Category Archives: “Natural” Systems

Practical vistas – John Thackera interview

John Thackara, a philosopher, writer and wide-ranging thinker, summarises the decisive contribution by design that gives practical form to a story, always in the service of the real needs of the people.

From Domus Interviews / Stefania Garassini

John Thackara at the Meet the Media Guru event in Milan

When you hear someone quote Marcel Proust – “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” – there is a temptation to dismiss them as just another utopian, a dreamer who might have inspired ideas but cannot translate these into anything practical. Nothing could be further from the truth if the person in question is John Thackara, a philosopher, writer, event-organiser, thinker ranging across the boundaries between design and economics, and the author of numerous books – his most recent is How to Thrive in the Next Economy (Thames & Hudson).

Interviewed at the Triennale in Milan at the “Future Ways of Living” event (31 May), part of “Meet the Media Guru” platform, Thackara is one of those rare people who can open up huge intellectual vistas, but who can also give a very practical idea of the tools to use to realise them. To do that, he points to projects from around the world that interweave design, urban and rural planning, energy efficiency, and new ways of sharing resources, and in which communication technologies play a key role, but always in the service of the real needs of the people who live in a specific place with well-defined – and resolvable – problems. It is through these myriad small solutions, conceptualised and then put into practice, that the world will change. Thackara mentions here the theory of complexity: tiny changes can accumulate over time until one final alteration, apparently irrelevant in itself, provokes a radical transformation across the whole system.
Talking with this unique thinker – as we had the opportunity to do during his stay in Milan – means moving constantly from the plane of general ideas to that of small, practical, everyday things, where design, given a broader and in some ways innovative interpretation, can make a decisive contribution.

What is the contribution of design today?
It is the task of design to help us look at everything that surrounds us in a new way: to examine and evaluate the materials and structures – and, in general, everything that characterises a specific place. It is then up to the designer to find new, creative solutions to connect efficiently the people who live in the same area, but who have different expertise and interests. The third type of contribution, which is perhaps tied more closely to the traditional idea of design, is to give practical form to a story – the story of a place, for example. This should not remain a simple narrative, but can be translated into an object or practical service, one that can be shared, discussed and express a point of view.

Have there already been examples of services created in this way?
One very interesting example is the French site La Ruche qui dit oui, which started thanks to the contribution of a designer who is also a chef, Guilhem Chéron. In 2009 – using his experience with ethical purchasing groups – he came up with a new model for putting citizens in direct touch with farmers. The aim was to make the model more efficient and logical, offering consumers more choice and a wider network, with good prices and favourable conditions for the various actors in the game. Being a chef helped him make a very careful choice on the quality of the raw materials. Another example is a Maine farmers’ group, which has redesigned the way in which their products are distributed, and has also enhanced transport by boat as far as New York. These are projects that are sometimes very ambitious: they dare to imagine a world very different from the one that exists now.
What, in your view, are the changes needed most urgently today?
I often think of a simple question that can have far-reaching results if you ask it seriously and try to answer it: “Where did my meal come from?” Once we know the answer to that, the second question is: “How healthy is the place where it came from?” We should start afresh from the need to bring ourselves back into contact with the basic materials: food, air and water. This is the only way in which we can start to develop a different mindset and reach what I call “ecosystem thinking”. An interesting example is the West Country Rivers Trust, which is working to safeguard rivers in the southwest of England. A river is part of the heritage of an area, but they were polluted and no one seemed to be asking why. We started by showing very clearly, in visual terms, all the points at which a specific river is polluted by the behaviour of the people living or working on its banks. So we led people to wonder what they could do to remedy the problem. We designed a new form of association for environmental conservation based on the medieval “guild” model: someone cleans the river, someone else convinces the farmers not to pollute it with pesticides, and so on. We gave back to the people living in the region the ability to establish a form of contact with their rivers.

For several years, you have organised the Doors of Perception festival, which explores the cutting edge of technology, from the most innovative Internet developments to virtual reality – and doorsofperception.com is still the title of your blog, which provides extensive documentation of the projects and workshops that you have organised around the world. What, in your opinion, is the role of technology today in opening these “doors of perception”?

