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This is the second of two essays investigating the current global backlash against technology and science and its impacts on the built environment. The first addressed the "smart city", this addresses the autonomous vehicle.

We observed in the first article that revolutions are usually followed by phases of reaction and revisionism. Since the modern city is very much defined by the car, the autonomous vehicle (AV) is seen many respects as the culmination of the Smart City. Some say that the AV will shape cities in the same way as the onset of the automobile. However, the backlash is already happening even before the promise of this technology had any chance to become reality. Jeff Speck in a talk at the US Conference of Mayors offered "ten rules for cities  about automated vehicles". Rule #1: Be afraid, #2: Be realistic. This pretty much sums up the current state of sentiments about AVs. We will try to sort through the risks and opportunities and the related design challenges.
Possible adoption rates for AVs: Revolutionary or evolutionary?

The crash that turned public opinion around

As many had predicted, the first fatality caused by an AV turned public opinion in a profound way. The deciding crash wasn't the Tesla driver who  had been decapitated when his car drove under a white tractor trailer his car couldn't decipher as an obstacle. He, against better knowledge, had watched a movie and not the road. The crash that changed everything was a self driving Google vehicle killing a woman pushing a bike across a poorly lit suburban roadway in a suburb of Tempe. Here, too the driver had watched something else than the road, but the victim was not he but a pedestrian which his vehicle should have seen and avoided but didn't. Apparently the operator had turned off some alarms that the system would have emitted when it couldn't tell what the pedestrian pushing a bike was. But those details didn't matter, all tech giants racing towards the AV had to hit the breaks while the public debated the classic ethical "trolley dilemma" applied to the AV, even though the crash had little to do with this particular ethics problem.
High AV growth predicted for "Robo-Taxis" like Wymo

The current transportation quagmire

Cities and metro regions around the world are congested by too many automobiles, mostly driven by solo drivers. Especially in the US the share of transit in urban mobility is low, many jobs can only be reached by car and commute times by transit are frequently significantly longer than by car. Cars represent a significant cost burden for their owners and sit around parked more than 95% of the time, making it inefficient for owners and the public. A lot of public space is devoted to this inefficient mode of urban transportation, especially for parking. Transportation produces the highest portion of greenhouse gas and other harmful emissions. The death toll on the roads is high and after years of decline was rising again. In spite of transportation demand management, complete streets policies, active transportation and attempts of smart growth, most transportation metrics of the modern metro point in the wrong direction, in the US and elsewhere.
Urban congestion and pollution in Stuttgart Germany, a city which
will ban certain Diesel vehicles downtown

Can the AV be a silver bullet for the current transportation malaise?

Proponents of the AV have predicted a future in which all of current transportation calamities would be solved thanks to  self driving cars: The streets would be free of fatalities and congestion since the fully autonomous vehicles would travel fast and efficient in dense platoons without crashes. The AV would bring the end of the privately owned vehicle and fleet operated cars would end the need for parking garages and parking lots. Tis, in turn, would allow a conversion of much of the urban space devoted to parking for a more enjoyable city and additional economic development. The AV would also increase equity: The very young, the very old, the mobility impaired, the poor, in short, all groups currently excluded from driving, would be able to take advantage of the automobile once it would drive itself. Just sit down and relax. As an extra bonus, AVs would solve the emissions problems by being electric (EV) and emission free. The only question that remained was how long it would take to reach this state of Nirwana.
In general, the rapid uptake of TNCs (Transportation Network Companies) in cities likely portends the urban response to AVs, particularly shared AV services, once they are available. Through this rapid uptake, TNCs have demonstrated latent demand for a more user-friendly form of transportation than existing forms, including driving and riding transit. While offering an appealing service to individuals, TNCs have had a significant impact on cities, inducing more traffic, increasing the demand for curb space, and off ering uncertain implications for public transit. Meanwhile, regulatory conflicts have resulted in mixed outcomes for cities. Heeding the lessons of TNCs will be critical for cities and metropolitan areas with the advent of AVs. (Perspective Paper AVs)
Promises of the AV industry
Around the time of the AV crash in Tempe the air went out of the predicted paradise, bit by bit. A lot had to do with Uber and Lyft.

The press was full of articles reporting results from analysis in San Francisco and New York showed that the car-share revolution of TNCs did not reduce traffic but increased congestion through induced demand, i.e. the convenience created new trips.

Transit advocates realized that car share was reducing transit ridership instead of being the transit supportive last-mile solution of which had been promised. Urban planers realized that an autonomous AV with just one person will still need the same amount of precious urban space as a traditional gas fired car. Worse, the inefficiency of the lone driver in two tons of steel may be outdone by the nightmare of two ton of steel driving itself without any occupant. (one the way to picking up what used to be a driver or on an errand to pick up pizza).

Even the electrification promise had its hick-ups. Environmentalists determined that the large batteries needed for AVs that could run all day have a big energy and pollution footprint that could even exceed the one of a combustion engine. Cyber security safety experts warned that the computers running the self driving cars could be hacked and that thus an AV could cause chaos and mayhem. It dawned on land use planners that people being priced out of thriving metro areas such as San Francisco or New York may look for affordability even further out once the commute time could be used for activities and congestion would be reduced. Economists and engineers began adding up the cost of truly autonomous transportation, considering the possibility that the high cost of a fully autonomous EV would increase and not decrease the equity gap. Meanwhile, the fatal crash had engineers take back their most ambitious predictions when a full level 5 AV would be ready for prime-time.

In short, for each utopia there was also a dystopian mirror image and the bad side of things looked more and more like the default setting.

Which future will it be?

It is now quite apparent that the technology itself will not solve metropolitan problems, at least not without a clear regulatory framework that steers it into a direction that has the most promise to be beneficial. The dystopian outcomes would have to be actively prevented.
The AV won't change urban geometry which requires high capacity transit

To promote fleet-based shared over private vehicles requires incentives and penalties. Potentially parts of metro regions would have to be closed to privately owned AVs, possibly by not providing conventional parking spaces any longer. Othere methods could include congestion pricing or zoned closed to privately owned cars. But even fleet-based AVs would have to be regulated to avoid an excess of trips of the zero-occupant vehicles circling around until its user would come back from an errand. Mass transit would need to be boosted, especially in dense metro areas where space for transportation is hot contested and "complete streets" are the desired vision. Traditional fixed route, fixed schedule transit could become significantly cheaper without the operator cost, even if there would still be a human transit ambassador on board. Fixed and demand based transit could work hand in hand, but for the TNC based AV not to cannibalize transit, synergy needs to be regulated, no small feat given that most transit is public and car share would likely remain to be largely private unless transit agencies would get into the market by providing mobility as a service (MaaS).

In spite of a growing insight that doing nothing will not only fail to produce the desired outcomes but make the overall transportation scene worse, little is done by public agencies to actively shape the future. If the future is a free-for-all, Armageddon on the roads is pretty much ensured. (Autonomous Vehicle, Heaven Or Hell?)

What to do?

Before a driver-less fleet of vehicles gets unleashed on cities as just another version of today's cars, vans and buses, joined by unmanned robots of all sizes, shapes and purposes yet unknown, the laws of unintended consequences combined with the law of induced demand will have to be analyzed carefully.  New urbanist planners, like Peter Calthorpe suggest to begin the AV revolution with transit, not cars.
The urban environment is complicated. Free-ranging
 Autonomous or  "geo-fenced" Connected Cars?
In the short term and the long term, the best application of AV technology is a network of autonomous rapid transit lines combined with high capacity metro transit systems. This will avoid degradation of AV performance due to mixed flow, and will likely attract users to reduce their private auto use. This can then easily evolve into complete ART districts in which private cars are eliminated. The urban form that ultimately emerges is compelling; a city with almost no on-street parking, housing free of garage costs, abundant pedestrian zones, ubiquitous bike lanes, and no ugly surface parking lots. What’s more, each step along the way will improve our existing communities. (Peter Calthorpe, Autonomous vehicles: Hype and potential,2016)
Ride-hailing, dockless bikes, scooters and Amazon Prime have provided a flavor of how a reality looks that leaves public regulation limping far behind innovation. These recent devices are just the tip of the technological mobility innovation. Still, they already wreak havoc in some cities. This small taste of things yet to come forced cities, transit agencies and others involved in transportation to respond after the fact instead of directing things towards a holistic vision of a less congested and polluted city. To manage innovation every agency has to work with every other one: "If you're a transit agency, you're not just looking at transit alone,” Noam Maital, CEO of AI mobility company Waycare, said during a recent panel discussion. "You're looking at the cars on the road and you're looking at the pedestrians, and if you're a planning agency, you're also looking at the transit data." Maital predicted a “revolution” in transportation if cities are able to break down the silos that exist in planning, and there already appears to have been progress in some areas.
If left up to the free market without adequate regulation, we can expect a “hell” scenario dominated by personally-owned autonomous vehicles that are only accessible to those who can afford them, while further congesting our streets and polluting our air, leaving others to cope with worse traffic, longer commutes and under-resourced public transit. Autonomous Vehicle, Heaven Or Hell? Creating A Transportation Revolution That Benefits All, Jan 2019
Managing the public space:

Key for success is the effective management of the precious public space cities own and control. Public right of ways for streets, sidewalks, alleys and parking lots easily makes up 30% of the entire urban real estate. It will greatly matter, who gets which space and after 50 or more years of total car dominance it can't be too soon to take some space back from the automobile. The future could take many shapes, and the AV opens up possibilities we can hardly imagine today, just like the smart phone far exceeded to be just a smaller portable telephone.
How to assign the public space?

Cities may have to prepare for the possibility that what began with the food truck craze could expand into retail and services on a broader scale, resulting in further demand on curb space. With the uncertainties in retail and without the need for an expert driver, a future of mobile shopping centers or share-retail could be in the offing. Assemblies of leased mobile units may become the future library, dental office, homeless shelter or even work space. We-work on wheels! A conflation of we-work, food-trucks, farmers markets and food halls. Such a prospect would require an expansion of land use laws into the public space. The currently fashionable model of "mixed use" may expand  into production of stuff, in mobile units.

No matter how drastic the AV revolution will be, much city planning will be traditional and driven by simple common sense: Putting things in close proximity and making densely developed spaces highly walkable will remain a solution that is low-tech and reduces traffic by cutting down the demand for mobility.

The environment

The AV doesn't guarantee reductions from vehicle emissions, especially if more trips result. It is quite likely that the smartest city isn't the one with the most technology or the most AVs but the one that avoids the need for trips by being organized like a pre-industrial town on a bigger scale. Cleaning up air pollution from transportation is a huge imperative in cities, for climate change prevention, for health and for economic development.
The transportation sector contributes to the largest proportion of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. at 28.5 percent. EPA 2016
Powering all forms of vehicles with renewable energy sources represents an enormous opportunity to curb transportation’s contribution to climate change. Transportation demand management will play a larger role and be more effective when into fixed transit, demand based transit and ride sharing are fully integrated. AV technology must use electrification for all types of vehicles from delivery vans to buses and ride share cars. The distribution of charging infrastructure for fleet based AV-EVs will be significantly simpler than the  one based on privately owned and mostly parked vehicles. Concentrated electric demand of staging areas will require  renewable point source energy production through solar, fuel cells or a beefed up electric grid.
Eelectric AV
The mayors from 25 major US cities have announced that they will join the American Cities Climate Challenge, promoting efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the buildings and transportation sectors that are responsible for over 90% of emissions in cities. (Bloomberg Cities)

Protecting transit

Prioritizing transit will require real decisions in urban space allocation. Michael Carroll, chief innovation officer at the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA), said technology can help transit agencies and cities update infrastructure such as traffic signals to give buses priority, while collecting data can help them make decisions on where to install dedicated lanes and where to add first-mile, last-mile solutions to connect people to transit stations (Is the conversation around cities' technology use shifting?)

On the plus side: In mid-size cities self driving transit vehicles operating in designated spaces on the surface may reduce the need for expensive grade separated (subway) construction. Self driving full size bus type vehicles could be coupled and un-coupled as demand requires and they could operate with accuracy in narrow designated lanes that would not be blocked by unauthorized vehicles if  no not self driving vehicles would be allowed in the same area.
New full size autonomous electric bus by Volvo (2019)

On the minus side: The threat to public transit from privately operated shuttle services (hotels, apartments, schools, colleges, employers etc.) will likely increase once those shuttles would not include operator cost thanks to a self driving vehicle. The proliferation of those services already strains public space, further increase would be undesirable, especially under an equity lens. Local regulation could curtail it, though.


As noted, one of the biggest promises of fellet operated AVs is a reduction in the need of parking space.  Parking also offers one of the most effective ways to reduce the influx of privately owned single occupancy: A drastic reduction of parking supply combined with high pricing for parking. This can be done through parking taxes or a dynamic price structure for parking. The zoning code would need to prohibit additional private garages, or at least, set strict parking maximums. Instead of traditional parking, cities would need to provide and manage curb-space for TNC pick-up and drop-off, for deliveries and for storage of active transportation vehicles such as the scooters or bikes. Residential multi-family real estate could gradually replace private vehicle parking with small fleets of shared EVs reserved for residents.

