Archive for the ‘Research’ Category
Research refers to reports by organisations or research by academic institutions relating to urban sustainability issues. If you have research that relates to urban sustainability issues and could benefit people and organisations that are relevant to cities around the world, please post this information on SustainableCitiesNet.com. To do so visit the â€œHow to use this siteâ€ page and follow the prompts.
AlertNet have released a special report “Hungry World“. We heard about it via Nourishing the Planet, who featured the article “Top 10 Food Trailblazers” in their newsletter recently. The report includes articles on a range of issues to be considered when we think of feeding the world in 2050, such as Africa feeding the world; Growing food in cities; Land grabbing for food security, and food commodities speculation. As well as the articles, the report also features a “package” of videos and a series of blogs. It’s all too much to try and include here, so follow the links and explore!
Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on May 10th, 2012
Source: Stockholm Resilience Centre
“Many economic and technological solutions that address sustainability are ecologically illiterate and too linear and single-problem oriented.”
From “Time for social-ecological innovations” by Sturle Hauge Simonsen:
Humanity is now influencing every aspect of the Earth on a scale akin to the great forces of nature. If we are to stay within the planetary boundaries, major transformations are needed in the human-environment interactions. This includes innovations that can increase human well-being and at the same time enhance the capacity of ecosystems to produce services.
In a new book entitled “Social Innovation — Blurring Boundaries to Reconfigure Markets“, [Stockholm Resilience] centre researchers Per Olsson and Victor Galaz provide the first comprehensive description of the concept ‘social-ecological innovation’.
They define social-ecological innovation as “social innovation, including new technology, strategies, concepts, ideas, institutions, and organizations that enhance the capacity of ecosystems to generate services and help steer away from multiple earth-system thresholds”.
The chapter is part of a book edited by Alex Nicholls of the University of Oxford and Alex Murdock from London South Bank University. The book focuses on new innovations “that can grapple with the central real-world challenges of our time”.
“We need to move away from quick technological fixes and foster new types of social-ecological innovation,” argue Per Olsson and Victor Galaz. ”Many economic and technological solutions that address sustainability are ecologically illiterate and too linear and single-problem oriented. To solve the many complex and interconnected human-environment challenges of today we need a change of mindset.“
Olsson and Galaz point out that there are numerous examples of major socio-technological advances that have improved human life. The flipside is that too many of them have degraded the life-supporting ecosystems on which human well-being ultimately depends. Current large-scale transformations in areas like information technology, biotechnology and energy systems have huge potential to improve our lives in a sustainable way. However, this can only happen if we start working with, instead of against, nature. “Too often our societies change without improving the capacity to learn from, respond to, and manage environmental feedbacks. For example, a systemic shift to biofuels might slow climate change but lead to destructive land-use change and biodiversity loss,” Per Olsson explains.
Olsson and Galaz also warn about the tendency to apply single, technological solutions to complex problems. “This enhances the self-reinforcing feedback that keeps us on unsustainable pathways. Social-ecological innovation focuses on the interactions among a multitude of innovations that together can break current lock-ins and lead to systemic change.”
As a scientific approach, social-ecological innovation links research on social innovation and institutional entrepreneurship with resilience thinking and research on social-ecological systems.
Olsson and Galaz list a number of criteria for the kind of solutions they view as social-ecological innovations. In summary such innovations should:
- Integrate both social and ecological (and economic) aspects.
- Improve human life without degrading the life-supporting ecosystems (preferably even strengthening ecosystems) on which we ultimately depend.
- Deal with multiple social and environmental challenges simultaneously (be sensitive to the fact that solving one problem often creates new ones, there are no ultimate solutions).
- Work more directly for social justice, poverty alleviation, environmental sustain- ability and democracy than profits for individuals.
- Break and/or help avoid lock-ins and create social-ecological feedbacks that help us stay within the safe operating space for humanity as defined by the planetary boundaries.
- Include the creativity and ingenuity of users, workers, consumers, citizens, activists, farmers and businesses etc.
- Utilise the power of social networks and organizations nested across scales (from local to national to regional to global) to enable systemic change at larger scales.
From What Australia can learn from the world’s best de-carbonisation policies by John Wiseman and Taegen Edwards
Around the world an increasing number of detailed policy road maps are demonstrating the possibility, necessity and urgency of a rapid transition to a just and sustainable post carbon future. The key barriers to this transition are social and political, not technological and financial.
