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Reinventing the City

Jamie Lerner reinvents cities. Specifically, he’s reinvented his native Curibita, Brazil, making it astoundingly liveable and sustainable. He reminds us that “the city is not a problem, the city is solution.”

The enemy of cities, he tells us, is the automobile – it’s the guest who won’t leave the party: “even with the chairs on the table, he is sitting and drinking and he drinks too much.” Automobiles require infrastructure that harm the unique shapes of cities. Curibita, a city of 3 million, now features a public transit system used by 2.2 million people a day. The key is a new mechanism for boarding buses – a boarding tube – which makes buses work more like subways. You pay, and queue, before boarding the double-articulated buses, which run in dedicated lanes on the streets. A new design seeks to connect underground trains with the buses through the same boarding mechanism and interfaces.

A major tool for change in Curibita has been involving children in teaching. A recycling project taught children first, then asked them to teach their parents. The result is a garbage separation program with the highest rate of success in the world.

Other interventions Lerner advocates are smaller and more targeted – urban acupuncture, as he calls it. Often this involves figuring out how to reuse spaces, so they’re not empty 18 hours a day. The key, he believes, is being cheap and creative – “creativity comes when you cut a zero from the budget. Cut two, it’s better.”

Cementing his reputation as a crazy and wonderful speaker, Lerner leads the audience in a chant:

“It’s possible
You can do it
Use less your car
Work closer to home
Save energy…”

Following on his heels is Chris Luebkeman, who shows us an amazing vision of a future city. He first shows us previous fantasy cities – an 1800s fantasy of New York filled with steam elevators, a 1930 fantasy of airships, a 1940 General Motors fantasy of a company town. The cities we got are more or less the fantasy for the 1960s, a fantasy based on the age of endless resources. And that age is over.

Luebkeman is helping to design the Dongtan Eco City, an amazing project designed to address the problem of 600 million Chinese citizens moving from the countryside to urban areas. He reminds us that 600 million is the population of North America plus Australia, plus the UK, France and Scandinavia – it’s a lot of people. The 250,000 who live in Dongtan Eco City, and it’s four sisters will have a near-zero carbon footprint – there’s no carbon from power and heat, and work is underway to lower impact even further.