Tag Archives: development

Venlo: The World’s First Cradle to Cradle City?

Greenport Venlo, the industrial portion of Venlo's C2C vision. Photo credit: sustainablecities.dk

At first glance, the city of Venlo in the southeastern Netherlands may appear rather ordinary. With a modest population of 100,271, its young people traditionally sought work outside the city upon graduating, but that’s now changing. This unassuming Dutch city is undergoing a remarkable transformation into the world’s first cradle to cradle hub, attracting the attention of environmentalists and investors alike. Inspired by the landmark work by Braungart and McDonough, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, and the subsequent 2006 documentary that aired on Dutch television, local politicians and community leaders envisioned an economic and ecological rebirth for their city. With assistance from the province of Limburg and the Dutch government, Venlo embarked on its ambition plans, which appears to be coming together much more quickly than anyone had anticipated.

The project is the result of many collaborations, between local industries and intergovernmental development organizations. Chief among these is the Venlo Cradle to Cradle Exposition Center, also known as ExpoLAB, which has developed its own point system and procurement criteria for each structure in the new development. Andy Hix of the Guardian had the opportunity to speak to Roy Vercoulen, ExpoLAB’s managing director, who described the ideal building as producing oxygen, sequestering carbon, purifying water, improving the health of its occupants, and promoting biodiversity, while not sacrificing creativity in aesthetic design. These seemingly ambitious targets, as it turns out, are not only being satisfied but far exceeded by young competitive designers.

The development will be host to the Floriade 2012: World Horticultural Exposition, in which the city hopes to demonstrate new methods for linking natural ecosystems to man-made cycles—in essence, how to maximize our coexistence with the natural environment. Quite naturally, the city also hopes to attract international investment, exhibiting the benefits of C2C infrastructure and the accompanying culture. Indeed, a significant portion of the city’s business guide is already dedicated to selling these concepts:

Another important aspect of Venlo is innovative sustainability. Venlo has strong sustainability ambitions, specifically in the form of Cradle to Cradle (C2C): Waste should ideally be non-existence. All the raw materials used for a product should be re-used, after the life of that product, as input materials of equal or better quality for the next product or for the environment.

Both in restructuring existing business parks and in developing new facilities, Venlo aims to keep making quality breakthroughs with the focus on Cradle to Cradle, sustainability and the environment. The aim is to create an inspiring business environment which will stimulate innovative developments. The key factor is that the physical setting promotes partnerships between research, education, government and entrepreneurs. The campus model provides an ideal basis. It creates and optimal mix of companies that complement and inspire each other, and together form business parks with a diversity of activities and an innovative climate. Campuses inspire spin-offs and promote entrepreneurship.

Clearly, Venlo is not simply interested in fostering a more sustainable way of doing business, but also in creating a culture for innovation. In this sense, the completion of Venlo’s Greenpark and Greenport developments mark the beginning, rather than the end, of the city’s sustainability vision.

Although in Dutch, the following YouTube video offers a fascinating glimpse into Venlo’s marketing approach to its C2C development:

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Urban Acupuncture: Revivifying Our Cities Through Targeted Renewal

Can the localized healing concepts of acupuncture be applied to urban revitalization? Photo credit: odt.co.nz

Cities throughout the world, irrespective of their age, location, and economic vitality, are faced with a number of essential problems which are arguably endemic to the very concept of urbanization. From the provision of clean water and sanitation, to the availability of cost-effective and efficient transportation, many of these problems correlate rather predictably with population density. Some problems, however, prove far more abstract in both their causes and effects, as is the case with urban decay. Perhaps even more elusive is a reliable solution to such problems that is economically, ethically, and environmentally sound. A handful of progressive urban renewalists, however, have developed an adaptable framework which they believe may finally provide the answer.

While it is not immediately clear who first coined the term urban acupuncture, there does seem to be a broad consensus on its basic tenets. First, proponents argue that urban revitalization must begin at the hyperlocal level. Borrowing from the concepts of acupuncture, they advocate a targeted (small-scale) approach to “healing” the (large-scale) malady of urban decay. They argue that large-scale revitalization projects are not only less effective, but they are increasingly less feasible, as municipal budgets tighten. Moreover, such projects fail to meaningfully involve their surrounding communities in their planning and development, effectively discouraging long-term local stewardship. Above all, however, proponents suggest that cities must be treated as living organisms, requiring solutions as dynamic as life itself.

Gordon Matta-Clark (June 22, 1943 – August 27, 1978)
Highly influential in the contemporary discourse of urban acupuncture, Matta-Clark was an American artist with an architecture background who transformed abandoned buildings into site-specific art installations. He is credited with developing a system for identifying pockets of disrepair in the built environment—the first step in the framework of urban acupuncture.