The Post Carbon Pathways report, published by the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne and the Centre for Policy Development has reviewed 18 of the most comprehensive and rigorous post carbon economy transition strategies. As Australia enters the next phase of the climate change policy debate, this report will provide vital information on how other jurisdictions are designing and implementing large-scale plans to remove carbon from their economies. The review focuses on transition road maps produced by governments with the strongest emissions reduction targets, such as Germany, Denmark and the UK. It also looks at the most comprehensive and influential non-government authored strategies such as Zero Carbon Britain, Zero Carbon Australia and World in Transition (German Advisory Council on Global Change). Our analysis of these diverse ways of reaching a post-carbon future highlights several key lessons.
The window is closing fast
A wide range of detailed national and global level strategies demonstrate the technological and economic feasibility of rapidly moving to a post carbon economy. This goal can still be achieved at the scale and speed required to significantly reduce the risk of runaway climate change. But the gateway for effective action is rapidly closing. Decisive action in the next five to ten years will be critical. There is a crucial difference between transition strategies that advocate a pragmatic and evolutionary approach and those that advocate more rapid and transformational change. [...]
Technology is not the most significant barrier
Analysis of these strategies shows that technological barriers are not the most significant obstacles to a fair and swift transition to a post carbon economy. The integrated suite of technological and systemic changes needed to reach a just and sustainable post carbon future will clearly need to include:
- rapid reductions in energy consumption and improvements in energy efficiency
- rapid replacement of fossil fuels by renewable energy
- significant investment in forests and sustainable agriculture to draw down and sequester carbon into sustainable carbon sinks.
We already have the technologies to achieve emission reductions at the required speed and scale. Soaring investment in technological innovation, particularly in the United States, China and Germany, is driving down the price of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies at a remarkable speed.
Financial and economic barriers: significant but not insurmountable
The economic and social costs of failing to take action to reduce emissions are becoming increasingly clear – as are the multiple employment, health and environmental co-benefits of a swift transition to a post carbon economy. Most strategies advocate a mix of market based and regulatory mechanisms, underpinned by clear long-term emissions reduction targets. Some authors however remain cautious of relying too much on carbon pricing. They recommend additional, more direct interventions such as:
- binding renewable energy targets
- feed-in tariffs
- eliminating fossil fuel subsidies
- allocating the funds to close fossil fuel power stations.
Strategies with emissions reduction targets that are more strongly informed by climate science also commonly advocate a significant shift towards economic priorities which focus on improving social and ecological wellbeing rather than unconstrained growth in material consumption. [...]
There is no solution to climate change without climate justice
Intergenerational justice – the need to respect and protect the livelihoods and opportunities of future generations – remains the most powerful ethical justification for taking prudent and decisive climate change action now. There is also widespread recognition that political support for a rapid transition to a post carbon economy depends on implementing policies to overcome key social equity challenges – within and beyond national borders.
The key barriers are social and political
The biggest barriers preventing a rapid transition to a post carbon future are social and political – not technological and financial. The difficulty of securing and sustaining broad social and political support is widely recognised as the greatest barrier to a swift transition to a post carbon economy. The most significant gap in post carbon economy transition strategies is a lack of detailed game plans for mobilising political leadership and public support. Worryingly, even the most optimistic of the social change theories underpinning these strategies, tend to rely on a variety of ‘Pearl Harbor’ scenarios in which one or more catastrophic ecological events would provide the necessary wake up call. [...] The development and communication of inspiring stories and compelling images of a just and sustainable post carbon future will be particularly crucial.
Australia’s post carbon pathway leadership challenge
The Australian Government’s 2020 emissions reduction target (a 5% decrease on 2000 levels) is clearly still far from the level required for Australia to make a responsible and fair contribution to global emissions reductions. Australia’s 2050 target (an 80% decrease on 2000 levels) is more robust. But there is no detail as yet as to how this target will be achieved. Evidence from the most promising transition strategies elsewhere suggests we need a more informed and thoughtful debate about the kind of economic growth and industry mix that Australia should aim for. We need to talk about the fairest approaches to mobilising the required levels of financial, human and social capital. Most importantly, a far more visionary level of political leadership will be required in order to drive an Australian climate change debate informed primarily by climate science rather than short-term calculations of political and economic feasibility. [...]
Read the article in full on The Conversation.
Read the Post Carbon Pathways briefing paper, summary report or full report.
From “Environmental contribution of Tennessee’s urban trees: $80 billion” by James Holloway:
A study published by the US Forest service values the State of Tennessee’s urban forest at $80 billion thanks to its contributions to the environment. With an urban population of 284 million, that equates to a mean value of $282 per tree.
