The Unfulfilled Promise of Modernism   Leave a comment

As Anthony Denzer describes the Bauhaus in his paper “Masters of Modernism”- “The Bauhaus revolutionized art training by combining the teaching of the pure arts with the study of crafts. Gropius aimed to unite art with technology, and he educated a new generation of designers and architects to reject historical precedents and adopt the ideology of modern industry. The Bauhaus, faculty consisted of an extraordinary group that included Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger, Wassily Kandinsky, László Moholy-Nagy, and Marcel Breuer.”


Corbusier, La Ville Radieuse
Bleak windswept plazas, overwhelming brutalist concrete boxes, glass boxes, public housing misery, the car fixated city, urban freeways, separation of uses and Euclidian zoning, soulless high-rises – there is hardly any ailment that plagues our cities that isn’t laid on the doorstep of modernism. Quite different from sentiments in Europe, there is little love for modernism in the US.

True, one can travel through many cities, here and abroad and find plenty of examples for any or all of the above perceptions and notions and one can find in each case some plausible linkage to writings of architects, planners and others who considered themselves modernists that corroborate the damning verdict about modernism as the cause of much we don’t like about our cities. Corbusier’s proposal for La Ville Radieuse and especially his Plan Voisan Pour Paris have become infamous examples of urban renewal or soulless new towns which are exemplified by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City dreams and considered the original recipes for suburban sprawl.

Case closed? Not so fast! This essay will show that this quick critique of modernism is mostly formal, is historically incorrect and leaves out the context in which modernists operated and what they wanted to achieve. A more careful look will reveal that modernism was not really an architectural style but a social movement in response to social and cultural upheaval and an attempt to develop an architecture and a city that responded to conditions neither buildings nor cities had to respond to before. As upheaval and “disruption” continues today, modernism is still relevant in a surprising way.

Today, we not only continue to live in an area of rapid change with cities on the forefront of it, we also continue to grapple with the fact that some of the biggest promises of modernity remain unfulfilled.

Corbusier in Berlin

Before we show that the answer to the challenges we confront today can still be better informed by modernist thinking than by a re-institution of the 19th century urban gestalt canon, it may be useful to define the term modernism. How hard it proves to be to define modernism is our first indication why there are so many misunderstandings.

Tate Modern, the gallery in London has a very brief definition:

Modernism refers to the broad movement in Western art, architecture and design which self-consciously rejected the past as a model for the art of the present, and placed an emphasis on formal qualities within artworks and processes and materials

In Masters of Modernism it is stated that

Many modern designers insisted that they followed no “style.” And indeed modernism was more than a style, it was a new worldview, conditioned by new perceptions of time and space.[ …] these are the hallmarks of modern design: an interest in exploring new materials, a rejection of historical precedents, and a simplification of forms by a reduction of ornament.

[..] modern comes from the Latin modernus, which means “just now,” [..] It also meant “new-fashioned, not antiquated or obsolete.” Then, towards the end of the 1800s, the term became more closely attached to the “new art” of the coming twentieth century. (Masters of Modernism)

Most will have little trouble to see how technological advances in steel construction, the invention of the elevator and later the automobile revolutionized architecture which had until then relied on stairs to walk to any floor and on bearing walls to support the loads. All of a sudden buildings could be tall and exterior walls could be more open because the support was reduced to a skeleton of beams and columns. In Baltimore we have a fairly good example of this new lightweight skin on a tall building in One Charles Center, an office tower on Charles Street designed by Mies van der Rohe (“less is more”).

The more interesting part, though, is how the cultural and sociological shift of the early nineteen hundreds shaped architecture and urban design. Modernism coincides with the collapse of old structures of power, with the emergence of democracy in many places, with the liberation of women, better rights for workers and improved living conditions for the masses that had been congregating in cities in decrepit slums in the wake of a huge wave of migration to urban industrial centers. What is often forgotten today when we look lovingly at historic buildings with a lot of ornament is how the historic design of cities and buildings was frequently an expression of the old hierarchical power structures.  In contrast to that progressive people at the time welcomed sun, light, openness and the less weighty architecture of modernism that promised a much less restricted future. The most attractive aspect of the avant garde visions for the city was the promise of mobility! Not being stuck in one place for life was a big step forward at the time and has turned only into a curse after it was realized en masse.

Frank Lloyd Wright: Usonian House, dream for the masses

The protagonists of modernism (some, like Frank Lloyd Wright didn’t like that label) were very optimistic about the liberating aspects of the modern age. In something that can be only called prescient in terms of what we discuss today under the terms of “Digital City” or Open Data, Wright said:

» Everywhere now human voice and vision are annihilating distance – penetrating walls. Wherever the citizen goes (even as he goes) he has information, lodging and entertainment. He may now be within easy reach of general or immediate distribution of everything he needs to have or to know: All that he may require as he lives becomes not only more worthy of him and his freedom but convenient to him now wherever he may choose to make his home.”(F.L.W. about “communication machines”.)

Corbusier in his Charter of Athens also made comments about the city and the region which very much reflect today’s thinking about urban regions as large scale systems (below an English summation of a portion of La Charte d’Athènes of 1933:

An urban agglomeration forms the vital nucleus of a geographical expanse whose boundary is determined only by the area of influence of another agglomeration.  The conditions vital to its existence are determined by the paths of communication that secure its exchanges and closely connect it with its particular area.  One can consider a problem of urbanism only by continually referring to the constituent elements of the region, and chiefly to its geography, which [44] is destined to play a determining role in this question — the lines of watersheds and the neighboring crests that delineate natural contours and confirm paths of circulation naturally inscribed upon the earth.  No undertaking may be considered if it is not in accord with the harmonious destiny of the region.  The city plan is only one of the elements of this whole that constitutes the regional plan.

The charter of Athens bemoans the 20 year life expectancy of people living in areas of concentrated poverty, decries sprawl, determines that commute times have become intolerable and that jobs and housing are too far apart in almost those same words that are found in the report of Baltimore’s “Opportunity Collaborative”. It is almost eerie to see the similarities some 82 years later.