Web technologies are obviously fundamental for facilitating projects connecting people. It is very important that these involve encrypted, secure communications, so that you can share aspects of various projects that you do not want to make public, such as the assessments made by a community of each person’s work. I do not see a future for the dominant model today in the information technology industry, which is based on a hectic rush towards new products. I am no longer so interested in complex, costly technologies like virtual reality or robotic systems. I believe instead that we should recover a little of “hacker culture”, following the example of what is happening in countries like India, where the residents of whole city block make their living from repairing electronic objects with recycled materials, with the new deriving harmoniously from the old.

 

John Thackara certainly does not yearn nostalgically for a totally technology-free world. But after talking with him, it is clear that the last thing we need to see the world with new eyes is a virtual reality headset.

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This is why the price of water needs to go up substantially

Sungula Nkabinde on Moneyweb Today :

 

“Proposed revisions to South Africa’s water pricing strategy are as broad as they are complex, but what is clear is that water will become significantly more expensive in the future.

The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWAS) has gazetted a draft of the revised water pricing strategy, which outlines a theoretical framework that would engender a fully functioning water eco system. The 2013 document has led the discussion on how South Africa can reduce the financial burden on municipalities, which are required by law to provide water to those who cannot afford to pay for it, by transferring the full cost of delivering water services onto users. They will  incur a raft of charges that will see water pricing reflect the level of water scarcity in the country.

Domestic and commercial users will pay for charges related to planning, capital costs, operation and maintenance, depreciation, and future infrastructure build on government water schemes. A new polluter pays principle will also be imposed to ensure users discharging water containing waste into a water resource or onto land pay an additional amount.

According to the DWAS, South Africa ranks as one of the 30 driest countries in the world with an average rainfall of about 40% less than the annual world average rainfall.

Even though the implications could potentially be disastrous for an already struggling economy, the consequences of not the addressing the water security problem could be worse. The revised pricing strategy seeks to incentivise more efficient use of water, and ensure the much needed upgrade to the country’s water infrastructure is properly funded.

Municipalities struggling with poor billing systems, significant water leakage and high rates of non-revenue water (water provided for which no income is received) are a big part of the reason why there significant capital is required to resolve the water crisis in South Africa.

Sanlam economist Arthur Kamp says it’s not possible to give a definitive, or even a ball-park figure of how much the cost of water is going to increase by, saying price structures are going to be quite complicated because it is going to be a hybrid model. There will be a wide range of charges that will be determined on a national level, other times sectoral level.

Says Kamp: “What (the draft revised water pricing strategy) does is it gives one the flavour of what they’re trying to achieve. There is a lot of infrastructure coming and we can’t afford it so the user is going to pay. And I don’t think anybody is going to dispute that water is a scarce resource and that tariffs need to reflect that”.

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Biomimicry Tools to Inspire Designers

While many are sceptical of the idea that we can use the complexity of natural systems to design man-made systems , here is evidence that the process can in fact provide valuable design inspirations and alternative strategies . From the Dirt by Jared Green

 

Rainforest epiphyte leaf formation / Reforestation.me

“Biomimicry is about learning from nature to inspire design solutions for human problems,” said Gretchen Hooker with the Biomimicry Institute at SXSW Eco in Austin, Texas. To enable the spread of these exciting solutions, Hooker, along with Cas Smith, Terrapin Bright Green, and Marjan Eggermont, Zygote Quarterly (ZQ), gave a tour of some of the best resources available for designers and engineers of all stripes:

AskNature.org

Hooker walked us through AskNature.org, a web site with thousands of biomimicry strategies, set up by the Biomimicry Institute. The site organizes biological information by function. “Everything nature does fits into a function. And these functions enable us to connect biology to design.”

AskNature first organizes strategies into broad functions and then zooms down into the specific. For example, a user could click on the broad function group, “Get / Store / Distribute Resources,” and then navigate to “Capture, Absorb, and Filter,” and then select “Liquids,” which has 52 strategies. One such strategy describes how the nasal surfaces of camels help these desert animals retain water. Another looks at how the horny devil, a desert lizard, uses its grooves to gather water from the atmosphere. There are just as many plant-derived strategies as there are animal ones. One such strategy looks at how the arrangement of epiphytes’ leavesaids in water collection (see image above).

All of these strategies are written in a non-technical way for a general audience. Hooker said they have selected the most “salient examples, backed with credible research citations.” Users can then go explore the citations and pull out excerpts.

