Urban Transformation

The capacity for implementation is in the following prompts. Transformation is random and thus, the following prompts on urban life are for the selection of analysts in this project. To the best of our ability, they offer a route into ongoing methods selected to accelerate change in response to the slow almost imperceptible impact of change in atmospheric conditions and thereafter the quality of life. The selection of an in-depth analysis of one or a combination by participants will form a structure for organizational development in an open database. All of the prompts provided in the project only seek to stimulate a response and a selection of direction by participants.

Facilitating Code

In 2009, earnest thinking about urbanization became an official global issue for public consumption. The significant change had just happened. The majority of people on earth will live urban lives. Since then, the wisdom and experience of all who explore the urbanization of the planet have grown. By early 2010, one or two connections per week on issues pale in comparison to sharing a wealth of information instantly in an explosion of online collaborations. A few years into the next decade, we find vast quantities of information, and within this vastness, the best question. What do we want and need to know categorically and unquestionably? I want to know one thing, and I think the question is the answer.

Can you give a city a finite boundary but not stop it from growing and, if so, continue to build it to serve the earth? I answered this question to my satisfaction only to discover it to be irrelevant until I found “the code” as a metaphor. It is free, as the following example illustrates.


Many will recognize it instantly, and if you don’t, hit (ctrl+shift+i) now. There it is, Elements, Console, Sources, Network, Performance, Memory. Most importantly the application of SQL and open DB connectivity.

The use of code expects to serve about 20,000 people in this project. The code is used to help each person focus on professional priorities with others as limited by the mission of this project. Selecting and sharing a priority is first, what you want and need to know, and second, as it concerns people’s relationship to urban density. To move an ordinary personal interest(s) into one that is extraordinary occurs with a facilitating code that can produce the precedent advantage offered by constructing trust in the data freely provided by density in this century.

In 2008, when just over half of the world population became officially urban, it included a marker of accelerating environmental and economic urgency.1


How dense can cities become? What are the best forms in cities such as Hong Kong or Manhattan, Rio, and Berlin? How do small dense places surrounded by wilderness fit? How many solutions are possible now? Is there a psychology of density?

As the 21st century began, the estimate of the earth’s population growth rate was 1.3 to 1.6 percent per year. By 2050, a population nearing 10 billion will be looking to meet wants and needs. Will it be the same as it was in 1950? Not understanding the new limits posed is like disputing the role of cancer cells. Are humans as brutal?

Mike Davis felt this way in Planet of Slums.2 He found two distinct destinations for urbanization. The dense, high-quality urban life in relatively small parts of nearly every city includes the deprivation of urban life in vast swaths of outlying areas. Dense, high standard of living states like New Jersey with an adjacent New York City or the suburban tracts of Chicago and Los Angeles present a potential similar to what Davis describes as dominant in the rest of the world.

Coast and Prairie

Categories for challenging growth prepared by the Convention on Biological Diversity are 1) perverse, 2) positive, or 3) negative. Given definitive structures, the dialogue within science is now forced to say, “Do this before it is too late” in an academic climate – meeting a requirement for multiple participants with duplicate proofs. Countdown approaches 2050 measure existing conditions to define distinctions between the naturally occurring release of poisons into the earth, air, and water that Nature handles well from those released by human activity that fails natural solutions. In this framework, human or natural events can make a region as epidemiologically perilous as high wind, dry-forest wildfires. Still, the main human interest is making events recur to prove control.

Most cities rest amidst forest/desert edges with oceans relentlessly pushing inland toward non-existent wetlands and barrier reefs filled with people. Proof or no proof, defining the underlying structure of global climate change has catastrophic impacts on urban life. Compelling changes in coastal cities’ design under the general heading of resilience is a message about endurance. The measure of change will be defined using the traditional hierarchies of land use.

Climate changes now justify controversial rezoning following Hurricane Katrina, Sandy, and so on. The list grows quietly. Steps toward resilience by New Orleans used claimed the lack of industrial land as the argument for displacement. The change in land use by “zone” supports the permanent removal of former residents by stopping housing replacement and lowering property values for the continuing use of non-conforming residential structures. In another example, New York City’s building code requires fourteen feet of waterproofing above mean high tide for buildings along the coastal zones, tidal surge areas, and glacial moraine lowlands. Rarely are people “bought out” and the land returned to Nature, such as New York’s Staten Island residents following Hurricane Sandy.