Mies van der Rohe in Baltimore as part of the
Charles Center urban renewal (photo ArchPlan)


Corbusier had also written a bestseller with the title “Towards a New Architecture” declaring a radical departure from the past. The onset of modernism vibrated through all the arts like an earthquake, with an impact so drastic and momentous that the writer Virginia Wolf famously wrote of the precise date of its beginning: “In or around December, 1910, human character changed.” Maybe in response to such precise dating, the modernism critic  Charles Jencks proclaimed the death of Modern Architecture  with even more precision as the 15th July 1972 at 3.32pm when the Chicago public housing Pruitt–Igoe complex was demolished with dynamite. Pruitt Igoe, thought Jencks, looked like Corbusier’s “living machines.” That these crude analogies are largely incorrect was just demonstrated with a book that contends that much has been misunderstood about the failure of large scale public housing in the US. (Public Housing, Myths, Perception and Social Reality).
The steps towards modernism can described through these approximate milestones:
The British artist William Morris stressed utility over form in arts and crafts, and the architect Louis Sullivan coined the slogan “form follows function.” The Vienna architect Adolf Loos followed by calling ornament “a crime” and Mies van der Rohe eventually proclaimed: “less is more.” But it was the Wiener Werkstaette and later Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus which aspired to bringing design to the masses, i.e. really democratizing art and design by making it not a luxury item but functional and affordable to all while Frank Lloyd Wright designed the ultimate affordable “Usonian” single family home.

“A thing is defined by its essence. In order to design it so that it functions well – a receptacle, a chair, a house – its essence must first be explored; it should serve its purpose perfectly, that is, fulfil its function practically and be durable, inexpensive and ‘beautiful’.” (Walter Gropius, 1925)

In short, modernism set out to break with the old to liberate the potential of the new. It was a

Bauhaus also helped women conquer
oppressive stereotypes
Marianne Brandt designed
a famous tea and coffee set in 1924.

movement based on rational over irrational, democratic over autocratic and affordable over luxury. It had a very strong social component as is emphasized in this text from an exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London:

At the heart of Modernism in the designed world was a commitment to social reform, if not revolution. Political views varied among Modernists, but they were generally left leaning.
Tackling economic inequality was central to their agenda and many architects devoted their energies to housing. Affordable housing was one of the most urgent needs of the inter-war period, and massive changes in investment, land tenure, planning controls and building practices were enlisted to resolve the problem.

Some of the optimistic assumptions of the periods right before and after WW I may strike us as naive today after the world had to experience WWII which brought about the brooding and decidedly anti- modern authoritarian attitude of fascism followed by a long period of materialism and consumption that conquered the globe to the point of threatening its very bearings.

Thankfully, and in spite of the prescience of the avantgarde, the understanding of cities has increased since 1993 even though the challenges for many cities, like those detailed by Baltimore’s “Opportunities Collaborative” in its 2015 Sustainable Cities grant report are so strikingly similar to Corbusier’s Charter of Athens. See for yourselves by comparing these quotes from the charter with the findings in the Opportunity Collaborative’s report:

The city is only a part of the economic, social and political entity which constitutes the region.

In the congested urban areas housing conditions are unhealthy due to [..] absence of useable green spaces and neglected maintenance of the buildings [..]. This situation is aggravated by the presence of a population with a very low standard of living, incapable of initiating ameliorations (mortality up to 20 per cent).

The most densely populated districts are in the least favorable situations [..] Low density developments (middle income dwellings) occupy the advantageous sites…

This segregation of dwellings is sanctioned by custom, and by a system of local authority regulations considered quite justifiable: zoning.

Connections between dwelling and place of work are no longer reasonable: they impose excessively long journeys to work.The time spent in journeying to work has reached a critical situation.

Office buildings are concentrated in the downtown business district which, as the most privileged part of the city, served by the most complete system of communications, readily falls prey to speculation.

It is now widely understood (with a shout-out to Jane Jacobs!) that humans need more than the rational planning of resources in the right places that informed the modernist design of to the new cities of Brasilia and Chandigarh which we consider today as cold and lacking in human scale and appropriate place-making attributes. In the light of all social turbulence and new technology, the 18th and 19th century city has shown quite a bit of resilience and viability. Still, the mega cities of today, from Dubai, to Shanghai and from London to Jiangsu look often much more like Corbusier’s vision than like the historic western pre-industrial city.

Poster for an exhibit about modernism at the
Victoria and Albert Museum in London

For the design of buildings, modernism was even more pervasive. And as a aforementioned book shows, the failure of the public housing “living machines” was possibly more a matter of mismanagement than of bad architecture. Well-managed highrises like Corbusier’s 1953 Unite d’Habitation and Stuttgart’s own imitation of Berlin, the “Hannibal” buildings are still liked and quite suitable dwellings. Not only that, almost all buildings awarded this year’s German Architekturpreis are decidedly modernist.

New multifamily housing on Stuttgart Killesberg
received  mention in German 2015 Architekturpreis

Through the Bauhaus modernism also had deep influence on the design of furniture and everyday objects, even toys quite in keeping of modernist’s all encompassing approach to design.

Corbusier house in Stuttgart Killesberg (Weissenhof)

When it comes to social policy, to equity and planning for access, openness and making things affordable, modernism still has a lot to offer. We shouldn’t understand, judge and evaluate modernism just from the abuse of its name after WWII  which resulted in the endless poor imitations that have ransacked many cities (mostly by overstating the importance of mobility in the form of the automobile) but we should understand the fundamental promise of modernism as the liberation of the human being from false authority and the repressive expressions of power in the design of cities. To fulfill modernism’s promise, especially in the contemporary American City, is still a noble and worthwhile task.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
with support from Jeremy Kargon, AIA, edited by Ben Groff, JD

Related articles on this blog:
Modernism, Preservation and the Morris Mechanic Theater
The State of Architecture

Modernism: A brief overview from The National Trust for Historic Preservation
A short academic definition by a university faculty member
Docomomo, threatened modernism awards 2015
Modernism: A 2006 exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum
Baltimore Modernism Project
Modernism, an overview by amisvisualmerchandising


Many cities are losing inhabitants. Better to manage decline than try to stop it   Leave a comment

May 30th 2015

ONE of the biggest challenges for the world this century is how to accommodate the hundreds of millions of people who will flock to cities, especially in emerging economies. Coping with this human torrent will be fearsomely difficult—but at least the problem is widely acknowledged. That is not true of another pressing urban dilemma: what to do with cities that are losing people.

They are hardly unusual. Almost one in ten American cities is shrinking. So are more than a third of German ones—and the number is growing (see article). Although Japan’s biggest cities are thriving, large numbers of its smaller ones are collapsing. Several South Korean cities have begun to decline—a trend that will speed up unless couples can somehow be persuaded to have more babies. Next will come China, where the force of rapid urbanisation will eventually be overwhelmed by the greater power of demographic contraction. China’s total urban population is expected to peak by mid-century; older industrial boom towns are already on a downward slope.

So it is unsurprising that governments often try to shore up their crumbling smaller cities. Japan recently announced tax cuts for firms that are willing to move their headquarters out of thriving Tokyo. Office parks, art museums and tram lines have been built in troubled American and European cities, on the assumption that if you build it, people will come.

