Wednesday, June 3, 2009


In the exurbs of America there are hundreds of housing developments built around professional fairways. Many residents own their own golf carts, park them in their two to four-car garages, and drive them from their homes directly to the clubhouse. Golf course living has grown so much in popularity that, as a development type, it is now found in almost every big city in this country. One will find a conglomerate of suburban ranch houses surrounding a well designed 18-hole course in the mountains of Oregon, in the Great Lakes, in rural Massachusetts, in New Orleans, in suburban Atlanta, or in the center of some of the most infamous retirement communities in the State of Florida.

According to the Environmental Institute for Golf, at an individual level, an average 18-hole golf course covers 150 acres –with approximately 100 occupied by turfgrass; on an aggregate basis, golf courses cover an estimated 2,244,512 acres of land of which 67% is defined as greens, tees, fairways, rough, driving ranges, practice areas, nurseries and clubhouse grounds (also covered by turfgrass), and 33% accounts for water bodies, buildings, bunkers and parking lots.

This vast amount of turfgrass is not considered natural open space and does not come for free; its maintenance requires substantial water irrigation, pesticides, the use of powerful nutrients and chemicals, and several compromising environmental practices; because it is turning into one of the most serious environmental problems in suburban America, we must pay careful attention before it becomes yet another case for the abandonment of “petro-suburbia”.

The project here presented is a proposal for a substantial retrofit of a golf course community in the State of Florida. It includes the redevelopment of the golf surface occupied by the first 9 holes -as a complete community where one could find everything needed for daily-living at walking distance, and the reconstruction of the remaining 75 acres as a Community Sponsored Agriculture project including programmatic elements common to what Andres Duany has been calling “Agricultural New Urbanism” –an organic market, a school of culinary arts and a community kitchen. One of the virtues of this type of retrofit is the manipulation of an underutilized suburban area with serious environmental problems as a dual urban/rural concept in the midst of a retirement community.

The small development includes 8 live/work units, 108 apartments, 55 liner buildings, 236 townhomes, and 94 detached houses. Additionally, its picturesque vernacular arrangement and building placement affords termination of vistas in important civic structures including: a farmer’s market, a sub-police station, a meeting hall, and other buildings of greater beauty and urban presence. The paving, channeling, storage and filtration are designed to comply with Light Imprint (LI) standards as presented by Tom Low in his “Light Imprint Handbook”. While each family contributes to the general welfare and sustainability of the community (with self-sufficient urbanism devices like solar panels, water harvesters, vegetable gardens, compost bins, and more), there are also additional communal services which benefit those whose environmental commitment is limited and less aggressive i.e.: community sponsored agriculture co-ops, solar farms, water recycling projects, etc.

This type of project proves, once again, that the reconstitution of American suburbia must and should become one of the most important sustainable projects of our post-peak-oil future. Let’s open ourselves to the possibilities of developing and transforming the existing urban/suburban/rural infrastructure of America as the most important healing project of our generation.

It is not a matter of will.

It is a matter of time!

Friday, May 15, 2009

SAVANNAH: a paradigm of self-sufficiency

James Oglethorpe’s (1696-1785) interest in prison reform and social justice manifested a most amazing paradigm of sustainable urbanism for the future of this country. The City of Savannah rises among all of the Georgian colonies as a design archetype for self-sufficiency, beauty and sustainability and, it stands as a permanent landmark in the history of urban design.

A map dating from 1735 shows the general regional pattern of land settlement. The city proper is the small rectangle close to the river half-moon -shown divided into six parts. According to the commandments of the Savannah colony, “… a Commons was left round the town for convenience; adjoining to the commons, hath set out Garden Lotts of Five Acres each, and beyond such Garden Lotts hath set out Farms of Forty Four Acres and One Hundred and forty and one Pole each”. Although the commons does not show clearly on the map of 1735, the map shows a remarkable regional congruency between the city proper, the 5-acre garden lots, the 44-acre farms and the 500-acre states granted to persons of means who would immigrate to the colony at their own expense.

