Posts tagged with "Pollution":

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Columbia professor Anthony Acciavatti on the technical engineering of India’s sacred river

Anthony Acciavatti, Columbia GSAPP Professor and award-winning author, delivered a lecture at Greenpoint creative space A/D/O earlier this week on his 2015 book titled Ganges Water Machine: Designing New India’s Ancient River. The event is part of the company's #Waterfutures Research Program that challenges designers and researchers to rethink the global drinking water crisis. Acciavatti reflected on his decade-long fieldwork where he traveled by foot, boat, and car to document the Ganges River basin from its source in the Himalayas to the historic city of Patna nearly 1,000 kilometers downstream. During the lecture, Acciavatti explained the difficulties of obtaining satellite imagery at a time when web-mapping services such as Google Maps were not yet invented. Instead, he resorted to designing and building his own instruments to map and visualize the region’s data. As a founding partner at Somatic Collaborative, Acciavatti is now actively working with his partner Felipe Correa, who was recently named Chair of Architecture at the University of Virginia School of Architecture, as well as Indian authorities to realize his research and designs for the region. The Ganges is a trans-boundary river, which crosses India, Bangladesh, and other South Asian countries. According to various reports, the Ganges is highly polluted by human activity, but it still is the source of drinking water for over 400 million people. Acciavatti's book doesn't focus on the region’s pollution, but instead investigates the 19th century British engineering that made the network of irrigation canals and aqueducts possible. He was also interested in identifying the political implications of how water became a powerful political resource throughout the river’s historical evolution and what it means today.
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T+E+A+M simulates natural processes to make spectacularly synthetic materials

Wrangling with the issues of pollution and industrial waste, Ann Arbor, Michigan–based collective T+E+A+M is pushing forward with innovative approaches to appropriating and reinterpreting the industrial relics of America’s Rust Belt. T+E+A+M draws upon the postindustrial landscape—often Detroit—as a source of inspiration, places where disused materials are salvaged, recast, and used as architectural tools and standalone structures. Based out of the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, T+E+A+M is a collaboration between architects Thom Moran, Ellie Abrons, Adam Fure, and Meredith Miller. Miller and Moran are developing an innovative construction material they call “Post Rock.” Post Rock is a lab-made re-creation of the naturally occurring plastiglomerate—a relatively new geological substance composed of discarded plastic, sedimentary granules, and other debris. The team simulates this process and speculates how to build architectural forms from the agglomerated matter. The inherent durability of petrochemical polymers and sedimentary products strengthens the case for their use in construction. Post Rock consists of a mix of polymer and inorganic sources. The recycled product is formed either "in situ" where the materials are stacked and thermocast, or as “clastic,” which derives its cylindrical shape from rotational thermoforming conducted in the lab. Through three speculative design projects envisioned with digital rendering, Miller and Moran have upscaled their Post Rock prototypes into architectural works. Three categories—Urban Beach, Agribusiness, and Suburban Domestic—are composed of three distinct mixes of polymers and inorganic sources. Unveiled at the 2017 Designing Material Innovation Exhibition at California College of the Arts, the Clastic Order is a “new architectural order” fabricated from stacked and thermocast Post Rock. By casting the recycled material to create monolithic columns, T+E+A+M utilizes a process similar to a slipforming technique that entails the constant pouring of materials, creating new layers of structure. T+E+A+M described this casting process as one “based on material behavior under heat and gravity,” allowing for each monolith to possess multiple physical characteristics reflecting the ratios of components, colors, and textures found in each cast. The utility of the Clastic Order as a construction technology is yet to be fully tested. However, Moran hopes that it could be strengthened to fully merge the compositional with the decorative and structural in the spirit of the Roman arch. He views their approach as a radical solution that envisions remanufactured waste products as a tappable and nearly unlimited resource of “building material similar to iron and concrete.” T+E+A+M has ongoing projects, such as Clastic Order, that demonstrate promising decorative and structural uses of these refashioned industrial leftovers. They are currently researching the potential scaling-up of their techniques, and the development of a patent covering the use of their plastic-based materials as a form of facade and interior cladding. Moran acknowledged that while these approaches are wholly plausible, they will require testing and research.
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The Gowanus Canal is being cleaned up for the first time in its long, polluted life

