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What Would Eco-cities Look Like?

Sarah Rich, WorldChanging
We talk all the time about urbanization and the future of the world’s megacities. It’s a pressing issue, given that we’re just passing the tipping point at which more people on the planet inhabitat urban than rural areas. Cities comprise a mere 2 per cent of the Earth’s land, but use up seventy-five per cent of its resources.

An article in this month’s New Scientist asks what are the key components of an “eco-city” of the future? What are the most important conditions of existing cities that must be changed, and what services and plans added, in order to create a sustainable urban environment that can accommodate massive population booms within its city limits?

Returning the world’s population to the countryside isn’t an option…And dividing up the planet into plots of land on which we could all live self-sufficiently would create its own natural disasters, not to mention being highly unlikely to ever happen.

If we are to protect what is left of nature, and meet the demand to improve the quality of living for the world’s developing nations, a new form of city living is the only option. The size of a city creates economies of scale for things such as energy generation, recycling and public transport. It should even be possible for cities to partly feed themselves. Far from being parasites on the world, cities could hold the key to sustainable living for the world’s booming population – if they are built right.

The primary points the article focuses on are auto transport, food sources, degree of density and capacity for further sprawl. Minimizing the need for cars by planning cities that foster walkability should be a primary goal, but placing inhabitants in high-rise apartment complexes near transit hubs can end up cutting off city dwellers from contact with open, green space. Instead, encouraging density without building sky-high housing units promotes a balance. The article points to shantytowns and slums as organic, self-built and largely unplanned models of this kind of efficiency:

These shanties meet many of the ideals of eco-city designers. They are high-density but low-rise; their lanes and alleys are largely pedestrianised; and many of their inhabitants recycle waste materials from the wider city.

From a purely ecological perspective, shanties and their inhabitants are a good example of the new, green urban metabolism. Despite their sanitary and security failings, they often have a social vibrancy and ecological systems that get lost in most planned urban environments.

So perhaps something can be taken from the chaos and decentralised spontaneity embodied in shanties, and combined with the planned infrastructure of a designed eco-city…The key is to put people and ecology joint first.

(19 June 2006)
See original for links. The New Scientist article is behind a paywall.
Related: Eco-Cities at Archinect

Caught in the money trap? Break free by joining the Community Exchange System

South African New Economics Network (SANE)
Conventional money is based on debt and so is the root cause of the economic, social and environmental problems that beset us. It comes into existence when banks grant loans.

The amount of debt determines the quantity of money, which has nothing to do with the amount of money people need to live decent lives. CES ‘money’ is created by its users so it can never be in short supply. So long as you can offer something of value you can have from the community goods and services of like value.

Join the growing community who have discovered a new way of ‘doing’ money, a healthy money that will create a healthy society.
(June 2006)
Spotted by James at Yesterday’s Future. CES seems to be a rebranding of the LETS system. -AF

Test Tube Meat Nears Dinner Table

Lakshmi Sandhana, Wired via Common Dreams
What if the next burger you ate was created in a warm, nutrient-enriched soup swirling within a bioreactor?

Edible, lab-grown ground chuck that smells and tastes just like the real thing might take a place next to Quorn at supermarkets in just a few years, thanks to some determined meat researchers. Scientists routinely grow small quantities of muscle cells in petri dishes for experiments, but now for the first time a concentrated effort is under way to mass-produce meat in this manner.

Henk Haagsman, a professor of meat sciences at Utrecht University, and his Dutch colleagues are working on growing artificial pork meat out of pig stem cells. They hope to grow a form of minced meat suitable for burgers, sausages and pizza toppings within the next few years.

…A single cell could theoretically produce enough meat to feed the world’s population for a year. But the challenge lies in figuring out how to grow it on a large scale.

…The advantage, he says, is you avoid the inefficiencies and bottlenecks of conventional meat production. No more feed grain production and processing, breeders, hatcheries, grow-out, slaughter or processing facilities.

“To produce the meat we eat now, 75 (percent) to 95 percent of what we feed an animal is lost because of metabolism and inedible structures like skeleton or neurological tissue,” says Matheny. “With cultured meat, there’s no body to support; you’re only building the meat that eventually gets eaten.”

The sheets would be less than 1 mm thick and take a few weeks to grow. But the real issue is the expense. If cultivated with nutrient solutions that are currently used for biomedical applications, the cost of producing one pound of in vitro meat runs anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000.