Tapping into Nature

Terrapin Bright Green, a sustainable design consultancy, produced Tapping into Nature, a comprehensive online report covering the world of biomimetic design, which includes an amazing interactive graph. Cas Smith, a biological engineer, explained that the report and graph seek to “uncover the landscape of biomimetic innovation, with a roadmap that shows designs and their their stage of development: concept, prototype, development, or in the marketplace.”

“Biomimetic design is now found in almost all industries — power generation, electronics, buildings.” But to make things easier, Terrapin organizes the design strategies into the following sections: water, materials, energy conservation and storage, optics & photonics, thermal regulation, fluid dynamics, data & computing, and systems.

Using the graph, Smith picked out one story: the firm Blue Planet, which is mimicking the bio-mineralization processes of coral reefs, which pull carbon dioxide out of the water to create their unique structures, to create a new type of carbon-based building material. The firm is also creating pigments and powders. Another highlight: early exploration of termite humidity damping devices. Termites create massive mounds, mostly underground, which are equal in scale to a skyscraper for us. Within the mound, temperature and humidity levels are tightly controlled so they can grow the fungi they live on. In some of the mound’s subterranean rooms and chambers are bright yellow objects about the size of a fist. These structures are termite-created sponges that actually pull water from the air. Smith related to this to HVAC systems in human buildings, and how new systems could be created to remove humidity with giant sponges in a more energy efficient way.

Smith said the process of creating biomimetic innovations is similar to that of a typical innovation development process. “There’s just the added layer up front.” While there are risks in any process, biomimetic designs, he argued, will be the source of “breakthrough products for solving our problems.” If the designers and engineers creating these new products and processes follow nature, “they can embed sustainability throughout.”

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Boston Living with Water

The proposal for structural new protection of Boston – by Thetis SpA, Proap – João Nunes prize winning entry in the city’s competition– against coastal flooding turns a safety precaution into an opportunity to create a multifaceted ecology feature

This article was originally published, feature-lenght, in the Green special report, Domus 994, September 2015

The focus of our competition entry “Total Resilient Approach” is based on the redesign of Morrissey Boulevard, a strategy that works on local and territorial levels.

Thetis SpA, Proap – João Nunes, Boston Living with Waters. Top: preliminary sketch showing waterways and the grid of the built environment. Above: site plan of the project area

Operating on different scales within a single ecological network, the protection plan can be implemented over time and is therefore adaptable to climate changes. The Boston Bay is destined to undergo rapid changes due to rising sea levels. The defence proposals afford an opportunity to speed up landscape transformations with a multidisciplinary approach. A long-term element of our project for the Bay is the rehabilitation of its ecosystems in order to protect the coastline by means of sea-grass meadows, oyster barriers and dunes, and improve biodiversity by enhancing self-adaptive systems such as salt marshes.

Continue reading Boston Living with Water

The Myths of Alien Species: An Alternate Perspective on “Wild”

Ditya Gopal reviews a new book on of The New Wild: Why Invasive Species Will Be Nature’s Salvation, by Fred Pearce from The Nature of Cities  that will add grits to the dispute between conservationists, landscape architects and the public on what constitutes  an acceptable stance to non-native species and invasive aliens and how we view wilderness and wildness along with the age old debate on how nature is constructed.

“The New Wild is an intriguing book that looks at non-native species and nature in new light, challenging popular notions of ‘nativism,’ ‘wild’ and nature’s ‘fragility.’ Although the author, Fred Pearce, has taken on a controversial topic, his sources show that he is not alone as an increasing number of ecologists and scientists are questioning the “good natives, bad aliens,” narrative. As a seasoned journalist with years of experience reporting environmental and development issues, Pearce strengthens his arguments with plenty of examples—most of which he has personally observed. The book critically reviews the vilification of non-native species, common misconceptions in ecosystem restoration, and pitfalls in conventional conservation”

This topic is of particular relevance here in Cape Town which is situated right in the middle one of the worlds ecological hotspots and with its unique vegetation is the site of frequent conflicts between the ruthless eradication  of all alien plant species including what many see as valuable urban forests. The position that many of us have is that it is preferable to have the large exotic trees and shrubs in the urban environment for their social, aesthetic and habitat benefits for urban birds and other wildlife than to revert to the natural vegetation of the place (mostly sand veld fynbos or renosterveld, that cannot be recreated in a viable dimension within the fragmented urban fabric, nor do these vegetation types support large trees and human scale environments, most of the large deciduous northern hemisphere tree species are  benign and not able to survive as C and are classified as such by the CARA legislation.

