The vision, even in the face of the Mad Max alternatives Hollywood likes to show us, is scary. Who wants to abandon the city and return to the fields to till poo back into the soil in the hope of seeing a crop. For many now living far from reliable arable land, the outlook would be even bleaker and the political and social unrest on the journey is part of Kunstler’s concern. The presentation was a sobering end to an astounding conference.
A plethora of rating systems
The closing session was also focused on the global sustainability question by overviewing the plethora of neighbourhood sustainability rating systems emerging here and overseas. New Urbanists should become involved, to ensure it asks the right questions. Paul Murrain had opened the session with concern over performance measures with an impassioned plea that ‘for once and for all we accept that we now know what good design is and that we be allowed to bloody well get on with it’.
As New Urbanists, it seems we have done ourselves a service and a disservice. By highlighting that town and neighbourhood-scale design is critical to sustainably, we have revealed the need for it to be measured. Now we are being measured and expected to spend time providing all the data needed for the rating systems. And into the system it goes, where the sense and sensibility of a street network that will be there in a thousand years is judged against a photovoltaic cell that may be old technology next year.
More than ever it is evident that planners, developers and governments need to ensure the principles of urban design are codified at a national or state level. If this does not happen, they may end up entrenched across a range of rating tools being assessed by technicians and benchmarked to or traded off against other sustainability criteria. Code conforming designs could be given an automatic credit in any sustainability rating tool, to highlight the sustainably benefit, and non-code conforming designs barred from accreditation. Anything less will undermine the creation of cities that provide some resilience to the impacts of peak oil and result in fundamentally unsustainable development.