Urbanization continues, but urban can’t mean completely paved and mechanized. For protection, sustainability, and happiness, we must align our cities with the natural systems where we build. We need to be consciously designing, funding, and distributing nature in our cities. Urban trees, and nature more broadly, need to be treated as critical infrastructure for cities.
More and more of us live in cities, which essentially means we live in neighborhoods. A neighborhood may seem either something that’s always been or something that happened spontaneously. In reality, there’s a spectrum of approaches to neighborhood design, from the “organic” to the highly planned.
Earth already has a majority urban population. According to urban planner Peter Calthorpe, by 2050 our planet’s urban population will double. That means providing social goods and services to billions more city dwellers. How we accommodate that urban growth will say a lot about who we are and want to be. We can choose to design cities that fight climate change, instead of encouraging it.
Critics of government spending claim that building quality infrastructurefor the social good is not affordable. Focus on utility and low cost, they say. No need for grand stone building with imposing facades. Their concerns touch on two core marketing topics, designand pricing.
In their recent report card, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave US infrastructure a grade of D+. ASCE also said bad infrastructure costs U.S. households $9 per day in higher prices, poor service, repairs, and wasted time. For just $3 per day, they say we could fix the problem. Those numbers sound small, but they add up. Multiple that household-per-day number by 125 million households and 365 days a year, and you get an annual infrastructure bill of $137 billion. Paying for infrastructure is a big decision. How to pay for things is a marketing decision regarding pricing. What are the options?
Governing common shared resources such as water supplies relies on layers of resource management. Each level of management has different roles and responsibilities, from neighborhoods and cities through to regional, state, national and international governance. Currently, the way many cities approach water quality is inefficient because resource management is not regional. Water agencies ignore problems upstream, where water quality problems start. Applying funds to upstream problems is a marketing decision related to how we price our social goods. Fixing those upstream problems reduces costs downstream for water treatment.
Wired published an articleat the start of the 2016 Rio Olympics showing how recycling Olympic venues would work once the competition ended. Parts of the aquatics venue (above) will be used to create two public pools. The beachside volleyball stadium will become four elementary schools.
I like this designconcept. It reminds me of other innovations in public infrastructure, such as prefab bridges. Such innovations cut both costs and construction times. But will Rio actually follow through on the promise?
Sidewalks are infrastructure and infrastructure is a reflection of our social nature. Sidewalks are, or can be, important public spaces. They might, or could, be the public space with which we’re most familiar. Sidewalks build community and promote the healthy lifestyle and walkable neighborhoods that many people say they want.
Consider what happens on sidewalks: chalk drawings, tricycle rides, dog walks, hopscotch, jump rope, lemonade stands, neighborhood conversations, holding hands.