“As a unique and extreme form of novel ecosystems, Pearce urges conservationists to see the great potential in urban badlands/brownfields that nurture numerous rare species. The success of brownfields suggests that nature just needs places that are left alone, with little human intervention. Brownfields might not fit the conventional definition of nature, but they have a huge potential for conservation. Pearce quotes the case of the Chernobyl nuclear station as one of the most remarkable brownfields where nature is making a huge comeback, including the return of large mammals, rodents, birds, and so on. Although highly radioactive, Chernobyl is an extreme example of “nature’s salvation and resilience.” He adds, “nature doesn’t care about conservationists’ artificial divide between urban and rural or native and alien species” or pristine and badlands. This is a powerful statement that we, as conservationists, ecologists, and nature enthusiasts, need to bear in mind. Pearce suggests that conservationists should move on from conventional conservation and its two main aims—“saving threatened species” and restoring nature to its pristine state; and adapt to current environmental realities that include changes due to climate change, pollution, habitat loss, and intensive agriculture. Aliens seem to be “rapidly changing from being part of the problem to part of the solution.” And they are the ‘new wild.’

With the onset of climate change, which is giving rise to an increasing number of climate refugees, adopting a zero tolerance approach towards migrants seems problematic. Previous ice ages and extreme climatic events are testament to massive migrations of species and evolutionary changes. As Prof. Chris Thomas of the University of York is quoted, “A narrow preservationist agenda will reduce rather than increase the capacity of nature to respond to the environmental changes that we are inflicting on the world.”

In the last paragraphs, Pearce expresses that there is no harm in intervening to protect certain aspects of nature that we cherish, nor is there harm in defending against “pests, diseases and inconvenient invaders.” But, “we are serving our own desires and not nature’s needs.” Nature might organize differently than we would like it to. “Open up to evolutionary changes. Let go and let nature take its course.” “…Nature never goes back, it always moves on. Alien invasions will not always be convenient for us, but nature will re-wild in its own way. That is the new wild.”

“The New Wild is persuasive, with well-supported arguments that make for a good read. The simple language and case studies make it easy for even a non-ecologist to follow. This book should be a must-read at the university level for future scientists, researchers, and conservationists, to develop an open mind towards non-native species.

As an ecologist who works in cultural landscapes, this book is refreshing. ‘Wild,’ to me, means spontaneous and not domesticated or cultivated. In many big European cities that I have visited, the median strip along roadways, the small patches of green at road junctions and other nooks and crannies in the city are beautifully decorated with colourful flowers—almost nearing perfection. It was only when I moved to Berlin that I noticed something different. It is refreshing to see dandelions and daffodils appear and vanish on their own. There seems to be a deliberate attempt to bring back the urban wild and it seems to be popular. Yes, it differs drastically from my notions of ‘wild’ as a child who grew up reading encyclopedias and watching National Geographic Channel and Discovery Channel. But, there is something magical about seeing what nature has to offer. Many of the spontaneously growing plants, often considered weeds elsewhere, add character to the city. Some are natives, some aliens. It doesn’t matter. To me, these spontaneous species are the new wild.”

Divya Gopal
Berlin

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A Wilderness in the City: How Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s Zaryadye Park Could Help Fix Moscow

Moscow’s proposed park, that is using a naturalised “theme park culture” as a model, has to withstand the criticism of being as artificial as its environment, not that the idea is without precedent i.e botanical gardens around the world have been using this  “ecological theme park-ism” for years, its just how its implemented that has changed, with technologies that provide control of the environment and the use of process based horticulture to grow these artificial renditions of natural habitats, which by their nature, have to be configured and edited to fit into limited space, the idea of wild design is fraught with design decisions of what to put in and what to leave out.

From archdaily

 

Courtesy of Zaryadye Park
In late 2013, Diller Scofidio + Renfro won first prize in the international competition to design Zaryadye Park, Moscow’s first new park in 50 years. The project is a headliner in a series of high-profile schemes that aim to improve the city’s green space, including the renovation of Gorky Park and the recently revealed plans for the Moscow River. This article, originally published by The Calvert Journal as part of their How to Fix Moscow series examines how DS+R’s urban “wilderness” will impact the city.