Whatever type of fleet based AV, it still needs a staging area, even though these "parking" facilities will look likely very different than today's garages. Staging areas could be very tight due to more precise maneuvering of AVs and efficient dispatch algorithms. They would also include charging facilities. To avoid the dreaded zero occupant trips, the placement of TNC dispatch facilities would have to be carefully planned. It is urgently necessary to develop design prototypes for such facilities for various types of vehicles and uses. Already airports and popular places in cities (convention centers) prove that even figuring out traditional (non-autonomous) TNCs is not an easy task.


There is lots of talk about how smart artificial intelligence (AI) is and how well vehicles equipped with it can learn to deal with the many "loose ends" (Musk) of the urban environment where all kinds of participants need to communicate about how to share space. How AV's can substitute eye contact, hand signals and the like is a matter of current research. The various AV companies take different approaches: Ford and others want to make their AVs safe in a certain geographic area about which a lot..
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Kevin Roche, one of the last of great modern architects who had learned first hand from the masters such as Saarinen and Mies died in March of this year. He was 96. 

Just about six years ago I had the pleasure of a meeting with Roche and spend half a day with him in discussion about his last big project, Capitol Crossing in Washington DC which is scheduled to be completed this year. Capitol Crossing is a 2.2 million square foot mixed use development occupying 6.8 acres of air rights  above Interstate 395 in Washington, D.C. It is the largest air rights project that has ever been undertaken in Washington. 

I was so impressed by my encounter with the legendary architect that I wrote the below article within the same week. On the occasion of Roche's passing I repeat the April 2013 article below:

Kevin Roche in 2010 (Photo: NYT)
New Haven, or more precisely, neighboring Hamden is the home of Kevin Roche, a living legend of modern architecture.  Pritzker, AIA Gold medal, there is hardly a prize that hasn't been bestowed on him. Roche, a successor of Eero Saarinen, has been running his firm, Kevin Roche, John Dinkeloo Associates (KRJDA) in New Haven since 1962. He gave the town some of its more controversial structures. One, the Coliseum, has already been demolished; the Knights of Columbus building stands, a stark reminder of Roche's boldness. His office, though, is located out of town in a bucolic park, in a historic structure aspiring to be English. Now 90 years old, is Roche a monument of an unloved past, or is he still a relevant architect? New Haven hardly qualifies as a quaint or pretty American city. Even though it is the home of Yale, with its world famous architecture department and a series of modernist architectural monuments, one hardly finds accolades praising New Haven's urban design. 

On a grey December morning, I boarded an early Acela train to New Haven.  The train was a little late so we arrived at 20 Davis Street, a veritable castle on Whitney Lake, a bit after the appointed time of ten. Our van pulled up under the porte-cochère. For decades KRJDA must have relished the surprise of their visitors, who find the modernist architect residing in this old fashioned decorative burg. It happened that I emerged first and walked up the few steps to the grand entrance. An almost bald man, with his remaining thin white hair kept long around the ears and back, stood behind the glass door, opened it, then pressed my hand firmly, looked me in the eyes and introduced himself: Kevin Roche. I was glad I recognized him from pictures; it was such a surprise to have him open the door in person!

After we had all filed into the lobby of his office building he gestured for us to follow him for a cup of coffee into the picturesque conference room, the one on the right with the picture window out into the park, overlooking the pond--an impressive setting, amplified by mirrors framing the large opening, a simple but effective trick.
This was not the place for the real work session where the design would be reviewed, this was the place for the warm-up, for small talk and a conversational get to know each other. While eight of us still stood around the table, Kevin Roche pointed out that the lace of my right shoe had come lose and warned that I would trip over it. I came to sit to his left. He wore a V neck woolen sweater over a striped dress shirt, top button open, no tie.  Steve Metzger and Phil Kinsala, who have worked for Roche for a long time, joined in for a friendly chat about various places around the world, the weather and Amtrak which can’t run a train on time. It was a throwback into a past, when things were slower and women were receptionists serving coffee; as if I had time-traveled to my first employers back in Stuttgart in 1975 and their senior employees, except that all had aged by 37 years. 
Roche office in Hamden, CT

Eventually Kevin Roche suggested that it was now time to move on to his work conference room, on the other side of the lobby, and get to the business he must have been eagerly awaiting. After all, we were here to talk about a $150 million, 2.2 million square foot project, for which he had prepared various design concepts and development drawings, but which had now stalled for two years with no payable work for KRJDA. 

For someone who is 90 years old, two years must seem like an eternity. If so, he certainly didn’t show it. Nor did he show any defensiveness when his client, Jeffrey Sussman, the President of Property Group Partners, told him that he had reviewed the proposed design for the Capitol Crossing project, a three block retail and office complex to cover I-395 In NE Washington, just a couple of blocks north of the nations’ Capitol, and found it lacking inspiration. Kevin Roche didn’t flinch when he was informed that the two unknown small business owners who sat there in his office had developed alternative suggestions to spruce up the tenant experience. Their crude concept sketches were presently circulated. Roche did not defend his design for one second. He quickly observed that with the suggested vertical connections between floors, the owner would have to give up on some significant program areas.  The owner agreed and Roche seemed to revel in the opportunity to get something from this concession. There were no corporate hunch-men to cut off our legs, no set-up for Powerpoint slides, no sleek presentations. Just Kevin Roche and his long-time employees listening politely, contemplating options for how the design could be further developed. It could hardly have been a leaner, more cooperative and more cordial meeting.

An exhibit at the DC National Building Museum in honor of Roche's 90th birthday celebrated him as a system thinker under the title Architecture as Environment. (video)
He adopted an expansive definition of architecture which encompassed civic concerns such as transportation, infrastructure, and public space, as well as the broader economic and cultural landscape. His mastery of systems theory, applied to architecture, was especially appealing to corporate America.
The Capitol Crossing project certainly requires system thinking with its re-creation of connections where the sunken interstate had created a scar in L'Enfant's plan.  Yet, the project was received with little enthusiasm, in spite of its star alliance of famous architects, from Roche Dinkeloo to SOM and Kohn Pederson Fox. The DC Office of Planning critiqued the building as having "an overly monolithic appearance" (review). 

Maybe Roche's design is a good indicator of the problems that arise from the tight height limits of DC's zoning code (130'), from the stunted floor heights to the desire to use every square-foot of floor area instead of creating soaring verticality. But should this stump a Pritzker Prize winner and AIA Gold medalist? Roche certainly had proven already that he can design within DC's tight rules. His completed PPG projects, Lafayette Tower next to the White House and Station Square at Union Station, may not be mold-breaking landmarks such as his 1968 Ford Foundation in New York, but they certainly are very presentable in a very corporate town.

Back in 1980, on my first visit to the "New World", Roche's Ford Foundation was one of the first buildings I visited. It came immediately to my mind as the perfect example of how to relax the corporate "Kleenex boxes" (an online comment) of the Capitol Crossing. In 1968 Roche's Ford Foundation project had singularly defined how an office building can be organized in a communicative and open way, and free occupants from the isolated cubicle on isolated floors. In that sense it was much more progressive as a building type than what is proposed for Capitol Crossing now.

How much this latest Washington project is the main show in the KRJDA office became clear when we proceeded to see the model studio in the back of the offices, a mausoleum of past and un-built projects, represented by enormous cardboard and styrofoam models populating the dimly lit gym size structure. The office team consisted mostly of those who were present at the meeting or served coffee. There was an eerie silence when we crossed through the studio, where many workstations stood empty. 
Back, among the models, Capitol Crossing's various previous incarnations stood, and one can almost imagine walking through them, so big are they . As if it hadn't already been intimidating enough to critique the world famous icon of modern architecture, these alternative designs showed how much thought had, indeed, gone into the project already. (continued below pictures)

Kevin Roche in his model studio. (Photo: Philipsen.)
Roche observed us gawking at his models in a slightly hunched forward posture, quickly straightening up when I brought my camera into position. Viewing the models was just an appropriate way to round out the meeting, as was the lunch, served over more courteous banter, back in the room with a view. As we left, Roche positioned himself at the door again, shaking each person's hand. I had mentioned my father, just one year his junior. "Tell him", he said, "to never retire. Just keep working; that will keep you young". This advice is too late for my long retired father, but may be handy for me. It certainly worked for Roche.
Roche absorbs that his Capitol Crossing design is still questioned by the
owner PGP. (Photo: Philipsen).

Ford Foundation Building, NYC. One of Roche's finest designs. 
(Photo: designobserver.com)
This is what Roche told Architect Magazine at his 90th birthday last August: 
I think the thing I would like to have come across is that architects serve. We serve not only the clients, not only the local community, but we also serve posterity. We are leaving something; we are leaving a mark, something that says, “This is the way we were. This is what we achieved in our time, and now it’s up to you to do better.”
Most of the architecture of the past is the result of some despotic action—some king, some pope, some emperor. It’s not the action of communities per se. In a democratic future, we need to ask: Are we capable of making strong resounding statements about ourselves that we can pass on to the next generation to encourage them to grow more, and to live fuller lives, and to be more creative? The purpose of all this is to educate and encourage the evolution of a real civilization, a civilization that will show that the human animal has something more going for it than just destroying everything it touches.
Capitol Crossing, model image (project website)

Capitol Crossing, rendering (project website)

No doubt, Roche himself has achieved this. A man, ambitious and modest like him, will continue to be relevant beyond his life, even if he should live as long as Oscar Niemeyer, another Pritzker architect who died last year at the age of 105. At the pace with which Capital Crossing is moving along, Roche just may have to live that long. 

Standing on his porch for a good bye I told him that I my father is only a year younger than he and also still doing well. Tell him to never retire he told me. He died in his home "of natural causes". He had never retired. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
Originally Posted 20th April 2013 
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This is the first of two essays investigating the current global decline of enlightenment and its impacts on the built environment. First the "smart city".

Revolutions are followed by phases of reaction and revisionism. That was so after the French Revolution, after the Civil War, and the Industrial Revolution. The last even brought two tectonic reactions, WWI and II. This pattern seems to apply to the information revolution as well. It took full flight at the turn of this century but is already giving way to skepticism, if not outright hostility. The information heroes of yesterday have become the villains of today.
Tatlin 1920: Monument to commemorate the
Third International (model)

This shift of the attitude towards technology fits inside the larger political trajectory like a smaller Russian doll inside a larger one. The long phase of relatively steady peace and progress, which culminated in the fall of communism and the end of the Iron Curtain, allowed ideology to take a backseat to science and technology as the foundations of thought, a seemingly rational process. This longer phase itself is just a cycle in history. It had lot of similarity with the earlier but much shorter phase of optimism fueled by the industrial revolution, which upended the old world order of politics, arts and science a 100 years earlier. The world fairs of Paris and Chicago celebrated science, architecture and engineering. But the ideologies of the old order didn't give up without a fight. Joy and optimisms were smothered  under the rubble and destruction of two world wars. The Renaissance preceded the industrial revolution that had ended the "dark ages", which had lasted for hundreds of years, and transitioned into enlightenment and the French and American revolutions.

Today enlightenment (defined as  "human beings should be free to use their reason to create self-authored, valuable lives") is under siege once again. This is an unexpected turn of events. At the end of the cold war enlightenment appeared to be on the rise, given further lift through the information revolution and the internet,  enabling the cheap and quick spread of knowledge, democracy and progress all around the globe. Never before were so many people empowered to leverage resources. That nobody would have to starve, live in poverty or be left out appeared to be within reach. This utopia, deeply steeped in technology, assumed that science and knowledge will be used for the common good. Just as in the earlier phases of history, that proved to be an illusion, an insight that had been had before. How much so can be seen in a wonderful essay by the late German-American planner and professor Horst Rittel who investigated science in design around the last time science and technology had come into question in conjunction with the first oil crisis and the question posited by the Club of Rome, whether there wouldn't be a limit to growth. In what looks like prescient from today's perspective Rittel wrote in 1973:
The Enlightenment may be coming to full maturity in the late 20th century, or it
may be on its deathbed. Many Americans seem to believe both, that we can perfect future history-that we can deliberately shape future outcomes to accord with our wishes-and that there will be no future history. Some have arrived at deep pessimism and some at resignation. To them, planning for large social systems has proved to be impossible without loss of liberty and equity. (Rittel: Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning (1973)
Anti enlightenment manifestations (Charlottesville, USA
As humanity has to learn over and over, technology and science are only tools.  They can be used for good or for bad purposes and they do not represent a value in themselves. Technology can be used for progress or for destruction. Data can be used to bring people together or set them apart.

“When we look at modern man, we have to face the fact...that modern man suffers from a kind of poverty of the spirit, which stands in glaring contrast to his scientific and technological abundance; We've learned to fly the air like birds, we've learned to swim the seas like fish, and yet we haven't learned to walk the Earth as brothers and sisters...”( Martin Luther King Jr.).
Which use prevails depends on the strength of society, governance, regulations, policies and politics. Recently, as is if pulled by a magic power, dark forces convert the use of technology and science from liberation to division in country after a country while denouncing both at the same time.