The total is based on a number of costs that are to some extent offset by the presence of Tennessee’s urban forest (its urban tree population, in other words). These include $350 million-worth of carbon storage based on the current standing stock, over $204 million every year in pollution removal, $18.4 million per year in additional carbon sequestration, and $66 million per year in energy savings-”the most significant contribution” made by the urban forest, according to State Forester Steven G. Scott. But how are the environmental benefits of the trees evaluated?
Data was collected and analyzed using the Forest Service’s own i-Tree Eco software. Using a mobile app providing strict protocols for data collection, researchers took information from 2418 trees and saplings across 255 field plots. Variables noted include species, diameter at breast height (or DBH—taken at 1.4 meters above ground), height, crown dimensions, foliage transparency, damage, and proximity to buildings. The pool of sample data is assumed to be representative of the total population, and from there the software crunches the numbers using “peer-reviewed equations” to paint a macro-scale picture of the urban forest, based on quantifiable characteristics that describe its structure, condition and function.
>>Read the full article by James Holloway on Ars Technica.
>>Read the US Forest Service study.
Source: Stockholm Resilience Centre
Photo: Swiv via flickr CC
From “Sticking to their trade: Why fishermen keep fishing despite dwindling catches” by Sturle Hauge Simonsen:
A new report, recently published by PLoS ONE, challenges previously held notions about poverty and adaptation by investigating why fishermen in developing countries stick with their trade.
“We found that half of fishermen questioned would not be tempted to seek out a new livelihood — even if their catch declined by 50 per cent. But the reasons they cling on to their jobs are influenced by much more than simple profitability,” says lead author and centre researcher Tim Daw.
Fisheries are challenged by the combined effects of overfishing, climate change, deteriorating ecosystems and conservation policies. Understanding how fishermen respond to these changes is critical to managing fisheries. The research project is the largest of its kind and was undertaken as a joint project with the Wildlife Conservation Society, the School of Marine Science and Technology at Newcastle University, and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Australia.
Researchers surveyed almost 600 fishers across Kenya, Tanzania, the Seychelles, Mauritius and Madagascar about how they would respond to hypothetical catch declines. They then investigated how social and economic conditions, such as local culture and socioeconomic development, influenced whether fishermen were willing to give up their trade.
“Surprisingly, fishermen in the more vibrant and developed economies were less likely to give up their trade — despite having more economically fruitful opportunities open to them,” says co-author Dr Joshua Cinner from the ARC Centre of Excellence for coral reef Studies in Australia.
“One of the unexpected findings was that fishermen in a poor country like Madagascar would leave the fishery sooner than those in wealthier countries such as Seychelles. The reason seems to be that they already have diversified livelihoods, while fishermen in wealthier countries may be locked into this occupation,” says Tim McClanahan from the Wildlife Conservation Society. “This is contrary to many arguments about the impacts of management and climate change on poor people, so will surprise many people working in this field and on resource and disaster management policies”.
The findings add to a growing raft of literature which identifies multiple interlocking and dynamic factors which affect people’s capacity to deal with environmental change. It is hoped they will help identify points of intervention for conservation policies that aim to reduce fishing effort. They could also help communities become more adaptive to change.
“It also highlights the importance of understanding resource-based livelihoods, such as fishing and farming, in the context of the wider economy and society,” Tim Daw concludes.
Read the full article by Sturle Hauge Simonsen for the Stockholm Resilience Centre or go to the report.
Image from: CDP Cities
CDP Cities is a voluntary reporting platform for cities around the world to document their actions on climate change. An initiative of the Carbon Disclosure Project, CDP Cities have produced this neat infographic compiling data from the 48 participating cities in 2011. Melbourne features in the section on individual cities, citing ‘creating urban and rooftop gardens, lighter buildings, and lightening roof and road colours to lessen urban heat island effect’ as actions being taken by the City council.
Source: Low-Tech Magazine
Image from Kris de Decker
From “How to downsize a transport network: the Chinese wheelbarrow” by Kris de Decker:
For being such a seemingly ordinary vehicle, the wheelbarrow has a surprisingly exciting history. This is especially true in the East, where it became a universal means of transportation for both passengers and goods, even over long distances.
The Chinese wheelbarrow – which was driven by human labour, beasts of burden and wind power – was of a different design than its European counterpart. By placing a large wheel in the middle of the vehicle instead of a smaller wheel in front, one could easily carry three to six times as much weight than if using a European wheelbarrow.
The one-wheeled vehicle appeared around the time the extensive Ancient Chinese road infrastructure began to disintegrate. Instead of holding on to carts, wagons and wide paved roads, the Chinese turned their focus to a much more easily maintainable network of narrow paths designed for wheelbarrows. The Europeans, faced with similar problems at the time, did not adapt and subsequently lost the option of smooth land transportation for almost one thousand years.
