I’m heading off to Florence this week for the International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE). The highlight of the week will be a panel session I’m chairing, on the Karlskrona Manifesto. The manifesto itself is something we’ve been working on since last summer – a group of us wrote the first draft at the Requirements Engineering conference in Karlskrona, Sweden, last summer (hence the name). This week we’re launching a website for the manifesto, and we’ve published a longer technical paper about it at ICSE.

The idea of the manifesto is to inspire deeper analysis of the roles and responsibilities of technology designers (and especially software designers), given that software systems now shape so much of modern life. We rarely stop to think about the unintended consequences of very large numbers of people using our technologies, nor do we ask whether, on balance, an idea that looks cool on paper will merely help push us even further into unsustainable behaviours. The position we take in the manifesto is that, as designers, our responsibility for the consequences of our designs are much broader than most of us acknowledge, and it’s time to do something about it.

For the manifesto, we ended up thinking about sustainability in terms of five dimensions:

  • Environmental sustainability: the long term viability of natural systems, including ecosystems, resource consumption, climate, pollution food, water, and waste.
  • Social sustainability: the quality of social relationships and the factors that tend to improve or erode trust in society, such as social equity, democracy, and justice.
  • Individual sustainability: the health and well-being of people as individuals, including mental and physical well-being, education, self-respect, skills, and mobility.
  • Economic sustainability: the long term viability of economic activities, such as businesses and nations, including issues such as investment, wealth creation and prosperity.
  • Technical sustainability: the ability to sustain technical systems and their infrastructures, including software maintenance, innovation, obsolescence, and data integrity.

There are of course, plenty of other ways of defining sustainability (which we discuss in the paper), and some hard constraints in some dimensions – e.g. we cannot live beyond the resource limits of the planet, no matter how much progress we make towards sustainability in other other dimensions. But a key insight is that all five dimensions matter, and none of them can be treated in isolation. For example, we might think we’re doing fine in one dimension – economic, say, as we launch a software company with a sound business plan that can make a steady profit – but often we do so only by incurring a debt in other dimensions, perhaps harming the environment by contributing to the mountains of e-waste, or harming social sustainability by replacing skilled jobs with subsistence labour.

The manifesto characterizes a set of problems in how technologists normally think about sustainability (if they do), and ends with a set of principles for sustainability design:

  • Sustainability is systemic. Sustainability is never an isolated property. Systems thinking has to be the starting point for the transdisciplinary common ground of sustainability.
  • Sustainability has multiple dimensions. We have to include those dimensions into our analysis if we are to understand the nature of sustainability in any given situation.
  • Sustainability transcends multiple disciplines. Working in sustainability means working with people from across many disciplines, addressing the challenges from multiple perspectives.
  • Sustainability is a concern independent of the purpose of the system. Sustainability has to be considered even if the primary focus of the system under design is not sustainability.
  • Sustainability applies to both a system and its wider contexts. There are at least two spheres to consider in system design: the sustainability of the system itself and how it affects sustainability of the wider system of which it will be part.
  • Sustainability requires action on multiple levels. Some interventions have more leverage on a system than others. Whenever we take action towards sustainability, we should consider opportunity costs: action at other levels may offer more effective forms of intervention.
  • System visibility is a necessary precondition and enabler for sustainability design. The status of the system and its context should be visible at different levels of abstraction and perspectives to enable participation and informed responsible choice.
  • Sustainability requires long-term thinking. We should assess benefits and impacts on multiple timescales, and include longer-term indicators in assessment and decisions.
  • It is possible to meet the needs of future generations without sacrificing the prosperity of the current generation. Innovation in sustainability can play out as decoupling present and future needs. By moving away from the language of conflict and the trade-off mindset, we can identify and enact choices that benefit both present and future.

You can read the full manifesto at sustainabilitydesign.org, and watch for the twitter tags  and .  I’m looking forward to lots of constructive discussions this week.

We’re taking the kids to see their favourite band: Muse are playing in Toronto tonight. I’m hoping they play my favourite track:

I find this song fascinating, partly because of the weird mix of progressive rock and dubstep. But more for the lyrics:

All natural and technological processes proceed in such a way that the availability of the remaining energy decreases. In all energy exchanges, if no energy enters or leaves an isolated system, the entropy of that system increases. Energy continuously flows from being concentrated to becoming dispersed, spread out, wasted and useless. New energy cannot be created and high grade energy is destroyed. An economy based on endless growth is unsustainable. The fundamental laws of thermodynamics will place fixed limits on technological innovation and human advancement. In an isolated system, the entropy can only increase. A species set on endless growth is unsustainable.

This summarizes, perhaps a little too succinctly, the core of the critique of our current economy, first articulated clearly in 1972 by the Club of Rome in the Limits to Growth Study. Unfortunately, that study was widely dismissed by economists and policymakers. As Jorgen Randers points out in a 2012 paper, the criticism of the Limits to Growth study was largely based on misunderstandings, and the key lessons are absolutely crucial to understanding the state of the global economy today, and the trends that are likely over the next few decades. In a nutshell, humans exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet sometime in the latter part of the 20th century. We’re now in the overshoot portion, where it’s only possible to feed the world and provide energy for economic growth by consuming irreplaceable resources and using up environmental capital. This cannot be sustained.

In general systems terms, there are three conditions for sustainability (I believe it was Herman Daly who first set them out in this way):

  1. We cannot use renewable resources faster than they can be replenished.
  2. We cannot generate wastes faster than they can be absorbed by the environment.
  3. We cannot use up any non-renewable resource.