Jaime Lerner (born December 17, 1937)
Rather uniquely among architects and urban planners, Lerner was also an accomplished politician. As mayor of Curitiba, the largest and wealthiest city in southern Brazil, Lerner instituted a number of social reforms resulting in improved public health and a more vibrant economy. His efforts were heavily inspired by the concepts of urban acupuncture, as he described in 2007:

I believe that some medicinal “magic” can and should be applied to cities, as many are sick and some nearly terminal. As with the medicine needed in the interaction between doctor and patient, in urban planning it is also necessary to make the city react; to poke an area in such a way that it is able to help heal, improve, and create positive chain reactions. It is indispensable in revitalizing interventions to make the organism work in a different way.

Marco Casagrande (born May 7, 1971)
A prominent Finnish architect, environmental artist, and social theorist, Casagrande is perhaps the first to systematize the concepts of urban acupuncture. Indeed, the core principles of UA are integral to his theory and practice, and his resultant work can be seen in the built environments of Taipei and Montreal. In an interview with Laurits Elkjær in 2010, Casagrande described urban acupuncture as:

[a] cross-over architectural manipulation of the collective sensuous intellect of a city. City is viewed as multi-dimensional sensitive energy-organism, a living environment. Urban acupuncture aims into a touch with this nature.

While his definition may be abstract, the results of his work are very real, garnering considerable attention from the architecture community.

Nicholas de Monchaux (born March 14, 1973)
Associate Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at UC Berkeley, de Monchaux is a prominent advocate for urban acupuncture in the United States. His “Local Code” project is not only technologically remarkable, but it provides an evocative glimpse into the potential of the UA framework. The following video proposes a UA revitalization effort for San Francisco:

While it’s easy to receive concepts like urban acupuncture with skepticism, one can scarcely reject the logic of its goals and methodology. The sheer breadth of support for the principles of UA are also reassuring, indicating a coordinated effort to seek new solutions to the problem of urban decay. Although urban revitalization is inherently a gradual process, we will perhaps see an increasing number of UA projects coming to fruition in the next few years. Hopefully, these efforts will prove not only aesthetically pleasing, but serve to categorically improve the health of urban communities.

The Indiscriminate Facilitator of Life: Water

Caroline, a young girl enjoying clean water for the first time. Photo credit: mycharitywater.org

According to UNICEF, almost 50% of the developing world’s population (2.5 billion) lack access to improved sanitation facilities, while over 884 million people rely upon unsafe drinking water each day. This means that one in eight of us, perhaps unnecessarily, is at a heightened risk for waterborne illnesses and a diminished quality of life. And while it may seem that the developed world is immune to the intrinsic finiteness of this essential resource, there are indications that the West, too, will soon feel the impact of this reality. But to what extent can we depend on technological advances to improve quality and access to clean water throughout the world? May certain “renewable” technologies actually be to blame for placing unnecessary strain on existing water infrastructure?

Between 2001 and 2009, the average annual increase in typical residential water bills in the United States was approximately 5.3 percent. Average annual inflation for the same period was 2.4 percent, indicating a statistically significant rise in the “actual” cost of water per gallon. But does population growth alone account for the presumed increase in domestic demand? It seems unlikely, particularly when one considers the extraordinary growth of water-intensive industries, such as that of ethanol production. In the aforementioned decade, domestic ethanol fuel output increased nearly 500%, from 1,770 million US gallons to 10,600 million US gallons.  At a cost of 4.38 gallons of water per 1 gallon of ethanol, 127 million gallons of water are consumed for production each day, or 46,428 million gallons per year (in 2009). What’s even more shocking is that, until very recently, much of this water was sourced from traditional municipal supplies, meaning that it was unnecessarily subjected to the same costly treatment processes as drinking water.

There are examples within the energy sector, however, of increased investment in “water stewardship,” either out of necessity or obligation. Texas’ own White Energy, a self-described emerging leader in the production of renewable energy, recently contracted GE to build a wastewater facility to reduce dependence on the municipal water supply, as Leon Kaye describes:

GE built two reverse osmosis filtration systems that now provide clean water for the facility’s cooling system and boiler plant. The project not only frees up enough water to meet the annual needs of 600 homes, but the resulting concentrated by-product is used in the plant’s cooling tower rather than fresh water. White Energy saves about $200,000 (£123,000) a year in expenses while reducing its water consumption by 43m gallons a year.

Irrespective of one’s opinion of the ethanol industry, one can hope that other companies will follow in White Energy’s footsteps—augmenting, rather than depleting, a community’s water supply.

The critical lesson to be learned, however, is that the developed world is no longer immune to the consequences of irresponsible water management. Perhaps more so than any other natural resource, water acts as a great equalizer, serving as a constant reminder of our shared biological needs. Our dependency on water transcends socioeconomic and geographic boundaries, embodying the very definition of sustainability. Equitable reliance can only be answered by equitable distribution, and our efforts must be similarly diversified. It requires investment in old technologies, like well drilling, to bring reliable drinking water to those who need it most in the developing world. It requires investment in new technologies like caustic concentration, bipolar electrodialysis, and electro-deionisation, to stabilize water supplies in the West. It requires, dare I say, a bit of creativity, and a lot of determination, to solve one of the most pressing issues to have ever faced civilization.