Even progressive cycles were never without cracks and fissures. The last seventy years provided only relative stability. One has to just look at civil rights fights, the Vietnam War, the first oil crisis and many other struggles to see that transition of power is never smooth. But only when capitalism has lost its global nemesis, communism, after the demise of the Soviet Union, did the flaws of the profit driven market economy inflate to the bursting point. The financial crisis ensued, climate change became an undeniable global threat and the enemies of "the west" went underground. The attack on the World Trade Center became the watershed event after which western societies themselves shed
Optimism about science and technology: Tesla in space
enlightenment, reason and freedom layer by layer. Initially the shock of 9/11 and the deep financial crisis did not break the belief in technology as a savior. Quite the opposite: The seemingly  neutral value US products of information technology, such the i-phone  and social media, appeared to prove that the world was flatter and better across ideologies and religions. The information age also nurtured the conviction that America was still exceptional. With Tesla the US even rekindled an old technology, the automobile. With first Steve Jobs, and then Elon Musk, the mythos of the glorious inventor reached cartoonish proportions. It was convenient to think that technology would bring a better future, no matter the state of government. Forgotten also was the law of unintended consequences, this again an aspect that Rittel had described almost 50 years ago:
We have been learning to ask whether what we are doing is the right thing to do.
That is to say, we have been learning to ask questions about the outputs of actions and to pose problem statements in valuative frameworks. We have been learning to see social processes as the links tying open systems into large and interconnected networks of systems, such that outputs from one become inputs to others. In that structural framework it has become less apparent where problem centers lie, and less apparent where and how we should intervene even if we do happen to know what aims we seek. We are now sensitized to the waves of repercussions generated by a problem-solving action directed to any one node in the network, and we are no longer surprised to find it inducing problems of greater severity at some other node. (Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning)
Professor Rittel: Science in design?
The mythos of the power of IT began to crumble fast. The once celebrated companies mutated from being a promise to being a threat. Instead of dispersing power, the IT companies became global monopolies and powerhouses themselves, based on information for which they don't pay. Worse, the data in their vaults aren't safe and are open to abuse from the outside, sometimes for nefarious purposes. The destruction of society in a more subtle way than physical attack has became a real threat.

To make matters worse, technology proved to be unreliable. The high flying technology balloon not only went down a few notches every time there was a data breach, but also when it killed people directly. The  killing of a woman pushing a bike was enough to deflate the euphoria about autonomous vehicles "being right around the corner" to "probably years down the road." Boeing’s smart technology literally pulled down experienced pilots, killing hundreds of innocent travelers. The impact of that deadly failure has yet to be fully gauged.

Where does this leave visions ideas and ideas for the future of the built environment? We will look at two aspects affecting cities: The concept of the Smart City and, in a second article, the future of Autonomous Vehicles.
Smart City: Helpless illustrations

The Smart City Concept

"Smart City" was all along an idea that was too abstract for most. What did it mean, other than that sensors and data were somehow involved with the purpose of making everything more efficient and better? Corporations of all ilk promoted it, universities created departments in its name. In some cases the campus was envisioned as a small version of smart city. However, nobody could point to much more than light poles with photocells, WiFi and cameras or sensors on a trash can to show when the can is full to describe their smart city; pretty sorry manifestations of what it meant to be "smart".

The Smart City shares this lack of usefulness with its small cousin, the Smart House, where the biggest promise was that heat or the lights can be switched from a remote smart phone, or that the refrigerator would report when the milk was either empty or had gone bad, not exactly enticing perspectives that everybody absolutely had to have.
The first mobile phone by Motorola:
Not yet a smart phone

This doesn't necessarily speak against sensors or data. The lack of imagination for what new technology could be used has its precedents. Proponents of smart cities could point to the onset of personal computers. The personal computer initially faced tons of skepticism about purpose and need as well. Back in the early eighties nobody could quite imagine how individuals would use a device previously known to power moon-flights.

The difficulty to imagine the future is almost an axiom of technology: Only once a thing exists, will needs and purposes be discovered that veer far from the original usage? Certainly the smart phone went down that trajectory. Nobody imagined the mobile phone as a small computer with which one could not only call aunt Nellie for free but also see her and take a screenshot picture, but also open the garage door, pay bills, check the weather and order anything from a taxi to pizza. Now the innocent phone has become an object of addiction. New purposes are still being invented. But what may be true for an individual product type, cannot easily be applied to entire systems such as buildings or cities, especially not when those systems are as essential to basic human needs as the house, the village and the city certainly are. While we may now consider a landline phone as comparably "dumb", we wouldn't call a lovely house or city dumb, only because it isn't fully wired.
I think of smart cities as a process because it’s a change in local context and improvements in technology. It’s not an end state. You don’t suddenly declare yourself a smart city and then forget about it. (Debra Lam, the managing director of Smart Cities and Inclusive Innovation for Georgia Tech)
When people begin to turn a cold shoulder to social media and their once beloved devices and gadgets, the excitement  for something as vague as “smart city”  is certain to nose-dive. More and more people find an always listening Alexa creepy. The idea that listening, sensing and communicating devices could be planted into all the mundane elements that make up homes or cities to form the "internet of everything" is not only nebulous, it has become outright scary.

"Imagine countless sensors tracking building performance, traffic conditions, city services, and citizen and pedestrian preferences, creating an endless stream of information that can help make urban living more productive, cost-effective, and sustainable." (ARCHITECT) This helpful explanation is no longer a siren call of an "Utopian vision", but a horror scenario in which more can go wrong than right. Before this utopia ever had a chance to become a widely accepted goal,  people seemed to remember that the home, the neighborhood and the city were too dear to them to allow them to become all seeing and sensing observers of everything. The late Max Frisch, a Swiss writer, had anticipated the dilemma that technology can create alienation as early as 1957. In his masterpiece Homo Faber, Latin for "man the maker" he dealt extensively with the issue of how humanity and technology interact:
“Technology... the knack of so arranging the world that we don't have to experience it.” ― Max Frisch, Homo Faber
Technology in art: Anselm Kiefer Melancholia 1990
One is reminded of how Jane Jacobs always remained more popular than the homo faber Robert Moses. So it makes sense that now, when technological optimism seems to be globally in decline, ARCHITECT devoted its latest issue to letting the air out of the "smart city", naming its title story neutrally “Making Sense of the Smart City” It may not have been the initial intent, but in the end, each article describes a real life failure of the smart city to get off  the ground. The most telling example is the excellent article by Karrie Jacobs about the fate of Union Point, a smart city promise in the orbit of Boston to be erected on an abandoned airfield. The emerging city stalled, and a part of the tarmac is parked up with thousands of returned Volkswagen diesels with cheater software which the German car maker had to take back under court order. Jacobs writes wryly:
The failed smart city as refuge to cars equipped with computers programmed to lie—this requires a literary reference far more dystopian than the Emerald City. 
It is easy to poke fun of the smart city, even though its is beyond doubt that cities can only be effectively governed with a data-based model of operation, whether it is traffic management, transit operation, zoning or energy modeling.  True, many cities have more data than useful application for the data, chiefly because they fail to ask the right questions. Obvious examples of a useful application of data based technology is transit that shows actual bus and train locations and arrival times, smart parking garage apps that show the number of open spaces on a map instead of forcing people to drive through the whole thing garage or city to find out what is full. A broader approach to the same problem is the smart curb that shows on an app where the open spaces are and makes meters superfluous because the parking duration is sensed. The smart curb also shows where scooters park, where accessible crosswalks and bus-stops are, or where the Zipcars are parked or where deliveries can be made. A smart city would have a database of its buildings which not only shows a 3-D outline of buildings (like Google Earth) but knows the uses, the occupancy at any given time, the energy consumption and exit-ways. This would certainly be useful in a fire or earthquake, but as much in the entire technology discussion, this vision also opens Orwellian fears and perspectives.
Technology in art: George Grosz 1920

The focus on technology for a city to be smart may be misguided altogether. Or, as this quote illustrates, a distraction from a true value proposition:
"What is happening here is a classic example of company leaders not seeing the difference between improving technology and improving the core value proposition . . . true innovation comes from understanding what really drives the value of your offering from your customer's perspective, and doing things which improve that first." Nick Skillicorn of IdeatoValue.com
In the ARCHITECT story about smart cities Elisabeth Evitts Dickinson concludes her description of
the Jurong Lake District in Singapur thus:
Turns out that a smart city, to be truly smart, needs to be based on thoughtful and strategic urban planning—an indispensable framework to accommodate the technology of the future.
The smart city, then, is the well planned city, the city which is pleasant to live in, flexible to adapt to change, benign in its energy footprint and adverse impacts on climate, and resilient to catastrophic events. That is the city that ought to be, not the city that is. Here once more professor Rittel:
Big data: Not a savior
By now we are all beginning to realize that one of the most intractable problems
is that of defining problems (of knowing what distinguishes an observed condition from a desired condition) and of locating problems (finding where in the complex causal networks the trouble really lies). In turn, and equally intractable, is the problem of identifying the actions that might effectively narrow the gap between what-is and what-ought-to-be. (Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning)
What sounds very modest is in reality the high art of combining the lessons of a few thousand years of urban development with current and future demands, revolution and reconstruction all in one.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Related articles on this blog:
Can there be Science in City Planning? 

McKinsey: Smart Cities, Digital Solutions for a More Livable Future
The Race to Code the Curb
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The recent "The great bomb cyclone" in Colorado and all kinds of extreme weather remind us that the built environment has to adapt to new challenges. This article addresses how extreme precipitation challenges conventional ways to handle stormwater.

Floods have been around forever and since at least Noah people understood the relation of rain and flood, cherished water as the source of life and  feared it for its destructive powers.
The town of Garessio, Italy, Nov. 2016 

For most of history rain and water were a divine matter over which people had no say except for sometimes ingenious attempts for managing both such as Mesopotamia's river irrigation and Roman aqueducts. Such sophistication was mostly forgotten again in the Western Hemisphere during the Middle ages. Cities remained cesspools until early of the 20th centuries.

Like in most parts of the world planners, engineers and hydrologists have to concern themselves with water in earnest when industrialization leads to rapid urbanization and water is in high demand where it is often not easily accessed, for drinking,  power and production. How to manage rain runoff has been an afterthought except for arid zones where water has always been handled as a precious commodity.  Run-off as a source of pollution and destruction finally produced regulation. 2019 marks the 29th year the federal EPA has enacted a stormwater permitting program.

Recent years mark the beginning of a new period in which urbanization, sealed surfaces and climate change upend almost all pollution and destruction management tools that have been developed so far.
How not to do it: Heavily engineered traditional stormwater management
Photo Lisa Hollingsworth-Segedy.
Pennsylvania, one of the primary bay states most responsible for the estuary’s conservation, saw its wettest July and August on record in 2018. Virginia and Maryland also experienced a rainy summer, with July rains delivering the second-highest total precipitation in Maryland’s history. Extra rain means extra runoff, which brings larger amounts of nitrogen-and-phosphorus-rich agricultural and industrial byproducts into the bay. Stormwater Report, February 2019)
While average temperatures gradually warm in most parts of the world, resulting in increasingly frequent and intense rainstorms, human expansion and development continue to disrupt the natural landscape’s ability to manage stormwater runoff. According to the first global analysis of how these trends already have affected rates of both precipitation and runoff generation, existing climate predictions may underestimate how today’s land-use decisions could influence tomorrow’s flash floods. (Stormwater Report December 2018)
The history of regulations for stormwater in the US (WEF)
The "new normal" puts in question whether recent progress in stormwater management technology has gone in the right direction and certainly, whether it is enough. The new record rainfalls suggest no.
Researchers with Columbia University (New York) and Wuhan University (China) found that runoff generation rates, which are understudied, are generally higher than precipitation rates. The finding suggests that the combination of hotter climates and greater runoff volumes can result in flash floods without proper stormwater management measures in place. (Stormwater Report December 2018)
A look back shows that the history of stormwater management in cities can be described in phases that began with benign neglect to heavy engineering, to natural system imitation. Where do we have to go from here?
Slate: Chicago sormwater tunnel. (Photo: David Schallio)
From simply letting rain be rain and letting it clean the streets from garbage and sewage, to basic measures of channeling rain in gutters, downspouts and curbs along sidewalks and drainage ditches, simple stormwater management tactics were enough for centuries. There was little thought about where the water would wind up or what it would do to rivers or the ocean. There weren't enough people and there wasn't enough run-off to turn these simple management techniques into a problem.

