Sustainable Cities

Elizabeth and Dina taught a senior project class last semester for the visual communications students at American University in Dubai with the theme of Sustainable Cities. The students stepped up with some amazing projects with various takes on a city that is “sustainable” in a very broad definition of the word. A show of their work has been up at DUCTAC for the past couple weeks. As Elizabeth so eloquently put it:

The students began the semester deconstructing the concept of sustainability to understand their coursework in a broader context of societal needs. What they all agreed on is that this term goes far beyond the ideas of ‘green’ and ‘eco’, and in fact, is a holistic concept that includes notions such as peace, imagination, respect, human connections, beauty, and justice. Emotional space, the physical self and all levels of human interaction were considered. Simply put, the students understood that actions such as racism and hatred are not sustainable, whereas kindness and respect are sustainable. With these understandings, a harmonic balance between nature and humans is better achieved.

You can read more about the exhibit in the Khaleej Times article that came out today.

And yesterday evening, the all-new TEDx-DUCTAC monthly lecture series opened with the same theme. The first pre-recorded talk was Dr. Hans Rosling speaking to the US State department about world heath statistics and making the subject amazingly fun and engaging. Bjarke Ingels of BIG followed his pre-recorded TED talk with a live phone call from a ski slope in Austria where he answered questions about his architecture from the audience. The real highlight was a live lecture given by Dr. Sgouris Sgouridis from Masdar Institute of Science and Technology on the subject of a parallel energy currency market which exchanges a unit called an Ergo that is based 1:1 on an energy unit such as a Kwh or a joule. It uses market forces to stimulate real-time incentives for conservation in cities that will rely 100% on carbon-free energy, like Masdar City.


We just arrived back from Copenhagen where we presented the LAGI project to an esteemed group of artists and art historians at the conference, The Artwork Between Technology and Nature. We had the opportunity to engage in thoughtful discussions with such influential academics as James Elkins, Lorraine Daston, and Linda Weintraub. The final keynote talk was by the artist Olafur Eliasson whose work was also on display at the REthink exhibit at the Statens Museum for Kunst. It was a delightful and engaging conference and we were very honored to have been selected to participate.

We didn’t have very long to walk around the city, just one evening really while it was already getting dark. But we’ll be back for certain; it is now definitely one of our favorite cities.

Let’s get this next decade right (open letter to the world)

Don’t let your empathy drown in your fears. Love more and fight less. Forgive debts. Transcend your evolutionary psychology. Sing in the shower but don’t shower too long. Create systems and incentives that share wealth and health and education equally with the entire world. Take chances with yourself but not with the planet. Brush after meals. Don’t bomb people or kill them in other ways that are intentional no matter what they do to you or who told you to or what they’re paying you. Eat well and local. That is not “just the way it is” and it is not true that sometimes “the use of force is necessary and morally justified”. Create long term solutions to the problems of today even if it costs more money now. Don’t shop in ugly buildings or for ugly things unless the kitsch value is redeeming and even then in moderation. Inspire others to be great and let them know that they are. Don’t be an angry drunk. Don’t build walls unless they are flush with the earth on one side and have steps. Be nice to animals. Move on. Don’t start forest fires or kill things. Tell the truth. Be kind to strangers but don’t take their candy. If you feel like you want to make someone sad in order to make yourself happy, perhaps go see a movie or make something beautiful from garbage instead. Travel and learn about other people. Take public transport. Move downtown. Don’t say, “don’t be naive.” Write at least one book or one song or draw one picture this decade even if you never share it with anyone. Don’t make commercials that play on amygdalal emotions to sell health insurance, public office, computers, or fossil fuels. If you must be a Republican at least be a honest one. Don’t steal or act jealously (this goes double for nations). Be sustainable. Don’t use the word “sustainable” unless you really mean it and it really is like for 500 years and not just twenty. Earn a good living for yourself but not too good. Spell “a lot” correctly in emails, etc. Read. Plant ten trees. Watch less sports. Play more sports. Buy solar panels and put them on your roof. Give gifts that you make. Stop sending people into space. Respect people’s hangups. Lose yours. If you feel like you must have children don’t have more than two. Don’t eat meat, especially ammonia meat, etc. Don’t let your beliefs cloud your consciousness and decision making. Don’t wallow. Find the nuance. Study the lives of those who you admire until the truth about their faults reveals to you that they are really no better than you are. Continue to admire them and strive to outdo them but try to not pay attention to them too much after that. Get out into nature and get dirty, then use biodegradable laundry detergent. Be yourself insofar as it does not come at the expense of others. Don’t be preachy.