Following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, New York State offered to buy flood-prone parcels in Staten Island for a conservation district, and 95% of the households took up the offer. This step hints at the practice of making a coastal occupation tradable to relieve high displacement costs. The trade also opens up possibilities for tidal bore energy technologies and energy-absorbing wetlands essential to healthy ocean estuaries.

Joplin, MO — Charlie Riedel/AP. photoblog.msnbc.msn.com Website

Prairie BINGO

At the end of February 2011, the tornado season began early. It spread across the nation’s midsection from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes. Described as “epic havoc,” these climate events stimulate many architectural and engineering ideas for climate-proofing land use. Every land use has an interdependent element connected to different but reciprocal uses. Zoning assigns accountability to the “extremes” phenomena that produce incompatible adjacencies such as excessive noises or dangerous gasses.

New weather extremes expose a kind of land use BINGO. People are in this game because of one assumption, the long odds of another strike at the same location. Tell that to Moore, Oklahoma. The problems havoc discloses are land use/building code decisions that encourage the construction of “fly-away” buildings. In Joplin, MO, over 80% of homes destroyed were “on a slab” without a basement or safe room/storm cellar.4 This kind of decision-making puts housing affordability into a lottery that reduces acquisition costs in a trade with safety. As climate change is global, understanding the engineering response is also a message more than a measure. Imagine a statement like this coming from a local mayor or any governor of a U.S. coastal state:

“Our comprehensive action program (up to 2050) will secure a “climate-proof” region – safeguarding our coastline, all urban areas, and uplands.”

Netherlands Delta Committee Recommendations

The Netherlands Delta Committee Recommendations made this a national goal. (See the film.5 ) The protection level described in this film in 2008 drew on action taken by Dutch officials in 1950. A similar approach for New York City or any coastal region, including New Orleans, is considered without action.

Developing nations can learn a great deal from the aspirations of countries such as Holland and the inaction of others. At this point, these actions re-make a place to live through engineering. The measures that mitigate the effect of an unstable climate include returning the land to the sea when the sea asks and replacing the land lost with density.

What the Ocean Wants it Takes

A Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) Rising Currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront exhibits a wet, adaptable landscape for Lower Manhattan’s streets in a model by Architecture Research Office. MoMA ran the exhibit through October 2010. (See NYT Story)6

Before x meter increase 2020 After x meter increase 2090?

The exhibit forces this question: Is it already too late when the unknown becomes a certainty? Urban development in coastal areas must have land available for the inland migration of wetlands caused by rising sea levels. The lack of wetland not only threatens the energy absorption viability of existing coastal wetlands; it requires high-cost engineering solutions to sustain those that remain. The cumulative impact puts existing land-use policies on a collision course with the Clean Water Act. It is nearly unimaginable at this stage, but extensive state and federal eminent domain assessments have begun in all coastal areas. Such actions protect and economically defend entire coastal regions with a substantial body of law. Without this level of intervention, disaster-level costs await.

In 2008, the Rockefeller Foundation distributed Century of the City: No Time to Lose. All 500 pages describe the severe consequences of a rapidly urbanizing earth. One of the first questions is, “Why don’t our leaders talk about cities?” The simple answer to this question is best.

Political leaders have no useful metaphors for severe consequences and no ability or power to draw a line in the sand without a catastrophe. Low-density expansion across a flood plain wouldn’t make a list. The lines drawn will not work. American’s prefer to take the risk. As the available links suggest, the advised action will not occur much in the same way the original project began as a global system change effort and became something else. Following Hurricane Sandy, the Rockefeller Foundation’s promotion of the resiliency concept stimulated investment in ideas that might assure sustainability.

In post-Hurricane Sandy analysis and research by New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in its 2013 NYC Wastewater Resiliency Plan, it compares the cost of taking action to the cost of doing nothing. The direct cost of protecting pumping stations is $128 million and $187 million to safeguard wastewater plants. Based on the Hurricane Sandy experience and storm prob-ability, the damage cost of another critical flood experience without taking protection measures is $218 million for pumping stations. In addition, a replacement cost of $901 million for wastewater treatment plants is on the table because of their location. The main point of the plan is this:

“All 14 wastewater treatment plants and 60 percent of pumping stations are at risk of flood damage.”