Peter Gordon’s view of Savannah of 1734 shows the precise intentions of the plan for its urban core. As depicted, it has the concept of “Wards” as its basic development unit, each having a unique name and each organized as a complete neighborhood. The wards consisted of forty house lots of approximately 60 feet by 90 feet distributed in four blocks (tythings) of ten lots each; a public square of about 315 feet by 270 feet was located at the center of each ward; four “Trust Lotts” flanked each square and were reserved for important buildings –churches, stores, places of assembly, etc. Main streets were 75 feet wide and minor streets, half that dimension, would complete the repertoire of thoroughfares; a small service lane of 22 feet was located in the rear of each housing lot.

Expansion of the city occurred by the orderly addition of ward units when supplementary accommodations were needed. The important sustainability lesson to understand is that, unlike our current suburban city extensions, each increment of urban development retained the concept of the original plan. Not until the 19th century did this system surrendered to speculation and the usual gridiron extensions bundled by economics and unrelieved public space.

Savannah can be considered as the country’s first example of planned urban growth on the basis of an agricultural economy; the type of agricultural urbanism providing self-sufficiency, independence, and economic reliability despite outer circumstances. This pattern of development and growth provides sufficient local food resources and creates an agricultural surplus for a potential exchange amongst regional communities.

The Savannah model of land distribution, as well as its location, is perhaps the greatest paradigm in the age of peak-oil production and climate change.

Choice or fate!

Note: the composite drawing of the City of Savannah, c.1898 was produced by students participating in the "New(est) New Urbanism Studio" at the University of Miami, under the direction of Professors Jaime Correa and Oscar Machado and with the sponsorship of Historical Concepts in Atlanta.

Friday, April 3, 2009


In a country with the most excessive amount of democracy, our education system has been tragically hijacked by the “Life-Tenure System” –a contractual entitlement between a faculty member and its administrators to hold a life-time academic position which cannot be terminated without due cause. The tenure system was originally intended as a faculty reward to guarantee the rights to academic freedom, to protect them when they dissented from prevailing opinions, to avoid retaliation from disagreeing authorities of any sort, or to warrant time dedicated to unfashionable research topics. However, in our current predicament, it is not used for the sake of sustainability, freedom and the common good but as an opportunity to exercise a primitive governmental system where oppression, revenge, and unbridled punishment are its most common attributes.

In a sustainable system the elders tend to be respected, become wiser, and gain sacred attributes that bring about harmony and balance to their own communities; in the extraordinary primitiveness of the current university system, senior faculty tend to become disruptive, unproductive, sloppy, substandard, and even irrelevant. Therefore, universities exercise great care in offering tenured positions to faculty who may prove less pious or unworthy in the long run. The process of candidacy approval is lengthy and may include the review of extensive portfolios of “original” published work, the capacity of the candidate to bring research funds into the institution, confidential assessment letters from scholars in the same field, and ruthless teaching evaluations. If the candidate is judged to be a scholar whose relevancy as a productive individual is guaranteed for a lifetime, he/she will be awarded life-tenure.

Under these conditions, obvious philosophical questions arise: What would be the attributes of the most pious candidates? Who would these people be? What are the ultimate scholarly virtues guaranteeing a life-time award? Is tenure a matter of process or a matter of mindfulness? Is tenure granted on the basis of an examined life or, is it a result of political maneuvers, war tactics, and unethical demeanors?

Answers to these philosophical questions would only ascertain the greater degree of confusion and lack of attentive inquiry in which we currently operate. Most probably, within this system, the greatest minds of the western intellectual tradition would have been set aside for their lack of contribution to society at large. For instance, within the current system of evaluation, Cicero would have been denied as a potential tenure candidate for his lack of originality -after all, he was an eclectic mind whose world views were based on a controlled potpourri of philosophical Greek precedents. Socrates would have been dismissed for his lack of published scholarly material and his criminal record –trialed, convicted, and poison to death. Plato would have been perceived as a parasite of the ideological successes of his former master. And, most importantly, Aristotle would have been rejected as a lunatic.