Transport options over land
Before the arrival of the steam engine, people have always preferred to move cargo over water instead of over land, because it takes much less effort to do so. But whenever this was not possible, there remained essentially three options for transporting goods: carrying them (using aids like a yoke, or none at all), tying them to pack animals (donkeys, mules, horses, camels, goats), or loading them onto a wheeled cart or wagon (which could be pulled by humans or animals).
Carrying stuff was the easiest way to go; there was no need to build roads or vehicles, nor to feed animals. But humans can carry no more than 25 to 40 kg over long distances, which made this a labour-intensive method if many goods had to be transported. Pack animals can take about 50 to 150 kg, but they have to be fed, are slightly more demanding than people in terms of terrain, and they can be stubborn. Pack animals also require one or more people to guide them.
When carrying goods – whether by person or by pack animals – the load is not only moved in the desired direction but it also undergoes an up and down movement with every step. This is a significant waste of energy, especially when transporting heavy goods over long distances. Dragging stuff does not have this drawback, but in that case you have friction to fight. Pulling a wheeled vehicle is therefore the most energy-efficient choice, because the cargo only undergoes a horizontal motion and friction is largely overcome by the wheels. Wheeled carts and wagons, whether powered by animals or people, can take more weight for the same energy input, but this advantage comes at a price; you need to build fairly smooth and level roads, and you need to build a vehicle. If the vehicle is drawn by an animal, the animal needs to be fed.
When all these factors are taken into consideration, the wheelbarrow could be considered the most efficient transport option over land, prior to the Industrial Revolution. It could take a load similar to that of a pack animal, yet it was powered by human labour and not prone to disobedience.
Compared to a two-wheeled cart or a four-wheeled wagon, a wheelbarrow was much cheaper to build because wheel construction was a labour-intensive job. Although the wheelbarrow required a road, a very narrow path (about as wide as the wheel) sufficed, and it could be bumpy. The two handles gave an intimacy of control that made the wheelbarrow very manoeuvrable.
When the wheelbarrow finally caught on in Europe, it was used for short distance cargo transport only, notably in construction, mining and agriculture. It was not a road vehicle. In the East, however, the wheelbarrow was also applied to medium and long distance travel, carrying both cargo and passengers. This use – which had no Western counterpart – was only possible because of a difference in the design of the Chinese vehicle. The Western wheelbarrow was very ill-adapted to carry heavy weights over longer distances, whereas the Chinese design excelled at it.
On the European wheelbarrow the wheel was (and is) invariably placed at the furthest forward end of the barrow, so that the weight of the burden is equally distributed between the wheel and the man pushing it. In fact, the wheel substitutes for the front man of the handbarrow or stretcher, the carrying tool that was replaced by the wheelbarrow.
Superior Chinese design
In the characteristic Chinese design a much larger wheel was (and is) placed in the middle of the wheelbarrow, so that it takes the full weight of the burden with the human operator only guiding the vehicle. In fact, in this design the wheel substitutes for a pack animal. In other words, when the load is 100 kg, the operator of a European wheelbarrow carries a load of 50 kg while the operator of a Chinese wheelbarrow carries nothing. He (or she) only has to push or pull, and steer.
The decay of the Chinese road infrastructure
The importance of the Chinese wheelbarrow can only be understood in the context of the Chinese transportation network. Prior to the third century AD, China had an extensive and well-maintained road network suited for animal powered carts and wagons. It was only surpassed in length by the Ancient Roman road network. The Chinese road infrastructure attained a total length of about 25,000 miles (40,000 km), compared to almost 50,000 miles (80,000 km) for the Roman system.
The Chinese and Roman road systems were built (independently) over the course of five centuries during the same period in history. Curiously, due to (unrelated) political reasons, both systems also started to disintegrate side by side from the third century AD onwards, and herein lies the explanation for the success of the Chinese wheelbarrow. As we have seen, the one-wheeled vehicle appeared during this period, and this is no coincidence. Increasingly, it was the only vehicle that could be operated on the deteriorating road network.
Lessons for the future
Of course, it was not only the wheelbarrow that kept Chinese communication running after the second century AD. At least as important was the impressive network of artificial canals that complemented it. This infrastructure became ever more important after the detoriation of the road network. For example, the Grand Canal, which ran from Hangzhou to Bejing over a distance of 1800 km, was completed in 1327 after 700 years of digging.
