Ron Finley, presenting @TED, has come up with possibly the best talk I've seen on urban agriculture. Taking urban agriculture seriously has been a favourite theme of mine here for a while. There is something deeply powerful about bringing agricultural production back into public urban spaces, and identifying and transforming plots of land that would otherwise be abandoned or underused.
It heals the rift that cities create between people and the agricultural systems that support them. Beyond that, it draws attention to larger issues of food security, social marginalization, and wellbeing that are crucial for building healthy sustainable cities.
Finley hits on all of those issues. And, most importantly, he shows how urban agriculture can be re-imagined to be relevant to communities where white middle-class enviro-geekery doesn't carry much weight.
[Update: Thanks to all the participants in this year's seminar. It was great to get to test out some new ideas and approaches to designing green cities with you!]
All this week, as part of MIT's IAP period, I'll be teaching an intensive seminar on integrated approaches to urban sustainability. Things kicked off this morning with a great group of students. I'm really excited to see the end result of our work.
I've structured the seminar as a collaborative exploration of some recent trends in how leading cities are shifting their approach to climate and sustainability policy. Rather than pursuing narrowly defined "emission reduction plans" there are signs that cities are adopting more complex and holistic policies that tie together multiple environmental, social, and economic goals. Counter-intuitively, it may be that by embracing complexity in this way actually makes more ambitious and effective local environmental action easier to plan and implement.
The seminar is titled "Keystone Cities: Networked Approaches to Urban Sustainability." If you are curious you can see more, including the work of some of the students, on the class website.
The death of Aaron Swartz, internet innovator and open data activist, has sent waves through political, hi-tech, and academic communities.
Swartz - whose many accomplishments included writing the code that powers the RSS feeds for all your favourite news sites - was facing a possible 30 year jail term for having downloaded thousands of academic articles from the on-line repository JSTOR which houses most academic publications.
JSTOR is a pay-per-use service. Swartz's intent, allegedly, was to provide free on-line access to that vast store of knowledge. Hounded by U.S. federal prosecutors, Swartz took his own life at the end of last week.
His death, among other things, is prompting a renewed discussion around the ethics of the current academic publishing model.
Alex Steffen, the man behind the excellent inertia defying and inspiring WorldChanging blog, has just released his new book.
Carbon Zero: Imagining Cities that can Save the Planet is a short punchy introduction to some of the most
important ideas that are shaping how we are thinking about, and
creating, green cities.
I worked with Alex on (the now sadly defunct) WorldChanging, and I also had a chance to give some feedback on early stages of CarbonZero.
After almost two years of work the book is done, and it's a real success.
Look at what discussions of "green cities" focused on in the 1990s and compare that to today and you'll see a huge shift. We've gone from talking about one-off projects (think LED
traffic lights) to complex and interconnected visions of cites that are
simultaneously livable, efficient, and productive (economically,
socially, and environmentally).
It's been an exciting transition, and one that (finally) is getting us closer to realizing the transformative potential of city-regions. Anyone wanting a quick but still insightful flyover of this new way of looking at urban sustainability should take a look at CarbonZero.
The full text is up over at Grist, and you can also buy the digital version here.
David Bello, Associate Editor over at
Scientific American, has an interesting post up today looking at the
supposed tensions between “resilience” and “sustainability”.
His argument in a nutshell is that precisely the characteristics that
make many urban systems resilient can also make them deeply unsustainable
from an environmental point of view.
He's right, sort of. But really what's at
stake here is a redefinition of how we build resilience into our
It's not so much a contradiction as an evolution.
Let me show you what I mean.