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Rethinking Our Cities

When they build that new Freedom Tower in New York City they will pile up a huge ton of concrete and glass and steel. It will contain massive cables to carry it electricity. Massive water lines to carry it water. Huge sewers to carry its waste away. Heat. This is the dependency model. Even the inhabitants will leave to fetch food every day.

Instead, what if we build our huge buildings like sports arenas, shallow dishes with reflectors heating a central solar tower to generate its own electricity. What if the outer walls were lined with windmills. What if Solar shielding was used (or better yet, underground) for natural cooling. What if the outer walls were not glass, but huge Aquaponics with every apartment or every floor having its own garden of lush trees and fish that people could walk around and enjoy. What if when the power grid went off, everyone in that building was just fine.

In New York city, every place you walk is a street filled with cars. They don’t do this in Japan, Austria, Italy, France. No wonder Americans seem so uncivilized. No not at all! We could re-organize our cities so that smaller delivery roads hid traffic from tranquil pedestrian shopping ways. Every business would have a store front onto the beautiful walk streets with nice gardens, cobble brick or stone paths, and central slightly lowered by 3 feet bicycle freeways (with 3′ bridges going over them). Above the stores we can build gorgeous apartments with high ceilings, nice windows, and rooftop terraces with more solar, wind, and aquaponics. Behind the calm happy bird chirping tree lined streets with benches and tiny food shops would be alleys which run every over road, connecting a network of traffic delivery. And in the middle of this an automated train freight delivery system which again is built lowered.

It’s not a hard model to test. We can begin converting street by street. San Francisco has converted just one or two of its downtown streets to walk areas and they are big successes.

In Texas they start by building a square box to be buffeted by the extreme sun and win. Instead we should self build snail shaped spiraling structures that the person buying the house bolts together themselves with a simple repeating pattern, oscillating around the building like a shell each time adding more and more. There is no climbing or rigging. Finally the structure can be earth sheltered, fitted with solar and water collection, wind turbines, and in communities a central efficient heat producing natural gas or pellet stove or geothermal, whatever makes sense for the resources of the locale.

Our cities would be organized with circular hubs of mass transit with the inner layer being the industrial area and the surrounding being each neighborhoods hub with central Piazzas with entertainment. Getting to work would always be a quick jump in since there would no longer be much allure to living in the isolated suburbs. All downtown open areas would be patrolled with walking foot patrols never more than 1/8th mile from the next patrol. Committing crime and trying to flee would be much harder.

Finally, we can grow our own cities using Bamboo and other renewables. New techniques to link increadibly strong yet light giant bamboo has been developed making them superior to wood, no energy expanded for sawmilling, and there would be lower transportation costs as they would be grown everywhere close to the city. Rather than huge complex sewer systems we can install composting public toilets. Before entering the person would be required to crank a turbine sufficiently to generate twice the electricity required to flush and process waste and keep lights on. After bacterial processing the soil is finally deposited in a bin outside the toilet free to gardeners and resellers to pick up.

America has an energy problem because we build cities and houses that gobble up energy. We build suburban sprawl which is lonely but pretty, and work areas all haphazardly forcing everyone into tiny cars and clogged roads. We need to shorten this distance between work and city. Instead of spending billions and trillions on endless wars abroad and the war on drugs and terror against our patriots at home, we could be building the new cities. Every city should be shaped like a wedge with competing districts. The more popular better designed districts can purchase up the failing districts and take them over in a capitalism model of urban progress. But we can’t plow down our existing cities so this model is very tough to begin. Instead like China we need to start it in a new place. Existing cities like San Francisco would go through a careful analysis of what was historical and needs to remain and the working template imposed upon it by bulldozing seedier sections while making minor conversions like walking streets to others. A different vision of apartment construction needs to be realized to bring people back from leafy suburban homes into a urban but self sufficient lifestyle. Without the billions of gallons for commuters, driving a car on the wide open interCitta highways will be more a fun experience again. As well as food production on buildings, full farms should be brought further in as much as possible with micro farming and small organic plots for bio diversity. Not huge monocultures which result in dead wastelands when one crop isn’t blooming.

Each city needs to be organic enough with design and architecture to avoid symmetry and lack of originality. The perfect structures of previously envisioned future cities would result in a monotony of mind. Instead we need that difference that Gaudi that ever pushing forward.

We need a different kind of public transit than trains for hopping between sections. Maybe something more akin to a ski lift – a cable sky hook system where you simply walk up to the platform hook in, and then you dangle above until you select the next offplatform. Moving along at a brisk 30 miles an hour, the system would ferry people ever forward without traffic or congestion. In very hot or very cold environs more traditional subway systems would be used but with the European model of roads and people going over the trains. In San Francisco they built a street car system, but all to often they just get stuck in traffic like the rest of us. With some slight modification they can pass seamlessly under it all.

When you look at America’s most synthetic city – Las Vegas – the original down town is a grimy a bit grungy and wholly irrelevant once the main strip was built. But they flawed. They continued with the notion that humans walk beside traffic, with no peaceful open spaces, with the only “good” being inside their shops and malls and casinos, again the split model where nothing is good at all until you get to the commerce places. Giant towering hotels provide places no one would actually want to live even the more beautiful venetian. Its too cartoonish. It can point to exactly what would have to be avoided in building this kind of structure.

There needs to be a solitary word for this approach to unite thinkers. I call it The Urbanismo Movement and there should be federal grants for rebuilding in the Urbanismo design. Our current designs are primitive and horrific. We can do so much better. If you don’t believe me, all you have to do is take a trip to the walking streets of Japan, Austria, Italy, France. Really it’s America that is the aberration, now its our turn to rethink our cities and surpass the others. While China has built Shanghai into a horrific concrete jungle, its our time to show them how it can be done, with a well integrated mix of urban pedestrian spaces.

Our future can be elegant, integrated, self sufficient, and more integrated with indoor and outdoor spaces. Its simply a matter of vision.

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