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    Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change

    Peter Newman, Tim Beatley, and Heather Boyer

    Half of the inhabitants in the world live in cities. In the following twenty years, the number of urban dwellers will swell to an estimated five billion people. Using buildings that are poorly designed and their ineffective transportation systems, many cities particularly in the United States use up enormous amounts of fossil fuels and emit high levels of greenhouse gases. But our planet is quickly running from the carbon-based fuels that have powered urban growth for centuries and we seem to be not able to check our greenhouse gas emissions. Are the world's cities headed for unavoidable failure?

    The authors of the energetic book do not consider that oblivion is essentially the destiny of urban areas. Rather, they believe that direction is visionary and sensible planning that can help cities meet with the impending disasters, and look to existing initiatives in cities around the world. Rather than responding with fear (as a legion of doomsaying prognosticators have done), they choose expectation. They confront the issues, describing where we stand now in our usage of oil as well as our contribution to climate change. They then present four potential results for cities: collapse, ruralized, divided, and resilient. In response to their scenarios, they say a new sustainable urbanism could replace today's carbon-consuming urbanism. They address in detail how buildings and new transportation systems can be feasibly developed to replace our low efficiency systems that are present.

    That is not a publication filled with blue sky theory (although blue skies are going to be a welcome result of its recommendations). Rather, it's packed with practical ideas, a few of which are working in cities today. It implies these problems are solvable, although it frankly confesses that our cities have issues that may worsen when they are not addressed. And the time to begin solving them is now.

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    Are there any Resilient Cities?

    Though some have more work to do than others, no city is prepared for the changes which might be approaching. There are various cities in the world which use almost zero levels of oil like the cities of China and India (which use about 15 gallons per individual, though they may be quickly increasing as cars take above their transport systems, particularly new cars like the Nano) and also other areas of the third world for example Bogota, Columbia and Curitiba, Brazil, which use around 40 gallons per individual. This needs to be compared at close to 800 gallons per individual and also the typical US city at around 400 gallons per man. Is this wealth that is only?

    Even in oil-dependent cities there are substantial regions which use very little transport fuel. For example, the City of Sydney has one of the lowest rates of fuel use per person on earth. The inner suburbs (which also happen to be the wealthiest regions) use two to five times less compared to the outer and fringe suburbs. In central Ny fuel use per person is approximately 90 gallons, the inner area is around 150 gallons and also the outer suburbs are 450 gallons. Overall the city-area is the best fuel as transit is more accessible using city in the usa. Most importantly this means the average cost of transportation in The Big Apple is 30 percent less than the typical US city.

    In Manhattan and central Sydney auto use is minimal and they have considerable resilience to get a fuel-constrained future. However, what about their surrounding suburbs which frequently are no different to the car dependent areas of Atlanta and Houston? As these outer suburbs start to crumble under fuel constraints, no American or Australian city is anything like ready for the enormous pressure on their transit systems.

    So while parts of our cities will be walkable and transit oriented in a period of peak oil, there are still energy and climate change pressures which remain at the building level throughout all of the city.

     

    [i] U.S. Green Building Council website under "Green Building Research" www.usgbc.org

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    "Resilience in our personal lives in about lasting, about making it through crises, about inner strength and strong physical constitution. Resilience is destroyed by fear, which causes us to panic, reduces our inner resolve, and eventually debilitates our bodies. Resilience is built on hope, which gives us confidence and strength. Hope is not blind to the possibility of everything getting worse, but it is a choice we make when faced with challenges. Hope brings health to our souls and bodies. 

    Resilience can be applied to cities. They too need to last, to respond to crises and adapt in a way that may cause them to change and grow differently; cities require an inner strength, a resolve, as well as a strong physical infrastructure and built environment." 

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