Imagining Cities That Can Save the Planet: Carbon Zero, by Alex Steffen

Landscape Urbanism recently met up with Alex Steffen to talk about his latest book, “Carbon Zero,” which was just published on November 27th, 2012. The self-proclaimed “little book” looks at the current condition of our growing–and urbanizing, and warming–planet, and calls for a radical re-imagination of what our city futures could look like. It’s a blueprint, a warning, and a strategic call-to-action for our global urban leaders to take (radical, imaginative) steps towards a more resilient future. 

The following two excerpts are from the book’s introduction and overview (emphases added); the full book is on Amazon, here.  

Carbon Zero: Imagining Cities That Can Save the Planet, by Alex Steffen (Excerpt)

1. Our Urban Future

Humanity is already an urban species, with more people living in cities than in the countryside. By the middle of the century, we will likely have as many as 9.5 billion people living on the planet, with 70%–75% of us (around 7 billion people), demographers estimate, living in cities themselves, and 95% or more of humanity living within a day’s travel of a city. By the 2050s, the overwhelming majority of humanity will be participating in urban systems of health care, education, communication, commerce, and government that only a few decades ago were limited to the “developed” world. Continue reading

The Call For A Post-Informal Landscape Urbanism

“There are an estimated 200,000 informal settlements around the world. Moreover, one of every three urban dwellers currently lives in informal settlements, otherwise (and wrongly) known as ‘slums.’ What is the future of the city after the influx of informal settlements?”

There are an estimated 200,000 informal settlements around the world similar–and sometimes much worse–than La Moran, in Caracas Venezuela (pictured above).

“Post-Industrial” is widely regarded as the primary condition that appears throughout much of Landscape Urbanism literature in its attempt to reformulate contemporary city-making following the industrial booms of the past centuries. While it is important to recycle, re-use and reconsider sites of this nature, it is also important to consider other “post” conditions and projects.

Landscape Urbanism has to move on from defining what it is to what it can do; from theory to praxis, from book to built. Instead of being limited to the endless task of defining and arguing for the relevance of its initial conceptualizations, it is the job of designers to find new areas onto which this new approximation can have a successful implementation. Through this thinking, we can find other “post-” conditions, one of which has an immense sense of urgency and potential in today’s world: “Post-Informal”.

Population Growth and City Projections

Four years ago, the world reached a significant milestone: 3.3 billion human beings live in cities, making this planet’s human population predominantly urban. Yet, the importance of this milestone is not just that an ever-growing population lives in cities, but how they live in cities. One of every three urban dwellers currently lives in informal settlements, otherwise (and wrongly) known as “slums”. Informal settlements are usually characterized as poor areas that come about outside the margins of any legal urban planning, usually constructed by means of self-help housing that tap into the existing services and infrastructures of the city. This urban phenomenon should be regarded as one of the most important characteristics of modern urban development because of the impact it has on landscape, environment, social components, existing cities and infrastructure. Continue reading