Climate Change: An Opportunity for the Built Environment 4

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Monday, October 6th, 2014
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“Climate change is our best chance to demand and build a better world,” says Naomi Klein, board member of 350.org and author of newly published book This Changes Everything – Capitalism vs the Climate.

In her book, Klein discusses a paper called Is Earth F****ed? by the geophysicist Brad Werner, where Werner says it basically is. He then models probable development of “earth-human systems” that will occur unless people, or groups of people, stop resisting climate science.

Klein’s book reminded me that we need to start looking at climate change as an opportunity to learn and build smart, resilient cities and towns. By 2020, many cities around the equator will face unprecedented climate change and produce thousands of climate change refugees who will need new homes.

As sea levels slowly rise, cities built around water are putting plans in place to adapt. Amsterdam, Helsinki, Hamburg and Paris have stringent adaptation plans in place for both rising sea levels and extreme weather events. Amsterdam was the first city to design a floating village and ensured that the 75-building development was affordable for the 1,000 residents of all ages and incomes it would house.

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Waterbuurt, Amsterdam’s floating homes

Following in Amsterdam’s footsteps are places such as Helsinki, Boston, the Maldives and even Sydney, all of which purportedly have both residential and commercial designs in progress or being considered. London Mayor Boris Johnson has recently chosen a developer to build Britain’s first floating village at London’s Royal Docks.

Rotterdam’s water plaza was a pilot project seven years in the making. It doubles as a flood buffer during heavy rainfall, gathering water from surrounding streets to relieve the most immediate pressure on public drainage systems. The city is also in the process of building a floating neighbourhood, for completion in 2016, which will include homes, offices, a park, school and dairy factory.

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A solar-powered floating pavilion in the Rijnhaven, Rotterdam

The opportunity isn’t just for resilience, it’s also for efficiency. The number of badly built and designed properties being erected in Australia is shocking. I can hear the wind whistling through the gaps in the brickwork as I walk past the new builds in Bondi. Perhaps we could be forgiven for our lack of knowledge in previous years but why are we still building inefficient, poorly designed properties when building efficiently is now cheaper?

As Australia gets serious about its divestment from fossil fuels, with the church and a number of universities around the country recently announcing they were shifting away from those energy sources, it seems there could be a market for solar companies to collaborate with architects and builders to install solar technologies as standard on new builds.

We could even take things one step further and build smart cities that not only power themselves but also clean themselves and dispose of their own waste – a “Blue City,” the concept of which was discussed by Sourceable contributor David Baggs earlier in the year in his article on The Blue Economy.

China’s recently announced floating city touches on Blue City concepts, with self-contained ecosystem and underwater chambers. The eco-city plans to be self-sufficient, with on-island farm food production, power generation and waste management systems. Zero-carbon transportation is also planned for the city, potentially in the form of electric vehicles.

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China Floating City

Another opportunity is a return to land. We currently congregate around cities, yet there is a growing demand for properties in rural areas and, in particular, for self-sufficient properties and communities. These ‘intentional’ communities are off-grid, have their own water supply and enough space to grow food to feed the residents. Examples include Findhorn Foundation in Scotland, Breitenbush, near Detroit, USA and Gondwana Sanctuary, near Byron Bay, Australia.

We should all be thinking more seriously about self-sufficiency. In 2007 and 2012, there were riots around the world due to a shortage of food. The 2007 riots were a result of droughts in grain producing countries and rising oil prices. The 2012 riots were from simultaneous events including a drought in wheat producing areas of Russia, wheat crop failure in the US, a monsoon in India and drought in Africa, all of which were a result of climate change.

Community living may not suit everyone but, as the economy grows more unsteady and extreme weather events become more frequent, we may start to see merit in trading goods and services with our neighbours.

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  1. Steve Ryder

    What are the environmental impacts on the waterways themselves by building on them. Being self-sustaining etc is all well on good but why do we feel the need to encroach on rivers, lakes and oceans?

    • SJ Sherwood

      Good question Steve Ryder, thank you. The big focus of cities has been around waterways but the opportunities are being missed elsewhere. Certain parts of the world are heating up and experiencing extreme weather events, while others are experiencing much colder conditions. There is a requirement for adaptation. As Einstein said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." There is one school of thought that suggests building on waterways can add to the flood risk, though they haven't been in existence for long enough to confirm this and research is limited. Most research has been conducted around loss of marine habitats and wetlands when land is reclaimed, floating cities do not have this issue.

  2. Alan

    Why do you persist with this propaganda?

    • SJ Sherwood

      All of my articles are based on existing projects and extensive research but, if you could elaborate, I can address your question correctly. Many thanks for starting the discussion.