In a 2010 interview, the critic and historian Grigory Revzin complained that Muscovites wishing to “walk in parks and get pleasure from the city” would have to “come out into the streets” before anything was done. Hoping that architects would respond to the problem, one of Revzin’s suggestions was a park to replace the site of Hotel Rossiya, which had become overgrown since being abandoned in 2007. This wild area in the city centre was, in fact, a harbinger of what is to come: Zaryadye Park, Moscow‘s first new park in 50 years, which the American design studio Diller Scofidio+Renfro won the international competition to design in November 2013.


Courtesy of Zaryadye Park
A popular idea in the early stages of the park was that it could be made up of plants that appear all over Russia. Diller Scofidio+Renfro took this further, proposing that native flora be included, but as part of four artificial microclimates that mimic the landscape typologies specific to Russia: the steppe, the forest, the wetland and tundra. The principle behind this is similar to Park Russia, the proposed theme park south of Moscow, which promises to represent every region of the country in one space. Zaryadye’s microclimates will be maintained at consistent temperatures throughout the year by means of heating and cooling technologies, making Russia’s ”wilderness” into both an attraction and an exhibition.

Courtesy of Zaryadye Park
Diller Scofidio+Renfro plan to meet halfway between the wild and the urban, and create a periphery in the centre of Moscow. This is appropriate for the area of Zaryadye which, located on the edge of the river in one of the oldest districts of Moscow, within 300 metres of Red Square and the Kremlin, is a suburb of the old city, but in today’s city centre. The term “wild urbanism”, used in Diller Scofidio+Renfro’s proposal, is described by the firm as “an opportunity to leave the city, and at the same time be closer to it”. Zaryadye Park isn’t the first project by the firm that explores the intersection between nature and the city. Diller Scofidio+Renfro are responsible for the High Line in New York, a singular linear park, 1.45 miles long, built on an abandoned freight-railway.

 

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Ecology and Design: Parallel Genealogies

In this essay in Design Observer, adapted from “Ecology and Design: Parallel Genealogies” in  Projective Ecologies, edited by Chris Reed and Nina-Marie Lister, to be published this month by Actar and the Harvard Graduate School of Design, the authors revue the changing values attached to the term ‘ecology’, its history and impact on landscape and urban design and point to how these might be the focus of applied research and practice in the future.


Andrea Hansen, Tokyo Bay Marine Fields, 2009. Click image to enlarge.

The past two decades have witnessed a resurgence of ecological ideas and ecological thinking in discussions of urbanism, society, culture and design. In science, the field of ecology has moved away from classical determinism and a reductionist Newtonian concern with stability, certainty and order, in favor of more contemporary understandings of dynamic systemic change and the related phenomena of adaptability, resilience and flexibility. Increasingly these concepts are seen as useful heuristics for decision-making in many fields, and as models or metaphors for cultural production, particularly in the design arts. This places landscape architecture in a unique disciplinary and practical space — informed by ecological knowledge as an applied science, as a construct for managing change, and as a model of cultural production or design. 

Ecology is, by definition, a transdisciplinary science focused on the relationship between living organisms and their environments. A relatively new science, its modern roots emerged in the early 20th century with the work of Frederic Clements and Henry Gleason, American botanists who studied the interactions between plant communities, and Sir Arthur Tansley, a British botanist and zoologist whose research on the interactions between plant and animal communities and the environment led him to coin the term “ecosystem” in 1935. [1] The interdisciplinary work of these pioneers prompted the development of models of ecological succession that dominated plant biology during the early 20th century and became the basis for the new integrated science of plants, animals and the environment eventually known as ecosystem ecology. 

The implications of this developing work were not limited to the natural sciences; in fact, popularization of these emerging world views was manifest in more widely read writings in the humanities and reverberated in other fields as well, including large-scale project management, governance and planning. Complex adaptive systems thinking made its way into the design arts as landscape was being rediscovered as both model and medium for design, and the environmental movement was becoming mainstream. 

Today “ecology” has been co-opted to refer to almost any set of generalized ideas about environment or process, rendering the term essentially meaningless. To recover a critical sense of ecology as a specific set of ideas that can continue to inform design thinking and practice, we start by identifying three important and parallel genealogies of ecology: in the natural sciences, the humanities and design.

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The Flora of the Future

In this paper Peter Del Tredici from Design Observer challenges landscape architects, environmentalists urban managers and the public to reevaluate  oportunisitic urban vegetation as an emergent ecology rather than as alien “weeds”, this is especially poignant  in terms of the loss of native vegetation and the problems of regenerating it on damaged or difficult urban wastelands.