Can the university system survive without an examined life of its own? Is the universality of our current educational structure threatened by the life-tenure system? Are American universities becoming smaller and less productive? Can we deepen our understanding of concrete and abstract values when dealing with the future of faculty at large? Is the university a true universal system with a complex axiology? Or, are we entering a new period of development in which the teaching of tradition, spiritual values, anthropometric-based aesthetics, or ultimate truth is punished as a nuance to our current cluster of values?

Answers to these questions ought to make the factual picture of a world yet to come!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

COMPACT COMMUNITIES: Building pedestrian cities after the Dark New Age

Suffering outrageous cash shortages at the gas station is a blunt reality for millions of Americans who cannot find viable alternatives in the current market; outdated politics of transportation are clogging the lungs of the world and bleeding our national wealth to death; and, most importantly, our implicit devotion to newness and individuality forbids us from considering the traditional wisdom of “community building” as a substitute to our predicament. As the price of gas goes up, citizens are looking to change their fate at the driving wheel, attacking their pledge to a society focused on unbridle consumerism and, for the first time in more than twenty-five years, questioning their location choices while committing themselves to amazing environmental design alternatives.

America is being confronted with a threat to its own survival; and, simultaneously, it is acting collectively, boldly, decisively, and quickly to solve this crisis and avoid the worst. Little by little we are realizing that as our landscapes were built around places to go, we lost our places to be; that instead of consumption, we can have community; and, that our own two feet can deliver, without a doubt, the best transportation alternative in the market.

Any place affording a walking distance from home to work, from home to recreation or civic amenities, or from home to the grocery store -a little bit more than five minutes or the equivalent of 1,300 feet, makes it possible to pick up a quart of milk without burning a quart of gas; creates a healthy pedestrian population; lowers crime rates; offers less stress; is generally bound by human-scaled architecture; has cleaner air; and, generates greater neighbor-to-neighbor cohesion. These types of compact communities use less land, water, energy and materials; and, most importantly, they are becoming the preferred choice for building cities after the Dark New Age (DNA) of gas shortages.

Before it becomes a matter of national security, due to their scarcity, the wisdom of traditional compact communities like the Medieval European city, the Islamic clan, the English hamlet, the traditional American village, or the twentieth-century garden-city neighborhood needs to be rediscovered and its lessons need to be shared freely to produce an infinite amount of livable and sustainable places. As we move into the future, we must come up with alternatives to reshape our existing suburban territories; we must re-evaluate our notions of development and re-development; we must establish alliances to build new public infrastructure; we must come up with low-impact ways to generate electricity; we must demand pure water and clean air; we must generate neither pollution nor noise; we must create our own “living machines” to process wastewater and sewage; we must produce our own food in our own greenhouses, buildings, and gardens; we must enrich our cultural lives rather than degrade them; we must achieve a level of community where skills sharing and youth mentoring become cultural assets; we must conceive a new way of government where neighborhood associations can become profitable businesses; and, most importantly, we must create beautiful compact communities of purpose where neighbors feel safe, where buildings are designed to promote the welfare of the community, and where our ultimate freedoms are respected and acknowledged; in short, places of dignity and reason.

Compact communities should rescue us from our addiction to gasoline while providing a viable solution to the general ailments of our current consumerist society. The production of walkable neighborhoods should be the central organizing principle of our civilization and the catalyst of design change for the next generation of Americans.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

SEVEN RECIPES for the New Urbanism

Freshly published, the Seven Recipes for the New Urbanism presents an irreverent view of seven magical recipes at the heart of the New Urbanism movement: memory, suburban dysfunction, intellectual precedents, region and ecology, urban form, building type and cultural representation. A number of admonitions and a thrilling professional agenda (cleverly disguised as metaphysical denials and affirmations) are followed by a portfolio of breathtaking projects, drawings and photographs. This is one of the freshest expressions of New Urbanism by one of its most zealous practitioners and scholars.