We can and do violate all of these conditions all the time. Indeed, modern economic growth is based on systematically violating all three of them, but especially #3, as we rely on cheap fossil fuel energy. But any system that violates these rules cannot be sustained indefinitely, unless it is also able to import resources and export wastes to other (external) systems. The key problem for the 21st century is that we’re now violating all three conditions on a global scale, and there are no longer other systems that we can rely on to provide a cushion – the planet as a whole is an isolated system. There are really only two paths forward: either we figure out how to re-structure the global economy to meet Daly’s three conditions, or we face a global collapse (for an understanding of the latter, see GrahamTurner’s 2012 paper).

A species set on endless growth is unsustainable.

The second speaker at our Workshop on City Science was Andrew Wisdom from Arup, talking about Cities as Systems of Systems. Andrew began with the observation that cities are increasingly under pressure, as the urban population continues to grow, and cities struggle to provide adequate infrastructure for their populations to thrive. But a central part of his message is that the way we think about things tends to create the way they are, and this is especially so with how we think about our cities.

As an exercise, he first presented a continuum of worldviews, from Technocentric at one end, to Ecocentric at the other end:

  • In the Techno-centric view, humans are dissociated from the earth. Nature has no inherent value, and we can solve everything with ingenuity and technology. This worldview tends to view the earth as an inert machine to be exploited.
  • In the Eco-centric view, the earth is alive and central to the web of life. Humans are an intrinsic part of nature, but human activity is already exceeding the limits of what the planet can support, to the point that environmental problems are potentially catastrophic. Hence, we need to get rid of materialism, eliminate growth, and work to restore balance.
  • Somewhere in the middle is a Sustain-centric view, which accepts that the earth provides an essential life support system, and that nature has some intrinsic value. This view accepts that limits are being reached, that environmental problems tend to take decades to solve, and that more growth is not automatically good. Humans can replace some but not all natural processes, and we have to focus more on quality of life as a measure of success.

As an exercise, Andrew asked the audience to imagine this continuum spread along one wall of the room, and asked us each to go and stand where we felt we fit on the spectrum. Many of the workshop participants positioned themselves somewhere between the eco-centric and sustain-centric views, with a small cluster at the extreme eco-centric end, and another cluster just to the techno-centric side of sustain-centric. Nobody stood at the extreme techno-centric end of the room!

Then, he asked us to move to where we think the city of Toronto sits, and then where we think Canada sits, and finally where we feel the world sits. For the first two of these, everyone shifted a long way towards the technocentric end of the spectrum (and some discussion ensued to the effect that both our mayor and our prime minister are a long way off the chart altogether – they are both well known for strong anti-environmentalist views). For the whole world, people didn’t move much from the “Canada” perspective. An immediate insight was that we (workshop attendees) are far more towards the ecocentric end of the spectrum than either our current city or federal governments, and perhaps the world in general. So if our governments (and by extension the voters who elect them) are out of step with our own worldviews, what are the implications? Should we, as researchers, be aiming to shift people’s perspectives?

One problem that arises from one’s worldview is how people understand messages about environmental problems. For example, people with a technocentric perspective tend to view discussions of sustainability as being about sacrifice – ‘wearing a hair shirt’, consume less, etc. Which then leads to a waning interest in these topics. For example, analysis of google trends on terms like global warming and climate change show spikes in 2007 around the release of Al Gore’s movie and the IPCC assessment, but declining interest since then.

Jeb Brugmann, the previous speaker, talked about the idea of a Consumptive city versus a Generative city, which is a change in perspective that alters how we view cities, changes what we choose to measure, and hence affects the way our cities evolve.

Changes in the indices we pay attention to can have a dramatic impact. For example, a study in Melbourne created that VAMPIRE index (Vulnerability Assessment for Mortgage, Petroleum and Inflation Risks and Expenses), which shows the relative degree of socio-economic stress in suburbs in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. The pattern that emerges is that in the Western suburbs of Melbourne, there are few jobs, and many people paying off mortgages, all having to commute and hour and a half to the east of the city for work.

Our view of a city tend to create structures that compartmentalize different systems into silos, and then we attempt to optimize within these silos. For example, zoning laws create chunks of land with particular prescribed purposes, and then we end up trying to optimize within each zone. When zoning laws create the kind of problem indicated by the Melbourne VAMPIRE index, there’s little the city can do about it if they continue to think in terms of zoning. The structure of these silos has become fossilized into the organizational structure of government. Take transport, for example. We tend to look at existing roads, and ask how to widen them to handle growth in traffic; we rarely attempt to solve traffic issues by asking bigger questions about why people choose to drive. Hence, we miss the opportunity to solve traffic problems by changing the relationship between where people live and where they work. Re-designing a city to provide more employment opportunities in neighbourhoods that are suffering socio-economic stress is far more likely to help than improving the transport corridors between those neighbourhoods and other parts of the city.