In the 1920's  cities in the US and other developing countries began building underground sewage systems.  Early on US public works projects began to  separate sewage and stormwater piping systems which made the US a leader in water and sewer management.
US rainfall map
Source: National Climate Assessment (U.S. Global Change Research Program, 2014)

In 1972, the concern about clean water brought into focus what stormwater and sewage do to groundwater, rivers and oceans, the Clean Water Act became law. In the 1990s people began talking about a global water crisis since the natural cycle seem to get out of whack, especially if rain would not replenish groundwater through filtering into the ground but instead rush into rivers and streams and become saltwater in the ocean. The prospect of water shortages brought about a broad set of technologies which can be described as rainwater harvest, i.e methods to use rainwater before it would become saltwater. Drastically growing population centers heightened awareness for the need of plentiful and clean water, the concerns for groundwater, streams, rivers and the large coastal estuaries such as Puget Sound and the Chesapeake Bay.

Engineers began to distinguish about quantity and quality management of stormwater.    Quality focuses on dealing with the initial run-off from heated and polluted urban hard surfaces such as rooftops, parking lots and highways. The dirty "first inch" (of rain)  brought about the desire to keep it from reaching creeks and rivers where it would warm and pollute waters more than any of the other inches that would follow.
How not do it: Pipe and discharge

Measures to retain water quantity through temporary storage and retention had to become bigger and bigger due to the ongoing paving over of natural spaces where rainwater can't seep in the ground any longer and instead, rushes to the nearest inlet or channel.
In the U.S., roadways, rooftops, parking lots, and other impervious surfaces that prevent runoff from infiltrating the soil cover more than 25.6 million acres, an area nearly the size of Ohio — according to the 2006 National Land Cover Database. (WEF)
When large quantities of run-off rapidly reach rivers and streams, the fast movin water masses erode the banks of tributaries, streams and rivers, leaving behind the unnaturally steep and unstable embankments with the jarring tree roots and rocks which began to look normal. The dislodged soils flush as silt into bays and coastal waters and suffocate bottom grasses, causing  a lack of oxygen, algae blooms and threatening marine life in the process. Rapid large quantities of run-off also unleash their destructive forces on the built environment, washing out roads, embankments, bridges and buildings.
Ellicott City after a flash flood 

The stormwater retention pond, long a staple of farmers (doubling as a fire pond), became an adjunct of  suburban development. Unlike the rural brethren, these ponds didn't look scenic in any way: Inflow, outflow pipes and overflow pipes along with weirs, rip-rap and other engineering features dominate their appearance, especially when the ponds are low or dry. Attempts of stabilizing streams and channels lead to concrete lined streams without life which only further accelerated the discharge of water.

Dissatisfied by the ponds' and channels' sheer ugliness and their frequent malfunctions, attention turned to bio-retention and stream restoration experiments in an attempt of trying to create natural conditions.  Attention also turned to the treatment of the first inch of rain which was also the most polluted.  Green roofs, bioswales, pervious pavement, meandering streams and a host of other methods to prevent water from just gushing into the next pond, pipe or culvert, became the calling card of the most recent period of management techniques.
Traditional stormwater pond (MD Manual)

But the joy about the introduction of green design into the built environment for water quantity and quality management didn't last long. Sprawl kept the upper hand, allowing less and less water to recharge groundwater. The onset of record "tropical" style rainfalls added another blow to the sensible solutions even in moderate climate zones. The combination of sealed surfaces, ongoing urbanization and heavier rains began to overwhelm all management systems with frightening frequency, no matter what generation they were. The quaint concern about the first inch or even the early retention systems that could hold a "ten year" storm became obsolete with storms that dumped 6" of rain in just three hours and were dubbed 500 or 1000 year storms. Those supposedly rare events popped up in the eastern and western US, became part of hurricanes in the south and also ransacked in milder regions in the UK, Italy, France and Germany which had never seen anything like it before.
Destruction in France: Villegeilhenc, Oct. 2018

Now stormwater had become a menace of life and death dimension when tepid little creeks turned into torrents of destructive force within minutes.
The story of how Florence brought a thriving region to its knees is about to get a lot more familiar. Climate scientists expect that as global temperatures rise, much more rain will fall in extreme storms. The warmer the atmosphere, the more moisture it can hold, which means storms can get wetter. (Nature 11/18)
The onset of rainstorms that were previously unknown in such intensity upends the decades old rules of stormwater management and threatens a return to the heavily engineered forms compared to which natural management via bio-retention and rain gardens looks like child's play. Regulators and engineers have to go back to the drawing board and devise measures that are natural, deal with the still most polluting first half hour of rain, and are also are resistant to large and intense volumes of waters. Retention ponds and all the measures of quantity control have to be sized for the new dimensions of rain. The "100 year rainfall" event is insufficient as the measure to gauge capacity.
The intent of the extreme flood criteria is to (a) prevent flood damage from large storm events, (b) maintain the boundaries of the pre development 100-year Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and/or locally designated floodplain, and (c) protect the physical integrity of BMP control structures. (Maryland Unified Stormwater Sizing Criteria)
Now even gigantic engineering feats like Chicago's downtown stormwater tunnels may not be enough to do the trick when it comes to the new type of rain events.
Altogether, 109 miles of subway-size tunnel lie beneath Chicago and its suburbs, covering more miles than the L, culminating in three suburban reservoirs (not the kind you drink from). This is the Deep Tunnel, formally the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan, and it may be the world’s most ambitious and expensive effort to manage urban flooding and water pollution. It is a project, in the visionary tradition of Chicago engineering, to bottle rainstorms. (Slate)
The response to the increasingly frequent tropical rain falls in non-tropical latitudes requires a radical, costly, and wide reaching three-prong response of run-off reduction, run-off engineering and adaptation/resilience of both, the built environment and waterways to withstand the force of water. The three strategies combined require a new governance that crosses traditional departments and sees stormwater in the bigger context of watersheds, zoning and land use plans. And they require massive amounts of funds.

To achieve measurable run-off reduction a much more aggressive protection of forests and open spaces is needed so they can absorb rainwater. This means nothing less than an end of sprawl and paving over large amounts of the watersheds that feed streams and rivers. It even means "unpaving" of derelict sites, unused parking lots and abandoned shopping centers and malls.
This type of flooding requires more than rain gardens and bio-retention
to be managed (Ellicott City 2018)

Since so much of the landscape is already impervious, natural landscapes or even some reversals  won't suffice, engineering will still be needed as well. The attempts of mimicking nature in the built environment with bio-retention along sidewalks, parking lots and the construction of green roofs and rain gardens is beneficial in many respects, (especially water quality, water temperature and urban heat island effect), but it cannot deal with the enormous quantities which now routinely overwhelm all existing systems. Heroic and costly measures such as stormwater tunnels and holding bassins will be needed on scales that were previously unknown.

Lastly, resilience: To avoid death and horrendous property and economic damage, our built environment has to recede from flood zones and areas that can't be defended or fortified. Fortification should be limited to areas where retreat is not an option. Flood walls, fortified storefronts, mobile barriers and stronger sidewalk and street pavements in areas where flash floods must be expected flash-floods will not always be welcome, but they will become increasingly necessary.
Traditiona stormwater pond outflow

The resources needed to face the challenges are not only huge because of the size of sprawl, increased rainfalls but also because older stormwater systems are now falling apart from old age.This convergence of needs requires more than increasing water and sewer fees, an approach that could break the back of the urban poor.  Instead, the "polluter pays principle" needs to be applied and those who cause large amounts of run-off need to pay for it.
Stormwater user fees have become one prevalent option for developing revenue. Stormwater user fee mechanisms take on many forms and variations but may be generalized into two major categories: utilities and fees. Stormwater utilities charge consumers for use of the municipal stormwater conveyance system and stormwater management services, including costs for system
operation and maintenance, stormwater quality facilities, capital construction, and flood control facilities (NAFSMA 2006). “Usage” varies and is determined by the magnitude of stormwater runoff the consumer produces (An Analysis of Trends in U.S. Stormwater Utility & Fee Systems)
The State of Maryland had recognized this and enacted a stormwater fee which the Republican Governor derided as a "rain tax", eliminating the State mandated fee. But in his own State, the historic small town of Ellicott City has become a tragic, but very instructive case study for the scale of the problem and the actions that are needed.

In Ellicott City the watersheds of three streams which converge on the town have been paved over at a rapid clip as part of suburbanization. Poor engineering of channeling the streams through town has additionally created bottle-necks which force excess water to flow down Main Street during heavy storms.  The historic structures are too weak to hold up against the wild river that Main Street has become twice in the last two years with what some described as 1000 year rainfalls.

Similar events in India, Britain, France and elsewhere show, that Maryland's predicaments are not unique but only harbingers of a new age in stormwater where rain has become a deadly threat.

Green infrastructure, a buzzword with a focus on managing stormwater in more natural ways is a comprehensive response to stormwater but its focus on small scale measures is not suited to meet the challenges ahead. The usual scope and definitions are still be too narrow:
Green infrastructure is a cost-effective, resilient approach to managing wet weather impacts that provides many community benefits. While single-purpose gray stormwater infrastructure—conventional piped drainage and water treatment systems—is designed to move urban stormwater away from the built environment, green infrastructure reduces and treats stormwater at its source while delivering environmental, social, and economic benefits.(EPA)
True green infrastructure must go beyond landscape architects and civil engineers and involve all  disciplines that deal with the natural and the built environment to ensure that the three prong approach..
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It's not easy being green, that is why the suggested Green New Deal is far from being a done deal. Why green initiatives are not a walk in the park is well illustrated by the difficulties that Maryland's renewable energy ambitions encounter. In 2017 Maryland passed a bill  mandating 25% of all energy to be renewable by 2020. Predictable opposition came from those who, like Maryland's Governor, think that ambitious renewable energy portfolios are too disruptive and costly for the state's economy.
Are solar "farms" this scenic?
"This legislation is a tax increase that will be levied upon every single electricity ratepayer in Maryland and, for that reason alone, I cannot allow it to become law," Hogan
So the Governor vetoed the bill, then legislators overrode the veto and the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) became law. Thus Maryland became one of 29 states and the District of Columbia with RPS requirements. But Maryland is far from being a nirvana for renewable energy production thanks to renewable energy credit (RECs) that allow energy providers to buy their way out of compliance.
Although it varies from year to year, typically over 85 percent of non-solar Tier 1 RECs used for compliance with the Maryland RPS come from outside the state. Of these RECs, about 80 percent are from states within the PJM service area 
Each electricity supplier must submit a report to the Public Service Commission annually that demonstrates compliance with the RPS. An electricity supplier that fails to meet the standard must pay into the Maryland Strategic Energy Investment Fund (SEIF).  In 2019 1.95% tier 1 solar is required. Compliance fees paid into the SEIF, which is administered by the Maryland Energy Administration, will be used to fund grant and loan programs for Tier 1 renewable energy resources. Compliance fees for the solar obligation may only be used to support new solar resources in the state.
According to EIA, renewable energy generation accounted for about 10 percent of Maryland’s total net generation in 2017, broken down as follows: 5.8 percent from hydro; 1.6 percent from biomass; 1.5 percent from wind; and less than 1 percent from solar (975 MW).  (DNR Report 2018)
This puts Maryland's national rank in renewables at #12 in solar and #31 in wind. This is why, with news about the impacts of climate change getting grimmer every year, the renewable goals are back up with Maryland's Senate Bill 516, dubbed the Clean Energy Jobs bill, the title chosen so that even the traditional binary thinkers can see that economic development can be achieved by being green.
Maryland's reality: Solar installations and RPS requirements

The bill includes a revamped RPS regime culminating in the requirement that 50% of energy needs to come from tier 1 renewable energy sources by 2030, with a minimum of 14.5% derived from solar energy. That means that solar energy has to grow no less than 14 times over current levels, a very ambitious goal which immediately begs the question, how can it be done?

The debate not only rekindles the usual battle lines, it brings up a set of unlikely, new opponents: environmentalists themselves, namely those who think that the terms solar "farm", solar "garden" or wind "park" are euphemisms of a growing utility industry which abuses the renewable energy goals to push itself into in scenic settings, conservation areas or fertile agriculture lands. In Maryland the debate about wind farms in the scenic Appalachian mountains in the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east (Ocean City views) have goe on for years. Now new concerns revolve around the corporate set-up of Community Solar. "Community solar is really developer-owned solar", an environmental advocate told me. What is the impact of large on the ground solar installations on Maryland's smart growth policies and protected lands, especially if there is no statewide plan?

These new fronts leave rate-payers, consumers and at times, environmentalists confused. It is pretty easy to refute the old tactic of pitching economy against ecology, a false alternative way of thinking that already Al Gore tried to combat. The Green New Deal proponents turn the argument around and say that the Green New deal is not only not a zero sum game but a precondition for a sustainable economy.

