Are we moving towards a new paradigm of urban planning due to climate change?
Moving towards a new global nomadism? Photo-montage from the author based in still frames from the movie A.I. by Steven Spielberg (2001)
While I am writing this it is raining in my neighborhood. This secret wouldn’t be very interesting if I weren’t to clarify beforehand that my neighborhood is located in the tropics, more specifically in the Arabic Peninsula. Moving to the desert yet sensing that any old day I might just drown between what should be sand dunes doesn’t cease to grab my attention.
The fact that the climate is changing isn’t any secret. It is something that has happened since the beginning of time, however, currently we are confronted with a new factor: the weather. The indicators that bring us to the conclusion of the acceleration and profoundness of the said change are numerous; this isn’t an adequate space to explain it all in detail, so let’s just stay with the idea that it isn’t a passing phenomenon.
The weather influences one key aspect: adaptation to the environment, so now many species are being forced to modify their behaviors. What will be key to their survival will be if they can do it quickly enough to keep up with the changes. If we talk about the human species in today’s world, the way that we adapt ourselves to the environment is by means of architecture and urban planning.
In the last 12,000 years we have seen, and we’re still far from slowing their growth, how cities already account for being home to more than 50% of the world’s population, and it is estimated to reach an even higher percentage soon. The increase in global population and the necessary management of the distribution of goods and services, as well as the supply of vital supports such as water, energy, and food, make urban planning and city management one of the most exciting topics that also presents the most short term challenges. It is a tendency that appeared to be immovable in which the principal international organizations are working. However, and still with the evident risk of making a mistake, I want to predict a necessary change: the technological revolution that we are experiencing, together with the most extreme and evident consequences of an accelerated climate change, make the revision of our model of sedentary urbanism necessary.
It doesn’t seem easy for humanity to perish with climate change, but are we willing to pay the price that would come with a hypothetical thawing of the Himalayas and the 1.3 million people that it would affect? What would we do with so many people if that were to happen? Unfortunately, news stories about natural disasters with elevated losses don’t seem to cease. Recently, Japan experienced a drop in their GDP for the impacts caused by natural disasters, principally climatic, and even the reluctant North American administration recognizes that climate change is going to cost them hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming years.
The technology revolution based in information and applied intelligently to resource management would allow the organization of constant flows of migration in agreement with the necessities and climatic evolution. In Spain, halfway through the fifties in the twentieth century, nearly 50% of the population worked in agriculture; today it is only a mere 5% of the population1. The difference is that while before food was being produced for 28 million inhabitants, today we are producing food for 47 million plus the exportation to other countries. And this in itself is an outdated paradigm: robotics applied to agriculture or to hydroponic crops are today leading an agricultural revolution which has broken the dependence on physical extensions of terrain or of hard work in the field in subhuman conditions.
I know that it sounds a little bit like science fiction worthy of Luc Bresson; a paradigm switch from the current sedentary model to one of the occupation of variable territory would entail profound changes to the questions that in today’s world we understand as basic: property rights, identity and cultural references, mobility, production displacement or the minimum standards of coexistence, among others. From the point of view of an urban planner, this would be an exciting and difficult task, filled with challenges and – likewise – opportunities. If not, what will have to change then? Remember what they say,Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Sound familiar?
Meanwhile, from my window in the desert tropics, I’m still watching the rain come down.
Text translated by Kaitlyn P. Delaney
Notas de página
Historical facts of Spain, Centuries XIX-XX. BBVA Foundation. Year 2005. For more recent data, you can consult other sources such as the World Bank.
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