Healthcare is another example. The outcome metrics typically used for hospital use include average length of stay, 30-day unplanned readmission rate, cost of readmission, etc. Again, these metrics create a narrow view of the system – a silo – that we then try to optimize within. However, if you compare European and American healthcare systems, there are major structural difference. The US system is based on formula funding, in which ‘clients’ are classified in terms of type of illness, standard interventions for that illness, and associated costs. Funding is then allocated to service providers based on this classification scheme. In Europe, service provides are funded directly, and are able to decide at the local level how best to allocate that funding to serve the needs of the population they care for. The European model is a much more flexible system that treats patients real needs, rather than trying to fit each patient into a pre-defined category. In the US, the medical catalogue of disorders becomes an accounting scheme for allocating funds, and the result is that in the US, medical care costs going up faster than any other country. If you plot life expectancy against health spending, the US is falling far behind:

The problem is that the US health system views illness as a problem to be solved. If you think in terms of wellbeing rather than illness, you broaden the set of approaches you can use. For example, there are significant health benefits to pet ownership, providing green space within cities, and so on, but these are not fundable with the US system. There are obvious connections between body mass index and the availability of healthy foods, the walkability of neighbourhoods, and so on, but these don’t fit into a healthcare paradigm that allocates resources according to disease diagnosis.

Andrew then illustrated the power of re-thinking cities as systems-of-systems through several Arup case studies:

  • Dongtan eco-city. This city was designed from the ground up to be food positive, and energy positive (ie. intended to generate more food and more clean energy than it uses). The design makes it more preferable to walk or bike than to drive a car. A key design tool was the use of an integrated model that captures the interactions of different systems within the city. [Dongtan is, incidentally, a classic example of how the media alternately overhypes and then trashtalks major sustainability initiatives, when the real story is so much more interesting].
  • Low2No, Helsinki, a more modest project that aims to work within the existing city to create carbon negative buildings and energy efficient neighbourhoods step by step.
  • Werribee, a suburb of Melbourne, which is mainly an agricultural town, particularly known for its broccoli farming. But with fluctuating prices, farmers have had difficulty selling their broccoli. In an innovative solution that turns this problem into an opportunity, Arup developed a new vision that uses local renewable energy, water and waste re-processing to build a self-sufficient hothouse food production and research facility that provides employment and education along with food and energy.

In conclusion, we have to understand how our views of these systems constrain us to particular pathways, and we have to understand the connections between multiple systems if we want to understand the important issues. In many cases, we don’t do well at recognizing good outcomes, because our worldviews lead us to the wrong measures of success, and then we use these measures to create silos, attempting to optimize within them, rather than seeing the big picture. Understanding the systems, and understanding how these systems shape our thinking is crucial. However, the real challenges then lie in using this understanding to frame effective policy and create effective action.

After Andrew’s talk, we moved into a hands-on workshop activity, using a set of cards developed by Arup called Drivers of Change. The cards are fascinating – there are 189 cards in the deck, each of which summarizes a key issue (e.g. urban migration, homelessness, clean water, climate change, etc), and on the back, distills some key facts and figures. Our exercise was to find connections between the cards – each person had to pick one card that interested him or her, and then team up with two other people to identify how their three cards are related. It was a fascinating and thought-provoking exercise, that really got us thinking about systems-of-systems. I’m now a big fan of the cards and plan to use them in the classroom. (I bought a deck at Indigo for $45, although I note that, bizarrely, Amazon has them selling for over $1000!).

We held a 2-day workshop at U of T last week entitled “Finding Connections – Towards a Holistic View of City Systems“. The workshop brought together a multi-disciplinary group of people from academia, industry, government, and the non-profit sector, all of whom share a common interest in understanding how cities work as systems-of-systems, and how to make our cities more sustainable and more liveable. A key theme throughout the workshop was how to make sure the kinds of research we do in universities does actually end up being useful to decision-makers – i.e. can we strengthen evidence-based policymaking (and avoid, as one of the participants phrased it, “policy-based evidence-making”).

I plan to blog some of the highlights of the workshop, starting with the first keynote speaker.

The workshop kicked off with an inspiring talk by Jeb Brugmann, entitled “The Productive City”. Jeb is an expert in urban sustainability and climate change mitigation, and has a book out called “Welcome to the Urban Revolution: How Cities are Changing the World“. (I should admit the book’s been sitting on the ‘to read’ pile on my desk for a while – now I have to read it!).

Jeb’s central message was that we need to look at cities and sustainability in a radically different way. Instead of thinking of sustainability as about saving energy, living more frugally, and making sacrifices, we should be looking out how we re-invent cities as places that produce resources rather than consume them. And he offered a number of case studies that demonstrate how this is already possible.

Jeb started his talk with the question: How will 9 billion people thrive on Earth? He then took us back to a UN meeting in 1990, the World Congress of Local Governments for a Sustainable Future. This meeting was the first time that city governments around the world came together to grapple with the question of sustainable development. To emphasis how new this was, Jeb recollected lengthy discussions at the meeting on basic questions such as how to translate the term ‘sustainable development’ into French, German, etc.

The meeting had two main outcomes:

  • Initial work on Agenda 21, getting communities engaged in collaborative sustainable decision making. [Note: Agenda 21 was subsequently adopted by 178 countries at the Rio Summit in 1992. More interestingly, if you google for Agenda 21 these days, you’re likely to find a whole bunch of nutball right-wing conspiracy theories about it being an agenda to destroy American freedom.]
  • A network of city governments dedicated to developing action on climate change [This network became ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability]. Jeb noted how the ambitions of the cities participating in ICLEI have grown over the years. Initially, many of these cities set targets around 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Over the years since, these target have grown. For example, Chicago now has a target of 80% reduction. This is significant because these targets have been through city councils, and have been discussed and agreed on by those councils.

