becomes a standard of thought and your plans actually rely on it, however, it is a heavily flawed notion. And hell, even if half the world's population died, that still leaves us with over three billion people to squeeze over.. large plots of farm land? Not gonna happen.

I do think people should be planning for both sustainable cities and sustainable farms, because farms themselves can be quite unsustainable as well (as mmsword recently pointed out, how forests are being cut to make way for more farms).
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From:rhiannasilel
Date:May 9th, 2007 12:55 pm (UTC)
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Wow, that's really cool. It reminds me of the city from the Logan's Run film (obviously minus the killing of anyone over 30). I really like this idea. As you said, too many of the ideas for sustainable cities are in the middle of no where and a little too rustic for my tastes. I do believe that one can have a sustainable city and still be environmentally conscious. I'd like to see something like this develop here, perhaps in one of our deserts.

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