“All our lauded technological progress is like the axe in the hand of a pathological criminal” Albert Einstein Moments of crisis, like the one we are experiencing, offer opportunities to advance radical and disruptive innovations. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, we therefore have the opportunity of rethinking the values and agendas that guide urban and architectural design. In fact, the way we design cities is the main cause of emissions causing the environmental crisis. Pandemics are a symptom of this crisis and to avoid them it is necessary to abandon obsolete methods based on consumption and create systemic visions inspired also by informal historical agglomerations where “you can find creative and unexpected solutions and behavioural practices with low environmental impact and coexistence with Nature”. How these environments manage to be so resilient? Resilience is the ability to face negative events in a positive and constructive way, tracing in the apparently unpleasant condition some opportunities not only for survival, but also for development and evolution. Let’s start, therefore, from the basics. The search for shelter is the essence and the absolute basis of Architecture. Then use what was readily available in the surrounding natural environment, to create homes that reflected immediate functional needs and an adequate response to local climatic conditions. All the rest was simply a work of refinement, or we could call it “design”, that is, finding ways to improve the basic solution and respond to cultural, aesthetic or technological progress needs. The continuous success over the centuries of a given place therefore depended on various factors: the availability of resources, security, cultural elements (and by extension religious), personal satisfaction, economic stability and even political will. I like the idea that the lesson that these historic urban environments teach us is that design must not be anthropocentric, but that it can be inspired by the biology of evolution, as opposed to the deterministic design of the twentieth century and therefore that creativity shares this ecological evolutionary process and is not an alternative to it.
In the West, we often fall foul, more or less unconsciously, of a Western-centric view of the world. This tends to happen in all aspects of our lives from our interpretation of history to our concept of space, from how we live our lives to our relationship with Nature. This way of seeing things in a deterministic and mechanistic fashion, brought about since the industrial revolution, has led us to see Nature as a product and to privilege economic values as absolute values. Already in what was the Western ‘Dark Ages’, the Maori, who settled in New Zealand around the year one thousand, developed a culture in which the relationship between man and Nature had to be based on respect for the latter, since it is from which we derive. In Maori mythology Ranginui and Papatūānuku are the primordial parents, heaven father and mother earth. The connection between these two is the god Tane-nui-a-rangi, personification of the forest. The Maori developed the concept of nature protection and already created a thousand years ago, what we could consider the first ‘national parks’, the Tapu. In the Maori tradition, in fact, something that is Tapu is considered inviolable or sacrosanct. Things or places that are tapu must be respected and not interfered with. In addition, they developed the concept of Kaitakitianga, that is, to take care of Nature and people as custodians of the vital force of Nature. This is a world view that implies a deep connection between man and the natural world, in which all life is connected. People are not superior to the natural order: they are part of a network which forms the fabric of life. To understand the world, it is therefore necessary to understand the relationships between the different parts of the network. So, while we try to establish the principles for a new relationship between the urban environment and the natural environment it would be appropriate to learn from the past and from other points of view in the world. The city is an ecosystem which, as we recently saw with Covid, is part of Nature and should be in balance with it. There is an area of equilibrium in which long-term resilience is possibly, but only if we start to consider ourselves as a node in Nature’s network and to use ways of measuring resilience that go beyond economic parameters.
“Every morning, a mayor wakes up, he knows he must announce the planting of a greater number of trees, even just one, than those announced the day before by another mayor. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a mayor, a governor or a minister – when the sun comes up, you’d better be planting trees…” For months, prior to the Covid lockdown, we read news of mayors, public authorities or administrators in general, who, in order to show how “green” they had become, announced the reforestation plans of buildings, entire cities, provinces or even regions. Leaving aside the truthfulness of these announcements, or at least their actual implementation, we want to focus on what scientific or planning basis these decisions were made, what the approach was and above all what the set objective was. Without these three elements, any intervention would appear to be based solely on communication and ‘green-washing’, otherwise there is a risk of causing more damage or at least throwing good money after bad decisions. Those who are charged with making decisions should do so based on accurate data and information, having in mind the actual environmental benefits and costs are of each intervention. Kassandra provides the integrated decision support system to ensure.
Between the end of March and the first days of April, all homes in the United Kingdom received a letter sent directly by the British government and signed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in which they were emphatically invited to STAY HOME. Yet only on a few days earlier on 12th March, Johnson himself, in a press conference, did not pay importance to all the alarm bells coming from various European states. Donald Trump on 2nd March declared that the Covid-19 pandemic was a hype, and that the risk for the American people was low, even going so far as to criticize the data provided by the World Health Organization. Yet 48 hours later, as data on Covid-19 infections began to skyrocket, a state of emergency was declared in the US. Now imagine for one moment if we replaced the words “pandemic caused by Covid-19” with “danger from climate change”, we would have extremely concrete evidence of how the behaviour of the negationists can be extremely harmful, with the aggravating circumstance that the pandemic from Covid19 can be stopped as soon as a vaccine is found and in a substantially short period of time when compared to historical cycles. As for danger posed by climate change, by the time a national emergency is declared – or when the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom sends you a letter to the citizens – it will be too late.
All current emerging technologies are based on the production of a huge quantity of data, and the analysis of this information, in a continuous loop and at great speed can provide infinite scenarios and optimize solutions. A large quantity of data already exists, but it is often disconnected and no ‘big picture’ is visible, whilst new data needs to be acquired. Both need to be analysed and scenarios created. Only via this analysis interpretation can data provide direct support to those in charge of making political and administrative choices whose effects can be seen in a very short time. At the same time, “end users”, that is individual citizens, must have the opportunity to interact and be involved in the changes that take place, in a bottom-up exchange of data increasing, perhaps exponentially, the positive swarm effect. Crucially, being able to see the effect of one’s actions on the community and, by extension, on the natural environment, will allow us to make adjustments, avoid cynicism and at the same time gratify us as to the importance of our individual choices.
Covid 19 is just one warning light in the dashboard of the potential threats to humanity. Climate change is biggest threat facing humanity over the long term and a much more invisible and deadly one. When the current emergency ends, there will no ‘war-is-over’ party with people celebrating in the streets, like after WWII. There will not be a back to business-as-before. There will be no immediate sigh of relief. When we ‘get out’, we will have other emergencies to deal with, the economic one and the social one, and we can decide now, during this enforced hiatus, how we intend to deal with them: in the old fashioned “money first!…forget the environment” approach – which incidentally would immediately sow the seeds for the next pandemic – using the emergency condition as an excuse? Or could we perhaps use this forced re-boot as an opportunity to re-start with a different, more sophisticated, approach that puts environmental, social, and economic sustainability at its centre.
“We should collectively take advantage of the fact that the current situation has unexpectedly stimulated a common conscience on these topics because the irreversibility of climate change cannot be cured with any vaccine”
Kassandra is present in the “Storie di una quarantena”, an instant book by PPAN and Pantografo Magazine on how thinking about the future of Architecture and our Cities has changed during Covid19 lockdown.
“This is an opportunity to consider how we can re-organise our lives, homes and cities to benefit the climate and create a fairer and healthier environment…”
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