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How Technology Might Shape the Future of Our Cities

The future is now -- at least, the future is now in theaters. And what the future looks like, particularly, our cities in the future, is highly disputed in the pop culture realm.

Take this article contrasting Star Trek's vision of San Francisco with Terminator: Salvation's view of same. One movie envisions a future where the threat of global warming was either contained, or just not the threat that we know it is; the other a future where our technology stood up and ravaged the planet before climate change had a chance.

I'd say the chances that San Francisco will look as shiny and steely as Star Trek predicts are about as likely as the machines becoming sentient and taking over; we're in for something different, and what our cities will look like depends heavily on how quickly and creatively we can harness technology to work with our planet, instead of against it.

Mitchell Joachim, one of the founders of Terrefuge, an Ecological Design Collaborative for Urban Infrastructure, Building, Planning, and Art, was on the Colbert Report recently, speaking about the radical work his group does in envisioning how an eco-friendly city might work.

It's a vision that seems half scientific, half Dr. Seussian, but, given the impending dangers we face with climate change, seems particularly apt. We're not going to solve these problems without a huge amount of creativity and a willingness to accept what would normally seem unacceptable. In that light, Joachim's ideas are particularly refreshing. Consider these proposals:

The Fab Tree Hab is living, organic housing. Vegetation is prepped with technology that plots the growth; these homes are edible, producing food and shelter simultaneously. As Joachim explains it: "The Fab Tree Hab presents a sophisticated methodology to grow homes from living native trees. This 100% living habitat is prefabricated using Computer Numeric Controlled (CNC) reusable scaffolding, manufactured off-site in advance. These scaffold sections can be readily shipped and assembled to fit local tree and woody plant species. Therefore, we enable dwellings to be a fully integrated part of an ecological community."

Joachim re-envisions transportation as something soft, squishy, and self-powering, in the form of SOFT Cars and Blimp Bumper Buses. S.O.F.T. stands for Sustainable Omni Flow Transport. Cars would be safer and recyclable, with most of their electronics stored in the wheels, allowing for comfortable rides, milder collisions, and stackable recharging stations.

The Blimps would be made of organic materials and self-charging. Going at a rate of 15 miles an hour, commuters would just hop on and off of the seats dangling down from the vehicles. The world that Joachim is pitching is not only one that is ecologically sustainable; it's also pretty pleasant! It's not a vision of "back to nature" as much as it's a vision of moving forward with nature.

Of course, Joachim isn't the only one thinking about cities and greenhouse gases. Cisco's Urban Green IT Initiative proposes municipal wireless projects, enhanced public transportation, and environmentally-focused building standards as immediate priorities. Per Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco, one of the three cities kicking off the initiative:

Cities are responsible for 75 percent of the planet's energy use. Sixty percent of the world will live in cities by 2030, and global electricity use will grow by more than 35 percent. We've got to get something started now to hold off detrimental effects to the environment that have already begun.

I'm as big a fan of the Hollywood sci-fi epics as anyone, but I hope we're also paying attention to people like Mitchell Joachim and the others who are truly envisioning a future where the benefits of technology work in concert with the natural power and beauty of our planet to support a sustainable urban lifestyle.

As Earthjustice works to stem the damage being done to our planet, let's concurrently focus on the improvements that we can make as we face the sometimes daunting challenge of climate change.

About the Earthjustice Blog

unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.