Source: DOE Plan

That’s code for we will develop a greywater plan, we need more containment capacity, we don’t have space for added treatment facilities. Leaders with money, urban political power, etc. have become decision-makers yet slow to accept the cumulative costs over fifty years. It is conservative at well over $2 billion. The saving projected for pumping stations is $709 million and $1.76 billion for waste treatment. Local demands for action demand the “big picture” policy started in the 1950s—source: Climate Resiliency Page


The urbanization of the earth has presented the idea of patterns to many observers. However, the original work of Kevin Lynch and Christopher Alexander illustrates how views about growth can be well organized yet shockingly uncontrollable in practice. The proof of this is in demand by Lynch for “A Theory of Good City Form” in his last book and Alexander’s most recent book, The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth (October 2012).

The laws of structural order outlined by A. Salingaros and Michael W. Mehaffy are also correct but impossible to implement. Whether patterns, properties, or regulations are applied, recognizing the need for an “as is above/as-is below” design discipline is due to the variety produced in the built environment. So why are these brilliant insights failures?

Every region contains compact towns and cities linked to suburban, dispersed developments and informal settlements. These regions no longer need the governments used to form these places. The stuff they are now made is a new problem requiring a different quality of expertise. New leadership requires the power to define aging conduit systems of every description. They will be able to position the impact of climate change with accuracy, defend against economic instability, and support the social demography of diversity in their fully built yet rapidly changing locations.

Anticipating development options under these new conditions requires evaluating existing places for three measures, 1. containment, 2. contamination, and 3. endurance. As measures of resilience, each leads to the formation of sustainable systems. Today, the efficiency of preservation and renewal competes well with new fragmented and disjointed development outside of centralized urban regions. The forces that shrink or lead to older urban centers’ decay fit in the middle of these two places – the old and renewing and the old and dying. Based on the current capacity for planning and governance, the dying of places is expected. The tragedy is the process remains unanticipated.

Old and renewing communities sustain retrofit priorities because they keep embodied energy. The energy (such as oil and gas) used to build a place is lost if destroyed. Old and dying places expect building loss as routine and continue to promote replacement policies through up-zoning or more coercive policies that withdraw services through “planned shrinkage” or “benign neglect.

The conditions necessary for neighborhood renewal and routine management require trust in predictive powers and ‘fix-it first’ policies, even if it is not broken. Policies that ‘wait for the break’ only accomplish the endangerment of fellow citizens. Another example is that dense urban places produce grey areas routinely. Renewal delivers far more than rows of doors for purchase in the old form of “caveat emptor” governance. The reinvention of older places demands creativity from the grassroots up. Our planet of slums may offer the kind of innovation most needed.

A clear spatial strategy regarding a viable urban pattern, a good city, and a beautiful Earth is missing. No matter how many “patterns” are used, they are pointless without the power to control the form. The authoritarian model for implementation is easily conceived, yet history has definitive documentation of this approach’s failures. Community- and neighborhood-based organizational structures provide a clear alternative. Neighborhoods are contained by self-definition and can vary significantly in size. For example, the buildings facing two city blocks can be neighborhoods in dense urban areas. Larger areas sharing a building type, national origin, or racial group will also self-identify by sharing common interests. These places also exhibit an aggressive ability to sense the threat of contamination from a long list of external and internal sources. As such, they represent wrongful death and a variety of heroic endurance and self-protection efforts. Without this structure, the more extensive views held by city-wide, regional, and global observers would be without an influential decision-making audience willing to act to protect themselves and others in a larger context.

Despite evidence of the tragedies enforced by the behavior of “the commons,” the authoritarian alternative offers little opportunity to embrace new ideas or implement reforms without the threat of a wider basis for violence. The “commons” provide a reasonable approach, but it requires hearing over the screams.

Cities are “..parasitic black holes, sucking in excessive megatons of energy and materials from all over the globe and spewing out volumes of (often toxic) waste.”7

William Rees

Seven Problems

In 1957, the editors of Fortune published a little $0.95 book, “The Exploding Metropolis,” tagged “the study of the assault on urbanism and how our cities can resist it.” In it, they defined the city as “the area within the city limits.” Within these limits, a city is a place you can walk; In the city, you will then discover what Grady Clay called “a huge aggregation of small places.” Finally, you will find what Jane Jacobs described the city as a place of hard-working streets and animated alleys.

