State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Cities at a Turning Point

Temple of Athena, Priene, Turkey
Temple of Athena, Priene, Turkey

Scientists warn that many cities around the world may soon face big climate-change challenges: rising seas; shrinking water supplies; killer summer heat waves; rises in water-borne diseases as temperatures go up and sewers are swamped. No one is predicting that, say, London or Miami will simply drop beneath the waves–but these and other cities will probably have to be redesigned if they are to maintain their viability and vitality. A new book, Urban Climate Change Crossroads, explores what it might take to keep these places going. Published by the Earth Institute’s Urban Design Lab, with chapters by 18 contributors, the book was launched at this month’s Ecopolis conference in Rome.

In the lead chapter, architect Richard Plunz, head of the Urban Design Lab, writes: The gamble for ecological survival has always been reliant on technology and design–and when the technological limits are obvious, the design adaptation has to be made. … The design imperative appeared with Katrina in New Orleans. Now New York faces a moment of truth with hurricanes and sea-level rise. So does Bangkok, which is sinking as the sea rises. So does Quito, which is losing its water supply as the glaciers melt (fifteen years out). … [but] how adaptation occurs goes beyond building seawalls; moving from flood plains; inventing more robust infrastructures.

Plunz argues that cities can thrive only if economics is united with science–especially ecology. He says also that urban architecture needs to rethink its obsession with high fashion and good looks, and return to the basics of engineering structures that are sustainable.  Some examples of failed design he mentions: not modern places, but rather the ancient Greek cities of Miletus, Ephesus and Priene. These were along what is now the southwest coast of Turkey, and were originally sited on excellent harbors in the Aegean Sea. But the cities were stranded inland some 2,000 years ago when the harbors silted in due to poor farming practices that washed soil down from the uplands, and unstoppable natural tectonic uplift, which simply raised the land itself higher above sea level. Today, Miletus , Ephesus and Priene are fantastical, isolated ruins, largely surrounded by flat farm fields, and the sea is only glimmer in the distance. With the prospect of the sea’s reapproach, it might be worth reflecting on their long-ago lessons.

Science for the Planet: In these short video explainers, discover how scientists and scholars across the Columbia Climate School are working to understand the effects of climate change and help solve the crisis.
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Dr J G Ray
14 years ago

Its quite true that cities are at a cruial turning point. Ecofriendly designs can definitely help humans to sustain a happy life for ever on the earth.

However, if humans do not accept the limit to comforts and materialistic pleasures for the sustenance of resources which are essential for human life, no designs would be beneficial. Without geting convinced of ‘real happiness’ humans cannot think of limiting the conventional comforts and materialistic pleasures. Materialistic thinking won’t provide this conviction. Mahatma Gandhi rightly noticed a 100 years ago that the ‘Earth has everything to meet everybody’s need, but not have enough resources to meet anybody’s greed’. But to distinguish between need and greed, one requires spiritual development.

If we believe in utter materialism, why should we worry about future – ‘Eat drink and be merry – why we fret about the unborn tomorrow?’

Ecolgy is a moral science, that teaches us to change our relationships not only between ourselves (as is taught in all religions) but also with every animate and inanimate things as is fixed in natures set up (learning the truth of that relationship is really what is called Science). Only if humans accept Ecology as the ultimate of religion and science, designs and technologies will lead us to sustainability.

Therefore, in the period of ecological crises, science shall inspire humans to avoid conflicts of all kinds at all levels of human social existence and to build up more of faith among the socities; because ‘erosion of faith’is a very serious social ecological issue, which is the basis of all other erosions and pollutions.

Let science teaches humans to start working towards a better global social order along with efforts to control atmospheric carbon increase and other sorts of environmental degradations!

Let us first or parallely think of developing new mental designs to view nature and society in a different way; and better social designs towards a truly happy social life before we begin to devlop new designs for our citeis. Otherwise, no city designs shall lead us to the ultimate of sustainability on the green Planet!

Diego Molano
Diego Molano
14 years ago

Cities in a turning point within the context of climate change must also consider cities in the developing world. Most of capital cities, and intermediate cities have triple their population in the last 20 years. The majority of this population located in marginalized areas, in river basins or affected by floods. The challenges imposed by climate change not also has to consider redesign of cities or a new mindset but also has to be consider as an opportunity to overcome past problems in the development of our cities in the developing world.

In the city preparedness for climate change, actiosn such as ressetlement of marginalized communities in risk areas and creating opportunities for those thousands of internal displaced pupulation affected by violence are extremely important to address.

14 years ago

I appreciate that numerous people don’t judge that education expenses belongs there, but to me it’s very positive that $100 billion can shore up education during a downturn that would otherwise have overwhelmed America’s schools. I also veer into the research on what works and doesn’t work in schooling. What strikes me is the facts that the instructor outweighs all — you’re much better off with a skillful teacher in a gigantic class in a flawed school than with a bad teacher in a tiny class in an first-rate school. Yet, we consistently reserve the greatest teachers for the advantaged students in suburban schools whose parents are already investing funds, time and liveliness into their children. The underprivileged kids in inner metropolitan districts who are the neediest get the most horrible teachers.

14 years ago

Its quite true that cities are at a cruial turning point. Ecofriendly designs can definitely help humans to sustain a happy life for ever on the earth.Cities in a turning point within the context of climate change must also consider cities in the developing world. Most of capital cities, and intermediate cities have triple their population in the last 20 years.

Keith Teakell
14 years ago

Great post! keep on updating us, you are doing splendid job!

nackte frauen
13 years ago

If people delay to do everything until you’re positive it’s right, you will probably never do much of anything

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