An important idea arising out of these agreements is the concept of the ecological footprint – sometimes expressed as how many earths are needed to support us if everyone had the same resource consumption as you. The problem is that you get into definitional twists on how you measure this, and that gets in the way of actually using it as a productive planning tool.

Here’s another way of thinking about the problem. Cities currently have hugely under-optimized development patterns. For example, cities with seven times more outspill growth (suburban sprawl) compared to infill growth. But there are emergent pressures on industry to optimize use of urban space and urban geography. Hence, we should start to examine under-used urban assets. If we can identify space within the city that doesn’t generate value, we can reinvent it. For example, the laneways of Melbourne, which in the 1970’s and 80’s were derelict, have now been regenerated for a rich network of local stores and businesses, and ended up as a major tourist attraction.

We also tend to dramatically underestimate the market viability of energy efficient, sustainable buildings. For example, in Hannover, a successful project built an entire division of eco-homes using Passivhaus standards at similar rental price to the old 1960s apartment buildings.

The standard view of cities, built into the notion of ecological footprint, is that cities are extraction engines – the city acts as a machine that extracts resources from the surrounding environment, processes these resources to generate value, and produces waste products that must be disposed of. Most work on sustainable cities frames the task as an attempt to reduce the impact of this process, by designing eco-efficient cities. For example, the use of secondary production (e.g. recycling) and designed dematerialization (reduction of waste in the entire product lifecycle) to reduce the inflow of resources and the outflow of wastes.

Jeb argues a more audacious goal is needed: We should transform our cities into net productive systems. Instead of focussing on reducing the impact of cities, we should use urban ecology and secondary production so that the city becomes a net positive resource generator. This is far more ambitious than existing projects that aim to create individual districts that are net zero (e.g. that produce as much energy as they consume, through local solar and wind generation). The next goal should be productive cities: cities that produce more resources than they consume; cities that process more waste than they produce.

Jeb then went on to crunch the numbers for a number of different types of resource (energy, food, metals, nitrogen), to demonstrate how a productive city might fill the gap between rising demand and declining supply:

Energy demand. Current European consumption is around 74GJ/capita. Imagine by 2050, we have 9 billion people on the planet, all living like Europeans do now – we’ll need 463EJ to supply them all. Plot this growth in demand over time, and you have a wedge analysis. Using IEA numbers of projected growth in renewable energy supply, to provide the wedges, there’s still a significant shortfall. We’ll need to close the gap via urbanrenewable energy generation, using community designs of the type piloted in Hannover. Cities have to become net producers of energy.

Here’s the analysis (click each chart for full size):

Food. We can do a similar wedge analysis for food. Current food production globally produces around 2,800kcal/captia. But as the population grows, this current level of production produces steadily less food per person. Projected increases in crop yields, crop intensity, and conversion of additional arable land, and reduction of waste would still leave a significant gap if we wish to provide a comfortable 3100kcal/capita. While urban agriculture is unlikely to displace rural farm production, it can play a crucial role in closing the gap between production and need, as the population grows. For example, Havana has a diversified urban agriculture that supplies close to 75% of vegetables from within the urban environment. Vancouver has been very strategic about building its urban agricultural production, with one out of every seven jobs in Vancouver in food production.

Other examples include landfill mining to produce iron and other metals, and urban production of nitrogen fertilizer from municipal biosolids.

In summary, we’ve always underestimated just how much we can transform cities. While we remain stuck in a mindset that cities are extraction engines, we will miss opportunities for more radical re-imagings of the role of global cities. So a key research challenge is to develop a new post-“ecological footprint” analysis. There are serious issues of scaling and performance measurement to solve, and at every scale there are technical, policy, and social challenges. But as cities house ever more of the growing population, we need this kind of bold thinking.

There’s a fascinating piece up this week on The Grid on how to make Toronto a better city. They asked a whole bunch of prominent people for ideas, each to be no longer than 200 words. The ideas didn’t necessarily have to be practical, but would be things to make us think. Some of them are wacky, some are brilliant, and some are both. My favourites are:

  • Give people alternative ways to pay their dues, e.g. instead of taxes, struggling artists donate public art, etc. (Seema Jethalal);
  • Hold a blackout holiday twice a year, to mimic the sense of connectness we all got when the power grid went down in 2003 (Carlyle Jansen)
  • Use ranked ballots for all municipal elections (Dave Meslin)
  • Banish all outdoor commercial ads (Sean Martindale)
  • Ban parking on all main streets (Chris Hume)
  • Build a free wireless internet via decentralized network sharing (Jesse Hirsh)
  • Make the TTC (our public transit) free (David Mirvish)

Better yet, they asked for more suggestions from readers. Here are mine:

Safe bike routes to schools. Every school should be connected to a network of safe bike paths for kids. Unlike the city’s current bike network, these bike baths should avoid main roads as much as possible: bike lanes on main roads are not safe for kids. Instead they should go via residential streets, parks, and marginal spaces, and physically separate the bikes from all vehicle traffic. These routes should provide uninterrupted links from sheltered bike parking at each school all the way through the  residential neighbourhoods that each school serves. They should also provide a larger network, linking each school with neighbouring schools, for families where the kids go to different local schools, and where kids use services (e.g. pools) in other local schools.

Advantages: kids get exercise biking to school, gain some independence from parents, and become better connected with their environment. Traffic congestion and pollution at school drop-off and pickup times would drop. To build such a network, we would have to sacrifice some on-street parking in residential streets. However, a complete network of such bike paths could become a safer alternative to the current bike lanes on main streets, thus freeing up space on main streets.