The book is available at many different bookstores online:

It will soon be available at Barnes & Noble, and Books & Books!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

SELF-SUFFICIENT URBANISM: a vision of contraction for the non-distant future

The recently published book, SELF-SUFFICIENT URBANISM: a vision of contraction for the non-distant future, is the most comprehensive town design mitigation plan available in today’s transitional market. It encourages the creation of sustainable urban villages and rural settlements where almost everything needed for our daily living is found, produced, created, used, re-used and recycled at walking distance from an identifiable center and in closed economic loops. Self-sufficient Urbanism focuses on the "re-localization" of resources, and on the advocacy and development of technologies attempting to eliminate our existent fossil fuel dependency and reduce our current rate of carbon emissions. This introductory pamphlet reviews the existing universal predicament and offers a positive solution of contraction, simplicity and human dignity.

The publication is available through multiple bookstores online:

And coming soon to Barnes & Noble!

Monday, September 29, 2008

TRANSIT VILLAGES: Developing as if mass transportation really mattered

As we head into the new millennium, Transit Villages are important paradigms for the building of sustainable communities. A Transit Village, also known in the west coast as a Transit Oriented Development (TOD), is a compact piece of existing or proposed territory built around a mass transit station -encouraging people to walk and ride transit more often. Transit Villages embrace traditional urban forms and the production of cohesive neighborhoods where greater densities, diversities, design, public safety and community revitalization can be achieved.

The same development patterns used in the design of sustainable neighborhoods should apply to Transit Villages: an identifiable public space should be adjacent to a transit station; a defined commercial core should occupy its center; a horizontal as well as a vertical mix of land uses should be present at walking distance; a variety of craftsmanship, building types and unit sizes should encompass its residential repertoire; a network of shaded sidewalks, small streets and service roads should encourage a pedestrian friendly territory; and, most importantly, a diversity of cultures and social layers should promote community cohesion, freedom and education. In fact, young households, retirees, childless couples, and in-migrants from foreign countries or other suburban areas are welcoming candidates for this paradigm shift. To the extent that governments capitalize on these untapped territories, Transit Villages can often offer an alternative to living and working in automobile-dependant suburban environments. But, before diving into the depths of these long term investments, the following ten issues must be taken into consideration:

1. Transit Villages require a long term commitment and a supportive political will from its neighboring residents.
2. Do not translate rail investments with significant land-use changes.
3. Land needs to be assembled for a development of sufficient size -40-80 acres.
4. Local governments must become development partners of any of these initiatives.
5. Pretty drawings must be grounded on sound financial realities and pro-formas.
6. Substantial infrastructure improvements are often necessary.
7. New parking configurations, parking reductions (typically 30-50%), and shared-parking agreements must be devised and implemented before the development takes place.
8. Fast-tracking review and approval policies are fundamental.
9. Development risk shall be underwritten by local governments –typically, these developments have a front end revenue advantage of 6.5% over their competitors.
10. Direct financial participation in the form of tax-exempt bonds, low interest loans, loan guarantees, etc. is required from the Public Sector.

Obviously, a Transit Village must be based upon a detailed master plan supported by local residents, staff and elected officials. As a consequence, Transit Villages must promote what in our professional jargon is called the three (3) D’s: DENSITY, DIVERSITY AND DESIGN.

1. Density: higher densities and compact patterns of development should lead to higher rates of transit riding. In typical suburban stations a density of 24-36 du/ac is still acceptable – 3 to 5 story townhouses and walk up apartments.

2. Diversity: a mix of uses should encourage people to walk while promoting resource efficiency. At the same time a variety of building types and unit sizes should guarantee a vital community of place.

3. Design and Detail: attention to light-imprint design details is vital for its differentiation, sustainability and beauty.

