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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 Chinese Cities a Threat to the World?

    Many fear the world oil situation has been caused by the rapid growth in Chinese cities. As peak oil is approaching will the world have the capacity to deal with the growth in the Chinese cities as they may be buying autos fast (see Brown, 2006)? They surely are growing in their appetite for oil as well as in size; China now accounts for over 30 percent of the entire world?s new usage of oil. As they increase their reliance on cars, China?s overall interest in fuel remains a major player in the world fuel positions and is growing.

    But it is going to be challenging to expand their highway systems. Chinese cities are constructed of high rise towers so the density of the cities is around 150 to 200 individuals per ha (60-80 per acre). Space for highways becomes the limiting factor in high rise cities along with the current building phase is apparently reaching that limitation.

    Chinese cities were almost totally bike based and until recently barely used any oil; they use bicycles for about 70 percent of journeys in the majority of the cities. Their new cities are still more dense than their existing cities thus there are consequences: the roads rapidly fill up together with the traffic and the opinion of auto dominance is clear when a couple of people begin to utilize cars as has occurred previously decade. Such car saturation of the roads is yet as distances for journeys have become short only skin deep as most Chinese cities can rapidly react to oil depletion. Auto use can be simply phased down by them as they are replaced by bike use for short journeys plus they can construct modern transit very economically as their density eases it. As Shanghai and Beijing will have the biggest Metro systems on the planet by 2008, this in fact is occurring.

    For instance, it's the largest manufacturer of photovoltaic cells in the whole world, largely for its own marketplace, plus it's constructing demonstration carbon-neutral ecocities like Dong Tan and Rhizao. But there are indications that its accelerated urbanization will present great challenges to China in mitigating their impact on climate change. Carbon output is increasing, for example, as China assembles around one coal-fired electricity plan a week. [i]

    [i] National Geographic, October 2007, vol. 212, no. 4 �Carbon�s New Math� by Bill McKibben, pg. 34

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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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