Car-free blocks on streetcar routes. On each streetcar route through the city, select individual blocks (i.e. stretches between adjacent cross-streets) at several points along each route, and close these stretches to all other motorized vehicle traffic. Such blocks would only allow pedestrians, bikes and streetcars. The sidewalks would then be extended for use as patios by cafes and restaurants. Delivery vehicles would still be permitted, perhaps only at certain times of day.

The aim is to discourage other traffic from using the streets that our streetcars run on as major commuting corridors through the city, and to speed up the flow of streetcars. The blocks selected to pedestrianize would be those where there is already a lively street life, with existing cafes, etc. Such blocks would become desirable destinations for shoppers, diners and tourists.

I’ve been working for the past couple of months with the Cities Centre and the U of T Sustainability Office to put together a symposium on sustainability, where we pose the question “What role should the University of Toronto play in the broader challenge of building a sustainable city?”. We now finally have all the details in place:

  • An Evening Lecture, on the evening of June 13, 6pm to 9pm, at Innis Town Hall, featuring Bob Willard, author of “The Sustainability Advantage”, Tanzeel Merchant, of the Ontario Growth Secretariat and Heritage Toronto, and John Robinson, Director of the UBC Sustainability initiative and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s Canadian Environmental Scientist of the Year.
  • A full day visioning workshop on June 14, 9am to 5pm, at the Debates Room, Hart House. With a mix of speakers and working group sessions, the goal will be to map out a vision for sustainability at U of T, that brings together research, teaching and operations at the University, and explores how we can use the University as a “living lab” to investigate challenges in urban sustainability.

And it’s free. Register here!

Ever since I wrote about peak oil last year, I’ve been collecting references to “Peak X”. Of course, the key idea, Hubbert’s Peak applies to any resource extraction, where the resource is finite. So it’s not surprising that wikipedia now has entries on:

And here’s a sighting of a mention of Peak Gold.

Unlike peak oil, some of these curves can be dampened by the appropriate recycling. But what of stuff we normally think of as endlessly renewable:

  • Peak Water – it turns out that we haven’t been managing the world’s aquifers and lakes sustainably, despite the fact that that’s where our freshwater supplies come from (See Peter Gleick’s 2010 paper for a diagnosis and possible solutions)
  • Peak Food – similarly, global agriculture appears to be unsustainable, partly because food policy and speculation have wrecked local sustainable farming practices, but also because of population growth (See Jonathan Foley’s 2011 paper for a diagnosis and possible solutions).
  • Peak Fish – although overfishing is probably old news to everyone now.
  • Peak Biodiversity (although here it’s referred to as Peak Nature, which I think is sloppy terminology)

Which also leads to pressure on specific things we really care about, such as:

Then there is a category of things that really do need to peak:

And just in case there’s too much doom and gloom in the above, there are some more humorous contributions:

And those middle two, by the wonderful Randall Monroe make me wonder what he was doing here:

I can’t decide whether that last one is just making fun of the the singularity folks, or whether it’s a clever ruse to get people realize Hubbert’s Peak must kick in somewhere!

We have funding for a 2-day symposium in the spring of 2012 on the topic “Sustainable Cities in a Post-Carbon World”. Here’s my current blurb for the event – I’m still tweaking the wording, so constructive comments are welcome (and watch this space for more details on date & venue, etc)…

Cities house half the world’s population, consume more than two-thirds of the world’s energy, and produce more than 70% of the global CO2 emissions. The triple threat of climate change, peak oil, and ecosystem loss poses a massive challenge to cities, as they depend on huge inputs of energy, food, and materials from the surrounding regions. Cities are also particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, as urban landscapes amplify extreme heat events, with potentially disastrous impact on public health and urban infrastructure.

Modern cities grew up in an era of cheap fossil fuels. As that era ends, our cities can only be sustained if they can make a rapid transition to energy efficiency and renewable fuels, and build greater resilience into their urban infrastructure. Such a transition will mean re-thinking almost every aspect of city life: buildings, lifestyle, transportation, public spaces, water and waste management, energy efficiency, social justice and participatory decision-making. The technologies that will be needed, in general, already exist. But the social and financial structures do not. The path by which rapid, wide scale deployment can occur is unclear: cities grew not so much by design, but through emergence as complex organisms. The hardest questions are not so much what a sustainable city might look like, but how we get there.

The goal of this two-day symposium is to explore new ways to bring together governments, universities and civil society to accelerate this transition to post-carbon cities. With Toronto as a model, we aim to build an action plan to engage the university with city government, NGOs, and community groups, to leverage the inter-disciplinary expertise from across campus to address this challenge.

The symposium will include a mix of talks, panel sessions, workshops, student posters, hands-on activities and movie screenings. Topics will include clean energy, smart grid, transport, urban planning, policy making, city governance, community building, data analytics, public health and green growth/economic development.

Our objectives are to develop new trans-disciplinary thinking for the transition to a post-carbon world; to build new collaborations; and to better integrate current research with urban policy, leading to solutions for sustainable urban development.