For the most part, they will not. Worse, the attempt to draw workers back to shrinking cities is misconceived. People move from smaller to larger cities in countries like Germany and Japan because the biggest conurbations have stronger economies, with a greater variety of better-paying jobs. The technological revolution, which was once expected to overturn the tyranny of distance, has in fact encouraged workers to cluster together and share clever ideas. Britain’s productivity is pitiful these days (see article) but it is almost one-third higher in London than elsewhere.

Policies meant to counteract the dominance of big cities are not just doomed to fail but can actually be counter-productive. The most successful metropolises should be encouraged to expand by stripping away planning restrictions. If housing were more plentiful in the bigger conurbations it would be cheaper, and the residents of declining cities, who often have little housing equity, would find it easier to move to them. Rent controls and rules that give local people priority in public housing should go, too: they harm the poor by locking them into unproductive places.

A new kind of garden city

Even so, many people will stay stuck in shrinking cities, which will grow steadily older. Better transport links to big cities will help some. But a great many cannot be revived. In such cases the best policy is to acquire empty offices and homes, knock them down and return the land to nature—something that has worked in the east German city of Dessau-Rosslau and in Pittsburgh in America. That will require money and new habits of mind. Planners are expert at making cities work better as they grow. Keeping them healthy as they shrink is just as noble.

Are Cities Outgrowing the Automobile?   Leave a comment

Gilles Vesco, the politician responsible for sustainable transport in Lyon and a leading player in introducing the city’s Vélo’v bike-sharing scheme has a vision of cities in which residents no longer rely on their cars.

Instead, they lean on public transport, shared cars such as Uber and car clubs, bikes and, above all, on real-time data on their smartphones. The purpose is to transform transportation systems and cities alike.

Multiple jurisdictions around Australia have introduced their own versions of Vélo’v bike-sharing scheme with mixed success, and this success or lack thereof will have a major impact on the future of cities.

“Sharing is the new paradigm of urban mobility,” Vesco said. “Tomorrow, you will judge a city according to what it is adding to sharing. The more that we have people sharing transportation modes, public space, information and new services, the more attractive the city will be.”

Vesco cites the French city of Lyon where the number of cars entering the city has fallen by 20 per cent over the past decade, without even a congestion-charging scheme. He believes a congestion-charging scheme would impose a disproportionate burden on the less well-off, who tend to drive higher-polluting vehicles.

Vesco is targeting a further 20 per cent drop in car use, even though Lyon’s population is expected to rise by more than 10 per cent over the next decade. Human parks are replacing the car parks that used to be located on the banks of Lyon’s two rivers.

Denser, less car-dependent cities are becoming the accepted wisdom across the developed world. The height of buildings is going up. Density is going up. Local laws and planning policies are all about intensification and densification of land uses. People live in much closer proximity, probably with reduced travel needs for employment and pleasure. Multi-polar cities with half a dozen hubs where people live, work, shop and play are becoming more prevalent in developed countries. This model of development aims to reduce intra-city transport congestion and generate a series of vibrant, efficiently organised, semiautonomous units.

Examples abound. Birmingham, England is now embarking on its own 20-year plan called Birmingham Connected, to reduce dependence on cars, imposing a three-dimensional transport plan on the two dimensional geography of the city. Commuting into Birmingham is currently split 50/50 between car and public transport – in London, only 15 per cent of commuters use a car.

Places like Zurich in Switzerland have virtually eliminated the presence of cars since the 1990s, when the city decided in 1996 to cap the number of parking spaces before moving on to be completely car free, banning cars and severely limiting their number in the city. Bike usage is up six per cent. Pedestrian and restaurants dominate. The use of smart technology and a 15-line tram system helps manage the city centre.

There are similar results in Buenos Aires, where 650,000 people use MetroBus everyday using similar methodologies to those of Zurich. Freiberg, Germany is regarded as of the greenest cities in the world with its car-free streets. The idea behind car-free cities is to provide a city that offers a higher quality of life with plenty of green spaces; where people can efficiently use city resources and fast transport.

With two out of three of Australians driving to work each day and 15 million vehicles on the road, the TomTom Traffic index concludes Australians are wasting 90 hours each a year sitting in traffic. The Australian Government’s Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development has found that total travel in Australian urban areas has grown tenfold over the last 60 years.

A study is being undertaken by the department to assess eight popular Australian capital cities in order to develop the present base case projections to 2020 of avoidable social costs of congestion for Australian metropolitan traffic. Findings to date include:

  • Urban traffic is forecast to grow with total kilometres travelled growing by 37 per cent between 2005 and 2020
  • Commercial vehicle traffic is forecast to grow at around 3.5 per cent per annum, whereas private car traffic projection is 1.7 per cent per annum
  • Cities like Melbourne are already becoming very dense from people moving to inner city suburbs to avoid commute times and cost of living pressures (however not everyone can afford to relocate to the inner city, or necessarily want to)
  • Within Melbourne’s CBD, there is one job for every local resident, but 20 kilometres or further from the city centre, there were about three jobs for every 10 local residents
  • Sydney is considering the removal of pedestrian space to address traffic congestion through opening lanes

Yet, the Australian Federal Government is only prepared to fund road systems and not new public transport system or upgrades, and cities such as Brisbane spend billions on new road tunnels in an attempt to relieve traffic burden.

The $600 million GST offset to the Western Australian government cannot be spent on public transport upgrades, only on road upgrades. The Grattan Institute’s Productive Cities report of 2013 claimed that building more roads or expanding existing roads alone would not curb congestion. That same year, the RACQ stated that time-of-day tolling would make no difference in Brisbane as the roads have not reached capacity yet.

Transforming cities and their residents to accept the realities of congestion increases the benefits of effective public transport systems and less private car usage will require time, education and lots of Money and Planning.

London has seen some good success in these areas. Central London has seen a 30 per cent reduction in traffic following the introduction of congestion charging and a well-integrated system of public transport, which has led the move away from cars over the past decade. During this time, nine per cent of car commuters have switched to other forms of transport. London is a highly integrated-transport city, achieved through:

  • The removal of space for private vehicles and giving it to buses through bus lanes and to people through public realm [developments]
  • The planned “cycle superhighways” and cycle-friendly neighbourhoods in three London boroughs

In London, many city developments are now predicated on there being no car spaces for residents, as required by council planning departments. Subsequently, car ownership is not an option. In the inner-London borough of Hackney, it is reported that almost 90 per cent of the developments currently underway are completely car-free and more than 15 per cent of its residents commute to work by bike. The council guarantees alternatives to personally owned cars, including a commitment that every resident will live within three minutes of a car-club bay. All too frequently, operators of public transport services find their buses rarely utilised at capacity.

