Saturday, September 22, 2007

Register, Chapter 7

In Chapter 7 of Ecocities, “What to Build”, the author illustrates his vision of what an ecocity will look like 100 years from now. When not laughing out loud at the author’s flowery prose and childlike fantasies, I managed to glean some of the more pertinent ideas from this piece. As an introduction, Register highlights some of the principles he feels should guide ecocity development. He asserts that cities “should be compact, and [they] should be designed primarily for a population of living things, mostly people, rather than for machines like cars or even buses”, a city’s evolutionary pattern should match its function, building of any kind should start with the foundation, transportation should be pedestrian-oriented, and biodiversity should be enhanced. The author then takes us on a magical “bike ride” through his idealized ecocity, acting like the conductor on a DisneyWorld tram ride. Without invoking your gag reflex, here is a summary of Register’s vision: city centers are tall and dense and reorganized around a complexity of uses, the city will be bordered by a vibrant system of nature and agriculture, everything of necessity is within walking distance, and all buildings will be interconnected becoming essentially a single structure.

I felt that this reading basically regurgitates all of the other readings we have done for this class, but while adding a distinct flair of pseudo-reality. This really was a disappointment after reading the selection in Green Urbanism, which actually shows how to apply sustainable practices to places relatively new to the concept. One new idea presented in Chapter 7 that can be applied to our existing model of a green city is creating extremely endurable structural frames for buildings so that they can later evolve (much in the same way that ancient Roman buildings now served as foundations for medieval housing and later for modern apartments). This seems practical enough.

What bothered me most during this reading was the author’s disregard for the realities we face in implementing change. He never gave an example of how one of his solutions could actually be applied to a real city, but rather, he kept alluding to his fantasyland, suggesting that any deviation from his model would lead to utter disaster. Most outrageous to me was his assertion that in the perfect ecocity there would be no need to personal vehicles, only emergency vehicles like ambulances. How the heck is this possible considering the current sprawl of our nation? Yes, reducing car use should be encouraged- but the author seems to suggest everything in the context of a new development paradigm. What about the existing suburbs and rural areas? Without cars, how can these residents even reach a park and ride (especially those with disabilities)? Register even hints that ambulances will not even be necessary, and I will end with this excerpt from the chapter:
“Ambulances are well-outfitted gurneys pushed quickly by strong paramedics on roller skates to the scene of necessity in less time than it used to take any vehicle- traveling about eight times the distance. There are no sirens screaming through the streets but rather a bicycle bell: ‘Ching-ching, ching-ching. Coming through now, ‘scuse us. Ching, ching.’ These people, who would be ambulance drivers in other times, wear the sporty “lock and roll” skate-shoes, popular among ambitious business people, athletic types, and teenagers who call them ‘skoos.’
SKOOS?! Oh wait, you mean Roller Shoes, sported by little Sally in the second grade until she collided with grandpa and mommy had to take them away.

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