I spent a little time this afternoon trying to get hold of data. I guess I have high expectations that the web should deliver what I want instantly; in the old days it would have taken a few days in the library to track down the data sets I needed, and then a few weeks waiting for it on inter-library loan. In some respects, things haven’t changed much, although now it just means you hit the paywall faster. Here’s today’s tale…

It began with a post by George Monbiot on how we’ll have to make cities much more dense if we are to cut down their energy needs. George then tweeted about a fabulous graph from the UNEP which illustrates the point nicely:

In which Toronto holds an interesting position compared to other North American cities. Anyway, someone then pointed out that this data is a little old – it’s based on a classic study by Newman and Kenworthy from the 1980’s. So now the hunt begins: is there an updated version of this anywhere, and if not, can I get hold of the data to create it?

Luke Devlin tweeted out a newer version, published in 2009, based on data from the UITP Mobility in Cities Database, which has data from around the year 2001:

However, this graph is pretty ugly, and has none of the cities labelled. So, methinks that would be easy to fix – all I need is the data. Unfortunately the database (on CD-ROM – how quaint!) costs €1,200. And I’d have to wait for it to arrive. Surely someone has this online for free? No? After all, I only want to use one indicator…

Okay, so the data hunt is on. Population density data is easy to get hold of – wikipedia has plenty of it. In exploring this a little, I find some wikified concerns expressed about the original graph, and a whole can of worms about how exactly you compute population density for a city (tl;dr: it depends where you think the city boundaries are).

A little more googling turns up a fascinating 2003 paper “Transport Energy Use and Greenhouse Gases in Urban Passenger Transport Systems: A Study of 84 Global Cities” (by the same Kenworthy), which has a graph of exactly the data I need:

But of course, it points me back at the same UITP dataset for the actual numbers. Darn.

Then there’s a UNEP report dated March 2011, “Technologies for Climate Change Mitigation – Transport Sector“, which uses the same data, but actually does plot the graph I’m after:

It’s a little better than the previous version, but still doesn’t label the individual cities (which one is Toronto??). And of course, although the report is dated 2011, it’s still the same 2001 dataset from UITP.

So where else might I get data like this? A little more googling and I hit what looks like the jackpot: An extensive list of resources on transportation statistics. Unfortunately, the only one that seems to have the transport data by city is the UITP dataset. Back to that paywall again.

In the meantime, I seem to have launch George Monbiot off into an investigation of the academic publishing racket, exploring why the results of publicly funded research is invariably behind a paywall:

I look forward to reading his blog post on that topic. Meanwhile, I’m off to track down someone on campus who might already have the UITP CD-ROM…

Update 4-Jul-2011: Chris Kennedy sent me his 2009 paper in which he did a detailed analysis for 10 cites, with an update of the density vs transport energy consumption curve. He tells me he has the energy data for more cities, but not the density data, as this is very hard to do consistently. Oh, and silly me – I’d already blogged this, together with Chris’ graph last year. Here’s Chris’s graph. He says “The logarithm of urbanized density has a statistically significant fit (t stat ) -10.26) against the logarithm of GHG emissions from transportation fuels with an R2 of 0.93 (Table 2). The logarithm of average personal income is statistically insignificant (t stat ) -0.35).” (p7299)

Chris also tells me the IEA report on the world’s energy, due out later this year, will chapter on cities, with an update of the graph.

As a followup to my post earlier this week about how dangerous cycling is in Toronto, I decided to take my camera with me on my daily commute. Over two days, I managed to take snaps of the many wonderful uses of bike lanes – it turns out these are incredibly versatile strips of land. Which means the city would be crazy not to maintain them properly, right? Eh? Oh:

Well, anyway. Here’s my ABC of the many wonderful uses of bike lanes.

Bike lanes are for: Ambulances, in case of accidents:

Bike lanes are for: Bi-modal parking, because sidewalks just aren’t big enough:

Bike lanes are for: Council vans, because there’s nowhere to park the fleet:

Bike lanes are for: Deliveries, so every store should have one:

Bike lanes are for: Excavating, to save us digging up car lanes:

Bike lanes are for: Free parking, just right for a quick bit of shopping:

Bike lanes are for: Going around, because we like the scenic route:

Bike lanes are for: Hydro vans, because mobile workshops are cool:

Bike lanes are for: Idiots, who swim against the flow:

Bike lanes are for: Junk piles, because trash is expensive to haul:

Bike lanes are for: Kerb repairs, a safety margin for the crew:

Bike lanes are for: Lorries, although Canadians call them trucks:

Bike lanes are for: Manhole covers, spaced carefully across the lane:

Bike lanes are for: “No stopping” signs, though nobody knows they’re there:

Bike lanes are for: On-kerb parking, which the police just happen to ignore:

Bike lanes are for: Patching practice, because road crews have to learn:

Bike lanes are for: Quantities of dirt, which are just too big for elsewhere:

Bike lanes are for: Rails. Streetcar rails. You never know when you’ll need them:

Bike lanes are for: Spillovers, because building sites are so small:

Bike lanes are for: Timber piles – look how much will fit:

Bike lanes are for: Unexpected doors, that open in your face:

Bike lanes are for: Very large scoops, just waiting to make more holes:

Bike lanes are for: Washrooms, because even cyclists need to pee:

Bike lanes are for: TaXis, they’re out there cruising for fares:

Bike lanes are for: Yellow diggers, and yes, that’s the second one today:

Bike lanes are for: Zooming along, on the few occasions they’re clear:

Note: All photos were taken by me, this week, on my commute to work, except for the taxi, as the one I was trying to snap drove away too quick (see: Taxi photo credit). Click the photos for bigger versions on Flickr.

