Discovering the Walrus

If you haven't heard of the Canadian Magazine The Walrus before, you could do a lot worse than read this article I found via Bruce Sterling's blog, Beyond the Beyond as introduction the quality of its writing - it's been one of the most refreshingly hopeful pieces about what I'm referring to (for want of a better phrase) as the Green Renaissance, where decisions by planners and policy makers to build cities around people instead of cars are leading to extraordinarily walkable, efficient and ultimately liveable cities:

Gehl believes urban public space is the lifeblood of democracy, the essence of humanism, and the sine qua non of green-minded livability. “Throughout history,” he told me, “public space had three functions: it’s been the meeting place and the marketplace and the connection space. And what has happened in most cities is that we forgot about the meeting place, we moved the market space to somewhere else, and then we filled all the streets with connection, as if connection was the number one goal in city planning, in public space.”

What he means is that we replaced public squares with parking lots, enclosed and privatized our marketplaces as shopping malls, and then turned over our streets almost exclusively to rapid transportation by private vehicle. In so doing, we enslaved ourselves to oil, choked ourselves on exhaust, and shattered into a million fragments the public realm where civil society once flourished.

Copenhagen’s great lesson for the New Grand Tourist is that the essential first step, maybe the only critical one, in reassembling these shards and building the urban foundation of the Green Enlightenment is to put people ahead of their cars and public spaces ahead of private ones in the planning priorities of the city — of any city.

In this shining upbeat, version of Europe, power comes from decentralised microgeneration in people's houses, or majestic power sources like the Grand Spires of Solùcar in Andalusia, that that use focussed sunlight on steam turbines to generate electricity:

Solùcar looks like a sci-fi movie set, but it also comes off as ageless and permanent, almost obvious after a while. I was reminded of a one-liner I once heard the sustainable design guru William McDonough deliver. Whenever he meets skepticism about how far we can go with this Green Enlightenment, he said, he likes to point out that it took us 5,000 years to put wheels on our luggage. It took us only a couple of hundred to employ heat-concentrating mirrors in industrial power generation. The trail ahead is thick with low-hanging fruit. And the reason all of this is happening on the plain of Andalusia is not strictly nor even primarily because it is a very hot and sunny place; rather, it is because Spain was one of the first countries to pass a conscious imitation of Germany’s feed-in tariff.

In all, it's about as attractive a version of our current society I can see that still revolves around economic growth as a way to fix the world's ills. I'm not convinced this is how things will pan out, and I'd like to know what the less upbeat scenarios are too, which is why I'll be heading to the Dark Mountain next weekend.

That said, I don't buy into a all of the apocalyptic narratives that are associated with the Dark Mountain camp; I think there's a middle ground between them and the Green Renaissance Utopia described above, and I think I might get a better idea of what that might be after the weekend.

Maybe I'll see you there.

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