Greener Cities Are In Our Future
In the books regarding urban design, Peter Calthorpe is a living and controversial legend. He is one of the people who made Portland, Oregon the bustling eco-friendly metropolis it is today by insisting on light rail links rather than the prior plans for a pointless ring road around the city. He is also the man who is helping to build China, three cities at a time, literally that’s his current lineup, while still advising the state of California on its future sustainability issues regarding urban growth. He is a thought-leader and author, most recently, of “Urbanism In the Age of Climate Change”. Controversial in its own right.
When it comes to technology, however, Calthorpe is a professional and lasting cynic. He chides city bosses for relying on technology to fix their environmental ills in too many uncreative ways — providing cosmetic offerings like electric vehicle charging stations, for example, or iPhone apps that identify parking spots — rather than making greater, greener tweaks to the urban organism itself. “You can’t put the cart before the horse,” he says, “and the horse is the urban city of today. You’re never going to take away this social animal behavior we inherently possess. Proximity is much more important to us than ever. Technology matters, but I don’t think it’s a substitute for fundamental urban design, that which brings us together in the immediate.”
That doesn’t mean a city has to make itself into Manhattan — though Calthorpe is well aware that such dense environments are the most eco-friendly human habitations found anywhere on earth. We don’t need to go that far to make our cities that much more energy-efficient. Instead, Calthorpe points to a suburb of Oakland called Rockridge as his prime example: dense, leafy streets with plenty of shops, nice houses, mass transit and a high walk score. If we all lived that closely together, he says, we’d make a massive dent in the effect of climate change — and we’d be happier, more social and more creative creatures to boot. “Even the high-tech, Internet-connected world wants to be in the same place,” Calthorpe says. “They’re not interested in living on a mountaintop. They want to crowd into places that are all about exchanges of ideas.” Maybe its time to bring all the mountaintops together for a virtual city that can encompass our globe and create the greener ‘cities’ of the future.