The city and its operation
Previous articles outlined the way to configure cities in order they become sustainable or not. Sustainability depends on the city functionality itself as well – the aim of this third article.
Adam Smith in his invisible hand hypothesis stated that market optimizes the distribution, enabling better allocation of resources without public intervention. It can also operate by creating unwanted situations to market players (cases of monopoly, cartels, lack of coordination, etc.) and then worsening the social scene.
For instance, the decision to travel by private car instead of using public transport can outcome the worst case scenario. In this direction, several investigations have revealed that it would take less to London bus users – as in any other city – than motorists to move from one place to another if there were less cars. Hence the idea of Mayor Livingston of an expensive access to London downtown by private car in order to provide greater flexibility to surface and underground public transport.
Urban planning is therefore absolutely essential for coexistence and progress. Consequently, European citizens from the early nineteenth century claimed to eliminate obstacles (walls down!). They claimed broaden their cities, which became progressively constrained by sea, hills, and old walls – now absolutely unnecessary, with severe communication problems, crowding and hygiene.
In this context, it was clear to Ildefonso Cerdà when designing the Eixample (urban expansion) of Barcelona that the city should be open, cosmopolitan, outside connected by well done road and rail networks… But above all, it had to be habitable for citizens. The city would grow in small islands: city blocks chamfered, with large inner garden patios, thus uniting the best of countryside life with the advantages of the city. Even then, many Barcelonans turned these courtyards into dedicated warehouses, small factories, and even buildings.
The Cerdà’s pioneering urban planning (1860) through areas, gardens and building expansions – quite different from the internal reform of Haussmann (1852) in Paris – is our daily bread. Managements of urban municipalities generally deal with this responsibility. They have to operate with long-term vision – avoiding short-termism that under-sizes capabilities and services with serious further quicken consequences. In this direction, planning must address a number of priority issues on water, air, noise, energy, waste, health, housing, and transportation.
Human intervention in water availability has quantity and quality implications as water used in cities floods back to environment, thus closing a cycle already enforced. Thus, sewage without any treatment, returning to their natural environment, creates serious pollution of rivers and aquifers. To avoid such an issue, the European Water Charter (1968) marked a series of objectives that have been largely completed in the EU-15 – while it remains outstanding work in some of the new 27 Member States of the Union.
In addition, water consumption has to be rationalized: in most large cities, a cubic meter of clean water is less expensive than a Coke at a bar, then increasing produced waste. Consequently, it is essential to charge water waste, starting with a low prices block about 60 liters a day – subsequently changing basic allowance – and then becoming gradually more expensive.
The topic is most evident in cities where sustainability is not shining for its excellence. The most valuable asset – what we breathe 24 hours a day – is consumed in very inadequate conditions. The air of London in the mid 1950s, with frequent smog waves, became suffocating. Following these situations a clean air policy arose, with the first laws, specifically British, in 1955. European Countries came after with further regulation mechanisms.
In summary, the most essential is to ensure clean air, with sensors networking and a very long series of measures that would not exceed the allowable cap, forcing the phasing out of most harmful emission sources.
Everyone agrees – starting with psychologists and psychiatrists – that noise is one of the environmental factors that affect most the quality of life. From small discomforts, more or less anecdotal, to levels of irreversible disorders in the human mind.
Definition of noise is well known:
“The sound, or set of sounds that are perceived by human beings, and that alter the acoustical medium within they normally move.”
…with the additional peculiarity that everything depends on the inevitability of impact also. Regarding the latter, a noise is obliged to be heeded, and even foreseeable at the time – as when a summer storm occurs, or when the passage of a train at a fixed time takes place, or when children voices arise from the playground in the courtyard of a school near you – and then the sound waves seem justified, and the trouble is diluted. Not at all when the roar of an uncontrolled neighbor turntable in its 50 watts comes to you, or when it deals with crying on Friday night in usually quiet streets, on these occasions everything just become the most detestable.
Among the most aggressive acoustic dealings, the continuous traffic of suburban highway (along with hundreds of miles of noise barriers) should be condemned – and what about major arteries within metropolitan area, and even in the formerly quiet streets in ancient downtowns? In these ways, some motorists “do their best” traveling at full speed – as if they were in Silverstone. And it is certainly no less remarkable ambulances, day or night roistering circulating, carrying patients or not, whose sirens wailing penetrate your eardrums at completely unnecessary noise levels.
But most of all, among the most inconvenient and unnecessary noises, the urban cleaning must be pointed: the unpleasant scavenging machines in the vicinity of 100 dB, apart the absurd beep when they reverse or their stressful light pollution – equipments that go together with by “air gun carriers’”, top-mask and earplugs outfitted, raising dust clouds in the din with a volume of noise just about unbelievable – especially when you compare with the very human scavengers who still survive. All these issues must be fought, and there are many resources to do so, starting with the municipalities – now the main causing actors of noise.
Otherwise, cities as microcosm would become unsustainable.
>>Sustainable Cities for Freedom and Environment (1) – An Overview on Urban Developmental Evidences
>>Sustainable Cities for Freedom and Environment (2) – Prospects, Proposals and Local Agenda-21