Is there opportunity for these public transport or other providers to develop an Australian version of a car club, and can we as a nation embrace the notion of less private ownership and more sharing?

Reports from around the world appear to indicate that Generation Y has a preference for the future of transport to be based not on individually owned cars but on “mobility as a service.” The highest profile provider is Uber. Access mobility rather than vehicle ownership appears to be the new trend in parts of the United Kingdom, Germany and more densely populated cities of the United States and Canada.

In some countries, car licence acquisition has been going down among younger age groups, and there are strong suspicions that the digital age is contributing to why people now have less reliance on physical mobility. Australian data for four states indicates there is certainly a pattern of people in their 20s and early 30s being less likely to have a car license.

Different vehicle manufacturers are pursuing strategies targeted at brand loyalty through delivery access to mobility, not a vehicle as a product. Car clubs such as DriveNow, electric vehicle rental (or more specifically the ability to rent rechargeable battery packs and public plug–in-stations) are changing the relationship between vehicle manufacturers and consumers. Personal vehicles may become a less desired item for large groups of the population.

With connectivity and new ‘plug and play’ systems and the ‘sharing economy’ for vehicles becoming more affordable, and clearly part of the ‘Internet of Things’ it is likely that many cities and consumers will have to be prepared to embrace the potential disruption and be excited by the challenges that lie ahead – ‘mobility-as-a-service’ could become the norm.

The implications of these fundamental shifts in the attitude of society toward the personal vehicle will have profound impacts on the way we plan, design and build our cities. Parking provisions could be relaxed or even eliminated for mixed-use/high-density residential buildings, at commercial and manufacturing facilities.

Streets could be closed and made more pedestrian and cyclist friendly, making accessibility to transit systems easier for larger population groups. Fewer hydrocarbon based fuel stations are likely to be required, while new electric vehicle charging stations will become more common. This in turn has the potential affect of cities requiring a broader range of base load or distributive energy systems to supply the electric vehicle stations.

Will there be an impact on the electricity infrastructure planning and asset development strategies of energy providers, local governments and state and national policy makers?

More community-based parking stations may be required to help with the supply of shared vehicles. Population assumptions and standards of service for infrastructure will need to be fully reconsidered to meet the changing needs of society. Public transport and transit systems will need to be significantly enhanced and service standards improved to meet the growing demands. Public safety around the transit corridors will become an even higher priority due to the inherent “silent running” of electric vehicles. Improved planning provisions that stimulate higher density mixed use development will stimulate multi-polar city centres and surrounding communities. The challenge for our city administrators and the community is to really understand the implications on how our cities will evolve into the future.

If our cities really are outgrowing the automobile, do our land use plans, infrastructure plans, community plans, and local government corporate plans reflect these changes?

Do our planning systems (including planning legislation) have the level of flexibility required to meet the challenges of disruptive technologies?

These questions are intended simply to stimulate discussion around the power (or not) of disruptive technologies and changing attitudes to automobiles and public transport, personal transport and development within our cities and towns.

Brett is an independent Urban & Regional Planning and Organisational Development entity committed to achieving the highest standards of professional practice. Brett has 10 years practical experience directly in the industry of urban development, and over 20 years experience in project development…

Planning a Sustainable New City   Leave a comment

Pakistan, the sixth most populous country with 185 million people, grows in the last years at approximately
3.2 million people per year, generating a strong demand for new urban areas [1]. The
Defense Housing Authority (DHA), among Pakistan’s most reputable land developers, has been instrumental
in providing land for both residential and commercial use in several metropolitan
areas. In Karachi, DHA has provided urban land in phases, with such land being most desirable to
live and work, significantly improving the existing stock and allowing the growth of competitive
economic activities. When DHA started Phase 10, at a distance of 55 km from the center of Karachi,
the objective became to develop a self-sustained new city, although it should function as a satellite
to the main metropolitan area. Pakistan has had a best experience from the planning of Islamabad
by the legendary planner Constantinos Doxiadis, based on the Ekistics concept. So, the planners
for the new city, called DHA City Karachi (DCK), also followed the Ekistics concept, enhanced to
address the sustainability requirements of DHA. The resulting highly complex planning process,
resulting from an uneven terrain and an irregular boundary, was possible to be carried out by employing
advanced computer algorithms in the form of parametric design and GIS, tools that were
unavailable to Doxiadis in the 60 s but fascinated him at the end of his professional life. This paper
presents the sustainable planning approach for the new city of 600,000 people, handling physical
constrains and site issues whilst ensuring adaptation to context. Then, the paper introduces how
computing was employed towards applying Ekistics.

