A Plant-Covered, Car-Free Design For The Megacity Of The Future

via FastCoExist

via FastCoExist

Instead of a traditional street grid, the design employs a network of public squares surrounded by massive, interconnected skyscrapers.

In 1980, only 30,000 people lived in Shenzhen, China. Today the population is over 15 million, and Shenzhen is the most crowded city in the country, with more people per square mile than famously packed Hong Kong. And it’s still growing. That’s why, in a recent project, architects laid out one vision for a future neighborhood that could fit everyone sustainably.

In the concept, which was one of the entries in the Shenzhen Bay “Super City” Competition, the architects included massive, interconnected skyscrapers for housing and office space. Instead of a traditional street grid, the design employs a network of public squares meant for pedestrians and cyclists.

“We do not expect automobiles to survive in cities,” explains Alejandro Zaera-Polo, a co-founder of AZPML, the firm behind the design. Instead, given the area’s density, they created a pedestrian walkway.

“Our calculation is that the vehicular traffic will diminish in cities in the near future, as a result of environmental taxes and energy prices, and the current infrastructure could actually become oversized, as people start using cycles, velomotors, Segways and other environmentally friendly vehicles.”

Navigating through public squares instead of streets would change the urban experience.

A traditional Chinese city is constructed around the pathways. Other cities are designed around squares. For megacities, the designers believe a new type of urban structure is needed.

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via  Bing News

 

 

Does China Have Enough Water to Burn Coal?

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China’s demand for coal continues to rise, but the parched country faces challenging finding enough water to cool its coal-fired power plants

By many measures, this northern Chinese city is an ideal candidate for being China’s Wyoming.

It has more brown coal reserves than any other Chinese region, and it is only 600 kilometers away from power-hungry Beijing. The sparsely populated landscape here provides enough space for new coal mines and downstream businesses.

There’s just one problem: The coal industry consumes huge amounts of water, while this land is one of China’s driest. Informal ads offering well-drilling services hang everywhere outside of Xilinhot’s coal fields, signaling how pressing the conflict is.

China’s demand for coal is creating a fierce competition for water. The nation has been scrambling for ways to ease the water scarcity, but proposed remedies raise more questions than answers.

Currently, more than half of China’s industrial water usage is in coal-related sectors, including mining, preparation, power generation, coke production and coal-to-chemical factories, according to China Water Risk, a nonprofit initiative based in Hong Kong. That means that the water demand of the Chinese coal industry surpasses that of all other industries combined.

A geographic mismatch worsens the water stress. Statistics from China Water Risk show that 85 percent of China’s coal lies in the north, which has 23 percent of the country’s water resources. As the majority of the Chinese coal industry is built where coal reserves are, those water-scarce regions are increasingly pressured to give more water.

To answer China’s rising appetite for power, Chinese policymakers have decided to establish 16 large-scale coal industrial hubs by 2015. If the plan materializes, those hubs are estimated to consume nearly 10 billion cubic meters of water annually, equivalent to more than one-quarter of the water the Yellow River supplies in a normal year, according to a report jointly issued last year by the environmental group Greenpeace and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Researchers from the two groups say that China is now running into a tough choice: Should it adjust the national coal development plan that is set to fuel the economy, or should it go ahead and build up large-scale coal industrial hubs that could cause a serious water crisis?

Water quality also at stake
Already, the Yellow River, China’s second-longest river and the cradle of ancient Chinese civilization, is at high alert due to overwithdrawal of water by riverside industries, most of which are related to coal.

Some coal businesses have dammed streams for their own water use, cutting off a lifeline to ecosystems downstream. In Inner Mongolia, the practice has turned the Wulagai wetland — once home to swans, red-crowned cranes and other species — into an immense desert region that is now the origin of sandstorms in Beijing.

Read more . . .

via Scientific American – Coco Liu and ClimateWire
 

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Why innovation thrives in cities

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Double a city’s population and its economic productivity goes up 130 percent.

MIT researchers think they know why.

In 2010, in the journalNature, a pair of physicists at the Santa Fe Institute showed that when the population of a city doubles, economic productivity goes up by an average of 130 percent. Not only does total productivity increase with increased population, but so does per-capita productivity.

In the latest issue of Nature Communications, researchers from the MIT Media Laboratory’s Human Dynamics Lab propose a new explanation for that “superlinear scaling”: Increases in urban population density give residents greater opportunity for face-to-face interaction.