It is time to stop encouraging the oil dependant developments of the past; it is time to start a new age of self-reliance and independence. In the new millennium, the automobile is not a necessity but a luxury. Let us make the most of our own two feet!

Friday, May 30, 2008


The presence of universal principles in the building of the city is an undeniable fact. Despite the constant attacks by a flock of disconnected modernists, these principles cannot be outdated, replaced, or superseded. Traditional cities and architecture are not the result of dogmas or outmoded doctrines but the outcome of years of human experience attempting to find connections between the order of nature, our human bodies, and our minds.

Unlike the intellectual simplicity and spatial bankruptcy of the so-called “modernist cities”, traditional cities and architecture are timeless and legitimated by proven anthropological rules. Our defense mechanisms and our subconscious minds trigger convoluted chemical reactions when we experience one or the other; in the presence of utter simplicity, our brains initiate feelings of loss, fear and horror; in the presence of complexity and fractal information, we are prompted to feel interest, find peace and reach happiness.

Humans instinctively recognize what feels and looks natural, and react accordingly. We can hardly examine different city plans without realizing that despite their many differences, they fall into two broad categories: the regular and the irregular –or what Unwin and Parker called “formal and informal beauty”.

In spite of what we are set to believe by the Ivy League mob, neither regular nor irregular plans represent a particular modernist or traditional practice. The sensible beauty of places where building frontages are not straight, roads do not meet at square angles, or views are not symmetrical is undeniable; and, so is the graciousness of those formal parts of Paris, Nancy or Washington D.C.

A formal setting is a product of the mind; an informal setting is a product of our human experience. A formal plan requires a grand vision advocated by a leader with a lot of clout; an informal plan is an evolving act composed of many incremental decisions taken in-situ. Formal beauty is man-made and requires maintenance, management, and surveillance; informal beauty is natural, care free and the product of ordinary judgments.

We shall be wise to avoid dogmatizing on the reasons why one is better than the other; in truth, some designers may lean to one side, and some to the other. Most importantly, we must keep in touch with the actual requirements of our commissions, the practical manners in which they need to be solved, and the obvious needs of those who will dwell in our projects.

Monday, October 29, 2007

RETROFITTING SUBURBIA: a positive standpoint to the impossible

As America continues its sprawling behavior, will it be possible to attain a sustainable future? Will global warming and the energy crisis result in an unprecedented suburban-to-urban holocaust? Are there any paradigmatic design solutions which could bring hope to the residents of these places? Can some sort of natural order be imposed over areas where intellectual order is causing irreversible damage? Pondering around these questions, from the point of view of sustainable design and with a great deal of curiosity, may result in potential design strategies generating hope for a better future.

In truth, the last 75 years of American city building show a complete abandonment of our urban memories and a disregard for our collective culture; with very few exceptions, every place touched by professional urban designers and city planners has become a dwelling of damnation and a clear expression of their lack of understanding. The city has NOT been understood as the product of democracy but as the result of despotic dictatorships expressing their formal authority through the repression of our human desires. City building has turned into a non-ending battle between rationality and common sense; as a result, it is manifesting as a project for the transformation of society into individual beings with the capacity of executing one AND ONLY ONE single task at a time.

If we could truly understand our current predicament, the reconstitution and retrofit of American suburbia would be one of our most urgent projects.

In America, where property rights are protected by the National Constitution, the idea of retrofitting suburban areas may find splinters upon our legal and economic systems. According to William Whyte (1968), "…our fee simple structure has never been absolute or indivisible, nor have landowners inherited license to do anything they please with the land." Plus, the power of "eminent domain" is a threat in the hands of politicians or designers with rhetorical powers i.e.: Robert Moses in New York or Edmund Bacon in Philadelphia. Therefore, the successful retrofit of the American city depends on our understanding of individual property rights; on the comprehension of our cultural expressions, egotism, and lack of voluntary cooperation; and, on our capacity to work within the rules of constitutional law.

