Living cities

Ton Venhoeven

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A competent urban development design is an inspiring representation of the way in which different people, animals and things can co-exist in a limited space. Each new design offers the opportunity to rethink every facet of life. The environment is playing an increasingly important role, if only because of the problems surrounding energy consumption, CO2, noise pollution and dust particles.

"each new design offers the opportunity to rethink every facet of life"

Climbing oil prices, increasing affluence in developing economies, increasing natural resource and food shortages, climate change and migration flows have come together and pushed us onto the brink of an ecological and cultural revolution. Planners and designers who anticipate this revolution will have sustainable buildings and cities in the future. Theory tells us it is technically possible to produce all food, energy and goods within city limits. If we could make it work in practice, then all we would have to do is roll out the design principles worldwide and solve the world’s problems. That is why many countries are deep into experiments to develop emission-free, autarkic cities. These experiments have proved that it’s no simple thing to reduce our ecological footprint to a size that the world can sustain. The Netherlands is currently at the top of the global ecological footprint list. By the time March rolls around we’ve already exhausted our supply of sustainably produced natural resources, which is why the pressure here for renewal is so great. The world as a whole runs out somewhere in October, which means that we as a global population are already consuming more per year than the globe produces.

Traffic has an important role to play in the design of sustainable cities, just as food production, tourism, trade, the use of renewable natural resources and many other factors, as well as the buildings themselves, of course. The construction of buildings in the Netherlands accounts for approximately 8% of total energy demand, and their operation and maintenance for 41%. As for the rest of our energy needs, the lion’s share is for traffic (trade, distribution, home-to-office, other business, recreation and tourist traffic) and production, food production in particular. Given that urban and environmental planning, via commuter traffic, are largely responsible for creating these transport needs, the key to finding the solution to almost all environmental problems is to develop sustainable cities and buildings.
Good urban and environmental planning can limit the amount of automobile traffic and stimulate the use of public transport. If we manage to mix residential, business, production and leisure functions, large savings will result. This mix is made possible by the fact that more and more production activities these days are clean and quiet. Food production in and around cities (‘urban agriculture’) promises huge savings in energy and food transport costs, and also provides the opportunity to recycle energy and CO2.

"good urban and environmental planning can limit the amount of automobile traffic"

Within twenty years, we will have the technology to make cities and buildings everywhere in the world completely emission-free and sustainable. Judicial use of facades, roofs and roads can create all the energy that buildings, appliances, cars and trains need. Food can be produced in skyscrapers of stacked hothouses. Hardwood gleaned from the rainforests can be replaced by locally produced and preserved wood. With all the new technology at our disposal, we can also make our existing cities sustainable and have them produce their own energy, making power plants, power lines and sewage unnecessary. Deserts will bloom with electricity created from solar energy and freshwater production from electrolysis.
VenhoevenCS participates in various research projects that focus on realising this clean, sustainable, energy-producing city as quickly as possible. For each project we pull a sophisticated team of experts together and decide which technical environmental measures are desirable and feasible. Using leverage projects, we create attractive spaces out of locations that no one previously thought worthy of interest.
In a spatial and cultural sense, a VenhoevenCS expert urban planning design is a patchwork of different cultures: a dynamic, cosmopolitan whole and an ideal biotope for pedestrians. It is a plan in which many different kinds of living and working options are combined with various different forms of recreation, reducing the need for motorised transport. We create density in all urban functions including food production, health care and refuse processing, so that we can also plan in as much nature as possible. We use a multitude of ways to stimulate the land being put to multi-purpose use. Keeping the buildings and different forms of traffic as compact as possible creates fascinating traffic spaces, exceptional squares and attractive parks. Other spaces are left free as relaxing interspaces – areas where nothing is forced because their use is not functionally coded and everything there is free. These spaces offer vital breathing room for people living the city lifestyle.

Living cities