What's more Brooklyn than several thousand tons of toxic sludge channeled down a concrete chute being portrayed as a developer's Riviera? If you're confused which horribly polluted body of water in Brooklyn we're referring to, we'll save you some time: it's the Gowanus Canal. You know, the same canal nicknamed "Lavender Lake" in the early 20th century due to the pastel hue it turned while absorbing immense amounts of slaughterhouse slurry, coal tar, and a cocktail of human and chemical waste. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) more straightforwardly called it "one of the nation's most seriously contaminated bodies of water.” The Gowanus Canal is long overdue for a makeover. The first week of October, preliminary dredging began on a large-scale environmental renewal of the site, which will cost around $500 million in total. Since early 2010, the body of water has been a federally-designated Superfund site, meaning it has been identified a significant hazard to people, animals, plants, and everything alive – in short, an environmental and public health disaster just a rainy day away from cross-contamination. This will be the first time the city has ever endeavored to clean the canal since its channelization in the mid-1800's (though humans have technically cohabited with the canal since it was a creek in the early 17th century). The surrounding neighborhood has been experiencing paradigm shifts of its own. Residential development has been far from deterred by the site's chemical underpinnings. The neighborhood's first luxury high-rise opened in the summer of 2016 at 365 Bond Street. Shortly after, the Department of City Planning initiated Plan Gowanus, a direct community engagement platform to look at rezoning the neighborhood in light of increased interest in waterfront development. The city expects this engagement process to continue for at least another two years. How and whether Gowanus' rezoning will align with the cleanup process is not entirely clear yet. According to the EPA's progress page for the Gowanus Canal, the site has not even received a preliminary assessment or site investigation, despite the fact that dredging has begun. A developer at Property Markets Portfolio (an owner of many waterfront properties along the canal) estimates that the process will wrap up in roughly five years. What remains to be seen is whether more attention will be paid to the health risks involved in developing a Superfund site at the canal's scale. At present, 26 million gallons of raw sewage flood into the canal per year, which the advent of new underground sewage tanks is expected to reduce to 11 million gallons per year. Flooding is still a common occurrence for nearby residents–in fact, there are a series of informal underground waterways winding through the basements of locals, spreading out as far as Prospect Park. Eymund Diegel, an urban planner fascinated with the history of the canal, mapped them out in a recent New Yorker piece. Landscape architects have imagined the remediation of the canal from slightly more utopian angles, from DLANDstudio's Gowanus Canal Sponge Park, a more traditional waterfront park that would simultaneously help clean the canal, to SCAPE's Gowanus Lowlands, an adaptive design allowing direct interaction with the waterfront.
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Harvey’s danger lives on in the threat of petrochemical pollution