Matheny believes in vitro meat can compete with conventional meat by using nutrients from plant or fungal sources, which could bring the cost down to about $1 per pound.

If successful, artificially grown meat could be tailored to be far healthier than any type of farm-grown meat. It’s possible to stuff if full of heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids, adjust the protein or texture to suit individual taste preferences and screen it for food-borne diseases.
(21 June 2006)
The story has been around for a while:
Fighting Global Warming With Lab-Grown Meat (WorldChanging 2005).
Brave New Hamburger (Village Voice 2005)

As usual, science fiction has already envisioned the idea (see Technovelgy and reader responses). One of the earliest and most vivid depictions is “Chicken Little” in “The Space Merchants,” by Frederik Pohl and CM Kornbluth (1952):

Skum-skimming wasn’t hard to learn. You got up at dawn. You gulped a breakfast sliced not long ago from Chicken Little and washed it down with Coffiest. You put on your coveralls and took the cargo net up to your tier. In blazing noon from sunrise to sunset you walked your acres of shallow tanks crusted with algae. If you walked slowly, every thirty seconds or so you spotted a patch at maturity, bursting with yummy carbohydrates. You skimmed the patch with your skimmer and slung it down the well, where it would be baled, or processed into glucose to feed Chicken Little, who would be sliced and packed to feed people from Baffinland to Little America.

My Children, The Food Experiment

Sandra Steingraber, AlterNet
…for the past five years, all the food we eat at home has come from our local food coop or a local community-supported farm in which we are shareholders. The result for our two kids — Faith is now six and her brother Elijah almost four — is that they have never been advertised to. The images, jingles, and pitches of the food industry have, by and large, never reached them. Their food preferences have, consequently, been entirely shaped by their direct experience with the food itself and the farmers who grow it.

No cartoon characters stare at them from boxes of presweetened cereals displayed at pediatric eye level in supermarket aisles. No candy bars wait in the checkout lane, ready to spark a parent-child battle of wills. No television commercials seduce them with pictures of crispy chips and bubbly colas.

I realize that my children are only a sample size of two. But because their commercially unmediated relationship to food is so unfortunately rare, it seems worthwhile to report on what they like to eat. Both my kids ask for sweet potatoes, baked with maple syrup drizzled on top, as bedtime snacks. Neither of them cares for soft drinks (“Too spicy,” says my son). Both like almost any kind of vegetable, and are particularly fond of kale (with sesame seeds and tamari sauce), broccoli, and peas. Elijah has a special enthusiasm for avocados and cole slaw. Both are willing to try new foods, but Faith has the more adventurous palate. Elijah prefers to stick to the tried and true; he is big on eggs, beans, toast with olive oil, and any kind of soup.

Both of them cycle through food aversions in ways that seem fickle and irrational. One week Faith suddenly proclaims that she hates bananas and always will. The next week, she complains that there are no bananas. Elijah announces that tomatoes are detestable. A few days later, tomatoes are okay again. But no raisins! (Jeff and I treat these sudden-onset reversals of preference respectfully but casually.) Black and green olives, on the other hand, are always desirable, as are brown rice, tofu, red peppers, chickpeas, and corn. Watermelon is the ambrosia of the household, closely followed by cantaloupe, strawberries, and cherries. Apples are a staple.
(20 June 2006)
News: a taste for junk food is learned, not genetically programmed! -BA

Zen and the Art of Dumpster Diving

Anneli Rufus, AlterNet
Dirk Jamison’s father is a dumpster diver. He’s seventy-something now and still dives, but he started in 1973 as a sun-burnished Orange County surfer with a penchant for taking “vacations” away from his wife and three kids. In his memoir, “Perishable” (Chicago Review, 2006), Jamison describes his dad having a revelation and quitting a construction job on the day he met a man eating a thrown-away chicken in a parking lot: “Trashing makes money obsolete. No reason to pay for food. It waits out back” — behind markets and restaurants — “same as on the shelf. Maybe it’s not as clean or spiffy, but it looks plenty tasty, and it’s free.” Still-sealed but stepped-on Mars bars proved a marvel, cereal and pies in crushed boxes, jars of pears and pickled eggs just past their sell-by dates.

“Making a living,” Jamison’s dad declared, “means simply finding something edible. Then the rest of the day is wide open.”
(20 June 2006)
Long, nuanced article.