But the new battle lines about solar, pitting agriculture, preservationists and naturalists on the one side against green energy deal makers on the other side are much harder to decipher. The former argue that solar and wind farm are industrial applications which are placed without a clear masterplan as it is mandatory nationwide for land use and transportation. Such industrial applications shouldn't be allowed on ag zoned land or protected open spaces, especially not where soils are fertile or where land serves as riperian or visual buffer.
Solar farm in the desert near Joshua Tree National Park
(photo: Philipsen)

To which the green energy deal makers say: "You can't be for green energy and then prevent the necessary spaces needed for production", as Josh Tulkin who heads up Maryland's Sierra Club explained to me. State Senator Pinsky, chair of the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee and a staunch ally of environmentalists, made a similar argument when he emphasized that hundreds of square miles of cheap on-the-ground-solar are needed to compete with cheap fossile fuels. He spoke at the recent Environmental Summit in Maryland's capital, an event meant to showcase the strength and unity of the State's many environmental groups. His message received plenty of applause.  On-the-ground-solar, he pointed out, can be competitive with natural gas. On-the-roof-solar, he says, is too expensive, even though it is very desirable.
The current NIMBY battles [about solar] are nuts. Senator Paul Pinsky.
Maryland, a state known for its "smart growth" policies which go nearly as far back as Oregon's, has several urban rural growth boundaries, notably the growth boundary in Baltimore County which was adopted in the 1970s, when Oregon did its national model. This has kept the "north County" rural, pristine, scenic and rich.  An especially active land preservation group there is the Valleys Planning Council which testified in Baltimore County about local regulations and in Annapolis about the new Senate bill. The largest solar farm approved in Maryland so far is a 1,000 acre facility in Somerset County, the idea that such "farms" could spring up on Baltimore County's fertile soils worries Teresa Moore, executive director of the Valleys Planning Council. “The zeal for the renewables is outpacing our ability to plan for it” said Moore at a meeting with the new Baltimore County Executive.

The Valley Planning Council points out that the county's legislation allows commercial solar by special exception in resource conservation, business, and manufacturing zones. They argue that this indiscriminately  wide  open door will make solar developers flock to agricultural land instead of putting their solar "farms" on abandoned business parks and vacant parking lots in commercial areas. 
All Baltimore County applications for solar farms were, indeed, in the resource conservation zones and many are tied up in legal battles. The Valley Planning Council argues that the county failed to plan for solar and create siting guidelines or incentives. However, the power of local zoning and regulation is limited when it comes to uitilities.

The Maryland Bar Journal, in a recent addition about land use, listed all the Maryland counties which had placed a moratorium on solar farms until they could fix their zoning codes to deal with the issue. The list included many rural counties. The nations richest county, Montgomery County in the suburban orbit of the nation's capital is the most restrictive: There on the ground solar in their protected rural area is only allowed as an accessory use to feed on site consumption (up to 120%). But the Bar Journal also noted, that local zoning restrictions carry only so far when it comes to utilities, a domaine largely controlled by the State and its Public Service Commission. Seen in the context of the states portfolio RPS, the matter looks, indeed, like a utility issue.
Currently, the Maryland PSC, through its CPCN authority, can pre-empt county zoning regulations to site energy generation facilities like solar, although there is a requirement that local ordinances and master plans be given due consideration by the PSC.(DNR Report 2018)
Into this already explosive mix burst  a report that a large solar installation would cause a 537 acre forest clear-cut,  a plan of Georgetown University, first noted in 2017, to install a 32.5-megawatt solar array near La Plata in Charles County. Opponents decry that this would hit a large area of undisturbed forest, deemed an “important bird area” by the Audubon Society. The solar plant is part of Georgetown's commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by half. (Baltimore SUN). Clearly, guidance is needed when the goal of reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions is pursued by cutting down one of the best carbon sinks, trees.
Georgetown University forest in Charles County (Washington Post)

In the quest for guidance, the Baltimore based Abell Foundation commissioned a report about solar siting, but publication on the delicate topic has been delayed by concerns expressed during the report review. No specific reasons for the delay were available.

Solar panels installed on agricultural land don't necessarily eliminate agricultural use forever. Solar installations are usually constructed based on 25 year leases, also a reasonable expectation of how long panels last or have a predictable energy output. After that, land can theoretically be returned to agriculture, albeit with a potential for some initial reduction in productivity due to loss of topsoil, compaction, change in pH, and change in available nutrients.

Depending on future energy consumption, the efficiency of voltaic panels and what other solar sources (other than ground installed panels) would contribute, the amount of land that needed to achieve the 14% portfolio goal for solar energy varies. Therefore, estimates for the acreage needed vary. A study for North Carolina (with a 12.5% solar portfolio) estimates the state's need with 75,000 acres of ground installed solar. A Maryland study arrives at 17,800 acres for this much smaller state, a very similar rate based on land area.
This study estimated that 2.4 GW of utility scale solar installations would be installed from 2018 – 2028. The DOE Sunshot Vision Study estimates that 4.4 – 10.1 acres of direct land use are required per MW of solar energy. Using an average estimate of 7.25 acres needed per MW of solar energy, 17,400 acres of land would be required to site these facilities (Daymark study 2018)
Adding such a large amount of solar arrays to the landscape obviously has significant impacts, from esthetics to elimination of fertile soils for ag production to impacts on pollinators and stormwater and soil contamination from materials associated with the panels and their frames, such as zinc and aluminium.
Solar installation in West Friendship, Howard County MD (Solar Thermal)

It isn't that there wouldn't be a large body of data and papers. In the well regulated utility environment, volumes of guidelines and reports have been assembled to address some of these issues, for example stormwater. But rarely is there a geo-spatial masterplan which addresses the relations between supply and demand, the protection of valuable open spaces, the needs for ag production for food security or the impact on home values or simply the human experience. The distribution aspect, i.e where renewable energy is produced versus where it is consumed is an aspect that has hobbled German off-shore windfarms for years because nobody can agree on the routing for the electric lines needed to bring the power from remote North Sea locations to the metro centers. German solar production has caused another problem in a country without an abundance of sunshine and without residential air conditioning, where energy consumption is highest in the winter: When the sun is out and high, the heavily subsidized mostly on the roof ("after the meter") installations produce so much energy that the net would fry unless much of the installations are turned off. In the opposite case, when the sun doesn't shine, at night or when solar arrays are covered in snow, installed solar power needs to be backed by other forms of energy production (the intermittency problem). The larger the solar contribution, the bigger the problem, unless new storage technologies can be developed.

The lack of evidence-based long-term planning to guidance for the development of solar arrays and the associated costs and benefits is clearly the biggest obstacle in a wide acceptance of ambitious solar goals, in spite of the abundance of material on RPS here in Maryland. Thus, environmentalists of all stripes agree on one thing: A statewide blueprint for solar development is needed. Or as Senator Pinsky put it: "Expansion of solar needs a blueprint so we protect critical areas and still get the square miles of solar we need". Therefore, it is a good thing that the ambitious portfolio goal is paired with Maryland's Senate bill 744, Protecting Natural Resources and Preserving Productive Farms – Commission on the Development of a Blueprint for Solar Energy in Maryland, which demands just such a blueprint should have a good chance of passing. One would have wished the plan before the goal, since it stands to reason that a goal derived from a plan is far more realistic than a goal largely derived from political aspirations.

Specific recommendations from local jurisdictions should inform the blueprint: Namely to prohibit the use on prime soils, to direct commercial solar facilities to industrial and manufacturing zones and brownfields, and to avoid impacts to scenic roads and vistas. The Sierra Club also provided a brief overview for some guiding principles for a blueprint.

With sound planning it stands to reason that Maryland should be able to find 17,000 acres of land for the cheap ground solar installations. However, it will be key to prevent that solar takes the same course that developers have taken far too long, i.e. build where it is simply the easiest, i.e. on flat land that is highly valuable as open space and as agricultural land. The last thing any growing state needs is that development sprawl is followed by green sprawl. 

 Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
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Predicting the future of mobility has a long history. Ever since first the advent of the automobile and then the airplane caused considerable disruption, people want to know what is next? Most predictions focused on technology instead of social context (like flying automobiles) and were patently wrong. This hasn't stopped transportation professionals trying to predict, now with scientific modeling and the help of powerful computers, ever more complex scenarios with ever more variables. All the while the transportation world keeps shifting.
What's happening in transportation? All images are screenshots from
2019 Transportation Research Board (TRB) unless otherwise noted

A a short few years ago, the transportation future looked rosy. Millenials were trending back to cities, away from cars and towards ride sharing and the so called "active modes". Tesla had shown that an electric car doesn't have to be frumpy and slow and the world seemed to be set to combat climate change. Transportation experts were convinced that transit, electrification, automated vehicles, docked bicycle sharing and ride sharing via transportation network companies (TNC) were the future of urban living, and that urban living would be the prevailing form of living anyway.

Then, in the last two or three years a few things happened which made the future much less certain and potentially much less attractive:
  • Research shows that TNCs actually increased miles driven (VMT) in the cities were they were used the most and that they did not only not reduce driving and congestion but canalized transit instead
    Pilot for robot delivery of groceries (Kroger)
  • Transit ridership dropped across the country as gas prices sank in spite of the fully recovered economy with another surge in SUV sales
  • an automated vehicle (AV) killed a pedestrian in a Phoenix suburb
  • Tesla began to struggle and with it the believe that soon all cars, buses and trucks would be battery powered
  • Not only were docked bikes replaced by dockless share bikes cluttering streets and sidewalks, they were pushed into a dark corner by electric scooters which nobody had predicted at all.
  • The US government rolls back support for transit, clean energy, fuel efficiency and recently tax credits for electric cars 
This is a lot of arrows piercing the brave new transportation world in which suburban sprawl would be replaced by compact, walkable and urban mixed use communities, in which residents would work from home, in a coffee-shop or walk to work, better yet, bike or use a scooter. In that world automotive supremacy and its high toll would have been replaced by zero fatality mobility and a city in which most of the ugly parking lots and garages would have been converted into parks and great public spaces. Is this dream gone up in smoke?
Automated mini-bus in TRB exhibit hall
(Photo: Philipsen)

Certainly, boosterism for technology and related optimism has been replaced by uncertainty. Once again, the future ain't what it was supposed to be, to vary Yogi Berra. Once again it has become obvious that new technologies by themselves don't bring about nirvana; no matter what the technology. Once again it has become clear that more important than predicting the future would be shaping it.

Instead of fretting about uncertainty, communities need to define what they want out of technology and then craft policies which can manage those technologies. (Example: NACTO "Blueprint"). Only then can be ensured that technology serves community goals instead of torpedoing them. In other words, the setbacks and problems that have arisen shouldn't encourage those naysayers who don't like any change and glorify yesterday's world as the "good old times", but should encourage policy makers to think extra hard how technology could be harnessed to solve the current transportation mess.

Take ridesharing by Uber and Lyft: Fundamentally those and similar systems represent progress over the way how the traditional taxi service worked before, but not if the rideshare companies become juggernauts who operate without regulations and licenses, without any caps on their sheer numbers, and not if the services are mostly deployed where real estate is extremely tight as in Manhattan or San Francisco. In big city downtowns existing transit is far more suited to move large crowds than drive services which mostly move one person, whether with or without driver.
Confusion and uncertainty

Take autonomous vehicles, whether connected (CAV) or not (AV). (A good overview can be found here)
If they remain unregulated (for example not passing a licensing test) and without any rules which establish how and where they can move or rules that distinguish between privately owned or fleet based AVs, they are certain to increase miles traveled, induce new demand for single occupancy travel and potentially add the nightmare of zero occupancy travel (if used for deliveries and errants). In short, unregulated AVs would make the sprawl patterns created by the automobile even worse, even before one includes the discussion of delivery robots which may ride down sidewalks or fly as drones overhead.

Take "active transportation" from walking to electric scooters: If unchecked and unregulated, undocked bikes, scooters and whatever other device will descend on us next, will usurp our public space and increase the divide between young and healthy folks and those with mobility impairments. No matter how much fun for the riders, scooters zipping by slowly walking pedestrians, children, small children or the disabled are uncomfortable and unsafe, unless there is a consensus on how the precious spaces can be shared, who has to be where and how scooters can be made compatible with pedestrians, for example by throttling their speeds to a more reasonable clip than the current 17mph some of these can reach even on flat terrain.
Modeling or changing the future?

Take transit. There has been little discussion how transit will transform once trains and buses can run without drivers, in part, because unions take a dim view on this prospect and they have a strong hand in public transit.

But just like the teamster union couldn't prevent the demise of the horse and buggy (in spite of their name), transit unions won't be able to prevent automated transit vehicles. It is worth regulation, though, how existing operators can be protected from sudden job loss, or whether public transit buses should run without any staff on board to ensure the safety of riders. If properly deployed, automated fleet based vehicles of all kinds of sizes and modes could form a much more comprehensive and integrated mobility system than today's transit where cost (of the operator) often prohibits dispatch into more sparsely populated areas. Transportation experts call this future service model MaaS, mobility as a service.
San Francisco: Horizon scenarios

Finally, take climate change. Transportation is one of the largest contributors of air pollution, smog and CO2 emissions which are causing the atmosphere to heat up. No matter how much the current US government tries to roll back the move towards renewable energies, the world will move towards using sun, wind and geo-thermal as the sources for environmentally friendly energy. Cars, trucks, buses and ships which  burn fossil fuels will become obsolete, the question is only, when and if the  US will stay in the market of mobility solutions, or will the country become entirely reliant on imports. Tesla has become a symbol of solar and electric competency in the US, and nobody should rejoice in the fact that Elon Musk is stumbling. His efforts of taking electric vehicles out of the golf cart niche by making them highly attractive and functional remain valid, even if his ideas for urban transportation via Teslas in tunnels seem overly naive. This is even more true for Tesla's battery and solar production.