I thought I’d write a little on cycling in the Toronto this month, partly because is Bike Month, partly because I’ve been reading up on idea of complete streets, and partly because Toronto has just introduced a bike share system, Bixi bikes, and I fear for the consequences of more casual riders on Toronto’s dangerous streets. And because I bike to work everyday and spend most of my ride thinking about how things could be better. Oh, and because getting rid of our car-centred transport system is a key climate mitigation strategy.

Toronto is an awful city to bike in. The city streets are entirely car-centric, with a few bike lanes added in as an afterthought. The thing is, I enjoy biking to work for much the same reasons I enjoy dangerous sports. I like the adrenalin rush, and I like the hyper-focus that’s necessary to survive as a cyclist in Toronto. I’ve been doing it for many, many years, ever since I used to bike across central London as a grad student. I’ve been knocked off my bike twice in 25 years of inner city cycling (once in London, and once in Toronto), with no serious injuries either time, but then I’ve had good training in defensive biking. I ride fast and furious, I know how to own the road, and I know how to anticipate and avoid risks.

But dangerous sports are dangerous. I certainly don’t like the thought of my kids cycling on Toronto’s streets, even though I’d love them to be able to bike to school. The problem is that while the city has been developing a network of cycle lanes, the whole design is wrong. Worse than wrong – I think Toronto’s cycle lanes are more dangerous than the roads that don’t have them. The problem is that they’re formed just by drawing a white line a few feet from the curb. Which makes them an idea space for taxis to stop, delivery vehicles to park, construction crews to dump materials, and so on:

Where parking is allowed, there’s no buffer zone between the parking spaces and the bike line, which means that car doors are a hazzard – a neighbour of mine spent months off work with a broken shoulder recently because a car door opened in front of him.

On streets with bike lanes but no parking, there are “no stopping” signs everywhere, which are universally ignored. This makes cycling much more dangerous – whenever the bike lane is blocked, cyclists have to weave into the main traffic lane, which is now only just wide enough for cars and trucks. Such weaving is more dangerous than cycling along in the main traffic lane all the time. I used to get angry about this, and swear at people who stop their vehicles in the bike lane. But eventually I realized this isn’t the fault of the drivers – it’s the fault of the bike lane design. Delivery vehicles and taxis have to stop frequently, and will always pull to the curb to do so. The bike lane actually encourages this – it’s the ideal space, just out of the main traffic lane, perfect for temporary stops. It’s like the people who designed the bike lanes have no idea about the theory of affordances: what they’ve done is create a strip of road that’s just perfect for drivers to pull over into when they need to stop to pick up passengers or to drop off deliveries.

What we need are physically separated bike lanes. Ones that cannot be used by motor vehicles, because there is a physical barrier to stop them. It’s great to see the Toronto Cyclists Union taking this up as a serious project, and the city has even commissioned a feasibility study, due to be completed later this month.

But that still leaves us with a few other problems to solve. One is that most schools in Toronto are not reachable by bike, because nobody ever considered how to support safe biking to school for kids. The other is that, no matter how the streets are designed, there’s no accounting for stupidity. I’ll leave you with this wonderful video to explain what I mean by stupidity:

3-Way Street from ronconcocacola on Vimeo.

I picked up a fascinating book today – “The Handbook of Sustainability Literacy” edited by Arran Stibbe. It’s a set of short essays on each of a long list of skills needed for thinking about and achieving sustainability. The contents listing makes worthwhile reading on it’s own, covering many of the things I’ve been reading up on for the last few months. I wonder if it’s possible to design an education program that fosters all these skills:

  • ECOCRITICISM – the ability to investigate cultural artefacts from an ecological perspective.
  • OPTIMISATION – the art of personal sufficiency.
  • GROUNDED ECONOMIC AWARENESS – economic awareness grounded in ecological and ethical values.
  • ADVERTISING AWARENESS – the ability to expose advertising discourses that undermine sustainability, and resist them.
  • TRANSITION SKILLS – skills for transition to a post fossil-fuel age.
  • COMMONS THINKING – the ability to envisage and enable a viable future through connected action.
  • EFFORTLESS ACTION – the ability to fulfil human needs effortlessly through working with nature.
  • PERMACULTURE DESIGN – designing our lives with nature as the model.
  • COMMUNITY GARDENING – skills for building community and working within environmental limits.
  • ECOLOGICAL INTELLIGENCE – viewing the world relationally.
  • SYSTEMS THINKING – the ability to recognize and analyse the inter-connections within and between systems.
  • GAIA AWARENESS – awareness of the animate qualities of the Earth.
  • FUTURES THINKING – the ability to envision scenarios for the future and work towards bringing desirable ones into being.
  • VALUES REFLECTION AND THE EARTH CHARTER – the ability to critique the values of an unsustainable society and consider alternatives.
  • SOCIAL CONSCIENCE – the ability to reflect on deeply-held opinions about social justice and sustainability.
  • NEW MEDIA LITERACY – communication skills for sustainability.
  • CULTURAL LITERACY – understanding and skills for culturally appropriate communication.
  • CARBON CAPABILITY – understanding, ability and motivation for reducing carbon emissions.
  • GREENING BUSINESS – the ability to drive environmental and sustainability improvements in the workplace.
  • MATERIALS AWARENESS – the ability to expose the hidden impact of materials on sustainability.
  • APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGY AND APPROPRIATE DESIGN – the ability to design systems, technologies and equipment in an appropriate way.
  • TECHNOLOGY APPRAISAL – the ability to evaluate technological innovations.
  • COMPLEXITY, SYSTEMS THINKING AND PRACTICE – skills for managing complexity.
  • COPING WITH COMPLEXITY – the ability to manage complex sustainability problems.
  • EMOTIONAL WELLBEING – the ability to research and reflect on the roots of emotional wellbeing.
  • FINDING MEANING WITHOUT CONSUMING – the ability to experience meaning, purpose and satisfaction through non-material wealth.
  • BEING-IN-THE-WORLD – the ability to think about the self in interconnection and interdependence with the surrounding world.
  • BEAUTY AS A WAY OF KNOWING – the redemption of knowing through the experience of beauty.