On the verge of despair, five healing design strategies may still allow us to deal with our desires to bring about an awareness of sustainability, ecological growth, and community building. It should be emphasized that the strategies here proposed are not a utopian choice, a dream, or an intellectual exercise but the only way to achieve a better future in suburban America.

The five healing strategies are: the development and densification of no-man’s lands, the redevelopment of under-utilized areas (such as parking areas in malls and strip shopping corridors), the creation of complete interconnected neighborhoods and neighborhood centers in the midst of suburban communities, the permanent and immovable demarcation of urban boundaries, and the reduction of urban areas in accordance with sustainable transportation principles. The projects here presented correspond to five scenarios for paradigmatic areas within suburban America. Hopefully the beauty of their graphics and the accuracy of their intentions will allow the readers to experience a promising future for areas with very little hope of survival.
God may help us all!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

URBAN FARMING: Community gardens and neighborhood agriculture

Urbanism is not just about city form. It also involves the understanding of our human choices, the healthy ecology of our urban and rural environments, and the creation of thriving communities -where sustainability and the production of prosperity and excessive renewable sources can be shared by all of us. Food production is inherently tied to the short and long-term economic, social, and environmental health of the cities where we live and, consequently, it is a matter of urbanism and design.

Unfortunately, our basic understanding of how our food is grown and processed, how far it travels, and what happens on its way to our dinning tables seems to be irreparably lost. In the middle of December, in New York or Houston, we may walk into any supermarket and buy avocados, ripe peaches, or cherries. It has happened for so long, that nobody questions their primordial base anymore. Avocados, peaches or cherries travel approximately 1,500 miles between their point of production and the typical American dining table. Psychologically, it seems to be that if we can buy them anywhere, they may also come from nowhere. But, in true mindfulness, those avocados, ripe peaches or cherries represent the entrepreneurial idea of a foreign agribusiness owner, wages from foreign workers who produced them, tons of chemicals to preserve and keep them intact, lots of packaging crates and boxes, and gallons of fossil fuels from the planes and trucks that delivered them; and most importantly, in this lengthy process, freshness and taste are usually sacrificed.

There are a lot of reasons to be grateful for our locally grown food: it is fresher, tastes better, more nutritional, cheaper, and has skipped all of the processing stages endangering our global environment. But, what can we do to reverse this trend? How can we participate in the production of local food?

Despite the fact that most urban farming is still an illegal activity in many American cities, the production of herbs, vegetables, soft fruits and flowers is slowly becoming the metropolitan panacea of this century. Urban farming is gaining widespread acceptance and it is being manifested in the form of residential backyard plots, herbal gardens in balconies and courtyards, greenhouses, green roofs, community gardens on vacant lots, industrial rooftops, mini-farms along Federal highways and transportation corridors, and locally-supported farms in the fringes of our cities.

The excess supply generated by local urban farmers is typically sent to nearby Produce Markets or Food Co-Ops where employers and customers have a say in the content of the shelves or where it comes from. Although it turns out to be a little bit more expensive, the money stays locally; everything tastes better, decreases the amount of fossil fuel emissions, results in a greater variety of products, and synchronizes itself to the local seasons.
Urban farming can also help to feed the poor. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and under the American embargo, Cuba has developed an informal system of sustainable urban agriculture benefiting approximately 70% of its urban population and generating 50% of the country’s vegetable production. Havana’s vacant lots and collapsing buildings are slowly turning into community gardens and urban farms in response to the food crisis.Similar projects have been implemented in Bulgaria, China, Brazil, South Africa, Peru, etc.

In North America, the "Eating Local" movement is becoming a matter of fact. Farm-to-School programs, Farm-to-College or Farm-to-Hospital programs are healthy choices in places where food consciousness is not only essential but a matter of high priority; in Canada, the "100 Mile Diet" includes food found at no more than 100 miles from home; in Westchester County, New York, a local restaurant includes a working farm that supplies its own produce and meat, and a classroom where cooking and farming demonstrations give visitors a better sense of the food origin.