True, battery production with its reliance on precious materials mined under often terrible circumstances, the still high embedded energy in batteries, their poor performance in very cold conditions, their still relatively low energy density and long charging times remain serious short-comings which may, or may not finally open up the long predicted hydrogen age with its fuel cells as "batteries".

True, autonomous vehicles would inevitably fail once in a while, and still have ways to go before they master ambiguous conditions such as fog and snow. They still falter in complicated urban situations which are often managed through eye contact, small hand signals and other forms of communication among motorists and pedestrians which the AV hasn't mastered yet. But there is no reason to believe artificial intelligence wouldn't relatively soon out-perform humans when it comes to overall safety.
Autonomous vehicles, Ford

True, millennials will grow older and some may still want to move to the suburbs when they have children. But there is no denying that walkable denser mixed use communities are far more sustainable and resilient than the sprawl of old.

True, the US with its doubling down on gas, coal, fracking and their retreat from the Paris Climate Accord are not a a cause for optimism. But cities and regions have stepped up to fill the federal void and there is no reason to believe that metro regions won't continue to collaborate globally, making up for the increasing inability of nation states to perform.

The setbacks of  recent years slow the dawn of a much more environmentally sustainable transportation future ,but they shouldn't be seen as an excuse for not solving the enormous problems of current transportation systems.

Electrification, automation and the sharing economy continue to hold promises worth vying for. In fact, the threats which result from continued non sustainable approaches are so menacing that better policies should be mandatory for all who care about the future of our cities, towns and landscapes and the people within them. To be a smart city should no longer mean simply using technology, it must mean to manage it wisely to achieve carefully crafted goals.
Electric buses: Do they have enough range in cold weather?

EU research about Human, Machine Interaction (HMI)
Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
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Growth, Capitalism and the GDP

Even in a state of high alert about climate change, sustainability and resilience study after study about longterm perspectives for the global economy revolves around growth, whether the study is produced by the World Monetary Fund (IMF), OECD or the UN. Voices that describe a future without growth are like voices in a desert, rare and barely heard. This is surprising, since already more than 170 years ago, the philosopher-economist Karl Marx concluded in his "Grundrisse" (notes) which led to the book "the Capital” a “Critique of Political Economy” that ongoing growth was impossible and that an economy based on growth would inevitably crash in regular intervals "cyclical crisis"). This in turn would destruct a lot of the accumulated "overproduction" (Mar) and thus create new demand. The  cyclical economic event could be a mere recession or a much more disruptive event such as a war where values are destroyed or war where destruction is purpose. History after Marx seemed to prove him right in some respects and wrong in others.
Much can be added into the GDP

The most recent financial crisis annihilated by some estimates $14 trillion or the equivalent of the entire US gross domestic (GDP) product in 2008. Of course the destructive powers of WW I, the Great Depression or WW II were even bigger. The most growth focused economic figure of all, the gross domestic product, GDP, invented as a reference point to get a handle on the Great Depression, cemented growth as the goal of economists the world over. The GDP is a tool to measure growth and to find out whether growth happens, similar to a thermometer for the economy. It was a rather coarse metric in a time devoid of economic data and helped the fathers of the new deal to move the right levers to end the depression. Since then the GDP metric has been considered problematic many times, among others by Robert Kennedy.
...the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.
It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.
And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.(Robert Kennedy 1968)
The history of the GDP: Kuznets
Sustainability and Growth

With climate change and the gap between rich and poor getting bigger in many countries, the discussion about the GDP is renewed again. It happens that my brother, Dr Dirk Philipsen, an economic historian at Duke University, wrote a whole book about the GDP, its history and its shortcomings. Like Kennedy, he argues that the GDP is blind to value. Furthermore, he makes a sustainability argument that states that  growth as pervasive international economic goal cannot go on forever. As a metric that is purely quantitative, the GDP puts any economic activity in the plus column, rebuilding houses destroyed by the recent hurricanes or wildfires bring up the GDP for this year, even though, this makes them hardly desirable. As has long been argued, economic activity should be gauged not only by output but also by outcomes, in other words, not only by quantity but also by quality. A GDP based economy is one strips the world of its resources and, as Marx already observed about capitalism, creates "alienation" by turning everything into a commodity and human interactions into transactions.
The core problem is this: the overarching, single most important goal of modern societies is growth, not human and ecological wellbeing. Our primary mandate is to increase “efficiency” and “productivity.” Make it cheaper, faster and above all, make more of it. (Dirk Philipsen)
Even economists criticize that macroeconomics don't use the metric of diminishing returns and that GDP "leaves absent .. any notion of separating and comparing the benefits and costs of real GDP growth and ascertaining whether the additional benefits of growth are exceeding the additional costs." (Lewandowsky). The problem of disregarding diminishing returns is prominent with the US health care system, the most expensive on earth but by far not the one with the best outcomes. In fact, life expectancy in the US has been sinking lately.
"The idea of a non-growing economy may be an anathema to an economist. But the idea of a continually growing economy is an anathema to an ecologist." (Prosperity Without Growth: Tim Jackson)
That growth is a non sustainable metric altogether has been postulated in the "Limits of Growth" a seminal book published in 1972, a time characterized by what is known as the first oil crisis. (The book presciently warned that carbon dioxide emissions would have a “climatological effect” via “warming the atmosphere”). At the time "The End of Oil" seemed to be a sure thing, certainlyhow could it not be with petroleum as a limited resource. It makes eminent sense to state that it can't be fired up forever. "Peak oil"remained a popular term until quite recently. Until it became feasible to produce or free gas and petroleum from shale. The predictions of the end of oil proved wrong, at least for a while. The models that had calculated how long oil would last had not correctly foreseen the technology of fracking or the reduced consumption of oil thanks to renewable energy sources or technological advances.
The 1972 book Limits to Growth, which predicted our civilisation would probably collapse some time this century, has been criticised as doomsday fantasy since it was published. Back in 2002, self-styled environmental expert Bjorn Lomborg consigned it to the “dustbin of history”.

It doesn’t belong there. Research from the University of Melbourne has found the book’s forecasts are accurate, 40 years on. If we continue to track in line with the book’s scenario, expect the early stages of global collapse to start appearing soon. (The Guardian, 2014)
The Shift from a Quantitative to a Qualitative Critique on Growth

So the problem shifted. Burning up fossil fuels in large quantities is still not sustainable, but the problem now is less quantitative (that there isn't enough of it) and more qualitative. (Burning fossile fuels has a terrible the impact on the climate). This shift requires a different argument than critique on growth alone provides.
Greater Tokyo: Population 38 million

There are other examples where those limits of growth proved much more elusive than anticipated. For example, the carrying capacity of the earth in terms of population and food supply. Growth critics had predicted mass starvation and mayhem thanks to overpopulation of the globe (Malthus). Today the globe has more people than ever before and still a smaller number with severe food shortage since this has been recorded. Here, too, this positive fact doesn't make infinite population growth sustainable. Once again, the problem shifted from a mere quantitative one to a more qualitative one. In this case intensive, industrial style agriculture which increased food production beyond population growth. It allowed to feed the much higher population better than before, but it also depleted soils, forests and water reserves with  cumulative negative ecological effects. There are many more cases where limits that seemed obvious at some point were stretched or disappeared altogether. Cities with a population over 10 million were once deemed unmanageable, but they are quite common now and the issue of healthy cities has shifted from a mere quantitative question to one of how to grow better. In an article of 2015 Planetizen blogger and Vancouver urban planner Brent Toderian requested to ask "How Cities Grow Big; Not How Big Cities Grow!"
I've seen ample evidence though, that what really matters is how you grow big, not how big you grow. In other words, it isn't size that matters—it's design that matters. You can have a well-designed larger city that works, or a poorly designed smaller city that's dysfunctional. (Brent Toderian, Planetizen)
Unlimited growth: the universe
Whatever field one picks, economy, urbanism, or ecology, the sheer quantitative critique has not borne out giving those who question that growth must be limited an apparent advantage. In spite of lots of certainty on both sides of the issue, the matter is not settled. Optimists assume that technology and better knowledge will keep expanding whatever limits there are while pessimists see the end of the world right around the corner. The current state of climate change seems to give pessimists the edge.
Still,  it is unsatisfactory that the fundamental question whether growth as a concept is principally unsustainable remains unanswered.

Is Unlimited Growth "Natural"?

Those who believe that growth must be limited usually argue the limitation as a principle of nature. They point to the fact that growth in nature, as we experience it, finds usually a natural end, most obviously in our own species. The argument can also be made scientific by using thermodynamics and entropy, a basic law of physics that prescribes ever larger disorder. Even the sun will one day burn out and get cold.

Proponents of growth, especially economists that can't imagine a healthy state of the economy without growth are usually not trying to debate physics. But they could argue for unlimited growth as a principle of nature also with science: Nature and life is full of quantum leaps and disruptions in which a system transforms but doesn't end. There are a number of natural systems with unlimited growth. The universe, to take the biggest of all systems, is infinite and it keeps expanding with no end in sight. Thus, space-time is endless and with it potentially the number of galaxies. Even some local systems  are endless if described  as unlimited loops and cycles. For example, evaporation and rain. Often only external factors bring such cycles to an end. Even for our own biological lives,  we hardly know what actually kills us and whether we should consider those factors external or if they are the limits of our genetic code would be. Thus, it looks like that the excursion into natural science will not settle the question of economic growth either.

Towards a Better Measure of Economic Growth

To bring the issue back to the GDP: Economists, environmentalists and system experts make different arguments but all point to the fact that the utility of the GDP as a merely quantitative metric is, indeed, limited.
Illustration of  diminishing returns

When discussing what should come after the GDP, one would do best to focus less on the abstract concept of growth and, instead, look at outcomes.  Even the inventor of GDP as a measure, Simon Kuznets, observed that the lack of value in his metric was unsatisfactory, the same concern which Robert Kennedy had some decades later. To introduce quality or value into the economic metric in a mathematical sense, would demand to differentiate between cost and benefit, instead of putting both in the plus column. A car crash, a hurricane, diseases and oil spills would be considered cost and would have a negative prefix for their destructive components and not being added to the GDP as if they were a good thing. That, of course, begs and set of new questions, such as what should be internalities to be counted, and what externalities to be omitted and what would be the criteria make an item negative? Who would decide what is plus and what minus?
Ecological economists in recognizing the shortcomings of GDP as a metric wrestled with these issues and developed an alternative which differentiates between benefits and costs. They
 ....devised an alternative to real GDP as a measure of national progress and of ‘economic/uneconomic’ growth. Originally called the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (Daly and Cobb, 1989),[it is] now referred to as the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI). Lewandowsky
To date the added complexities  prevented plausible alternative metrics such as GPI from being widely used or accepted. Yet,here, too, technological advance could come to the aid, at least as faras crunching large amounts of data.  It doesn't look like an insurmountable problem to determine added net value through modeling and potentially through alternative scenarios, a common trick to escape the traps of complexity problems. In modeling multi-variable systems don't have finite answers but relative comparisons can point to a relatively better solution. In such a model with focus on outcome all unintended effects and cost would show up as negative numbers, i.e. account for all cost. 
GDP versus GPI comparison 1950-2005 (Source)

There is irony in the fact that even in mathematics limits have been pushed. Even very complex problems with many variables have become increasingly solvable thanks to exponentially growing computer capacities. Computer technology is another example of elusive limits. Just when chips seemingly can't get any smaller, the quantum computer appears on the horizon removing those limits once again.