The beach on Fisher’s Island off the coast of Connecticut — not a native plant anywhere. [All photos by the author]

The concept of ecological restoration, as developed over the past 20 years, rests on the mistaken assumption that we can somehow bring back past ecosystems by removing invasive species and replanting native species. This overly simplistic view of the world ignores two basic tenets of modern ecology — that environmental stability is an illusion, and that an unpredictable future belongs to the best adapted. [1]

Many landscape architects feel conflicted by the restoration debate, trapped between the profession’s idealistic rhetoric about the innate superiority of native ecosystems and the constraints imposed by the financial and ecological realities of a particular site. Over the past 250 years, people have altered the basic trajectory of modern ecology to such an extent that going back to some earlier native condition is no longer possible and is certainly not a realistic solution to the increasingly complex environmental problems that we face.

Landscape architects — and anyone else who works directly with vegetation — need to acknowledge that a wide variety of so-called novel or emergent ecosystems are developing before our eyes. They are the product of the interacting forces of urbanization, globalization and climate change, and are made up of organisms that have been brought together by the elimination or neutralization of barriers that had kept them separated for millions of years. [2] The concept of a novel ecosystem applies not only to our cities and suburbs but also to many landscapes that have been subjected to the disturbance-intensive practices of agriculture, industry and mining. It is unrealistic to assume that turning back the ecological clock will be any easier than reversing the economic forces that created these landscapes. [3]

Landscape architecture can be a charged discipline, especially when it has to resolve the competing interests of its human clients with those of the other organisms that seek to inhabit the same space. The dichotomies that separate people from nature, and native from non-native species, present contradictions that landscape architects must resolve if they hope to have a lasting impact on the environments they design. My purpose here is to articulate an ecologically oriented vision for human-dominated landscapes that does not define them as intrinsically negative, valueless or alien.

Urban Ecology
The range map from my book Wild Urban Plants covers much of the northeast United States and eastern Canada, from Detroit in the west to Montreal in the north, Boston in the east and Washington, D.C., in the south. [4] This is an intensively urbanized area, whether defined by the density of human population (500 to 1,000 people per square mile) or by the percentage of impervious surface. From a plant’s perspective, the latter matters more than the former. Recent research has shown, for example, that in the greater Boston area, most of the land inside the Interstate 95 beltway (along a westward transect) has an impervious surface coverage greater than 30 percent. [5] This figure provides a convenient and easily measurable definition of urbanization from the biological perspective.

Buildings and pavement not only reduce the amount of land available for plants and animals but also have a profound effect on hydrology by decreasing water infiltration, increasing runoff and compacting adjacent soil. [6] More than one study has shown that for urbanized riparian habitats, the number of native species relative to non-natives declines in direct proportion to the amount and proximity of impervious surfaces. [7]

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Rehabilitating Africa

From Design Indaba:  a proposed project – this might be a candidate for the very problem that was discussed earlier here of Gentrification but the need in African Cites is undeniable and many of them are so run down that they are in desperate need of development with the incredible growth of these cites projects like this are bound to happen:

Issa Diabaté has launched a project that seeks to rehabilitate a district of Abidjan, Ivory Coast to create a city that is economically and socially viable.

The Cocody Bay Landscaping Project by Issa Diabaté.

The Cocody Bay Landscaping Project by Issa Diabaté.

“Designing with a broad vision makes things possible”, said Issa Diabaté atDesign Indaba Conference 2014, while presenting his groundbreaking urban planning endeavour The Cocody Bay Landscaping Project.

The Cocody Bay Landscaping Project is an urban planning and architecture project designed for the rehabilitation of the lagoon bay area located in the centre of the city of Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

The issue for the Ivory Coast is the lack of vision for urban planning, says Diabaté.

Diabaté’s firm Koffi & Diabaté Architects was commissioned by the District of Abidjan in an effort to rehabilitate an area, which has suffered from major degradation over the past 20 years due to sewage problems that affected the landscape on a grand scale.

Beyond just rehabilitation the project aims to establish a positive and long-lasting impact on the city by developing a new leisure and economic centre in the heart of the town. As such, in an effort to incorporate both environmental and social needs, along with the rehabilitation of the bay, an integral part of the project is the design of major green and leisurely spaces for city dwellers in the form of boardwalks a d various entertainment areas.