There’s a few things I’m might add (social networking and social justice spring to mind), and I see they’ve added some additional chapters on the website. But phew, this looks like an extremely valuable book.

This is a guest post from Kaitlin Carroll, originally written as an assignment for the course PMU199S.

How does Canada measure up on climate change? We are of course an economically developed country, and what with all our snow, our beavers and our wilderness one would think we’re doing pretty good, right? Wrong. Maybe there are a few other criteria in the fight against climate change, besides the beavers.

Taken from epi.yale.edu
EPI Ranking Map. Highest scores are yellow, and scores lower as the colour gets darker.

On Yale’s EPI (Environmental Performance Index) Canada ranks 46th out of 163 countries, including currently developing countries such as China and places recently hit by climate-change spurred natural disasters like The Maldives and Haiti. Coming out on top are countries like Switzerland, which ranked second, and Sweden which ranked fourth.  So how does Canada compare to such high ranked countries?

Based on Yale’s EPI website we can draw some basic conclusions about quality of life in Sweden, Switzerland and Canada. The average GDP per capita of the three countries is just upwards of $34,000. 100% of citizens in all three of the countries also have access to basic needs, such as sanitation and clean water. The countries are also very similar in terms of local climate, which also plays a key role in quality of life, and emissions in terms of heating and cooling. In other words, Sweden, Switzerland and Canada are all developed nations with a great quality of life.

So, if Canada has such a great quality of life, we shouldn’t have any problems setting up environmental reforms and becoming leaders in the fight against climate change! How, then, are we ranked 46th?

The problem seems to lie in policy and practice. In an article by David Richard Boyd, a well-known environmental lawyer and Canadian, he compares Sweden and Canada on ten different environmental criteria. The reason why Canada falls behind is directly linked to their policies. While Sweden has used “innovative economic policies to reduce pressure on the environment” and produced “a bold national strategy to achieve sustainability within a generation”, Canada has taken a different approach. Canada is described in the article as a country which puts emphasis on voluntary contributions to fighting climate change, instead of enforcing policies. They also favour environmental education, which I agree is necessary, but education without action and the support of local government officials will have little effect.

Boyd also seems to cite a lot of the same key issues with Canada’s policy as The Conference Board of Canada.  The Conference Board of Canada is an independent and non-profit organization what provides research studies on a wide range of Canada’s economic and political policies.  In the board’s article on environment Canada is ranked 15th out of 17 of it’s peer countries, and given a C grade.  Below is a list of some of the important issues mentioned by both Boyd and The Conference Board of Canada:

Key Issues

Population density also plays a big role in climate change, according to a study by Christopher Kennedy, Professor at the University of Toronto. This is largely due to the fact that ground transportation (such as cars, trucks, and buses) contributes a lot to the GHGs we send into the atmosphere. The chart below compares the ten different cities in Kennedy’s study in terms of their population density and GHG output.

Population Density vs GHGs

Unlike Switzerland and Sweden, Canada is huge! We have a mix of rural and urban areas, but even within our urban centers, such as Toronto, we’re nowhere near as densely populated as most European cities. This means we have to travel a lot more from the suburbs to the down town core. Toronto’s Public Transit has a system length of 70km and 69 stations, Montreal’s Metro is nearly the same, with a length of 69km and 68 stations. Not only is it the distance, but it’s the service area of the transit that affects us. In both cases of Toronto and Montreal there are only four different subway lines, which means the service area is very restricted. We can compare this to Sweden’s Public Transit, the Stockholm Metro, which has 7 different lines, and although it covers about the same distance (105km) it serves 100 different stations. Public transit is then more accessible for those living within the city. In essence, because of our lack of population density and inadequate public transportation, Canada has become a car-oriented country.

The good news is, there’s still room for improvement! Canada can make changes to its policies to make climate change an issue of its government and its citizens as a whole, not just the select few. We can take examples from those countries ranked 1st through 45th and build upon and improve our society in order to ease pressure off of the earth.  The goal should be to bring every country to the number one spot, and there’s no reason why a country which has the means and the will cannot change.

Today Jonathan Lung released a new version of our open, shareable, web-based calculator, Inflo. We have a new screencast to explain what it is:

You can play with Inflo yourself (just say yes to accept the site certificate; you’ll need to register a new username if you want to save your calculations on the server). Or go see some of the calculations we’ve already built with it:

Or there’s always the tutorial for inflo in inflo itself….

Toronto takes second place in the WWF’s assessment of the top ten Canadian Cities Taking Action on Climate Change. Although it strikes me as more than a little odd that the detailed notes for Vancouver, Montreal and Victoria give actual data for emissions reductions already achieved and/or future targets, while Toronto’s just gives some vague fluff about the programs we have going, along with a link to a City of Toronto sustainability page that hasn’t been updated since 2003. So who paid for our ranking??