With all the talk about big data, smart cities and evidence-based action, every attempt should be made to measure the economy by a more sophisticated metrics than the GDP and what was devised some 100 years ago.  A substitute for GDP won't answer whether there are inherent limits to growth, but that question would become far less relevant once a tool that has become way too blunt has been eliminated for standing in the way of more sustainability on this planet.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The Well Being Economy Blog: Dirk Philipsen: Jumping off a run-away train
Interview with Dirk Philipsen about his book: The Little Big Number: How the GDP Came to Run the World. Dr. Dirk Philipsen is an Associate Research Professor of economic history at the Sanford School of Public Policy and a Senior Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University.

other links that show how fixated global organizations are on growth:
OECD 2012: Looking to 2060: Long-termglobal growth prospects
IMF: World Economic Outlook, October 2017, Seeking Sustainable Growth: 
Short-Term Recovery, Long-Term Challenges
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Those of us who recycle every possible scrap, buy organic food, drive an electric car, use a bicycle transit or Lyft, live in the City and practice mindfulness are depressed by the once again increasing global CO2 emissions and that even an environmentally conscious countries like Germany are failing miserably in meeting reduction goals. They grouse over the state of the planet and how life will be for our children and grandchildren.
Rural service: Gas and "steak with gravy" at the roadside:  Sunoco in
Prices Fork, VA

Those of us who eat canned food, Ramen noodles or a quick meal from a styrofoam halfshell because that is all the store at the nearest gas station offers, live far out in the country because that's where housing is still affordable, drive and old gas guzzler because that was the most affordable car with enough space to fit the family, can't ride a bike because the roads neither have a sidewalk nor a bike-lane and the job is way to far to walk or bike anyway are depressed because the money may not last to the end the month. Is there going to be enough to pay the utility bill, fill the prescription and still feed the kids? The end of our world seems always right around the corner, regardless of what is decided in a far away climate conference.
Electric cars: Not yet  a solution for rural driving

Both of these sets  and worries are real, both life-styles co-exist in many countries. They are so different from each other that what is expected from politicians and leaders is radically different in each scenario. What is a solution for the one is peril for the other. For example, making the use of the  car through less attractive through higher fuel taxes may be desirable for those in metropolitan centers but is real punishment for those in rural areas where there is no plausible alternative to driving, because everything, the post office, the grocery store, the doctor, the church, the school and the job is miles away. The main streets of villages and small towns centers have long become ghost towns and all the is left for shopping are the the gas station convenience stores on outlying intersections. Progressive solutions, such as a new agreement between many eastern seaboard states to curb transportation emissions, have therefore very different effects on residents, depending on where they live.

Yet, the populist response to this conflict of ignoring climate change and sustainability as luxuries that only the elite should worry about is the wrong answer. Take the much reported revolt of the yellow jackets in France which has brought into stark focus that the predicament isn't limited to the US where anger and frustration has fueled the last presidential election. It also highlights a false alternative and the wrong narrative. Still, the environmental movement has to take a broader view.

When populists revive the narrative of "the people" on one side and the  power elite on the other, separated by vastly different interests, where the oppressed, exploited and shackled have to pry privileges and liberties piece by piece from the ruling class trough strikes, uprisings and epic struggles they revive socialist terminology from a distant past, which was defined by class struggles. Populists even use the term revolution, events most celebrate here in France and in other places as holidays, but not as part of our daily experience.
Yellow vests on the outskirts of Marseille (NYT/Getty)

The shining new armor is supposed to be freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, civil rights, free elections, unions and unprecedented economic growth and wealth. Mass misery, slums, starvation and epidemic diseases have been replaced by homeownership, auto-mobility, educational attainment, high life expectancy and consumption. Air and water are largely clean and most everybody has access to some type of service and support system. That is what we like to believe and that is how most would define the United States.Still this new armor has big cracks.

Many of these things that industrialized and "developed" countries achieved are no longer guaranteed. Life expectancy in the US has slightly slipped after decades of steady increase, home owner rates have dipped as well, the middle class is shrinking, wages have been largely stagnant and even hunger has returned, except it is now called food insecurity. Beggars and vagrants are now called the homeless but just like during the height of class warfare during the industrial revolution, the homeless are now everywhere, whether it is Munich, Paris, San Francisco or Baltimore. Voting rights are once again being curtailed and police shootings simply based on skin color are still common, in spite of all civil rights laws. The gap between a few very rich and a large underclass is getting larger, and the resulting pathologies such as the addiction crisis, the affordable housing crisis and in some cities the rising levels of crime and violence no longer stay neatly curbed in distressed areas but lap far into what used to be middle class communities. (On a national average, crime is down, though).
Chinese air pollution: Turning away from coal (Photo: Lu Guang)

These real problems are what populists leverage with their socialist terminology while, in reality, they do nothing else than weakening civil rights, freedom of mobility and piling additional power into the hands of a few. A deceiving strategy employed by the extreme right for a century. A president who is worried about France's carbon budget is seen as aloof by tens of thousands taking to the street to be heard. A president who dropped out of a climate accord, questions the whole idea of climate change and sees the future in coal and petroleum, has been elected and enjoys continued support by the forgotten angry working class which finds it a luxury to worry about the planet.

While the concern for the environment may be more articulated by the more privileged, the impacts of climate change are most felt by the poor, on the national and the international scale. Tornados and hurricanes routinely decimate trailer parks much more than the more stable houses of the rich, floods hit those hardest who live in the cheaper low lying areas, the once in a while an equal opportunity disaster (such as the Houston flood or the Paradise Camp Fire) which hits the affluent as well notwithstanding.  This is also true on an international scale: Due to poverty, badly regulated building standards and a brittle infrastructure, the hurricanes in Haiti and Puerto Rico, to name just two examples, hit much harder than those of similar strength on the continental US.
Puerto Rico: Reeling from the hurricane

In spite of the riots on the Champs Elysees, unlike in history, the city isn't where populists stoke the anger. They really replace the class struggle with a  geographical one as the electoral map of the United States clearly shows. Here and abroad the conflict is now carried out between those who live in rural and outer suburban areas and those who live in urban centers. The inner urban underclass, artificially created through zoning, redlining and race discrimination is a US specialty. But because of this racial background, the urban and the rural underclass have not closed ranks, no matter that both share a similar set of problems, especially lack of access to jobs and services.

Environmentalists slowly see that progress on the environment can only become really effective, if the rural and inner urban underclass has more options to the simple solutions for sustainability, resilience, healthy food, mobility, good education, good health care and jobs with a decent income. Only then is it plausible to point out that sustainability and economic development are not mutually exclusive.
Chinese investment in Djibouti: Railroad instead of cars

The sustainability split within our country repeats itself on the international scale. The poorest countries have made much less progress in employing sustainability strategies than developed countries. And within the developed countries those who have the smallest split between rich and poor are in the lead.  That it is possible to reconcile sustainability with poverty can be observed in some of  countries commonly called "developing" or countries with "emerging economies". Examples are China and India, both have well articulated national sustainability strategies which have already been implemented in certain areas. The Guardian noticed this already almost eight years ago:
Responsible leadership is not the preserve of western businesses: Brazilian body care innovator Natura, Indian conglomerate Tata, and South Africa's mining giant Anglo American are among a growing number of iconic companies in emerging markets that are matching or exceeding sustainability benchmarks set by their western counterparts.(Guardian, Feb 2011)
It makes a lot of sense that countries which are more threatened by climate change than most "developed" countries, embark rapidly in sustainable practices, even though they start from a space where they contribute much less actual pollution than the developed countries. Many threshold countries have found their voice and show that equity and sustainability are not alternatives, but depend on each other. Global consciousness, global treaties and international thinking doesn't mean that global industries have to extract all the resources and take all the profits.
Alabama farm with solar energy

Truly "green" solutions can't exist without equity and empowerment of the underclass, whether it is housing, transportation or food. In many cases access which has been taken away because of international conglomerations depleting local resources. In those instances community based structures of production and distribution must be the answer, not a return to coal or opening all preserved spaces to the industries of the past.  Small local responses can be community supported agriculture (CSA), housing coops, community land trusts, locally operated public transportation, local manufacturing or energy production or community based banking. In each case the influence of the Walmarts, national dollar stores, drugstores, fast food and hardware chains and international banking and mobility manufacturers needs to be overcome and replaced with a model where people in the community are employed and  trained to serve their own community and where the proceeds are reinvested right in the local community.
As agriculture contributes 15% to India’s GDP, climate change presumably causes about 1.5% loss in GDP. In India, it’s imperative that technology is made more inclusive. The good news is, today, many technology companies are focussing on enabling “digital agriculture” where technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), cloud, machine learning, satellite imagery, and advanced analytics are empowering smallholder farmers to increase their income through higher crop yield and greater price control. (The Startup Observer Dec. 27, 2017)
Climate and sustainability in Africa
It turns out that new technologies and innovative production methods sometimes give the small, nimble and local outfit a competitive advantage whether it is sustainable farming, crowd-sourced production with 3-D printers, building affordable and healthy homes with local materials or manufacturing autonomous service vehicles for unprecedented access for those living outside traditional service areas for transit and ride-sharing.

If we follow the yellow vests and populists by shelving sustainability and international agreements on climate through returning to big oil and big auto we will never find out how a new economy could be structured with equity in mind.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Sustainability dilemmas in emerging economies
World Bank: Urban Sustainability Framework
Understanding how China is championing climate change mitigation
The poor world and the rich world face different problems with their waste
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High speed rail

German ICE train and French TGV 
Frankfurt's airport has a direct train connection to Frankfurt City, a condition one can find at many US airports such as Baltimore/Washington International, Newark and San Francisco as well. Just as at BWI, the airport train station in Frankfurt also offers long distance train service via the German ICE and Regio trains. The Intercity Express trains are similar to Amtrak's Azela trains but generally cheaper and connecting to a Europe-wide network with transfer trains usually within a few minutes directly on the other side of the platform. As soon as one train is late, the connectivity suffers obviously, even though the connecting trains usually wait for a few minutes. Bigger disturbances quickly ripple through the network. They are not as uncommon as the good reputation of the European high speed rail system would suggest. German Rail, theoretically a private company, is a brainchild of the German Government, just as Amtrak. Both depend heavily on federal money, and both are chronically underfunded, even though Deutsche Bahn (DB) is modern than Amtrak's premier service between New York and Washington dubbed Acela. Modern ICE trains regularly travel at speeds of 160 miles per hour or more, Amtrak can do maximally 150mph on only a few short stretches. The later generation ICE trains have no longer engines like the Azela train but are propelled by several sets of electric motors installed directly over the wheel trucks similar to light rail.
German ICE train interior design
This way they can go forward and backward the same way with the operator sitting in a control module at the end of the first or last passenger car. Tracks are in much better shape than in the US and riders can easily use their laptops at maximum speed, a challenge in an Amtrak train which jolts the passenger quite a bit at top speed. Like Amtrak, DB allows paperless electronic ticketing, has dynamic pricing (the same trip is much cheaper on a Saturday afternoon than on a Monday morning) but the DB coaches are better appointed (electronic displays show next stops, connections, actual arrival times and the current speed). The cafe cars offer more and better food choices and some trains have real restaurant cars as well. Overall train tickets are somewhat cheaper than in the US but much higher than many inner European flights, thus far more people fly on distances like Stuttgart to Berlin (For at times as little as $60) than take the train (above $250) for the 400 miles trip. (6-1/4 hrs by train, about what it also takes by car due to a more direct route). The various high speed rail systems of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Spain and Great Britain are now largely able to use each others network, making it possible to board a train in one country and arrive deep in the heart of another without ever leaving one's seat. The systems and the train manufacturers also compete for the most successful train set, ensuring that progress for the steel wheel on rail technology is far from being finished.


Stuttgart Citaro artic buses (Photo Philipsen)
Most city transit buses in Europe are a standardized Euro model manufactured by various bus companies. The Mercedes Citaro buses, for example, come in 40' standard length as in the US' or as 60' articulated buses, sometimes with rear double axis propulsion. The following observations apply to the Mercedes buses used by the Stuttgarter Strassenbahn (SSB). In Stuttgart articulated buses are the norm and have three doors, in front for entry and the two rear doors for exit, whereby the middle door is designated for the mobility impaired and people with strollers. The buses have no bike racks. Onboard only folding bikes are permitted.

There is a large open area behind the center door for placing wheel chairs, strollers and the like. The doors are wide and largely glazed allowing easy view and use. The wide pneumatically operated doors are a far cry from the flimsy folding doors of the New Flyer buses in the US. However, the difference is not only one of technology, but more one of demographics. The SSB and their bus maker don't seem to worry about fare cheaters boarding through rear doors, the chief reason why the New Flyer narrow rear doors fit only a person at a time and flap shut so fast that they often hit disboarding passengers.

The Citaro front access allows two lanes for boarding, one for cash payers and one for prepaid tickets. There is a reader for electronic tickets similar to what airlines uses for boarding passes. Cash payers put their money on an open tray and the operator will give change into another tray from a coin holder. The SSB offers  multiple trip tickets which have to be inserted into a validator where they get notched and stamped. There are also day passes, weekly and monthly passes. Plainclothes fare inspections are frequent and carry an element of surprise. (The inspectors cannot be spotted from how they are dressed). The fact that change is made in Germany and not in the US also has to do with the US experience that operators were frequently threatened to give up their cash until the fares disappared in a sealed box that is so solid, that nobody has access to it without special tools.
Two lane entry and ticket reader (Photo Philipsen)

The operator has two electronic displays, one for ticket info and one for route info. All stops are shown in sequence and with their scheduled times. Passenger have a screen display in view that shows the route, the current location, the upcoming stops with estimated time to the stop and when the bus stops all the transfers at this location with real time display of the connections in minutes. The lastest models offer USB charging ports for selected seats. There are male and female bus operators, of course, all navigated their large vehicles through the often tiny streets competently, souveraine and with pride as much as one can judge this. People never leave the bus through the front door, thanks to a mechanical arm that moves only one way and the rules which Germans like to obey. There is little or no banter even though, unlike at the US counterpart, seats are mounted on the front wheel wells directly behind the driver. The operators I saw showed little interest in the visual fare identification, apparently relying on the random fare inspectors instead.