The ideas in Exploding Metropolis reflect a generation of urban writers who have died. All those who listened to them knew and loved them. Today we still grapple with the same six themes presented by these writers. While exhibited over a half-century ago, little has been done to sustain reform efforts. It is as if unknown forces remain at work as humanity overwhelms the earth by taking all it offers. A review of the transformation is in the following seven prompts.8

First, pay close attention to how cities build and sustain themselves.  Second, have the means to challenge (even control) wildly successful technologies (e.g., the car). Third, withstand and promote political reform aggressively, and fourth, define all of the problems associated with poverty concentrations. The fifth and sixth are the headliners. Sprawling urbanism is a severe problem solved by making cities and people compatible with renewables. It has only been a half-century. It is possible to remain cautious but optimistic about the quality of private thinking even though we remain distressed by the seventh problem, the inability to obtain public power.

Principle: the buyer is responsible for checking the quality/suitability of goods before purchase.

The caveat emptor path of urbanization is the heart of these seven problems. Alternatives have yet to be formed. This points to one seriously unanswered question. What keeps the expertise and political will from taking substantive action? The walls around the old city have historical value. Being inside the city is more important than most people know for an unusual reason. This city is a machine for reversing degradation.

Limit the Footprint

Releasing creativity by limiting the urban physical footprint occurs not by stopping or restricting growth, which to many is absurd. Instead, making development smarter or “fix growth” efforts are practical alternatives but of limited use without the locational limits of a hard perimeter.

Defining the affordability of everything problem as a “growth management issue” began when the descriptions of “sprawl” spilled from the minds of critics more than fifty years ago. When William E. Rees began measuring “ecological footprints,” the city was an industrial product of cheap energy, less inexpensive money, and reckless consumption defined by material wealth “spilling recklessly” into the countryside. Urban development became a “snatch-and-grab” land use predation. Pleasant, flat, slightly rolling farmland hills are tasty favorites. This political history of this kind of growth describes failing micro-municipalities, essential service breakdowns, bankruptcy, and state receivership. The three main culprits of this decline are the cost of energy, the creation of toxins, and a poor understanding of water.

Energy, Toxicity and Water

The clearing of forest for vast stretches of quickly built/sold housing can be replaced with alternatives with equal or similar value. The value should include costs not paid in the future. Agricultural practices can maintain trees using ancient sustainable farming methods that incorporate pastures within woodlands that benefit the ecology and the economy. The early principles of sustainability have their roots in food. However, by 2050 farms will also harvest solar energy, and beneath the array, an abundance of high protein stores requiring less water.

Across the earth, reliable water provision with quality in fair quantity pits against cuts in public health in all low-density regions that depend on groundwater and wells. Throughout the western United States, drought is a quiet problem. Dryland is not a fast disaster like tornados, fires, and floods. These problems tend to bring a community together. Drought, on the other hand, tends to rip communities apart. Drought defines the uncontrollable, and there is nothing else to examine other than land use as the problem.

Natural gas and electrical power for buildings represent about 80% of total emissions established as polluting. Structures and facilities are a source for a reduction nationally. However, the petroleum used for transportation accounts for about 67% of the total while structures alone just 17%. The transportation network and facilities to connect buildings and cities accelerates consumption. Building construction consumes 40% of all raw materials. Other sources from industry and utilities combine under 11%. The annual production of 136 million tons of construction and demolition waste is enough for change. Of course, asking “percent of what” is the best approach as the toxins should include the confusing, often paralyzing shifts in the use of numerators and denominators.

Connecting buildings and vehicles reveals 75 to 80 percent of all energy use and greenhouse gas emissions globally. There is one bright spot in the haze of data and percentage of what questions: the denser the area, the more efficient its users. The central lesson to promote is that people in dense urban regions use less water and energy per person and leave the management of toxicities the central locational problem.4

The tables for these figures change rapidly. They can be argued, disputed, and politically dismissed. The larger question should concern the products formed by this use of energy. Once converted into use, it can be presented with two futures. One future has tons of waste, including the loss of the energy equivalent to making and placing them or composed of renewable material forever holding the energy used to create it. A direct focus on waste will power the design for renewable vs. disposable. Waste is toxicity. Waste gets to the heart of the urban transformation problem.9

Getting a renewable city will focus initially on a promise to solve three significant problems: energy, toxicity, and water.