Urban farming can be further improved under the realization that it decreases long-term energy costs, reduces urban heat island effects, increases urban wildlife habitats, improves drainage, acts as an indicator of ecological diversity and health, increases community gatherings and gives a sense of place by enhancing the overall aesthetics of a region, saving our money, and connecting us back with nature.

If you eat, urban soil should be your business!

Friday, October 26, 2007

smart© IS COMING: Changing America's Driving Etiquette

An automobile revolution is on the making and the leading spot has been taken by a small two-seater with one of the most fuel efficient engines in the market. The smart® car (an acronym for “Swatch Mercedes ART”) has conquered 750,000 drivers in about 36 countries worldwide and is expected to appear in the American automobile market in the first quarter of 2008.

The smart® car is one amongst the six cars which have been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York -and the only one still in production. Mercedes Benz and Nicolas Hayek, the inventor of the Swatch watch, brought this innovative museum quality idea to fruition around 1998. As an “ultra-urban” car, it is short enough to allow it to be parked “nose-in” where a conventional car would have to parallel park. Two or three smart® cars parked in the same parallel parking space has become the standard etiquette all over Europe -bringing significant results in the triplication of parking revenues in historic cores and commercial streets. In the standard American block (200’ x 300’) there will be either 37 smart® car parking spaces on its longest side or 12 spaces for conventional parallel parking; although they force municipalities to rethink their parking policies and their parking fee structures, the dimensions of the standard parallel parking space do not have to be modified to accommodate them.

The diesel or gasoline versions of the smart® car will be sold for no more than $17,000; these types will be: 8.8’ long, 5.1’ tall, and 5.1’ wide –in fact, two 6’ 5” plus people can sit side by side with plenty of shoulder room to spare at a top speed of 90 miles/hour; apparently, this is not a car to be driven in everyday highways. The smart® cars are designed to achieve 40-45 miles per gallon under normal driving circumstances. They come equipped with five airbags, an electronic stability program and one of the most sophisticated security frames in the world.

Its most important version will be the electric vehicle (EV) which will have an introductory price of $35,000. Although it is called a “hybrid”, the vehicle is completely electric. As a city commuter car, it will have a top speed of 80 miles/hour, a charging time of 5-6 hours using standard 110 AC outlets, and a range of 120-150 miles per charge; and, it runs on a lithium battery –the same battery used by cell phones, computers, or pretty much anything we use that is a portable electronic device.

Some of the smart® cars most important advantages are: reduced petroleum consumption, reduced noise emissions, reduced air pollution emissions, increase of health with regard to respiratory and other illnesses, reductions of 80-90 percent in the production of carbon monoxide and reactive hydrocarbons, durability, ability to maneuver easily, smallness and easiness to park; plus, they will qualify car owners for a federal income tax credit of up to $3,400; they will be allowed in HOV lanes while singly-occupied (Florida, Virginia, California, New York); in cities like San Jose and Los Angeles will be offered free parking permits when purchased in local dealerships; in Baltimore they will be considered for free meter parking spots; and, in states where it is still required, they will be exempt for smog emission inspections.

Let us welcome the green choice of the decade!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

WORLD CLIMATE: Redrawing the Map of the World

A climate crisis of astounding proportions is affecting our planet. The warming of the earth’s atmosphere, by burning fossil fuels, and the depletion of global petroleum and natural gas reserves is one of the greatest tragedies of our era. And as these events increase, we will be forced to modify the way we live and how we interact with the natural world.