The buses are diesel or diesel electric. Mercedes currently doesn't offer a full electric bus to transit agencies, according to a city council representative who tried to use a federal grant for emission free buses (They offer CNG) and was rebuffed by the manufacturer. Diesel emissions are a big problem in Germany, and espcially in Stuttgart where the city will enact diesel prohibitions for older diesel vehicles starting January 2019 for large parts of the city where fine particle and NOx is too high.

Headways for buses and trams during peak hours are as low as 5 minutes and as high as 20 minutes. The fares vary by zone and start with short trips at about $1.50. The tickets are valid for the entire regional transit compact VVS with over 30 providers including bus and rail. The full network day pass costs about $18 and allows trips far into the areas as far as 30 miles from the center city. In my trips no train or bus was more than 3 minutes late, trains usually arrived within the advertised minute.
Every passenger is different, some are sitting, others may prefer. If you care about all people equally, and you want to make sure that everyone reaches their destination safely, whenever needed, then your welcome as: Bus driver in regular transit service. In the activity as a bus driver you provide sovereign and reliably always safe transport for our passengers in the metropolitan area Stuttgart. Of course, you also take care of the sale and the control of tickets. You are also responsible for passenger information on fare and route issues. During the 14-week full-time training, we will qualify you at our in-house driving school in Stuttgart-Möhringen for use in the regular service of the SSB. For the training as a bus driver you bring: Driver's license class B for min. 2 years, completed vocational training (desirable), adequate knowledge of German, willingness to shift work, also on weekends and holidays and technical understanding,  a minimum age of 24 years. (Job offer of the SSB).
Bus and rail operators at the SSB earn on average about $42k annually (gross). Earlier this year their union organized a strike for a 6% raise.
Operator's cabin with route monitor and
cash changer German transit bus
(Photo Philipsen)

Light Rail

Many German cities have some form of light rail which sometimes is more like a streetcar and sometimes more like a subway. The Stuttgart light rail system is signed with a blue capital U, typically used for German subways (Underground) due to the fact that the trains are articulated doubles or two-car consists with two articulated trains which run underground in the central city. Where they run on the surface, they have their own right of way in the median or alongside of roadways. Trains principally manage traffic signals and have full preemption.

All tickets have to be prepaid on rather old fashioned vending machines which do not accept credit cards. There are no readers for tickets on a mobile phone anywhere and I am not clear how those would be handled except that fare inspectors would accept them. It seems that SSB and VVS aren't big on counting their riders.

S Trains

The S train category, common in some European countries, is a bit confusing for visitors from overseas. They are in part heavy rail regional trains and in part subway. However, except for Berlin, they are usually operated by German Rail or its subsidiaries and often share tracks with other trains. This is easy since they use overhead catenary and not third rail (except, again, in Berlin) like metro trains. They can also be quite long. Where the urban system has no underground portion, the trains use frequently double- decker coaches. In cities with dead end main stations (Frankfurt, Stuttgart and many others) S Bahns now circulate underneath the inner city in an underground system that looks and feels like any real subway except for the lack of third rail. In Stuttgart the SSB U-trains and the DB S trains together provide an underground rail network comparable to DC or San Francisco.
German S commuter train doubl- decker coach.
(Photo Philipsen)

The latest generation S trains are coupled in such a way that three long coaches form an uninterrupted interior allowing unobstructed views from end to end of each train unit. Those trains, of course, don't use engines but are self propelled like the ICE trains. Just like the buses, the S trains and latest U trains offer displays with route, stations and connections. Upon arrival, bus terminals are placed at the stations with buses coordinated with and waiting for arriving trains. Thanks to the regional ticket system, no new ticket is needed at the transfer.

The VVS offers an app that allows trip planning, ticket purchase, ticket display, real time information about escalators and elevators and possible disruptions. While not as user friendly as, for example, the US Transit app, the VVS app offers a while range of user options which go beyond what Transit or Google maps can do.

All in all, transit use in Europe is far easier and much more common than in Europe whereby it isn't entirely clear what is the chicken, and what the egg. As we have seen, that the European bus isn't only a means of transportation for those who have no other choice but is widely accepted as a reliable way for getting around by all segments of the population is one of the reasons why even bus design can be more user friendly.

Alternative modes

There are no electric share scooters, no dockless bikes and no Uber or Lyft in Stuttgart or most other German cities. (Except Berlin). The Germans can't tolerate the largely unregulated state of these systems. A federal government workgroup just came up with the idea that scooters need to be licensed, have a license plate and turn signals (!).
Meanwhile the big boys try to keep business to themselves: Daimler Benz operates many of their own brand (electric) Car to Go Smart Cars and even offers a transit app with their cars as a last mile option. The docked bikes in Suttgart (and many other cities) are operated by Deutsche Bahn. In this way, it all goes its orderly way and disrupters are kept at bay in Germany, not necessarily a competitive advantage.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Buffet car in the ICE train

Double-decker commuter train near Los Angeles (Photo Philipsen)

US transit bus San Diego (Photo Philipsen)

Stuttgart Transit bus Citaro (Photo Philipsen)

Stuttgart light rail interior (Photo Philipsen)

Center door as exit and entry for mobility impaired and strollers (Photo Philipsen)

Intermodal stop underground light rail/ bus with real time service indicator sign
(Photo Philipsen)

Stuttgart cog rail train (Photo Philipsen)

Stuttgart S train in underground station: Like a subway (Photo Philipsen)

Interior of modern S train: No obstructions between the coaches
Onboard bus #44 indicator showing route, arrival times and connections (below) (Photo Philipsen)

The VVS rail network

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In history books we learn about the wars between Sparta and Athens, two city-states with different cultures which couldn't be more different from each other. The one inland and inward, agricultural with mandatory military service and serf who had to feed the military. The other on the water, trade oriented with a fleet without compulsory service and a system that let parts of the population vote. The one martial and relying on an enslaved workforce, the other with aspirations for democracy.
Reimagined ancient Athens: A maritime power open to the world

The hostilities between the two cities lasted 27 years, interrupted by an uneasy six year truce. In the end the two most powerful nodes of the ancient power center were diminished. Still their legacy reaches deep into modern time. The Athenian Solon is remembered to this day as a wise man for his laws which equalized political power including the cancellation of debts and the abolition of debt slavery. He also created opportunities for some common people to participate in the government of Athens, laying the groundwork for democracy in Athens.

The epic battles of the Peloponnesian War seem quaint today, especially from the American perspective of a powerful nation that spans 3000 miles across. Sparta and Athens are not even a 100 miles apart by air, both easily fit into a day trip for a US tourist with the ambition of discovering Europe in a week.
Remigained Sparta: Mountainous, inland and isolated

World war I and II, both much shorter but infinitely more destructive than the Peloponnesian War, pitted almost all European nations against each other in an array of hostilities. Even though the motives were confusing, the role of power, the military and the people was an element in both world wars and the revolutions of the time. Millions died for goals which are hard to comprehend, except, just like the ancient wars, the battles were territorial with proxies pitting cultures and ideologies of military might against freedom and democracy. For over 60 years it looked like that the old feuds were resolved towards democracy, trade and openness.   Nevertheless, it had been proven that territories can invisible borders and still function. Just as neighborhoods, cities and states in the US all have their boundaries which control identity, zoning laws or whether there is a death penalty or an open carry law. ll this works without border patrols or walls with complete openness. It isn't crazy to ask if borders can be open on a national scale as well.

Attempts were made: Europe tried to emulate the United States and become one by currency and with national parliamentarian democracies as the preferred style of governance. Europe and the Americas were united in various treaties, the Cold War ended when the nemesis of "the west" faltered and for a while it looked like that the entire world would become one "global village", much in the way as astronauts saw it from their orbit around the earth. Then came a resurgence of right wing parties and the vote for a British exit from the union. A new leader at the head of the most powerful nation on earth discredited the concept of the global village and ended several treaties of global responsibility.

In the long arc of history, the concept of territory and border, of "us against them" has been the overwhelming formative element of history. It has shaped villages, cities and countries. The idea of open borders in the post World War II period is just the blink of an eye in terms of history, no matter that this period is a lifetime for most everybody alive today.
Ruins of Clydebank, Scotland, 1941 after German air raid

Yet, Sparta and Athens remain illustrative for several concepts dating back to the time when Hellas was the leading force around the Mediterranean Sea, city-states, trade, colonies and the term metropolis ("mother city").

The privileged contemporary western tourist still travels the globe as it were a village. She can check off the ancient Greek ruins from the bucket list of cultural education after posting some pictures to Instagram. But the underlying stories are harder to detect. Well known is Olympia as the place in Greece in which feuds were buried for peaceful games and companionship. Or the Stoa in Athens, the place of democratic discourse.

In that Europe trip our fictional tourist may also visit WW I battlefields and come across the story of the German and British soldiers who left their WW I trenches for a couple of hours on Christmas eve 1914 to celebrate the holiday they had in common before the issue of borders prevailed again and they began shooting each other again the next morning.

Space tourism is still a bit off, but the 1967 image showing earth from the vantage point of a spaceship warmed the hearts of peoples around the world, both for the scale of the conquest, which, for the first time, lifted humanity beyond the surface of the world and for how quaint the world looked. What had seemed so vast and so inescapable was small after all. Unfortunately, that feeling and understanding wouldn't last.
The earth as seen from space (NASA image)

An epic conflict between those who internalized the finite system earth as small and vulnerable and those who see the earth as a place of endless growth, exploitation and expansion ensued and still continues. In many ways, the feud tracks similar lines of attitude as the one between Athens and Sparta. It is interesting to remember, which of those ancient powers won the battles and which shaped the legacy.

The Peleponnesian War ended with Sparta as the victor. In fact, Sparta won twice against the Athenians, before and after the six year truce which interrupted the war.  Eventually the Athenian experiment of democracy ended in an oligarchy, similar to the one of Sparta.
Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.(Theodore Parker, "Ten Sermons of Religion", 1853)
Religion and enlightenment share teleological thinking which sees history and science as progression towards perfection. If that is true, certainly, the path forward knows giant dips and even reversals. The Middle ages "forgot" much of what Hellas and Rome had achieved until the Renaissance began to unearth past knowledge once again. Only then Athens seemed to be the long-term winner  with its legacy of voting, trade, criticism, questioning and discovery. Enlightenment and openness has brought the world progress and prosperity never seen before. Diverse open cities worldwide have triumphed over tribalism and segregation.

Today, though, Sparta with its emphasis on the military, insular closed-system thinking and an economy depending on serfs is on a victorious march, once again. One just has to follow the discourse and elections in the US, in Hungary, in Austria, in Russia, Turkey and now in Brazil.
Berlin wall during the Cold War

With the steady progression of Spartan thinking borders gain importance as well, invisible ones delineating urban zip codes and large visible ones. Walls are no longer just photogenic objects for Kodak or Instagram moments of tourists walking through the tight gated medieval cities in Europe or climbing the Great Wall in China, a view that was possible after the most infamous wall which had been a deadly barrier between two parts of Germany had came down, just as the Republican President Reagan had famously demanded of the Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev whose Soviet Union disintegrated shortly thereafter.

Just 18 years later, walls become, inconceivably, a territorial tool again. Members of the human race who, by genetic code and science, are almost identical to us, are seen again as a menace, even or especially, when they are poor and uprooted and dislodged from their territories. When nothing propels them than despair behind them and hope in front of them, with nothing but their bodies wrapped in some clothes, they seem most frightening.
US Mexican border wall 

Humans, stripped of everything except their naked humanity, make powerful, rich and highly armed territorial states defenseless,  lest they want to resolve to untenable barbaric measures. The Europeans had to learn this lesson until an autocratic Turkish henchman bode their work for them by closing his territory for passage and ever since holding European democracies hostage. They still wrestle over this in light of Africans floating on tiny vessels across the same Mediterranean sea, the same waters the Athenians had plied for trade and colonies.

The US hasn't been so lucky, no country wants to be the fall guy to save the richest nation on earth from having to absorb potentially a few thousand hapless peasants. Why should Mexico or Guatemala save us by exercising violence against women and children? Without violence, the stream could swell to millions, of course, as it had happened in Austria, Germany and other European countries who had their borders open. It is hard to see how a humanitarian attitude can coexist with the concept of "border security". It, taken seriously, inevitably leads to the horrendous conditions which existed along the communist wall in Germany and still exist in Korea.
"Caravan" of migrants April 2018 in Mexico

Planning for a world which is a global village, in which every country is responsible for everyone who lives on the planet, seems Utopian. Yet, comparing it to the territorial alternative in which nationalism trumps shared responsibility for the planet and its citizens in favor of national violence and nationalistic advantage, the global village is the only sustainable option in which we remain human.

While all this may sound too political on a design and planning blog, especially in the time of an election, these are the most fundamental questions for planners and architects and everybody planning any type of sustainable, equitable and resilient future. How small ever the to be planned territory may be, neighborhood, city, state or country.
Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
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