1. Introduction
In 2010, DHA, following an international competition, contracted with the Osmani Group, Doxiadis Associates
and RMJM, to plan the new DHA City Karachi (DCK). Prof. Spiro N. Pollalis, a Doxiadis scholar and practitioner,
was appointed as the chief planner of the consultants for creating a model sustainable city of international
appeal. When contracted, DHA had already sold almost 25,000 plots to individuals, ranging from 200 sqyrds to
2000 sqyrds with most plots at 500 sqyrds. Initially, the new city was conceived as a bedroom community to
Karachi. However, its distance from the center of the city dictated a more integral approach towards a self-sufficient
mixed-use city.
2. Project Site and Requirements
2.1. City Location
DCK is approximately 44 square km, situated inland, to the east of Karachi. The distance to the city center of
Karachi, the largest seaport and economic hub of Pakistan, is 56 km and it is 30 km away from the Jinnah International
Airport of Karachi. DCK is near the cities of Hyderabad, Thatta and Jamshoro and the Karachi-Hyderabad
Super Highway is its northern boundary.
2.2. Scale in Relation to Other International Metropolitan Centers
As a first step, a comparison with other metropolitan areas was carried out to understand the scale of the site. Islamabad,
the capital of Pakistan designed by C. Doxiadis, New York, Zurich and Athens were laid over the site.
The comparison showed that that DCK covers 14 sectors (each 1.5 × 1.5 km) of Islamabad, an area similar in
size to Manhattan, all the metropolitan area of Zurich and the entire center of Athens. Within this framework,
DCK was considered and designed as a self-sufficient urban entity, incorporating the attributes of a sustainable
and livable metropolitan center.
2.3. Physical Constraints and Site Issues
Numerous hills and a dense network of streams (nullahs) originating from the Malir River at the southwest of
DCK, shape the overall landscape of the site. A dramatic physical characteristic forming a unique topography is
defined by a 70 m high ridge, which extends along the site’s south boundary, dividing the area of the new city
into two distinctive parts. Due to the low annual precipitation and the area’s subtropical/dry climate, there is lack
of water reservoirs in the area, but with sufficient quantities of water at the aquifer. The level of average annual
precipitation is rather low and unusual for Pakistan and rainfalls peak during the monsoon period from July to
Air pollution from an adjacent cement factory at the northeast boundary of the site was a significant constraint.
However, the prevailing southwest-northeast winds alleviate the problem of air quality.
2.4. Program, Land Uses and Standardized Plots
DCK has been envisioned as a model residential development with the aim to achieve a balance among environmental,
social and economic sustainability. Incorporated supra-regional facilities within a proposed network
of local activities form the connective tissue of the development. The creation of lively communities defined by
both the new city’s future residents and the visitors, residents of the adjacent urban centers including Karachi,
will promote DCK to be a safe urban hub.
The initial estimate for required land uses is in accordance with the Karachi planning regulations (KBTPR).
The breakdown of the planned land use is residential 55%, green and open areas 13%, retail 5%, street network
22%, and other uses 5%.
The starting element for planning was the land division to provide the pre-sold residential and commercial
plots. These plots should be orthogonal with standard dimensions, to fulfill the promise of DHA to the buyers.
2.5. Social Cohesion
With limited planning and a constant influx of migrants, Karachi, a 19-million-population urban center, ranks
low among international city centers regarding the quality of its livable environment [2]. In contrast to the deS.
N. Pollalis et al.
veloped western countries and cities with higher quality standards, Karachi lacks upgraded infrastructures and
utilities, and it is in need for improved public health, water supply and energy.
3. Main Design Principles
3.1. Social Parameters as Strategic Directions for Design
The objective in planning DCK was firstly to provide quality infrastructure such as safe and abundant potable
water, security, proximity to daily activities, non-polluted neighborhoods, social services as well as to ensure
viability and sustainability. Planned under the umbrella of the Ekistics concept (Figure 1) and sustainability,
DCK aims to become a prototype city of urban design and planning for Pakistan and the region.
3.2. Masterplan and Urban Design in Relation to Context and the Ekistics Theory
The irregular contour of DCK’s boundary, in combination with its topographical relief, provided an excellent
setting of expanding Ekistics from the traditional flat squares of Islamabad to the dynamic, organic shapes of
DCK (Figure 2).
The preservation of the topography of the natural landscape, including the relief, the streams, the ridge, and
the flood areas, and their incorporation in the urban fabric became a fundamental design strategy, possible only
with advanced computing techniques.
At the same time, observing the concept Ideal Dynapolis of Doxiadis [3], we planned a linear city center
crossing the site to form the backbone of a possible future expansion of the center and the city itself. The selected
axis was organic and curved, connecting Karachi through the Super Highway to the north with the future
Education City, which is under planning, to the west.
The land use distribution and road network were organized on an organic grid determined by the relief of the
landscape and the boundaries of the site, forming 16 distinctive sections (sectors). The sectors have been
planned to function as autonomous urban units, with multiple local centers, being self-sufficient in terms of
everyday facilities and services.
The multi-center system of the Ekistics theory [3], already familiar to Pakistanis through Islamabad’s design,
is based on a fractal division of sectors into sub-sectors. Every sector is divided into four communities: class IV
communities or subsectors. As shown in Figure 3, these in turn consist of smaller communities: class III communities
or neighborhoods. Three types of centers (c5, c4, c3) emerge, each one with specific land uses. The
latter serve the three scales of residential areas: sector, subsector and neighborhood respectively. The number of
communities and the centers’ size and land use depend on their estimated population, which depends on the area
that is determined by the irregular boundaries, as well as the size of the plots, as different plot sizes produce a
different population density.
3.3. Self-Sufficiency and Resources
The reduction of energy consumption and mitigating climate change were taken into consideration in planning.
Figure 1. Diagram of Doxiadis’s concept of the Ekistics theory.
S. N. Pollalis et al.
Figure 2. DCK land-use plan.
Figure 3. Multi-center system diagram mapped on the boundaries of each sector.
Therefore the strategic location and linear form of the Central Business District (CBD), contributed in the reduction
of using private cars. It is estimated that the maximum time required to reach the city center by car is approximately
15 minutes. At the same time, the street network orientation is aligned with the direction of streams
and green corridors, allowing for prevailing winds to cross the urban fabric, enhancing natural ventilation. In
addition to the multifunctional land uses of the CBD, each sector’s multiple mixed use community centers are
S. N. Pollalis et al.
strategically located in order to reduce average walking distances between the centers and residences to 2 – 10
minutes (Figure 4).
Based on the general energy strategy of Pakistan, DCK’s energy strategy aims to achieve 30% of the total required
energy from renewable energy sources, such as 10% from wind, 5% from solar, 10% from biomass and 5%
from waste to energy.
At the same time, it is fundamental to have a minimum dependence on water outside the site. So, we framed
the water management strategy by creating two small lakes with the construction of two small dams for rainwater
management, the distribution of a distributed network of sewage treatment plans and the reuse of treated
wastewater as gray water for domestic use and for irrigation.
3.4. Ekistics and Sustainability
The Ekistics concept and sustainability have a twofold association in the planning procedure of the new DHA
City Karachi (DCK).
First, Ekistics is approached as a concept that introduces fundamental design principles, which promote the
social, environmental and economic sustainability of a new city. Specifically, the Ekistics concept is articulated
around the combination of the five elements: man, nature, society, shells and networks. The planning of DCK
was based on addressing the economic aspect of plots, the physical constraints of the site, the quality and efficiency
of the urban environment, the self-sufficiency of the community, and reliable infrastructure networks.
Second, the Ekistics concept provided a design framework through the Community Class system that proved
critical for achieving integrated urban planning across different scales. The multi-scalar spatial organization dimension
of Ekistics facilitated all design stakeholders to attach specific input on sustainability issues across different
scientific fields and different scales. The Ekistics spatial framework played an important role on decoding
problems and embedding sustainable solutions.
In planning DCK, the extensiveness of the usability and applicability of Ekistics was revealed. The Ekistics
concept is a sophisticated system for thinkers and practitioners, which was developed further using contemporary
technological means and therefore we engaged it in addressing the urban challenges of this project.
4. Research Fields and Innovation
4.1. A New Approach on Ekistics
4.1.1. Digital Technologies and Ekistics
The application of state-of-the-art computing technologies played an important role during the design process of
DCK, so that the complex demands of the project were confronted holistically, accurately and fast. So, the response
to the imminent planning needs of the project and research formed a parallel process, where one part was
reinforcing the other, producing innovative methods and systemic tools. The central methodology focused on the
modification of the hierarchical structure of Ekistics to a flexible hierarchical system (Figure 5). The qualitative
and quantitative criteria of Ekistic units are translated to a system that incorporates information technology in
combination with contemporary planning methods and techniques.
4.1.2. Systemizing Ekistics
A new approach on Ekistics has been developed to respond both to the need for informational feed to the design
process and embodiment of the urban planning qualities of C. Doxiadis’ Ekistics system. Fundamentally, Ekistics
