Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Hey! While you're up, get me another planet / Ray Cole and Jack Diamond on rethinking our cities

Two architects, one speaking to our capacity crowd at the final "Big Bench Session", the second writing in the Globe and Mail, outlined the ways in which the form of our cities run counter to sustainability in terms of natural, social and financial systems.
In his presentation "We Make Buildings/Buildings Make Us: Looking Beyond Green", UBC's Dr. Ray Cole outlined the ways that our current building forms and zoning bylaws waste precious energy, lessen productivity and promote social alienation.
Ranging from the macro aspects of climate change affecting Inuit hunting traditions, to the need for  local systems that re-establish natural resiliency, Dr. Cole illustrated the unbalanced consumption of world resources fostered by the western lifestyle. 

Writing in the Dec. 2nd Globe & Mail, Jack Diamond's "The gravy in land use and density" reveals the underlying problem of low density housing that we in the District of North Vancouver have come to recognize: "...municipalities in which the predominant land use is that of single families or other low-density forms of accommodation find that real-estate taxes simply con't meet the cost of providing hard (street lighting, garbage pickup etc.) and soft (libraries, parks etc.) services,  To continue building cities in this way can only plunge municipalities even deeper into debt."

In tackling the financial deficiencies underpinning our suburban form, Diamond arrives at a similar solution to Dr. Cole: the need for breaking the rigid stranglehold of zoning bylaws.  Integrating work, commercial and residential activities will lead to a lower carbon footprint, an improved and more efficient infrastructure, more healthy people walking and opportunities for people to shed their automobiles. 

Coming from two different perspectives, Diamond and Cole illuminate the need for change and show why, in fact, there is no alternative if we are to retain any long term viability and vibrancy for our urban and suburban spaces: "Besides increasing debt, there'll be more sprawl and needless consumption of agricultural, recreational and conservation land, yet longer commuting times, lower productivity, less efficient emergency services, more pollution and a diminished quality of life."

 - excerpt from Strong Towns Blog
"Since the end of World War II, we've been so wealthy and had so much growth that, for most parts of the country, the productivity of our places did not matter much. If it created a job, it was good. If it brought in a new business, it was good. We didn't ever pause to worry about what happens when the maintenance bill comes due.

Those bills are due now, and more are arriving each day. We don't have anywhere near the money to maintain so many unproductive places. What we face is a choice between a chaotic reset or a strategic contraction -- one where we intentionally divert our limited resources into those endeavors that are most productive while we seek -- block by block and neighborhood by neighborhood -- to improve the productivity of our places."

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