The Spanish city that banned cars

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This is a glimpse into the future – a city where people walk and bike. We can get there by vision, by choice.  Or we can get there through the pain of resource depletion.  But either way, this is where we are headed.

“How can it be that private property – the car – occupies the public space?”

From the Guardian:

“In Pontevedra, the usual soundtrack of a Spanish city has been replaced by the tweeting of birds and the chatter of humans.

People don’t shout in Pontevedra – or they shout less. With all but the most essential traffic banished, there are no revving engines or honking horns, no metallic snarl of motorbikes or the roar of people trying make themselves heard above the din – none of the usual soundtrack of a Spanish city.

What you hear in the street instead are the tweeting of birds in the camellias, the tinkle of coffee spoons and the sound of human voices. Teachers herd crocodiles of small children across town without the constant fear that one of them will stray into traffic.

“Listen,” says the mayor, opening the windows of his office. From the street below rises the sound of human voices. “Before I became mayor 14,000 cars passed along this street every day. More cars passed through the city in a day than there are people living here.” Continue reading “The Spanish city that banned cars”

“Sustainable” concrete won’t save us #1

By Steve Austin

Ahhhh….another breathless article touting how technology will save us all.  This one is from the Journal of the American Institute of Architecture.  In this case, the miracle cure is concrete that can generate and store electricity.  One product is “Dyscrete, a prefabricated concrete panel coated with organic dye-sensitized solar cells (DYSC). Functioning like the chlorophyll in plants, these dyes generate electricity via electrochemical reactions that occur when illuminated.”

Sounds neat!  See, there is absolutely no need for us to call off our plans for murder-suicide  all other life on this planet. We can just make a substance that acts like plants to give us more power!

But wait there’s more!

“Concrete has also been coaxed to produce electricity from mechanical pressure. British industrial engineer Laurence Kemball-Cook developed a concrete paver called Pavegen that utilizes piezoelectric technology to convert applied mechanical stress from footfalls into an electrical charge. The pavers incorporate recycled tire rubber as the energy-capturing surface, which rests above a recycled polymer concrete base. The electricity produced can be readily utilized for functions like nighttime illumination.

‘Ten slabs around a streetlight would power it all night long from the energy generated during the day,’ Kemball-Cook told Scientific American in a 2011 article. ‘You can get 20 or 30 seconds of light from a small light fitting from one footstep.’ Pavegen pavers are also supplied with footfall sensors that enable the tracking of pedestrian activity for security or consumer behavior purposes, and were recently installed on London’s Bird Street.”

Even neatoer!  Who can be against people power?

Unfortunately, this article doesn’t mention a thing about concrete’s impact on climate change.  CO2 emissions from concrete production may be as much as 10% of global total.  Currently, and maybe permanently, concrete is impossible to make in industrial scale quantities without enormous CO2 emissions. In the below zero era, CO2 emissions must essentially cease, and the drawdown of excess CO2 in the atmosphere must vastly exceed any further CO2 emissions.  That’s not a good prognosis for concrete’s future, even if it produces a little electricity.  If technology is indeed going to save us, it will be through finding ways to build with no C02 emissions AND in ways that sequester CO2.  But that probably sounds too boring – or impossible – for architects.  Better to focus on the “cool” factor, even as the planet burns.

Climate change is our cosmic adolescence: can we survive it?

Chris Hedges is one of our best writers and speakers.  In this essay, he lays out the idea that all technologically advanced civilizations across the universe face the same planetary challenges as we do now.  Since the universe is ruled by the same laws everywhere, all beings are ultimately controlled by their planets, rather than the other way round.

Hedges writes:   Robin Hanson in the essay, “The Great Filter—Are We Almost Past It?” argues that advanced civilizations hit a wall or a barrier that makes continued existence impossible. The more that human societies evolve, according to Hanson, the more they become “energy intensive” and ensure their own obliteration. This is why, many astronomers theorize, we have not encountered other advanced civilizations in the universe. They destroyed themselves.

read the rest of Hedge’s essay here.

Electric cars wont save us #1

By Steve Austin

Joe Romm is a dedicated climate scientist who runs the blog Climate Progress.  Unfortunately, he has a fixation with electric cars as being the savior to the world’s climate peril. Recently, he posted an article entitled Here’s what charging your electric car will look like in 2030.  His premise:  “The future is electric cars — and cheap charging.”

This seems dead wrong.  If carbon pollution risks destroying civilization, then how on earth will electric cars be the “future?”  They require massive amounts of CO2 emissions to produce, require massive amounts of CO2 for infrastructure to drive on, and are toxic to the environment.  Further, electric cars are, and most likely will be in the future, owned by the wealthy of the first world.  In the energy constrained future, electric cars will siphon limited electricity away from communities that will need it the most so that the elite can continue to pretend that life in the time of climate change isn’t too bad.

Icons of social and environmental justice, electric cars aint.

If climate change is indeed the peril that scientists tell us it is, then mitigating it will mean the end of the industrial era.  With that will come the end of the suburban life that demands personal vehicles for living.  Pretending that electric cars will allow us to drive happily into the future is delusional.

And it hurts the cause: when deniers see commentary like this they can rightfully say, “it can’t be too bad if all it will take is electric cars to solve it.”  To them, and to perhaps the majority of Americans, promoting electric cars seems to make dealing with climate change about lifestyle choices, instead of the radical reimagining of our civilizational structure that addressing the climate peril demands.

The promotion of electric cars as the “future” by climate scientists tells the world that if we simply change a little, then we can keep the current system going.  We need to hear from scientists:  is that true?  If it is, then all hope to mitigate climate change is gone as people will simply choose not to play along by driving an electric vehicle.   If it is not true, then we need to push back hard against those who should know better.

A new emphasis on beauty may be just what it takes to save America

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And Beauty for All is a new organization whose purpose is to bring beauty into the forefront of our national consciousness.

“We believe all Americans appreciate beauty, regardless of their political views, origin, economic status or creed, and that working to restore beautiful landscapes and create beautiful places is a non-partisan cause that can bring us together and build community in polarizing times.

Beauty appeals, and ugliness repels, writer Sandra Lubarsky points out, because beauty is life-affirming and enhancing. Beautiful landscapes offer a harmony of parts that we instinctively feel is good and healthful. By contrast, gashes in the earth, oil spills, and the like are as wounds to our own bodies, and garbage and litter give us a sense of life-threatening disarray.”

Climate reckoning for landscape architecture

By Steve Austin

The summer of 2018, with its unprecedented global heat, fires and droughts, is forcing a reckoning upon landscape architects. The full effects of climate change are now clearly visible. The world has warmed more than one degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. We are on track for more than 2 degrees Celsius warming. What are we to do?


The chart above shows the actions that must be taken to avoid the existential threat of even more global warming: humans must essentially cease using fossil fuels within 30 years.   And more than that, we must take actions to drawdown excess carbon dioxide (CO2), so that in the years after 2050 a climate balance can regained. If we are to ensure a livable climate, we must enter the below zero era. These are the prescriptions outlined by the Paris Climate Accord, which unfortunately has become a political casualty in the USA.

Landscape architects will be vital in helping to achieve the goal of keeping the climate within the boundaries conducive to continued civilization. Yet, this chart portends that the processes, tools, and materials that we use in our work today will not be available to us. This in turn will have dramatic implications for design and professional practice.

Ultimately this chart tells us that within the lifetimes of many landscape architects practicing now, the profession of landscape architecture must change. The sections below lay out the key areas of our profession that will be impacted. Continue reading “Climate reckoning for landscape architecture”