were approached simultaneously as a design and analysis tool, possible with the integration of computational
techniques. Therefore, while as a design principle it was guiding the distribution of Communities Classes
throughout various scales in the master plan, it was operating simultaneously as an evaluation medium that provided
data on population, urban density, land use areas, energy & water demand, length and surface of the road
network. Since the original concept of Ekistics concerned the harmonious allocation of populations across
neighborhoods in an inter-scalar interconnected system, the formation of residential sectors was directly affected
by the computational output. Another basic upgrade on Ekistics was implemented through the integration of
Ekistics’ qualities, such as walking proximity, controlled-moderate population density, and equitable distribution
of public spaces. Thus, the master plan approach went beyond the orthogonal forms and was adjusted to
free-form geometries imposed by the terrain and formulated through computational design.
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Figure 4. Proximities to mixed-used centers—sector and city scale.
Figure 5. Modifying the hierarchical structure of Ekistics to a flexible hierarchical
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4.2. Parametrization of Urban Design
The implementation of the aforementioned elements has been realized in multiple levels and phases of the
project: from the main project management strategies to the simulation techniques of 3D volumes. One of the
central challenges of the project was the configuration of areas through the allocation of plots of predefined sizes
(200 to 2000 square yards). This decision was critical, since it would define the development character of each
area of DCK, configure the population distribution implicating intensity of activities and transportation loads,
and respond to the overall economic and technical development brief. Therefore, the residential sectors are
bound through parameters, such as the categorization of the plot sizes, the respective population, equivalence to
the total percentage of pre-sold plots, and the development phases of the city. Thereupon, the study and management
of different scenaria of development was feasible and could produce results quickly.
A similar logic of a holistic design management at the master plan scale was used for locating the centers in
the residential sectors. The parametrization of the rules of Ekistics on deploying centers in each community category
facilitated the feasibility studies of different scenaria in the sectors, mainly for Community Class V, by adjusting
the spatial territory, population, building density, building regulations and the physical constraints such
as ridges and streams on the area.
4.2.1. Adjustment to the Terrain
DCK is located in an area of complex topography that implies high slopes in residential areas. Slope analysis
was necessary in order to identify the appropriate areas with low slopes that permit construction. Slope analysis
was implemented through various levels of criteria concluding to three basic scenaria of earthworks: 1) keep all
ridges, 2) keep ridges more than 10ft high and with more than 15% slope and 3) flat the entire site. Due to the
size of the site, the costs for options 1) and 2) were prohibitive and the cost of 3) was chosen the optimal. Furthermore,
floods are common in the area, resulting from sudden rainfalls. Thus, the accumulation of water in the
low areas of the site was analyzed and followed by the designation of the safe areas for urbanization. The low
areas were designated for the creation of artificial lakes contributing to the water supply of the city.
4.2.2. Parametrization of Urban Design
The multitude of the experts and the complexity of the factors that influenced the design under highly tight
schedules, were managed by the parametrization of some of the most critical elements in the planning process.
The implementation concerned the designation of the smallest “ekistic” community (Community Class II) to be
parametrized and then being optimized through the modification of variables. Different types of plots configure
a genealogy of multiple variations that are generated by the codification of the dimensions of the plots, street
width, plot orientation, drainage, and the geometry of the ekistics community outline.
This process was enriched during the execution of the project, since the need rose for a detailed analysis and
evaluation of the respective road construction earthworks that are required in each sector and each partial Ekistics
community. The variable of the slopes of roads was added, so that in each design-arrangement of neighborhood
scale, a road categorization was generated in real time. Roads were categorized in segments that did not
require earthworks, in segments that earthworks were necessary, and in segments that earthworks were possible
but economically undesirable.
4.2.3. Optimization of the Planning Process
Each residential sector contains a different number of centers: C5, C4, and C3. Each center, according to its
classification and the population distribution of the sector, has a different size (Figure 6). Furthermore, because
of the irregular boundaries and the topographic relief, each center has a distinct shape. The resulting relations are
connected parametrically with the main design directions of the centers, so that the spatial arrangement of the
different land uses is assisted through parametric design. Particularly, due to the large number of case centers C3,
with 12 centers per sector in average, automation provided a better control of data and changes.
4.2.4. 3D Parametric Simulation
Computational techniques were applied for the three-dimensional simulation of the buildings at the residential
sector level. The design ranges from planning large scale areas to the designation of the shapes of the plots called
for an efficient way to represent multi-scalar proposals. This was achieved through the parametric association
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Figure 6. Distribution of community centers of variable number and size
across the sectors.
of plots with the building regulations that give instructions on locating the buildings inside the plots. Based on
the permitted building footprint and floor areas, a three-dimensional massing simulation was generated in multiple
options achieving maximum coverage. Thereafter, the building volumes were adjusted parametrically in the
three-dimensional terrain (e.g. 6500 buildings in sector 6), in order to provide both general and detailed views.
Then, by using the 3D representation of building volumes in the centers C5 and C4, shading analyses were conducted
to assess the impact on public spaces and commercial areas.
4.3. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) as a Tool for Sustainable Planning
Beyond a sustainable master plan, an important feature in planning a sustainable city is its infrastructure. It is the
set of physical systems, services, and networks that support the society of a city for achieving economic prosperity
while protecting the natural systems and providing high quality of life. Infrastructure entities, networks
and systems are organized under seven main types of Infrastructure that support the whole function of the city:
Energy, Water, Waste, Landscape, Transportation, Information and Food [4].
Infrastructure Planning in DCK was approached first by decoding and second by evaluating the infrastructure
systems and the interconnections, conflicts and relationships of the entities. Their final design was based on sustainability
A platform collecting information on various scales was continuously developing in order to provide a database
initially for parametric design, and later for the control and management of the project in the next phases of
detailed planning, construction and operation. The database contains basic metrics on land uses, areas, zoning,
population, FAR, regulations, phasing strategy etc. related to the master plan.
Geographic Information Systems were used to initially upgrade the collected data to data with identified geoS.
N. Pollalis et al.
graphic location to facilitate the processes of automated mapping, visualizing and interpreting the data related to
the infrastructure systems at any scale.
In combination with the master plan database, metrics on noise pollution, materiality, shading, CO2 emissions,
proximities to city attractors, energy consumption, water demand, waste generation, and landscaping were carefully
analyzed and mapped in order to create a tool that allows for a continuous evaluation of infrastructure
planning alternatives, with regard to the sustainable objectives. Through this multiple-criteria-decision-making
tool, we secured an overall surveillance of infrastructure interrelations, synergies and impacts, contributing to a
holistic sustainable planning across all infrastructure systems and scales throughout the whole city.
5. Conclusions
Ekistics formed the basis of the planning of DCK. The theory of Ekistics was extended to include sustainability
of both the master plan and the infrastructure as a key driver of the planning process, respecting the natural
world and the relief of the landscape. In parallel to determining land uses, the planners considered the proper infrastructure:
energy, water, solid waste, transportation and food, to address sustainability issues at the scale of
both the city and its neighborhoods. Furthermore, socio-economic conditions were considered in relation to the
environmental and climate characteristics to form a dynamic system whose balance contributes to a sustainable
and livable environment.
The extensive use of advanced computing techniques allowed both the real time decision-making in handling
multiple data during the planning process as well as the optimization of the phasing of the projects at the interconnected
various scales. These tools enabled an innovative planning process addressing multiple objectives
simultaneously, which was not possible without computing.
Special thanks to Arif Osmani and Atif Osmani of the Osmani Group, Petros Kanas of Doxiadis Associates, Peter
Morrison and Ziyad Mahmoud of RMJM, and our colleagues Eugenia Chatzistavrou, Demos Lappas, and
Vicky Sagia for their contribution to this project, to Dimitris Papadopoulos, who initiated this collaboration, to
A. Salim, Ε. Marinou, Ε. Tzavellou, and to the team’s transportation consultant Panos Kostaninidis.
[1] The World Bank (2013) Data: Population Growth.
[2] Economist Intelligent Unit (2012) A Summary of the Livability Ranking and Overview, August. 7
[3] Kyrtsis, A. (2006) Constantinos A. Doxiadis, Essays, Plans, Settlements. Ikaros, Athens.
[4] Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and the Institute
for Sustainable Infrastructure (2013) ENVISION—A Rating System for Sustainable Infrastructure.