When Hurricane Harvey strenghtened and redirected toward Houston, refineries and other petrochemical companies began a frantic scramble to shut down facilities before impact. This process in itself produces notoriously high emissions (a lesson learned time and again from other hurricanes that have hit the Gulf Coast hard like Katrina and Ike), but the Texas metropolis faces another unique problem—Harris County and environs are home to some of the most densely-polluted superfund sites in the country, a legion of petrochemical waste pits and ponds monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 13 of the total 41 sites were flooded in Harvey's fallout, with the EPA unable to access many of the city's sites, as reported by the Associated Press last Thursday. By Saturday, the EPA had examined two sites in Corpus Christi, found no flooding or leakage, and blasted the AP's report in a public statement – notably without providing evidence to the contrary. In their exclusive, the Associated Press described the "acrid smell of creosote" filling the air in a neighborhood situated between two superfund sites, the Sikes Disposal Pits and French LTD. They also took video from a boat peering into the 3.3-acre Highlands Acid Pit nearby—entirely covered by the roiling San Jacinto River, dredging up open toxic sludge. On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that in the Manchester neighborhood of Houston, levels of a carcinogen called benzene reached 324 parts per million, above the level at which safety workers are federally required to wear breathing equipment. Scott Frickel, an environmental sociologist at Brown University's Superfund Research Program, is concerned that the coverage of Houston's post-Harvey recovery has been overwhelmingly focused on Superfund sites, important though they are. He has examined the response of federal regulatory agencies like the EPA to similar problems after Hurricane Katrina, the largest in the agency's history at that time. A potentially greater danger, he argues, are the small, scattered industrial facilities owned by corporations and private entities. In a study, Frickel and others found that 90% of historically existing industrial facilities don't appear on regulatory hazardous site lists. Although there's no certainty all these sites are contaminated, many probably are, and account for a large margin of undocumented emissions. Frickel explained: "In part these sites are 'missing' from regulatory oversight either because they are small enough to skirt the current reporting requirements or larger facilities that closed down prior to 1980's when CERCLA regulations began and were redeveloped into some other land use. Also, it may be worth noting emissions reporting now is voluntary." Their omission explains – in part, at least – why the EPA ignored historically industrial areas of New Orleans during the long recovery from Katrina, allowing the city to repurpose those same areas for housing reconstruction without risk studies carried out beforehand. This feeling was echoed by Billy Fleming from the University of Pennsylvania's School of Design, albeit with a concern about larger facilities. Fleming remarked that with facilities in almost every neighborhood of the city, he'd be hard-pressed to think of a place where residents shouldn't be concerned about pollutants. Superfund sites aside, the EPA is not required to monitor emissions from those larger petrochemical facilities. But based on past precedent, we can expect any data provided by those 500-plus facilities with potential spillage to be sparse and unreliable. Fleming also broke down the legacy of urban sprawl and superfund sites on Houston in a recent Guardian article and on Twitter: Another point raised by Frickel was that, with the proliferation of private wells in Houston (also largely unregulated), any hazardous floodwaters that infiltrate them may pose additional threats, unless there was a commitment to chemical monitoring. The long-term health consequences of a flood as devastating as Harvey's are vast, ranging from breathing difficulty to liver cancer, and therefore difficult to measure at an epidemiological scale. Flood-induced mold is identifiable as an immediate nuisance for respiratory reasons; New Orleans residents reported a "Katrina cough" years after the storm. The secondary disaster, other than immediate emissions from the shutdown of petrochemical facilities, are the chemical releases produced during the cleanup itself. These are wide-ranging and poorly understood: one example is the unexamined health outcomes of itinerant immigrant workers brought in to move debris and demolish damaged homes who are exposed to substances like asbestos from old buildings and vinyl chloride from newer ones. Because they move on to the next job in the next city, any health data disappears with them. As we look at preventing human-made disasters like Harvey's ruinous flooding from a planning standpoint, watchdogs, advocacy groups, and experts should be closely watching the EPA and the Trump administration's attentiveness to environmental regulations as the chemicals continue their slow, inexorable spread through the water supply and air of affected areas.    
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Explore this interactive map of the Gowanus Canal’s slightly scary microbiology

The Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn is notorious for its filth. Normally a sure fire way to contract dysentery, cancer and arsenic poisoning, the canal is now the subject of study from a diverse collaborative effort: Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, biotech nonprofit GenSpace, the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, and data visualizers Landscape Metrics. Called the BK BioReactor, the undertaking employs a small autonomous watercraft that samples waters throughout the infamous canal (an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Superfund site). The researchers set out to catalog its microbial communities before the canal undergoes dredging and sub-aquatically capping as part of the Superfund cleanup later this year. https://vimeo.com/156573571 Why the Gowanus? The team aims to discover new microorganisms "unique to the urban realm." With many urban areas facing similar pollution challenges, there may be important lessons to be learned. "The Gowanus Canal is an incubator for the evolution of such bioremediating functions, attesting to its industrial past and its capacity for self-renewal," they stated. To carry out the task, the group are using the BK BioReactor: a mobile watercraft that takes samples and stops at 14 "Smart Docks" throughout the canal. The craft measures "water temperature, pH, salinity, and dissolved oxygen; and most importantly grant researchers and citizen scientists access to the microbiome below the cleanup cap. Subsequently, an interactive microbiological map has been produced, locating all the different microorganisms, the vast majority of which are bacteria. However, in some parts of the canal, large quantities of the siphoviridae virus family can be found. For those wondering, this is not linked to syphilis (which the canal has been associated with). That's not to say the findings were in any way healthy however. "Many of the species identified in preliminary samplings are also found in the human gut (a result of raw sewage) while other species reveal influence of the canal’s proximity to the ocean," the group said. "Regardless of their source, the microbial melting pot of the canal has fine-tuned its metabolism, swapping genes with neighboring communities and evolving novel functions to develop real-time strategies for the unique state of the canal." https://vimeo.com/156590188 Other substances discovered included:
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Triptyque unveils São Paulo’s minhocão garden viaduct plans

