Planetary Urbanization

We have changed and urbanized not only the 3% of the global land occupied by cities, but also areas well beyond the traditional city cores and suburban peripheries are part of the global urban fabric. Drastic and often irreversible land use changes such as the conversion of forest to agro-industrial land and extractive mining activities, as well as extensive air, water and soil pollution have brought the natural cycles of the earth’s biosphere out of balance. The city is everywhere! 

Urban expansion, infrastructure, and consumption are the main drivers of functional land conversions and a growing resource demand.

Liege © NASA

Rethinking Urban Systems

While the significance of the city as part of the solution is apparent, the current global ecological conditions are not primarily the result of urban agglomeration and density in itself, but they are resulting from the specific types of urban systems that we have developed to handle transport, waste disposal, building, heating and cooling, food provision, and the industrial processes by which we extract, grow, make, package, distribute, and dispose of the foods, services and materials that we use (Sassen, 2010).

We are currently developing a place-based ‘Urban Pressure Point Method’ which maps pressure points within urban areas, and uses their existing pressures as leverage for systemic change.
Most current urban environmental strategies to date are bogged down with trying to solve the problems within the same systems that created them. A clear example is the electrification strategy for private cars, which will neither lead to an overall decrease in resource use (taking materials and embodied energy into account), nor to a real transformation of the mobility system. We focus on re-thinking urban systems in which we address their externalities; transform urban resource flows and restore the biosphere’s natural cycles.

Incremental yet Strategic Transformation

To transform the systemic provision of resources and resource flows (both biophysical resources and human ‘resources’) within an urban area, it is clear that a city or urban region cannot be changed all at once. The complexity and scale of cities (as systems of technological, physical, financial, institutional, and socio-cultural path dependencies) makes incremental yet strategic transformation essential.