Visualizing East Asia’s Explosive Urban Growth   Leave a comment

A winning data visualization highlights the successes—and perils—of the recent East Asian city boom.

In January, the World Bank released a monster report—an eBook, really—on the rise of urban East Asia. Between 2000 and 2010, the international financial institution reported, nearly 200 million people moved to East Asia’s urban places. 200 million! As the World Bank points out, if just those people were to create their own nation, it would be the sixth largest in the world.

These sorts of gigantic numbers can be difficult to comprehend. So the World Bank set up a contest, with first prize going to whomever could design the best data visualization to accompany its expansive database on urbanization. Data scientist Nadieh Bremer answered the call. Her winning entry is below.

There are a bunch of fascinating takeaways from this visualization and the accompanying World Bank report. The first is that China’s Pearl River Delta has grown like crazy, overtaking Tokyo as the world’s largest metro area in terms of both size and population. The area, made up of the cities of Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Foshan and Dongguan, contained 27.7 million people in 2000; in 2010, it had 41.8 million. China as a whole is by far the most urbanized country in East Asia, with 600 of the region’s 869 urban areas. The Chinese government’s aggressive urbanization policies seem to be paying off.
(Nadieh Bremer)

But China’s enormous Pearl River Delta has not seen the most growth in urban population density among large East Asian countries. That title belongs to Indonesia. The graph to the right shows the growth in urban population densities during the decade studied, with 2000’s figures in black and 2010’s in red. Indonesia’s urban density ballooned by nearly 30 percent, from around 7,400 people per square kilometer to 9,400. As Bremer notes, this jump is not necessarily a good thing: It’s “likely due to constraints in investment in urban infrastructure and housing.”

Finally, the World Bank data—and Bremer visualization—draws a firm link between urbanization and economic growth. Smart policy, of course, plays a role in this: it’s hard to argue that China’s ghost cities, huge cities built by the government but mostly uninhabited, are good for the country’s long-term economic future. But as Bremer’s graph below shows, there is a link between the size of a country’s urban population and its GDP per capita.

Growing Cities   Leave a comment

​The growth of the number and size of our cities is dramatic. In the year 1800 only Beijing was over 1 million people. One hundred years later, in 1900, there were twelve; by 1950, eighty-three. By March 2015, 536 cities surpass one million inhabitants.
Our cities are more numerous, but also larger in scale. In 1950 only two of the world’s cities were home to over ten million people: Toyko and New York. Mexico City joined the ranks in 1957. In March 2015, thirty-two cities are over ten million and thirteen of those cities are larger than twenty million, with Tokyo clocking in at an unprecedented 39.4 million.
An equally dramatic increase in the world’s population is taking place. The United Nations estimates that in 2011 the world’s population reached seven billion. It took twelve years to grow from six to seven billion people; it took almost 2000 years to grow our first billion. This population growth is taking place in cities. The United Nations’ State of the World Population 2011 estimates that one in two people live in cities today, and in thirty-five years two thirds of the world’s population will live in cities.
A grand migration
Geneticist and anthropologist Spencer Wells has a time machine. In 1987, scientists found that all humans share an African great-great… grandmother who lived approximately 150,000 years ago. We also share an African great-great… grandfather who lived approximately 60,000 years ago. For Wells, these two points in time, where genetic data coalesce, indicate that there were no modern humans living outside Africa prior to 60,000 years ago. Using genetic markers in our DNA, Wells has mapped the human population’s journey from a tribal village in Africa to the expanse of the planet.
This migration happened fast. Wells plots it over the course of a calendar year. Imagine ‘New Year’s Day’ is twenty three million years ago, when apes appear. At the end of October our first hominid ancestors walk upright; only by December 28 do our first modern ancestors appear in Africa. It isn’t until new Year’s Eve that modern humans leave Africa to populate the world. For Wells, it was the first big bang of human evolution  and it took place in an evolutionary eye-blink. This leaves us with a big question: what sparked our ancestors’ mass migration on New Year’s Eve? What sparked their drive to brave unknown and unfamiliar terrain?
To travel, we constantly adapted to life in conditions that were unfamiliar; we grew and evolved our understanding of the world as we migrated – and in order to migrate. Wells wonders if one single fortuitous event changed the course of human evolution, if the right person was in the right place at the right time that provided the spark, but the truth is we just don’t know. This all took place before our traditional recorded history, but we do know that three archeological shifts took place around 60,000 years ago (Wells):
First, the tools used by humans became far more diverse and made more efficient use of stone and other materials. Second, art makes its first appearance, and with it a presumed leap in conceptual thought. And finally, it is around this time that humans began to exploit food resources in a far more efficient way. All-in-all, the evidence points to a major change in human behaviour [sic].
We began to think new things, make new things and do new things.
There is a pattern within us that generates and regenerates our cities:

A Call to Look Past Sustainable Development   Leave a comment

The average citizen of Nepal consumes about 100 kilowatt-hours of electricityin a year. Cambodians make do with 160. Bangladeshis are better off, consuming, on average, 260.

