Rethinking The Way We View Future Eco-Cities

David Trammel's picture

It seems like a lot of the discussion of sustainable cities of the Future are focused on tight urban cores, building up or building in mass, compacting the footprint of the human populations in them so to minimize the energy needs to sustain them. I wonder is this the wrong way to go?

I came across this article:
"The real urban jungle: how ancient societies reimagined what cities could be"

I have a fascination for archeology but I recognize the bias that Western societies bring to their analysis of past cultures. Too often we view things that are not of our preconceptions as primative. That I feel is a mistake.

Maybe the Future of post oil civilizations will be of huge cities, dispersed across the landscape, with the majority of the population living in low density, farming some crops in rotating fields, foraging for food from semi-wild food forests among the villages, and sharing a cultural identity but not necessarily a shared government?

It does give me ideas for stories to come either way.

David Holmgren produced a very weighty book of this name to explain why he thinks the suburbs will be the best places to be in the coming future because they will be so recourse dense in a way. No granted, he is writing about Australian suburbs, but I can see just what he is talking about here in my own suburban neighborhood. Here is a link to his site about the book.

You can't be energy efficient with skyscrapers. They use too much electricity to heat, cool, and most importantly, move people up and down all those floors.

Traditional buildings never got over five (or sometimes six) stories high because that's about as many sets of stairs a person willingly climbs, repeatedly, day in and day out.

In wealthy homes and luxury hotels, the best rooms were not the penthouse! Those rooms, because of the multiple flights of stairs, belonged to the servants, just like basement rooms. Artists lived in garrets because of natural light AND they were cheaper, as well as being frigid in the winter and roasting in the summer.

The other issue is water. Water has to be PUMPED up all those floors, using more electricity or I suppose, men pumping 24 hours a day, seven days a week or you don't get water. Gravity can only do so much. New York City gets its water, gravity fed, from huge reservoirs in upstate New York, but once it gets to the city, it's got to be pumped up the skyscraper.

Let's not forget sewage treatment either.

No, I think more spread out and lower down, like a traditional city, is more likely. It's still plenty dense but it's on a human scale.

I lived in Europe for a while, and the style of urban planning and architecture there offers a lot to learn from, although this is more of an observation rather than anything else as it's obviously too late to remake cities in that style.

You often have 4 or 5 story buildings closely set to one another and along the street. The bottom story is usually reserved for shops, and each (stone) building features rooms with high ceilings, windows for cross ventilation, and balconies. Behind the buildings are courtyards with trees and common spaces for residents. It's a good design that allows for a fair population density.

David Trammel's picture

I love the architecture of 4-5 story buildings which incorporate those features for passive cooling. Add in a inner courtyard with maybe a water feature (small pool or fountain) and I'd be in heaven.

As for pumping water, I seem to remember that in early urban row houses of say NYC it was common for most houses to have large water tanks on their roofs. People in the homes would hand pump water into them in the morning, and allow the Sun to warm the water while they were at work. Then when they came home, the residents had hot water to clean up.

lathechuck's picture

They were also, I believe, handy for quenching unexpected fires. No (more) pumping was required, which was handy in such an emergency.