Growing cities must surmount big threats to ecosystems

Growing cities must surmount
big threats to ecosystems

by ROB McMANAMY | Aug 13, 2015

IF GLOBAL CITIES ARE TO HANDLE THE POPULATION EXPLOSION already ongoing, they will need to find a way to invert the 20th century phrase "concrete jungle". In other words, if these unnatural habitats and centers of commerce are to survive, thrive, and properly serve their citizenry, then they will need a lot more jungle, and a lot less concrete. 

And that need seems to grow every day. Already, 20 global metropolises have populations greater than New York City. More are coming, too, especially in Asia. So, in a world with finite natural resources, unevenly distributed geographically and so often used inefficiently, how can these densely packed organisms grow sustainably? Or more likely, is that the only way they can survive?

Such are the questions that will propel the next special event in our ongoing SmartWorlds series of Future of Cities Conversations. On the evening of Thursday, Aug. 27, URBAN ECO-SYSTEMS: A DATA-DRIVEN UNDERSTANDING OF OUR CITIES will take to the BuiltWorlds stage and bring together for the first time all three of our SmartWorlds advisors: Peter, Paul, and John(Hmm, that trio sounds awfully familiar). The panel will be moderated by another leading light in our industry, Susan Heinking, AIA, director of High-Performance and Sustainable Construction at Pepper Construction.

The event is sponsored by Archeworks and Newforma.

Specifically, our acclaimed panelists will be architect and urban planner Peter Ellis, FAIA, of Peter Ellis New Cities; architect, technologist and Smart Cities expert Paul Doherty of The Digit Group; and IBM veteran and former CTO for the City of Chicago, John Tolva, now with PositivEnergy Practice. All three have often been described as visionaries, so we anticipate that their presentations, and discussions with each other will be as entertaining and engaging as they are compelling and even inspiring.


NOTE: This is not a "Sky is Falling!" event. On the contrary, it is a can-do, "Let's Fix This" call-to-action that truly embodies the founding mission of BuiltWorlds. After all, we exist to spur positive change. 

So, join us in an exploration of how an holistic examination of today's interconnected urban systems can leverage both old and new resources like Big Data, alternative energies, urban farming, waste-eating algae, 'Strawberry' charging trees, and, yes, even office windows that actually open!

If you missed our first SmartWorlds event, Future Mobility, you missed a lot. Learn from that! 

For tickets, please visit our Events page here.

Thick & thirsty: São Paulo, Brazil, is still in the midst of a record drought, thanks to consecutive years of diminished rain fall. But the megacity's poorly maintained infrastructure has worsened the problem via notoriously leaky pipes.

Thick & thirsty: São Paulo, Brazil, is still in the midst of a record drought, thanks to consecutive years of diminished rain fall. But the megacity's poorly maintained infrastructure has worsened the problem via notoriously leaky pipes.




It might seem funny to apply the term "ecosystem" to cities, but urban ecosystems are perhaps the most familiar of all ecosystems to us. An urban ecosystem is simply the community of plants, animals, and humans that inhabit the urban environment. It is an area physically dominated by built structures like buildings, roads, sewers, and power lines. But it also contains a rich patchwork of green spaces — parks, yards, street plantings, greenways, urban streams, commercial landscaping, and unbuilt lots — that provide the living heart of the urban ecosystem. 

As separate and fragmented as these elements sometimes appear, they work together as a single organism. The urban forest is a good example. It's not hard to envision all of a city's trees — whether in a park, on a street, in an undeveloped parcel, or in a backyard — linked together in a citywide system, just as they seem to be when viewed from an airplane. This urban forest may not be identical to an undisturbed rural forest, but many of its functions are similar. 

Of course, there are many differences between urban ecosystems and other ecosystems less dominated by humans. Urban ecosystems are generally highly disturbed systems, subject to rapid changes in soil and plant cover, as well as temperature and water availability. Buildings, roads, parking lots, and other constructions form a largely impenetrable covering of the soil that affects how water flows through the urban landscape and what can survive there. 

The good news is that urban areas present tremendous opportunities for greater efficiencies in energy and water use, housing, and waste management. Strategies that encourage better planning, mixed-use development, urban road pricing, and integrated public transportation, among other efforts, can dramatically lessen the environmental impacts of billions of people.



Google+ Google+