The Cocody Bay Landscaping Project also involves the development of a “smart city” incorporating notions of urban planning for social mobility. With this in mind, Diabaté will create a new residential and commercial area in the hope of fostering a rise in employment and future economic viability for the city.

The project is due for launch this year and is estimated to take between five and ten years to complete. 

 

The Cocody Bay Landscaping Project was showcased as part of Design Indaba Expo’s Africa is Now exhibition under the theme of “Africa is Urban”. The exhibition and theme in particular shrugged off the perception that Africa is largely rural and instead reveal how it is a engine for growth and opportunity in both challenges and possibilities present on the continent. 

A tragedy of the commons: China’s Yangtze River

An observation essay from The Economist’s Intelligence Unit focus’s attention on how rapid industrialization, together with equally rapid  urbanization, conflict with the goals of “green hydro-based power” and  ambitious bureaucrats, all result in a mighty “muddle” – is this another case of planning’s inability to deal with the complexity of large scale natural and cultural systems ? I  wonder how African countries politicians will cope with planned Chinese funded and built hydropower projects if the Chinese are unable to manage their own large scale systems? See World’s largest hydroelectric plant could finally rise in Africa | SmartPlanet

China’s longest river, the Yangtze, is becoming extremely busy as it plays a core role in government efforts to develop the country’s interior. As industry moves west, raw materials to feed it are being shipped via the waterway, which runs between major ports in the east and provinces further inland. At the same time, the river is being drawn upon for hydropower projects, industrial use, drinking water and tourism. However, along with increased usage has come a plethora of problems. Better management is urgently needed.

Shipping capacity on the Yangtze has risen dramatically over the past decade, as billions of renminbi have been poured into dredging and deepening it. The river, which runs from the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau to the East China Sea in Shanghai, accounts for around 80% of China’s river cargo transport. A high priority has been placed on its development, as it is being tapped to drive growth in the regions further inland through which it winds. Heavy loads, such as iron ore, are cheaper to transport by river than by rail or road, owing to lower fuel costs and the absence of tolls.

As inland demand has boomed in the past decade, so has shipping traffic. This includes inputs for industry, such as iron ore and automotive components, as well as for consumption, such as soybeans. The Yangtze also serves as a means for inland cities such as Chongqing, where production of cars and steel is booming, to ship such goods downstream for sale or export. Shipping volumes on the river’s main course quadrupled over 2003‑12. In the first five months of 2013, container throughput on the Yangtze rose by 22.2% year on year, picking up from the 8.7% growth it recorded in the same period of 2012.

Great expectations

Efforts are under way to raise throughput further. More dredging will take place to deepen the river, enabling it to handle heavier vessels. The State Council (China’s cabinet) has announced a goal of raising inland river freight capacity to 3bn tonnes a year by 2020—double the amount transported in 2010.

Alongside this, cities along the river’s path have rolled out their own visions for the development of their river ports and logistics capacities. Plans for major ports along the Yangtze, particularly at Cuntan Bonded Zone in Chongqing, emphasise raised shipping capacities and the ability to handle larger ships. In 2012, for example, local media reported that Wuhan’s government had approved a Rmb300bn (US$48bn) five‑year blueprint to develop the capital of Hubei province into a major shipping hub.

Cadres in smaller port hubs also have great aspirations to exploit their position along the Yangtze. Officials in Anqing (Anhui province) are attempting to turn its river port into a regional shipping hub, allocating Rmb10bn for development.

Hydropower competes

But at the same time, the Yangtze is being tapped for a growing number of hydropower projects. Provincial governments are under pressure to raise the proportion of renewable sources in total energy use to 15% by 2020, and regions through which the river runs are keen to exploit it. According to local media, at least 11 hydropower projects have either been completed or are under construction on the river’s upper reaches. The Xiluodu hydropower station is being built at the Yangtze’s headwaters, also called the Jinsha. When completed later this year, it will become the country’s second-largest hydropower project after the Three Gorges Dam, which sits on the Yangtze in Hubei.

Less than 200 km downstream of Xiluodu will be the Xiangjiaba project, which will start to store water on June 21st. Xiangjiaba is slated to be the country’s third-largest hydropower project when completed in 2015, and will transmit electricity through to Shanghai. The Xiangjiaba Dam will also be used to irrigate farmland and to provide drinking water to southern Sichuan

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