  Brazilian and French firm Triptyque has unveiled their plans for a 2.2 mile vegetated viaduct in São Paulo, Brazil. Originally constructed in 1971, the Minhocão viaduct paved the way for modern automotive travel within the city. Now, despite being closed to vehicles between 9.30 p.m. and 6.30 a.m. and on all day Sundays, the area has become the heavily polluted.  Triptyque's green solution then, is fitting. As the city attempts to reclaim the highway, leasing it out to pedestrians, Triptyque has proposed lining the viaduct with dashes of greenery and vegetation to make it a more inviting space. Working alongside landscaper Guild Blanche, the scheme focuses on the Minhocão Marquise, the area underneath the roadway itself. Here, they envision a communal space for art, sports, and special events, with Triptyque driving home the idea that color and vibrancy are key components of the project. In doing so, they hope to counter the grayness of São Paulo and create a lively and pedestrian-friendly place. As part of the plan, the Marquise will be divided into blocks, each located within the 108 foot gaps between each pillar. These blocks will be numbered and labeled as the "posts" corresponding the beaches of Rio de Janeiro. As a result, each block will receive four programs: "culture, food, services and shops." These activities will be governed by a public-private partnership in which the São Paulo mayor and city authorities will play a curatorial role and oversee the general scheme. Light is also an important factor. Due to the nature of the site, little daylight enters the space. Vegetation will have to hangover the edges or be suspended in order to grow. This, however, works in the scheme's favor with greenery able to to filter 20% of carbon dioxide pollution from the cars above. Plants will be irrigated via a natural water harvesting system, meanwhile residual/excess water will be used to clean the Marquise surface. https://vimeo.com/160749242
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Oslo plans to make its city center free from cars in four years

Norway currently boasts three World Rally Championship drivers (second only to France), all of considerable pedigree, yet its capital city of Oslo is planning to remove cars for good. Along with the proposal to ban cars is the plan to build 37 miles worth of bike lanes by 2019 and a new system for handicap bus services and delivery vehicles. In a bid to reduce pollution, Reuters reported, politicians in Oslo said they want to be the first European capital to implement a comprehensive permanent ban on cars. With a population just under 650,000, Oslo has around 350,000 cars with most owners living outside the center but inside the city's boundaries. Emulating Paris' one day-a-year car ban, Oslo is bucking a trend many fellow European cities are following. Currently Brussels is trialling an eight month traffic circulation program involving the pedestrianization of its boulevards meanwhile the old cities of both Split and Dubrovnik in Croatia are completely car free. Shop owners in Oslo, though, fear the plans will hurt business, though it is worthwhile noting that the city is not banning all vehicles, so delivery trucks and the like will be allowed. Lan Marie Nguyen Berg, lead negotiator for the Green Party in Oslo has said "We want to make it better for pedestrians, cyclists. It will be better for shops and everyone." The plan also outlines the need for significant investment in infrastructure, most notably in public transportation that will have to support the growing number of users. Trials will be run after authorities investigate precedents in other european cities where plans have so far been a success. Aside from a marked reduction in pollution, the change will also make the city a much more appealing place for pedestrians and cyclists, something which the authorities are not alone in trying. According to Gemini, researchers from Scandinavian group SINTEF claim that much needs to be done about Norway's noise problem which is responsible for 150 deaths a year.
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Milan hops on the car-banning bandwagon with its own proposal to create zones of “pedestrian privilege”

Milan is the latest city to join the ranks of Paris, Madrid, Brussels, and Dublin in expelling cars from its smoggy, often gridlocked city center. Unlike its more zealous counterparts, the city has opted for an incremental approach, with no proposed timeline and a gradual, virtually street by street implementation. Despite taking things slow, deputy mayor Lucia di Cesaris stressed that the plan will amount to no less than a “soft revolution.” Earlier this month, she announced the pedestrianization of the Piazza della Scala, the grand square on which the Scala Opera House is located. Purging the square of vehicles will extend to the north the existing pedestrian zone in Milan’s heart, consisting of the Cathedral Square and the area around the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the adjacent shopping arcade. After the Piazza della Scala joins up with this zone, the car-free area will extend into the streets beyond the square. Pedestrianization of this area, a hub for arts and culture venues, is a welcome move to transform it into a thriving, open-air promenade. Over on the city center’s southern edge, Navigli, one of Milan’s most romantic neighborhoods, is expanding its pedestrian area, creating a car-free bar and café quarter to add to the just-pedestrianized Piazza Missori nearby. Ultimately, the objective is what the deputy mayor calls “the creation of a vast area of pedestrian privilege.” Long beset by pollution problems, Milan has experimented with an array of schemes—from banning traffic altogether for 10 hours on a Sunday in February 2004 when smog levels exceeded the statutory maximum, to paying commuters to leave their cars at home and use public transportation. A coalition of Milanese companies sends drivers vouchers worth $1.87 (the average daily cost for using public transportation) for each day their vehicles stay in their driveways between the hours of 7:30am and 7:30pm. Dedicated “black boxes” installed behind vehicle dashboards track the car’s whereabouts to verify compliance. According to Inrix, a traffic information provider, Milan has the worst traffic of any city in Europe, and one of the highest pollution levels in the continent.
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Bike to work without the smog: the Clean Ride Mapper helps Canadian cyclists find quieter, less polluted bike routes

