The “lens,” so to speak, through which we are increasingly focusing our work, is the topic of climate change. There are two reasons for this. One, evidence is growing that this phenomenon does indeed pose an intolerable threat to human well-being (including economic well-being) in the near future. In fact, evidence is mounting that the effects are already beginning to be felt. Second, climate change is a good proxy for a number of other critical issues that we have neglected for much too long: the depletion of resources, including “peak oil,” “peak soil,” collapsing fisheries, and many more; the pressures of population on land and on species habitat; the contamination of water, soil and air; and the potential for geopolitical instability generated by severe inequities, which could produce incalculable human suffering in the years ahead.
But there is reason to be optimistic. Of course, much of the demand for consumption, energy and greenhouse gas emission begins in our own homes and neighborhoods. The shape of our homes, and the lifestyle they afford us, has been shown to have a dramatic effect on emissions. The more we live the compact, elegant lifestyle of, say, Europeans, as opposed to the sprawling, inefficient and unrewarding lifestyle of many Americans, the more we can dramatically lower emissions. This is particularly important in the patterns of rapid growth occurring in the developing world, where the worst patterns of American sprawl are too often adopted, with profound consequences for the use of energy and greenhouse gas emissions.
And of course, the other things go along with this demand for consumption and waste: the reduction of pollution (around the world), preservation of habitat, conservation of resources, and geopolitical stability.
Our work in this area has taken several forms. As noted last year, we worked with Diana Urge-Vorsatz of the IPCC and others on a successful conference on climate change and urban design for the Council for European Urbanism in Oslo, Norway. Growing out of that work, we were invited to present a paper on climate change and urban form at the prestigious International Alliance of Research Universities scientific congress on climate change in Copenhagen in March. The alliance includes Cambridge, Oxford, Berkeley and other leading research universities. The conference was a briefing session for the COP-15 international treaty negotiations that will occur in Copenhagen in November. Our presentation was very well received, and we are preparing it for publication now.
We continue to lead efforts of the USA chapter of INTBAU, a patronage of the Prince of Wales dedicated to heritage preservation, and new construction that preserves and builds upon traditional fabric and cultures. After our chapter launch in New Orleans, we did a second annual conference in Chicago last year. (Meanwhile, our monitoring and support of work in New Orleans continues.) We have recently been planning our third conference, to be held in Baltimore in October. We believe INTBAU is an important voice for a more resilient, adaptive approach to sustainability, and we look forward to its continuing growth, and the growth of the USA chapter, which is the largest.
We co-organized and/or presented at several seminars, including a seminar on sustainable building at the University of Notre Dame in February; a seminar on recent research into climate change and cities around the world, at the INTBAU College of Chapters and ICTP symposium in London in June; and a session on “wholeness and sustainability” at the Environmental Design Research Association in Kansas City in May.
We are also working to prepare an exhibit in conjunction with the award ceremony for the Vincent Scully Prize, to be awarded to our friend and colleague Christopher Alexander, at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. in November. We will conduct a symposium at the University of Virginia in nearby Alexandria that afternoon, and provide an introduction to Chris as he makes his acceptance speech. We are also curating a small exhibit on his work and ideas.
We also continue our work with the research consortium called the “Environmental Structure Research Group.” (See e.g. www.abotuus.org/ESRG) Most recently, several members co-authored a paper presented at the Congress for the New Urbanism, to develop a “unified model” of neighborhood structure in relation to transportation. This has been an important debate within the New Urbanism movement, and within the transportation engineering profession. At our session we had leaders from both, and we agreed to continue this important collaboration. Participants included Doug Farr, leader in “green architecture” and a co-developer of LEED-ND, and Rick Hall, a transportation engineer working closely with the Institute of Transportation Engineers on their highly influential new manual standards for street design.
We are very excited to announce a symposium October 30-November 1, with the University of Oregon and its new Portland Urban Architecture Research Laboratory (PUARL), led by our colleague Hajo Neis. The topic is "Current challenges for patterns, pattern languages and sustainability." This will begin an inter-disciplinary exploration of developments in pattern languages and design patterns in architecture, planning, computer software, organization theory, ecology, health sciences, and other fields. It will be linked to a follow-up conference next year.
The symposium will be at the University of Oregon’s Portland campus, a splendid historic building along Portland’s waterfront, served conveniently by light rail and in walking distance to Portland’s main attractions.
We have also been in discussions with Christopher Alexander and colleagues about establishing a “Pattern Language Center” to house the archive of work by Christopher Alexander and associates at the Center for Environmental Structure, and to continue research and symposia on thee and related targets (including, perhaps, a permanent institutional home for the ESRG). We will report more on this as it develops from the current early stages of planning.
We are also collaborating with ESRG member Andres Duany and other colleagues on several projects, including a new “module” for his award-winning “Smart Code,” an “anti-sprawl” zoning code that has been adopted by a number of cities across the US, including San Antonio, Miami and many others. It has also been adopted in several places in Europe. We are working on a module that will incorporate some of the work of Christopher Alexander on so-called” generative processes.” These are thought to be important in creating more sustainable, more livable, and more beautiful neighborhoods.
In February we also completed the model curriculum for the European School of Urbanism and Architecture, a pilot project funded by the EU’s Leonardo da Vinci program in lifelong learning. The curriculum is designed for continuing education of professionals in the most recent techniques and best practices of sustainable urban development. It is also aimed at students. The curriculum can be viewed at www.esua.org.
Writing projects also continue. We completed a book chapter for a forthcoming edited collection by Michael Lykoudis, dean of the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture. We are guest-editing a forthcoming special edition of the Journal of Urbanism on climate change and urban design, and an edition with ESRG contributions. We also had a peer-reviewed piece published there in March.
We also look forward to important synergies with our project consultancy, and the ability to cross-pollinate important benefits. These include new technologies for sustainable buildings and urbanism, new financial instruments, and other new strategies and insights. Most recently we have been in discussion on a possible model “courtyard housing” project for Portland, which would incorporate a number of important innovations in green building, finance, affordability, transportation and other leading ideas.
We have also provided consultation to the Metro regional government of Portland for its "Centers and Corridors" development, as part of its 2040 Growth Concept. We served on its Expert Advisory Group and participates in writing and presenting the final policy report.
We have also provided consultation for the new "Portland+Oregon Sustainability Institute," an inter-agency creation of the City of Portland, Metro, Portland Development Commission, and Portland State University. We have given general counsel as well as specific expert advice as part of its Technical Advisory Committee.
An overview of our activities for the year to date:
Presentations and Symposia
Papers and book chapters
As always, we welcome suggestions about our work and the ways that we might develop more effective collaborations. And as always, we are very grateful for all the collaborations with you, and the other support, that make this work on such important topics possible.