  1. Energy consumption: commercial and residential buildings demand 65% of all electricity consumption to produce 30% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that require annual updates. Carbon is the issue, but the list of gases is long.
  2. Toxicity of building materials: the release of building pollutants into the air and land are concerns, but unlike cars, they do not move and produce on-site problems that require retrofits or replacements. The line to the developer is simple – pay me now or pay me later.
  3. The use of water: Pure and potable water, gray and black sources are available for use in cities. While a significant infrastructure issue, the traditional “water cycle” sources have become unpredictable, there is no choice to recognize new forms of dependence. Cities that do not begin to plan for this face the same pay me now or pay me later problem.


  1. First reported in, “2007 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects” by Hania Zlotnik, head of the UN population division.   See www.unpopulation.org. The precursor was the GHG Protocol and ISO 14064 initiated in March 2006 (pdf) began the first steps toward a business standard and completed the process on the moral front.  It is far from becoming a police power standard.
  2. Planet of Slums by Mike Davis. The observation of rural area transmigration from poor, yet subsistent cultures into urbanized poverty cultures is too broad.  The relationship between food-producing land and community-based consumption practices is less about migration than an exercise in invention and innovation.  Architectural historians describe the image of the early “city” on the alluvial Mesopotamian plain as “sacred mountains” projected onto the landscape.  Sumerian and Egyptian temples do not simply mark the transition to communal celebrations they demonstrate a compelling human interest in managing change through technology.  Urbanization continues to be the prime expression of this interest.  It has been continuous for a consistent reason, the opportunities reflected in city living offer more opportunities to explore advancements.  Stewart Brand (publisher of the Whole Earth Catalogue) pointed out the obvious in “How slums can save the planet” article for Prospect magazine in January 2010.  Lessons of the simple life are that the same as those of poverty.  Poor people do not use much stuff, and will not live as long.  Squatter cities do not even burden medical services.
  3. A recent case in LA may convert over 800 acres to industrial uses.  See: Edwards v Harrison County Board of Supervisors, 2009 WL 2619224 (Miss. 8/27/2009) August 2005 represents $30 billion damages caused by the hurricane Katrina.  While the zone is not retroactive – it does weaken attempts to “put it back the way it was…’ disguises the displacement cost and opens transfer the risk to oil industries.
  4. Tornados hit Moore, Oklahoma in March 2015, May 2013, and 2010.  Since late 1800 it has been hit twenty-three times. In this town’s case, it adopted the nation’s toughest building regulations including more than two thousand new storm shelters.
  5. See Advice to the Dutch Cabinet  See film for the new Delta Commission program following a 1953 flooding disaster in the Netherlands.  The North Sea tidal surge of 1953 was 18.5 feet above sea level.  The loss of 1,836 lives led the Dutch to build complex series of levees with steel arms, double the size of the Eiffel Tower, to protect Rotterdam from storm surge. The Rhine Delta is very similar to the Mississippi delta and the gulf coast.  Much can be learned about an appropriate response to the New Orleans disaster
  6. See New York Times Imagining a More Watery New York http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/26/arts/design/26rising.html?emc=eta1 [1] More Sustainable Cities: Redesigning metropolitan areas as bioregional city-states can reduce our human footprint By William E. Rees (originator of the “footprint metaphor” See: Scientific American’s March 2009 Special Issue
  7. More Sustainable Cities: Redesigning metropolitan areas as bioregional city-states can reduce our human footprint By William E. Rees (originator of the “footprint metaphor” See: Scientific American’s March 2009 Special Issue,
  8. Exploding Metropolis had six major contributors, (1917-1999) William H. Whyte Jr. (intro and an essay on sprawl), (1918-1987)Francis Bello on ­the city and the car, (1915-1968) Seymour Freedgood on City Hall, (1924-2009) Daniel Seligman on the slum, and (1916-2006) Jane Jacobs on why downtown is for people.  The observations of Grady Clay were part of Jacobs’ famous critique of urban renewal practices and they all benefited from the supportive services of Eleanor Johnson, Eleanor Carruth, Eleanor Nadler, and Patricia Hough.
  9. See N.Y., N.Y., Local Law 86, § 1 (Sept. 15, 2005) www.nyc.gov/html/dob/downloads/pdf/ll_86of2005.pdf
  10. Transportation Statistics Annual Report  (December 2006) with data from the U.S. Department of Energy, buildings represent 16.7 percent of the U.S.’s petroleum use. Buildings are the second largest user of energy after transportation,  the direct link is here.

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