In urban canyons where tall buildings on both sides occlude sunlight, pollution, too, is prevented from dispersing. The Clean Ride Mapper is an interactive map that allows cyclists to choose quieter cycling routes with reduced traffic and pollution levels. After inputting starting point and destination, users are shown three color-coded routes—green being the cleanest (as measured by cumulative exposure to nitrogen dioxide and ultrafine particles from fuel combustion), blue the most direct, and red the quietest as gauged by average traffic density the cyclist is likely to encounter. The map is powered by a dataset of air quality indices acquired over four years using $60,000 air-quality sensors attached to bicycles ridden by Montreal residents. While the routes occasionally overlap, there are times where cyclists must choose between an expedient journey or a roundabout ride for the sake of reducing pollutant deposits in the lungs. Maria Hatzopoulou, the creator of Clean Map Rider, claims that these detours are rarely longer than one kilometer (0.6 miles). Assistant professor of civil engineering at McGill University, Hatzopoulou created the online tool for cyclists in Toronto and Montreal as a project for the Transportation and Air Quality Research Group. “On certain days, some of Montreal’s most popular cycling paths, such as the one along the Lachine Canal, are also the most polluted because of wind patterns and proximity to highways,” a news release from the university stated. Considering its on-the-go user base, an obvious shortcoming of the fledgling tool is that there is no smartphone app, and users must click around—with repeated zooming in and out—to approximate their origin and destination rather than inputting an exact address. However, the map’s finer points are in the social pressure it exerts on cyclists to contemplate the smog they inhale every day. Clean Ride Mapper’s news release further cautions that traffic intersections fraught with idling cars also tend to be epicenters of pollution in cities. A similar project led by Columbia University in partnership with New York’s local NPR station, is being executed in New York City, whereby dozens of cyclists will be recruited to don air-quality sensors to accumulate data on bikers’ exposure to air pollution.
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This Ocean Cleanup system runs virtually without power, hopes to clean up half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 10 years

Ridding the oceans of plastic waste is no longer an ecologist’s pipe dream. The Ocean Cleanup system, designed by 20-year-old aerospace engineering student Boyan Slat, is soon to be deployed off the coast of Tsushima Island in the Korea Strait. At 6,600 feet in breadth, it will be the longest floating structure ever deployed on the ocean and yet be sufficiently energy-efficient as to sustain itself and even generate profit. The contraption harnesses the ocean’s natural gyres (five circular currents throughout the world’s oceans—two in the Atlantic, two in the Pacific, and one in the Indian Ocean), to trap plastic flotsam. It uses a seawater processing station fixed to the seabed to collect waste as the ocean moves around it. The station will have large booms instead of nets to allow marine life to safely pass beneath the system. The stationary platform itself will be powered by solar energy or kinetic energy derived from the current. According to Slat, the accumulated plastic may even be sold to make the model profitable, or converted into oil provided that the plastic has sufficiently degraded. The Tsushima government is currently investigating the feasibility of the latter. Data from the Ocean Surface CURrent Simulator (OSCURS) projects that the Ocean Cleanup can eliminate 7,991 tons of plastic within five years. “According to current estimations—due to the plan’s unprecedented efficiency—the recycling benefits would significantly outweigh the costs of executing the project,” Slat wrote on his website. TsushimaCamera6_5K copy The project has thus far completed a feasibility study, a crowd-funded pilot phase in the neighborhood of $2.1 million and will be deployed in the second quarter of 2016 in waters bisecting Japan and Korea. Within five years, Ocean Cleanup plans to deploy a 62-mile-long system to passively clean up 42 percent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch between Hawaii and California within 10 years. The trash vortex is made of a concentration of microplastic particles which float on or a few feet beneath the water, giving it the appearance of a cloudy soup. Thus the patch itself is not visible via satellite imagery. Slat’s “passive” scalable array of floating barriers affixed to the seabed covers millions of square feet without moving an inch. By contrast, using vessels and nets would take 79,000 years, tens of billions of dollars, and generate carbon emissions. Seeing as no nets are used in The Ocean Cleanup, the entanglement of fish and mammals is "virtually impossible."
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A Watershed Moment: Floating LilyPads use nanotechnology to fight water pollution

