Living Within Our Means

As some of you may know, I am the co-organizer for the New York City Future Salon, an outreach group for the Acceleration Studies Foundation. This month’s meeting was on The Future of Cities and what follows is my presentation for the meeting. The presentation followed our Little Bigs format which is characterized by the dissemination of big ideas in a short amount of time. As such, the presentation was 5 minutes and consisted of five slides. A copy of the Powerpoint presentation can be found here.


Presented at the Future Salon
September 20th, 2008:

Living Within Our Means: A Locally Driven, Decentralized Approach to Cities

1. I’ve Got Them Centralized Blues

We all know the story: climate change, resource depletion, overpopulation. What do those have to do with our cities? More than the colloquial worldview understands. The problem of the modern city lies in its structure – which is inextricably linked to how it operates. Maximization of real-estate leads to high population density which in turn requires the importation of resources. The bulk of our stuff – food, goods, etc. – come from some external, centralized location. Let’s explore how future cities could rectify this situation.

2. A New Plan: Localization

As rapid distribution systems have already been developed in the modern city (i.e. highways and roads), future cities will have to focus on localizing production. This localization effort will need to determine the resource demands of given groups, dividing geographical areas into sectors and assuring the connection of these localized hubs: creating a web of interconnected, local self-sustaining units.

Two pressing areas requiring decentralization follow:

3. Localized Food

Food production could be taken back to a community level. Local farmer’s markets could be utilized, but in light of our burgeoning population (and decreasing availability of farmable land), a scalable, less petroleum intensive alternative will be needed. Input Vertical Farming or Skyfarming. Since at least 2005 the idea of building greenhouse skyscrapers that could produce food locally, without the need for dwindling fossil fuels to transport the goods have been forming , and Projects have been proposed for downtown Toronto. A combination of these skyfarms and traditional local farmer’s markets could effectively transition food from the distant and processed to the local and organic.

4. Localized Work

To break the centralization of work, employees could telecommute. Telecommuting has received more attention and has begun to be pushed by the General Services Administration of the Federal Government. To abate the rising use of fuel and the amount of transportation induced pollution, employees could live closer to their workplace.

5. Reconnecting

In conclusion, these changes to the modern city are not limited to physical readjustments – that is to say operational adjustments will have an equal role. The end result of this transformation would be a leaner, more cohesive city structure. And one that more closely embraces the spirit of the old town halls and city squares – something that is sorely needed for community development and the human spirit.


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