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April 3rd, 2011
The Principles of Green Urbanism: Transforming the City for the Future

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9781844078349Cities are undergoing great change today. Changing climate, economics, population growth and technological innovation are all contributing toward changes within cities that result in renewal, sustainable designs, adaptation and development that addresses issues of sustainability. Green urbanism attempts to address these pressures. Author Steffen Lehmann is UNESCO Chair in Sustainable Urban Development. A German architect, he is also a Professor at the University of South Australia where he is involved in Sustainable Design research and teaching. Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz development upon what was once open territory dividing east and west Berlin, was also influenced by his green design concepts.  

The Principles of Green Urbanism:

Transforming the City for the Future 


by

Steffen Lehmann


earthscan

ISBN: 9781844078172   2010   900 pages

 

Review by Jeff Thurston


 

Cities are undergoing great change today. Changing climate, economics, population growth and technological innovation are all contributing toward changes within cities that result in renewal, sustainable designs, adaptation and development that addresses issues of sustainability. Green urbanism attempts to address these pressures. Author Steffen Lehmann is UNESCO Chair in Sustainable Urban Development. A German architect, he is also a Professor at the University of South Australia where he is involved in Sustainable Design research and teaching. Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz development upon what was once open territory dividing east and west Berlin, was also influenced by his green design concepts.

Functionality and aesthetic-based design alone are no longer enough Lehmann says, “we need to rethink the city itself, including the criterion for energy use, waste, food and water consumption.” And so begins this book with the exploration of new ideas, old lessons, innovation and changing perceptions about the places many of live live and work in. The nature of the city has changed from localized hub to global living space, characterized by three principles of ‘Urban Renaissance’ – 1) attractive places to live and work acting as cultural hubs of creativeness, 2) places where secure investment can take place and 3) locations with green visions for the future. 

Supporting with glossy pages and excellent graphics, this book elaborates on the issues of sustainability, pointing out key points as it proceeds. The revolution is underway already, the debate about the need for significant green change is over. The book clearly shows the decay within the urban cities and addresses where things need changing. “Sustainability is the end, sustainable development is the process,” the author states. Lehmann puts forward the case for more renewable energy use and the need to transform on local scales. He suggests that energy use, food production and a host of other activities all occur locally – a concept we are familiar with as think global – act locally. Diagrams such as the one describing tendencies in urban planning development and the protagonists of the tendencies assist to provide a comprehensive understanding of the inter-connectedness of the urban planning process. 

Density and compactness figure into the new green city in important ways, reducing the automobile based networks in favor of public transport, localized energy production and largely overcoming the inefficiencies that sprawl and uncontrolled development has resulted in in terms of higher costs and greater carbon use. Lehamann refers to architects like Louis Kahn and Alvar Aalto who practiced what was deemed ‘timeless fundamentals’ where buildings and spaces began to include elements of sustainable design, often considering the environment. In the future, the distinction between urban environments and rural hinterlands will not seem as apparent as today, instead, the principles of ecology and ecocity design will blur boundaries and reconnect these two into a more balanced metabolism with fluid interchanges of energy and economics. In a sense then Lehmann suggests a tie in what we might consider ecological services through the design processes. 

Mapping is used within this book to explore and explain urban housing and environmental change. The author talks about setting up international databases for describing ‘best practices’ in urban and ecocity designs. He does note a few that are already proceeding including Vauban Freiburg in Germany, Augustenborg Malmo in Sweden, Masdar City, UAE, Tianjin Eco-City, China and Wanzhuang Eco-City in China. other examples include the reuse and regeneration of industrial areas in Duisburg, Germany and the re-planned areas of Montpellier, France and Seattle, Washington. Again, maps are used to elaborate on the state of energy use across the globe and water resources are examined both in terms of availability but also consumption patterns as they connect with urban areas.

The author indicates that we need more information about the qualitative and quantitative aspects of cities. For a long time I have been blogging on this need and the contributions that geospatial technologies could be making toward to this effort. It is near impossible to design at the scale of a city or region without spatial tools that can harness the character of city dynamics from energy to transport to land use to economics etc. Lehmann raises the point that infrastructureal landscapes will envariably place energy sources, transport infrastructure and utilities well within urban areas and that we need to consider the previous methods of placing them into central outlying areas as outdated. Clearly, the components to support a city must become more local. Other examples of this include the production of food within buildings and the design of roofing that incorporates solar technologies.  

There are 15 Principles of Green Urbanism expressed. These include items such as self-sufficient energy production, eco-mobility, regional construction materials, affordable and mixed housing as well as education and training resources for sustainability at the local level. Unique to these is principle 12 that suggests a cultural identity linked to the healthiness of where each of one of us lives. This gives rise to the concept of a unique place-based sustainable footprint or location heritage tied to the environment. As noted, Zurich, Vienna, Geneva, Vancouver and Auckland are already in the top 5 highest ranking in this regard. 

Energy is discussed throughout the book and explained in terms of eco-districts such as that put forward by companies like Siemens, Vestas, Grimshaw Architects, Ken Yeang, HOK and others. Wooden structures figure prominently into the future of green designs. Construction materials are evaluated relative to the living ecosystem urban environments. Minimized construction waste, operational efficiency, ability to refurbish, ease of demolition and recycling potential all figure into the green architecture of tomorrow. Several interesting images of designs are provided from leading designers and architects from around the world for current and future cities, structures and products. It is expected that Melbourne and Sydney will follow the development pathway that has seen Barcelona transform itself over the last 25 years. Meanwhile, free bike rental schemes like those in Paris will expand across the globe to other cities transforming the movement of people – something the Dutch have conquered for a while now. 

The city is talked about in terms of a campus, and Newcastle is put forward as a leading example in this regard, focusing on the evolution to become a knowledge center in a case example. The role of green corridors is discussed and presented. Issues like connectivity and water resources within these corridors is presented and a general outdoor character to the city is elaborated upon. 

Low or no-carbon cities are discussed and several examples from British, French and German cities are detailed. Many of these places describe an evolution arising from both cultural influences and global perspectives of the populations. However, the concept of cities becoming more networked is expressed. These include holistic strategies that pull together transport, eco-infrastructure, low carbon use, adaptive architecture and population education about the grande vision. 

The later chapters of this book discuss research and future city possibilities. Consider for a moment the fact that we measure Carbon Footprints in terms of Global Hectares (gha) and that we can (or should) expect to balance out around 2 gha to achieve sustainable cities and living spaces. With China as country at about 1.6 gha in 2008, there is little time to begin the shift to ensure sustainable growth. Less so in places like Shanghai where there is a Carbon Footprint of 4.7. But, also consider that China is becoming a leader in solar and wind technology use, changing automobile use strategies and policies etc. So – change is under way whether we recognize it or not, and it is happening all around the world, right now. 

The Principles of Green Urbanism: Transforming the City for the Future is an excellent book. It really captures the essence of the green urban drive to a sustainable future, embracing environment, economics and human spirit. The author’s knowledge and awareness are special to this book, enriching the blend of education, practice, talent and cultural diversity that encompass so many places and experiences that we know – and could learn more about – as we consider to design the spaces and places that we will live in tomorrow. If you want to know about the current issues surrounding green urbanism then this book has it all, and exceptionally presented. 

 

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