October 03, 2009

Cities 2.0

The world has an opportunity to develop new more productive and efficient cities that are built entirely new because of the billions moving to cities. The current move from rural to urban is increasing per capita GDP by four to eight times in places like China. The productivity gains could be even greater if a new kind of city could be produced with double or triple the productivity of current cities.

China is considering accelerating urbanization from the current pace of20-35 million people per year.

Source: Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat, World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision and World Urbanization Prospects: The 2007 Revision,

World Urban population 2000-2050
Year Urban population (in billions) Total population 
2000 2.85                           6.12 
2005 3.16                           6.51
2010 3.49                           6.91
2015 3.84                           7.30
2020 4.21                           7.68
2025 4.58                           8.01
2030 4.97                           8.32
2035 5.34                           8.59
2040 5.71                           8.82
2045 6.06                           9.03
2050 6.40                           9.20

Urbanization is ultimately heading towards about 85-90%. If population levels out at 9.5 billion then that would be about 8.5 billion in cities in about 2080.

There is an opportunity for countries like China to reinvent cities that are more productive and efficient. Design and prototyping of cities could be done from now to 2020. A radically different from scratch city could be developed and built out starting in 2020-2030.

Doming cities could be re-examined as well as factory production of cities with more compact footprints and arcology features. Multi-level structures with 20-30 foot high levels could use less area while still providing a feeling of openness.

A domed city would most benefit from being a planned city like Masdar city in Abu Dhabi.

City scale climate engineering could save money and more efficiently reduce energy costs.

Air supported sheets for Domes could get to far larger size

For towers, the mile high building is still proceeding.

The smaller more conservative domes in the Houston video would have either just one for the city center or several covering several areas of the metro area.

The cost benefits for any dome city would be more readily realized as part of a build from scratch plan like Masdar.

Retrofit versions would be after the technology and benefits were proved out. Although certain cities that are vulnerable to hurricanes like along Texas coast and New Orleans could have justification for Dome retrofits instead of other public works projects that would have costs into the tens of billions. Bridges, buildings, roads etc...

An existing large domed greenhouse has several connected dome structures so you can always expand out as needed.

Bolonkin (who has optimistic economic projections) has a paper on doming a city and handling water and climate.

Reimaginging Movement

Masdar is a planned city that would have no fossil fuel cars.

US Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) costs of freight transporation by mode

Air 82 cents per ton mile
Truck 26 cents per ton mile
Rail 2.9 cents per ton mile
Barge 0.72 cents per ton mile (2001)
Pipeline 1.49 cents per ton mile (2001)

Therefore the energy efficiency gains are possible with a megascale engineering revamp. Magnetic pipelines for cargo movement and deliveries could reduce costs by twelve times over trucks inside cities.

China has funded magnetic pipelines for moving cargo. The magnetic movement of cargo would be like plumbing for waste and water, but would be pipes for efficiently moving goods within and between cities.

Another company, Launchpoint Technologies, is developing a freight rail electrication system. Rail motor is at the link on magnetic pipelines.

Revamping transportation and cargo movement and people movement would be part of a planned conversion of cities. It is thinking far bigger than the areas of cities that are walking only outdoor malls.

Note the low cost per ton mile of barges. This is why as China dams its major rivers with the equivalent of a three Gorges every two years from now to 2030, they are deepening a lot of rivers to allow 10,000 ton barges to go to the interior. The China example of hundreds of gigawatts of hydroelectric power while also enabing a nationwide barge infrastructure shows that

1. A major plan where engineers run a country.
2. That thinking big can deliver more energy, efficiency and high productivity for a country.
3. An engineering plan that enables the GDP of entire regions and cities to double or more

Transportation Energy

The first commenter talked about the energy and cost of walking around and public transportation.

Here is an analysis of walking around energy usage.

Humans are modestly efficient. Walking,an average person burns about 100 Calories per mile at 3mph, or 300 per hour, while sitting for the same hour burns around 80 Calories just keeping you warm. In other words, the walking 3 miles uses about 220 extra Calories. Calories are kilocalories, and one Calorie/kcal is about 4 BTUs, 4200 joules or 1.63 watt-hours.

While walking 1 mile burns an extra 74 Calories, on a bicycle we’re much better. Biking one mile at 10mph takes about 38 extra calories over sitting.

A gallon of gas has about 31,500 Calories in it, so you might imagine that you get 815 “mpg” biking and 400 “mpg” walking. Pretty good. (Unless you compare it to an electric scooter, which turns out to get the equivalent of 1200 mpg from pure electricity.)