While architects often dream of floating houses and cities of the future, a new floating technology is promising to clean up our waterways. The winner of the 2014 Disrupt-O-Meter award is Puralytics, for the innovative technology that's at the root of the LilyPad, a floating, portable water purification device that works without chemicals, consumables, or power. How does it work? In a (big) word: Photocatalysis. When sunlight hits the nanotechnology-coated mesh that comprises the pad, it triggers a series of reactions that break down or remove pathogens in the water. Destroying pollutants—rather than collecting them, and in turn creating a hazardous waster condition—further enhances the LilyPad's green credentials. While other passive water-treatment methods—filters, purification tablets, and UV sterilizers—can dispatch with bacteria and protozoa, they don't address the truly nasty pollutants: heavy metals like lead and mercury, organic contaminants used in pesticides and herbicides, and pharmaceuticals. The LilyPad is still in development, undergoing rigorous field testing at Oregon State University's Stormwater Infrastructure Research Facility before it can be approved and deployed to clean up industrial waste-water, retention ponds, or streams. But it's possible to experience the process on a smaller scale right now. Puralytics manufactures a reusable three-liter sack, the SolarBag, that employs the same water-purifying technology.
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Designed in Chicago, Made in China: Blair Kamin, Chicago designers mull Chinese urbanization

Blair Kamin convened a panel of designers at the Chicago Architecture Foundation last Wednesday for a discussion around themes explored in his recent series “Designed in Chicago, Made in China,” in which the Chicago Tribune architecture critic assessed the effects of that country’s rapid development on urbanism and design. “It’s often said that architecture is the inescapable art,” Kamin said to lead off the talk. “If that’s true then China’s urbanization is the inescapable story.” Joining Kamin were Jonathan D. Solomon, associate dean at the School of Architecture at Syracuse University; Thomas Hussey of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Ralph Johnson of Perkins + Will; and Silas Chiow, SOM’s China director. The event was part of the Tribune's "Press Pass" series. If you haven’t read Kamin's series, you should. It examined contemporary Chinese cities and some U.S. designers thereof, giving special attention to trends in three categories: work, live, and play. Photographer John J. Kim illustrated with visuals. “In regards to street life and public space,” said SOM’s Hussey, “there can be a lack of an attitude towards it.” Long Chinese “megablocks” in Shanghai’s soaring Pudong district facilitate an urbanism not on the street, which few Americans would find walkable, but it has given rise to a kind of vertical urbanism within mixed-use towers and urban malls. Hussey pointed to SOM’s plan for a new financial district in the port area of Tianjin, China’s fourth largest city, which seeks to restore the street life present in Chinese cities before rapid modern development. And while Chinese cities are growing up, they’re also growing out. Ralph Johnson of Perkins + Will reminded the audience that in the absence of property taxes, Chinese municipalities make money for new development by selling off land. That creates a ripple effect of rising property values and a pressure to sell that is devouring arable farmland. That trend’s not likely to slow down, said SOM’s Silas Chiow, since part of China’s national strategy to turn the largely manufacturing nation into a consumer country is to continue its rapid urbanization. That pressure helped produce China’s enviable mass transit systems and light rail connectivity, but also a homogeneity of design that some have called dehumanizing. Height limits, uniform standards for south-facing units and other design requirements that by themselves improve standard of living can breed sprawling, cookie-cutter developments that are easy to get lost in. Still, housing projects in China don’t carry the social stigma that they do in the U.S., commented a few panel members, in part because they’ve brought modern amenities to so many. Where China’s urbanization goes from here, however, is an open question. Images of smog-choked skylines remind some of Chicago in 1900, but the situation is not a perfect analogue. For one, the problem of carbon pollution is far more urgent now than it was then, and its sources far more potent. “Will China be the death of the urban world,” asked Kamin at the panel’s close, “or its savior?”