Then there is the fridge in your kitchen. A typical 20-cubic-foot refrigerator — Energy Star-certified, to fit our environmentally conscious times — runs through 300 to 600 kilowatt-hours a year.

American diplomats are upset that dozens of countries — including Nepal, Cambodia and Bangladesh — have flocked to join China’s newinfrastructure investment bank, a potential rival to the World Bank and other financial institutions backed by the United States.

The reason for the defiance is not hard to find: The West’s environmental priorities are blocking their access to energy.

A typical American consumes, on average, about 13,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year. The citizens of poor countries — including Nepalis, Cambodians and Bangladeshis — may not aspire to that level of use, which includes a great deal of waste. But they would appreciate assistance from developed nations, and the financial institutions they control, to build up the kind of energy infrastructure that could deliver the comfort and abundance that Americans and Europeans enjoy.

Continue reading the main story

Energy Poor

The world’s poorest countries consume only a fraction of the energy used in advanced economies.

Average electricity consumption

Kilowatt-hours per capita per year, 2011


United States




























Too often, the United States and its allies have said no.

The United States relies on coal,natural gas, hydroelectric and nuclear power for about 95 percent of its electricity, said Todd Moss, from the Center for Global Development. “Yet we place major restrictions on financing all four of these sources of power overseas.”

This conflict is not merely playing out in the strategic maneuvering of the United States and China as they engage in a struggle for influence on the global stage.

Of far greater consequence is the way the West’s environmental agenda undermines the very goals it professes to achieve and threatens to advance devastating climate change rather than retard it.

“It is about pragmatism, about trade-offs,” said Barry Brook, professor of environmental sustainability at the University of Tasmania in Australia. “Most societies will not follow low-energy, low-development paths, regardless of whether they work or not to protect the environment.”

If billions of impoverished humans are not offered a shot at genuine development, the environment will not be saved. And that requires not just help in financing low-carbon energy sources, but also a lot of new energy, period. Offering a solar panel for every thatched roof is not going to cut it.

“We shouldn’t be talking about 10 villages that got power for a light bulb,” said Joyashree Roy, a professor of economics at Jadavpur University in India who was among the leaders of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

“What we should be talking about,” she said, “is how the village got a power connection for a cold storage facility or an industrial park.”

Changing the conversation will not be easy. Our world of seven billion people — expected to reach 11 billion by the end of the century — will require an entirely different environmental paradigm.

On Tuesday, a group of scholars involved in the environmental debate, including Professor Roy and Professor Brook, Ruth DeFries of Columbia University, and Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus of the Breakthrough Institute in Oakland, Calif., issued what they are calling the “Eco-modernist Manifesto.”

The “eco-modernists” propose economic development as an indispensable precondition to preserving the environment. Achieving it requires dropping the goal of “sustainable development,” supposedly in harmonious interaction with nature, and replacing it with a strategy to shrink humanity’s footprint by using nature more intensively.

“Natural systems will not, as a general rule, be protected or enhanced by the expansion of humankind’s dependence upon them for sustenance and well-being,” they wrote.

To mitigate climate change, spare nature and address global poverty requires nothing less, they argue, than “intensifying many human activities — particularly farming, energy extraction, forestry and settlement — so that they use less land and interfere less with the natural world.”

As Mr. Shellenberger put it, the world would have a better shot at saving nature “by decoupling from nature rather than coupling with it.”


Nepal, where a festival took place Tuesday in Bhaktapur, is joining a Chinese-led infrastructure bank. CreditNavesh Chitrakar/Reuters

This new framework favors a very different set of policies than those now in vogue. Eating the bounty of small-scale, local farming, for example, may be fine for denizens of Berkeley and Brooklyn. But using it to feed a world of nine billion people would consume every acre of the world’s surface. Big Agriculture, using synthetic fertilizers and modern production techniques, could feed many more people using much less land and water.

As the manifesto notes, as much as three-quarters of all deforestation globally occurred before the Industrial Revolution, when humanity was supposedly in harmony with Mother Nature. Over the last half century, the amount of land required for growing crops and animal feed per average person declined by half.

“If we want the developing world to reach even half our level of development we can’t do it without strategies to intensify production,” said Harvard’s David Keith, a signer of the new manifesto.

The eminent Australian conservationist William Laurance, who is not involved with the eco-modernists, put it this way, “We need to intensify agriculture in places that we have already developed rather than develop new places,” he said. “What is happening today is much more chaotic.”

Development would allow people in the world’s poorest countries to move into cities — as they did decades ago in rich nations — and get better educations and jobs. Urban living would accelerate demographic transitions, loweringinfant mortality rates and allowing fertility rates to decline, taking further pressure off the planet.

“By understanding and promoting these emergent processes, humans have the opportunity to re-wild and re-green the Earth — even as developing countries achieve modern living standards, and material poverty ends,” the manifesto argues.

This, whether we like it or not, would require lots of energy. Windmills or biofuels would put large swaths of the earth’s surface in the service of energy production, so they have only limited usefulness. Solar panels and nuclear plants, by contrast, could eventually provide carbon-free energy on a very large scale.

The new strategy, of course, presents big challenges. Notably, it requires improving the safety of nuclear reactors and bringing down their price. Solar energy at scale requires new energy storage technologies.

“Decoupling of human welfare from environmental impacts will require a sustained commitment to technological progress and the continuing evolution of social, economic, and political institutions alongside those changes,” says the manifesto.

Until they are developed, poor countries will require access to other forms of energy — including hydroelectric power from dams, natural gas, perhaps even coal.

“There are enormous energy demands,” Professor DeFries noted. “It will be some time before we can fulfill them with wind and solar energy. It is only realistic that there will be a lot of coal and gas along the way.”

For all the environment-related objections one could pose to these paths, the alternative seems indefensible: Let the poor of the world burn dung and wood, further degrading the world’s forests. Or put solar panels on their huts so they can recharge their cellphones.

“Sustainable development” has been around for over a quarter century, since the United Nations’ Bruntland Commission proposed it in 1987.

Even then, it acknowledged its energy problem. “A safe and sustainable energy pathway is crucial to sustainable development,” it stated. “We have not yet found it.”

A quarter of a century on, the discourse has changed little. Today, the International Energy Agency states that it is within our grasp to provide modern energy access to everyone. What does it mean? Five hundred kilowatt-hours per year to urban households and 250 for rural ones.

Maybe enough to power a fridge.

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