In Europe, the first (relatively modest) canals were only built during the 16th century, and most of them only appeared in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Chinese wheelbarrow alone could not have given Europe an equally effective transport infrastructure as the Chinese, but there is no doubt that it could have made life in medieval Europe a great deal easier.
The story of the Chinese wheelbarrow also teaches us an obvious lesson for the future. While many of us today are not even prepared to change their limousine for a small car, let alone their automobile for a bicycle, we forget that neither one of these vehicles can function without suited roads. Building and maintaining roads is very hard work, and history shows that it is far from evident to keep up with it.
In this regard, it is important to keep in mind that we won’t be as lucky as the medieval Europeans who inherited one of the best and most durable road networks in the world. Our road infrastructure – mostly based on asphalt – is more similar to that of the Ancient Chinese and will disintegrate at a much faster rate if we lose our ability to maintain it. The Chinese wheelbarrow – and with it many other forgotten low-tech transportation options – might one day come in very handy again.
Read the full article (there’s a lot more, with pictures too) by Kris de Decker on Low-Tech Magazine.
Image from the More Than Money Literature Review
From “More than money“:
It’s increasingly clear that we live in collaborative times. Many of the most interesting innovations of recent years have at their heart ideas of sharing, bartering, lending, trading, renting, gifting, exchanging or swapping. These are age-old concepts being reinvented through network technologies and a cultural shift driven by the more civic minded millennial generation.
The [More Than Money] report, with the subtitle “Platforms for exchange and reciprocity in public services”, was commissioned by NESTA and nef in an attempt to learn the lessons from the past and to provide a framework for understanding the many different approaches to complementary currencies and other platforms for reciprocal exchange.
An associated literature review brings together the existing evidence of impact, outcomes and cost that exist across reciprocal exchange systems. Time banks, complementary currencies and peer-to-peer platforms for collaborative consumption are all examples of these reciprocal exchange systems, and to structure this review we have created a typology of different types of systems to organise the evidence.
Read this article on the Experientia blog.
Thriving Neighbourhoods is a conference on emerging approaches to the planning, design and management of local neighbourhoods that are set to radically improve health, social engagement, environmental quality and productivity in communities. Thriving communities have the resilience needed to adapt creatively to unexpected challenges such as climate change, population change, rapid technological change, social upheaval and economic crises.
The complexity of the systems involved in creating thriving communities poses difficult and challenging issues for planners, developers, managers and researchers. But the potential returns on the invested effort and resources are massive. Capturing these returns requires professional collaboration across policy sectors including health, planning, design, infrastructure, IT and the built and natural environments. Communities must also be engaged from the outset, recognising diverse cultural and individual needs.
We invite papers and presentations on research and practice related to the challenge of creating and supporting thriving neighbourhoods and communities. Work to be presented may be related to the areas represented in the diagram below, on: the challenges; the processes of change and development; the specifics of place; the measurement of outcomes.
2 April 2012: Deadline for Abstracts (400 words)
28 May 2012: Abstracts acceptance notice
Find out more about submitting a paper.
Some of their structures remind us of bold visions of the future, in which plants reclaim nature for themselves. WOHA realize the permeation of buildings and landscape, of interiors and exteriors in projects such as the Singapore School of the Arts and the seminal residential high-rise The Met in Bangkok, which received the International Highrise Award 2010.
WOHA is represented by Mun Summ Wong and Richard Hassell as directors of the architectural office based in Singapore. They made their name in Asia in the late 1990s with open, single-family dwellings suitable for the tropics. Today they mainly design high-rises and large structures: a mega residential park in India, office and hotel towers in Singapore that lend a new, vertical dimension to green landscapes. Air-conditioning is merely an additional feature for these open structures, because the building structure itself provides the cooling. Natural lighting is standard, solar modules harvest energy for use in the buildings; water for domestic purposes and rainwater are reused.
Topics such as creating value added through communal areas and permeability for climate and nature will be presented in WOHA’s first monographic exhibition using examples of open tropical family homes, green high-rises and projects still in the completion phase.
The exhibition, split in the four chapters Permeable Houses, Open School and Community Buildings, Porous Towers and Perforated Hotels and Resorts, showcases 19 of WOHA’s most important projects in large-format photos and plans, project texts, digital images and models.
WOHA’s permeable architecture is influenced by South-East Asian culture and the location of their office in the city state of Singapore; 130 kilo metres north of the Equator, where temperatures all the year round are about 32°c, falling at night to 23°c, and where particularly heavy rain falls during the monsoon months.
2 December 2011 – 29 April 2012
Deutsches Architekturmuseum DAM
Schaumaninkai 43, Frankfurt am Main
If, like me, you can’t get there, check out some of the images on the DAM site.