Monthly Archives: November 2013

Will Future Cities be Linear?

What do you think of these sketches of a future city? I think it could cut energy use, save lots of countryside and offer a great lifestyle.

The linear city from the air
The linear city from the air
City central street showing transport and deliveries
City central street showing transport and deliveries

Every home is close to the countryside. There are restaurants galore. Millions of job opportunities within 30 minutes commuting time. A wide range of sports can be played or watched. There are plays, concerts and cinemas. There is a choice of schools, universities, hospitals, museums, art galleries all within easy reach.

The disabled, the old, children and cyclists can travel safely. Trains are used for travel along the city, moving walkways aid walking across the city. All services, and all deliveries are electrically powered and underground.

A roof and triple glazed walls protect the whole city and keep it at the right temperature. It is easier to control the temperature of the whole city than many individual homes because the external surface is very much smaller. There is no fuel poverty because homes do not need to be individually heated. There is no sweltering heat either if the city is built in the tropics.

The city could be built up to 20 storeys high and perhaps 2 kilometres (1 and a quarter miles) wide. At that scale it could provide homes for millions of people. It would have added attraction if an existing, fast growing city was at one end of the line.

The linear city offers a new alternative. A life that combines a place in the country with the buzz of a major city. A place where a family could be brought up. There is no need for a car, except perhaps for occasional trips at weekends when one can be hired.

The city duplicates the dynamism of similar linear cities like Manhattan or Hong Kong, and by keeping things compact it leaves the environment available for all to enjoy.

Best of all, energy use on cars and heating/cooling will be a fraction of their current level. Follow this link. The red column on the left estimates individual energy use in the UK. Other developed countries will be similar. You can see that cars and heating/cooling represent a good chunk of the way we currently use energy. The linear city could be a big part of a sustainable future, especially with a couple of billion more people to house on the planet by 2050.

I hope the pictures tell the story. I really struggled with some of these, and nearly gave in and used Powerpoint. Sketching is more fun, and I’ve put in for a course starting in January!

The roof controls the city temperature
The roof controls the city temperature
Why linear cities beat urban sprawl
Why linear cities beat urban sprawl

Why can’t this be done now? It can, and to an extent it is. There is however a big leap from a suburban world to living in close company in a city. People still aspire to leave the cities for the suburbs. The city presented here may not seem attractive until the fuel price rises  to the point where individual homes and cars become unaffordable.

I’ll probably enter this concept into a competition in early 2014 to see if it gains any support there. But I’m not hopeful, I think that its time has not yet come.

What do you think? Would you live here? Let me know your views by clicking on the poll or posting comments.

I’ve done a page with a little more information on linear cities in the ‘Background and Assumptions’ section.

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Will technology save the rain forests?

Eco-tourism 2050
Eco-tourism 2050

Imagine the scene. A dozen people crowd into a small room. The walls light up and they are in a rain forest in the Amazon Basin. The sights are all around them. The noises of the jungle fill the room. Their leader has a remote control and they move through the jungle. Suddenly one of them shouts – a sloth comes into view. It is undisturbed by the silent camera. Then they spot a jaguar and some howler monkeys, again completely unaware that they are being viewed.

An hour later they leave, to go for lunch together. They are on a week’s safari holiday in California. Tomorrow they will explore a jungle in the Congo basin, the day after they will explore in Costa Rica. The week is costly but the experience is priceless.

Meanwhile, in Borneo, another camera is moving through the jungle. All over the world people watch an orang-utan giving birth through their phones and tablets and 3D immersive equipment. Many of them know the animal well. They regularly view this jungle. The birth will generate world-wide headlines.

There are 100 of these rain forest reserves across the planet, each with its specialised wildlife. A small reserve is 10km (6 miles) square, enough to support some big animals, and many reserves are larger. All of them are pristine. They contain a full ecosystem . The animals are valuable to collectors but the local population guard them with their lives. The insects annoy the locals but they are very careful with their insecticide. Their dogs and cats are kept out. The locals know that their income depends on that wildlife.

Each reserve is virtually undisturbed by people, except for the dozens of cameras, the tracks on which they move, and their maintenance. The animals live in peace.

The economics of all this are simple. The viewers pay. The payment varies, but averages  around $400 per year in 2013 terms, a similar amount to if they were viewing sports or movies. There are 9 billion people on the planet, and 100 million of them subscribe – rather less then subscribe to sports channels but still a substantial number. Half of the annual revenues of $40Bn go to support the reserves. A 10km square rain forest reserve with healthy animal life and a few rare species can earn up to $150M per year in broadcasting rights. That is around 4 times what it would earn as palm oil plantation.

The local populations have plenty of work. They provide guards. They maintain the cameras and tracks. They provide local guides, who control some of the cameras and provide commentary in different languages. They occasionally intervene in nature when disease strikes, because the extinction of a species would be an economic disaster.

As well as the broadcasting revenue there is business from researchers who come to live near the forests. Tourists come to be near the places they have grown to love on screen and to meet the guides. The local towns are booming. The national resorts have immersive rain forest experience systems for their guests.

Significant additional income comes from international efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Local governments provide support funding because of the beneficial effects of the rain forest for drainage and wider tourism. Pharmaceutical companies pay for licences to access the many types of plant life. The business case for these reserves is strong.

Some reserves are privately owned by local business people or by big international businesses. Some are owned by the local state. All are protected.

So it's good night now to our viewers in California. See you tomorrow!
So it’s good night now to our viewers in California. See you tomorrow!

OK – let’s return to the present. Is all this possible? Why isn’t it happening? Well partly because the technology is only just becoming available. Another factor is that it is frankly heart breaking to see rain forests being destroyed, so it makes very depressing television. That would change if the rain forests were properly protected.

How much rain forest could we save? That depends on money. People in tropical countries are often poor. The local business men will always pursue profit. They will do whatever earns the best return. In 2013 we anguish about the rain forest but pay for palm oil. The result – we get palm oil. That will need to change. If we want to go green and protect the environment someone will need to pay.

Would enough people be prepared to pay? I don’t know, but I’ve included a poll below to check views.

The poll results may interest others. If tropical land owners started to see dollar potential in their rain forests they might slow down on the burning. And if big technology companies started to see significant business in rain forests they might start to invest..

This is a link to a supporting page – Nature – Rainforests which includes further background information and assumptions. It has a few more related ideas and suggestions. It also discusses some of the weaknesses in this idea, for example that it may not save very large tracts of forest. If you have any comments or advice, please use the comments box below or contact me via the form on the ‘About’ page..