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Pop!Tech – Sustainable and unsustainable cities

Designer Chris Luebkeman likes to ski. Recently, he went skiing in Dubai, enjoying the indoor slopes while it was 45C outside. He points out that the UAE government finally allowed construction workers to take a few hours off if temperatures outside exceed 142 degrees farenheight. Buildings – including Ski Dubai – produce 48% of the world’s greehouse gases and contribute to 71% of global electricity usage.

To put our current energy situation in perspective, he asks us to think back 100 years. At that point, there were only 144 miles of paved road in the US and 8,000 cars. The US army was 75,000 people, compared to Russia’s 13 million. “We’re only 80 years old as the world’s policepeople. Where will we be in a hundred years?” He invites us to help answer that question, voting on a set of factors about the future on a tool on his website.

One major change is guaranteed to be our use of energy. Luebkeman is a believer in peak oil, mentioning a recent conversation with an energy executive who said, “There’s lots and lots of $300 a barrel oil. There just isn’t much $100 a barrel oil left.” 90% of our transportation energy use is petroleum use, and it’s getting harder to find this fuel. He points to an “energy wealth ladder” – pictured above – which demonstrates that as societies become wealthier, they inevitably use more energy. As we watch countries like China become richer, you see them become more crowded with cars, and more hungry for power.

As a globetrotting businessman, Luebkeman admits that his lifestyle requires 42 planets (if everyone were to use as much energy as he did, you’d need 42 planets worth of energy to sustain it.) One of the reasons he’s spending so much time on airplanes is that he’s trying to build cities for the future that can be much more sustainable than our current ones. He points out that 600 million people are migrating from the countryside to the city in China. That’s the population of North America, Australia, and a big chunk of Europe. As they move, their environmental impact is going to massively increase.

Luebkeman is one of the main designers of Dongtan Eco City, a new development in the mouth of the Yangtzee river. It has been designed from the ground up to house 80,000 people in three high-density “villages”, built from three to eight story buildings. He explains that the density is intended to be similar to London or Barcelona. There’s been a great deal of thinking done about energy and waste in the community – water discharge is 88% lower than in a conventional city, while solid waste is down 83%. “Rice factories” will produce crops on two levels in a building, lit by LEDs powered by solar panels – burning rice husks will help generate power. The site has been designed to capture the prevailing winds, allowing micro and large-scale wind generation. The design should allow the average resident to live at 2.3 globes per human, rather than the 5.8 for the average urban dweller. That’s an impressive achievement, but shows just how difficult the problem is, Luebkeman believes. But thinking this way is part of a process of discovering that there’s a different way to build and a different way to live, if we’d make the decision to look for it.

3 thoughts on “Pop!Tech – Sustainable and unsustainable cities”

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