But there’s a problem. We eat, on average about 2700 Calories/day in the USA, almost all of it produced by agribusiness. Which runs on fossil fuels. Fossil fuels provide the fertilizer. They run the machines. The process and transport and refrigerate the food. In many cases our food — cows — eats even more food produced with very high energy costs.

I’ve been digging around estimates, and have found that U.S. agriculture uses about 400 gasoline-gallon equivalents per American. Or 1.1 gallons per day, or about 10 Calories (40 BTU) from oil/gas for every Calorie of food. For beef, it’s far worse, as close to 40 Calories of oil/gas (160 BTU) are used to produce one Calorie of beefy goodness.

You can see where this is going. I’m not the first to figure it out, but it’s worth repeating. Your 3 mile walk burned 220 extra Calories over sitting, but drove the use of 2,200 Calories of fossil fuel. That’s 1/14th of a gallon of gasoline (9oz.) So you’re getting about 42 miles per gas-gallon of fossil fuel.

Brad Templeton has some analysis of the energy efficiency of public transit in the USA. Public transportation is more efficienct in Asia where there are fifty people on a jeepney in the Phillippines.

Here is more Brad Templeton analysis of transportation myths.

Transit is only 1% of total USA transportation energy use, it doesn't matter a great deal how green it is. Making it twice as good, or twice as bad, would not significantly alter the energy total.

Reinventing Farming Inside City 2.0
This situation could be improved by changing the fuel usage for agriculture. If we used more nuclear power and used electrified farm machinery and used a "wonder tree" to fertilize the soil.

The Faidherbia tree - pending some further research on its impact on the water table - may now provide a natural and widespread fertilizer fix. According to the Agroforestry Centre, farmers in Malawi testify the tree is like a "fertilizer factory in the field", as it takes nitrogen from the air, fixes it in the leaves and subsequently incorporates it into the soil. The Agroforestry Centre's research showed that in Malawi maize yields increased by 280 per cent in the zone under the tree canopy compared with the zone outside the tree canopy. In Zambia, unfertilized maize yields in the vicinity of Faidherbia trees averaged 4.1 tonnes per hectare, compared to 1.3 tonnes nearby but beyond the tree canopy.

A revamp in farming is needed to make City 2.0 far more energy efficient even for walking.
Vertical farming has been examined in detail. This would bring farming into the 2.0 City, which would almost eliminate transportation energy for food to the city and make a city more independent. The carousels and rafts and tending of the vertical farm can be with electrical systems.

Integrating farms and parks and fish farming into the City 2.0 could be done in a way that enhances the quality of life for the city inhabitants while also providing food in a far more efficient way. Currently people in suburban developments can have their houses within 2-3 blocks of one of several parks or school built by the developer as part of a 1000-6000 home development.

City 2.0 should adopt the best principles of an Arcology.

Arcology, a portmanteau of the words "architecture" and "ecology," is a set of architectural design principles aimed toward the design of enormous habitats (hyperstructures) of extremely high human population density.

China has some small arcology projects

A seed arcology appropriate for southern Chinese coastal sites in the Pearl Delta River area or Hainan Island is proposed. It is the home for approximately 300 people to start, and centers around an in-house food packaging facility and Integrated Water Center (IWC).

Because this project intercepts flows of residential wastewater which might otherwise flow to industrialized treatment facilities or even the sea, cooperation with city planners and local governments is assumed. Marketable food products come directly from adjacent terraces where urban wastewater is biologically purified, i.e., urban agriculture. Solar and wind electrolysis and wastewater gasification provide hydrogen gas which in turn provides electricity and heat on demand to satisfy resident needs throughout the 15-hectare minimum site.

The structure passively saves energy via bioclimatic adaptation, reflected solar illumination, and reused/recycled materials. The structure contains a small craft marina, hydroponics gardens, filter beds, bioremediation tanks, dry and liquids storage, classrooms, offices, dormitories, a small market plaza and shared, communal spaces. Bio-terraces and algae ponds, linked by a Contour Retaining wall Infrastructure System (CRIS) surround its outer parts. Arcology is a factory, farm, school and community in one, located in the urban periphery where migrants tend to settle. Automobile traffic is limited to delivery and emergency vehicles; pedestrian traffic is the norm in a condensed, three-dimensional environment. This seed is meant to act as a self-reliant economic unit. The arcological seed not only provides urban infrastructure where none existed previously, but one predicated on the ecosystem model or natural resource cycles. Urban wastewater has already demonstrated its economic potential in China and remains largely untapped

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