In normal circumstances, the sun’s energy enters the atmosphere in the form of light waves and manages to heat up the earth; some of that energy is used and some of it is radiated back into space in the form of infrared waves. However, our thin atmospheric layer is being damaged with the presence of billions of tons of human caused gases. Our atmosphere is being thickened by huge quantities of dense gases and, as a consequence, the infrared radiation is trapped and cannot continue its natural path into the rest of the universe; America is surprisingly responsible for the yearly emission of 22 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) -or about 6 times the global average; and most importantly, the building sector is one of the major global greenhouse gas emitting sectors –in the US alone, 76% of the plant generated electricity is used to operate buildings while only 1% is used to operate means of transportation.

The average temperature of the earth is getting warmer and it is projected to continue in that direction. Global average temperatures have stayed fairly constant over the years, until recently; during the past century alone, the global air temperature rose 0.7 degrees Celsius -mainly due to burning fossil fuels and anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations. Although this increase in temperature may not be very noticeable to humans, it is significant if compared to the recent average increase of 0.7 degrees Celsius during the last millennium. In other words, the same increase of average temperature of the last millennium was achieved during the last 100 years of human history; and, the increases are forecasted to continue.

If we don’t take immediate action to reverse this trend, the so-called "Global Warming" effect will carry devastating glacier defrosting consequences and the newly created water levels will require us to re-map every single one of the world’s coastal lines. A simple water level increase of 3-4 feet will flood the eastern coast line of the United States about half a mile in depth; an increase of 12-15 feet will erase some of the State of Florida as well as substantial portions of the cities of Boston, Manhattan, Charleston, Savannah, New Orleans, Biloxi, and Corpus Christi; most strikingly, according to conservative scientists this catastrophe is "almost irreversible". We may begin to see these effects between 2015 and 2030.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

TRANSFORMING OUR PLANET: Crusade for Smaller Ecologial Footprints

As the new millennium progresses, our planet is getting denser than ever before. Our human presence is increasing at staggering rates, consuming more, producing greater economic capacity, demanding mind-boggling comfort and creating a superior degree of mobility. Such quandary does not come at a discount; we have managed to transform the world into a homogeneous collection of anonymous places, a conglomerate of banal environments, an endless domain of colonization and urbanization and an absolute threat to our human survival. Our current predicament is blighted and requires massive change. Bringing about a universal sense of unity amongst humans, the natural environment and the man-made is becoming our most challenging human crusade.

The production of sustainable food sources, the discovery of new energy supplies, the ecological compensation and the reverse of our most recent actions is turning into a matter of
emergency. International consortiums, independent countries, regions, cities, small towns, neighborhoods, citizen groups and individuals are fed up with the cheapness and banality of the available strategies. But, fortunately, a group of positive heroes is emerging; innovation, appropriate technologies and smart alternatives will entrench our human race with a new sense of responsibility and preservation for the sustainability of our planet.

Today, everyone is trying desperately to obtain more space; but, our ecological capacity is putting constraints on our ability to grow. At home, our ecological footprint requires a piece of territory equivalent to 4 times the size of what is currently available. If everyone in this planet would start behaving like us, we would need three additional Earths to deliver our most basic supplies. Therefore, the construction of a new world is of the outmost necessity.

A new city is of the essence; the kind of city that acknowledges these challenges and incorporates them as part of our communal desires; a city which increases our capacity to grow within its current territory; a city which makes use of under used and incapacitated areas; one that will not only extend horizontally but also upwards and downwards; a city which will become denser in some areas and will loose density in others; a city where alternative modes of transportation decrease the production of CO2 gas emissions; a city which makes amends with its surrounding country side; a city where unconventional energy resources contribute to our collective freedom; a city of optimism rather than consumption; a city driven by moral ambitions and facts rather than biased by its political opinions; in short, a city of real human opportunities.

Apparently, we are unable to understand the force and power of design until everything fails. But, should we wait until the next accident, the next hurricane, the next disaster, the next crisis to be aware of the irrefutable damage we are causing to our environment? Or should we establish an immediate agenda for the global reconstitution of a planet in danger? More importantly, how can urbanism, architecture, landscape, design, art and their associated professional friends help in the development of this massive change?