The new paper builds on previous work by the same group, which showed that increasing employees’ opportunities for face-to-face interaction could boost corporations’ productivity.

In those studies, the researchers outfitted employees of a bank, of an IT consulting firm, and of several other organizations with tiny transmitters, developed by the Human Dynamics Lab, that actively measured the time the wearers spent in each other’s presence. Obviously, that approach wouldn’t work in a study of the entire populations of hundreds of cities.

So Wei Pan, a PhD student and first author on the new paper, looked at a host of factors that could be used to predict what the researchers are calling social-tie density, or the average number of people that each resident of a city will interact with in person. Those factors include things like the number of call partners with whom a cellphone user will end up sharing a cell tower, instances of colocation with other users of location-tracking social-networking services like Foursquare, and the contagion rates of diseases passed only by intimate physical contact.

The availability of different types of data varied across the hundreds of cities in the United States and Europe that the researchers considered. But Pan and his colleagues concocted a single formula that assigned each city a social-tie-density score on the basis of whatever data was available. That score turned out to be a very good predictor of each city’s productivity, as measured by both gross domestic product and patenting rates.

Planning for productivity

“When you pack people together, something special happens,” says Alex “Sandy” Pentland, the Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Science and director of the Human Dynamics Laboratory. “This is the sort of thing that Adam Smith wanted to explain. He explained it through specialization: People were able to narrow what they did to get better at it, and because they were nearby, they could trade with each other. And Karl Marx described a different kind of specialization, which is classes — management class, owner class and proletariat. And other people have come up with other explanations for this basic phenomenon.”

What the new work shows, Pentland says, is that “a lot of the things that people have been arguing about for centuries are not actually things that need explaining. They just come from the basic pattern of social networks.”

The work could, however, have very real consequences for urban planning. For instance, Pentland says, there’s evidence that the principle of superlinear scaling does not hold in poor countries, even in cities with the same population densities as major European and American cities. “The reason is that the transportation is so bad,” Pentland says. “People might as well be in the village, because they only interact with their little local group.”

Similarly, Pan says, “People know that when a city’s population grows, there’s scaling, and the productivity increases. But in these megacities, especially in China, no one knows whether that scaling will continue, because no other city is that big.”

In Beijing today, Pan says, “it’s really hard to move from one side to the other. I believe, personally, that social-tie density will drop because you can’t really move freely anymore with the population increases. Unless Beijing solves these transportation problems, pumping in more people won’t continue to drive the density.”

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via MIT – Larry Hardesty
 

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Additive manufacturing is growing apace in China

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A new brick in the Great Wall

ALTHOUGH it is the weekend, a small factory in the Haidian district of Beijing is hard at work. Eight machines, the biggest the size of a delivery van, are busy making things. Yet the factory, owned by Beijing Longyuan Automated Fabrication System (known as AFS), appears almost deserted. This is because it is using additive-manufacturing machines, popularly known as three-dimensional (3D) printers, which run unattended day and night, seven days a week.

The printers require an occasional visit from a supervisor to top them up with the powdered materials they use as their “inks”, or to remove a completed item, but apart from that they can be left on their own. They build up the objects they are making one layer at a time, as the ink is sintered into place with a laser in a way that creates little waste and can make shapes impossible to achieve using the traditional “subtractive” technology of lathes, milling machines and cutting tools.

Though it is not yet ready for use in mass production (building things up is slower than trimming them down), 3D printing is excellent for making prototypes, customised jobs and short production runs, for there is no need to retool each time the specification changes. All that need be done is to alter the software that controls the print heads.

Western countries led the development of 3D printing, and the technique has been praised by Barack Obama as a way to revive America’s manufacturing industries. It may yet do so. But the extent to which that revival will be brought about by the return to America of production which has migrated to countries like China is harder to predict—for China has plans of its own.

Keep your powder dry

At the moment AFS is in the prototyping business. Its customers are mainly aerospace firms and vehicle-makers that need experimental designs turned into metal quickly. The powders in its machines’ hoppers are plastics, waxes and foundry sand. The results are sent off to foundries, where they are used to make moulds for the sand-casting of metal objects.

According to William Zeng, AFS’s deputy general manager, all the parts needed to make a prototype car engine can be printed and cast in this way in under two weeks. A conventional machine shop would need several months to do that—not least because many of the components would have to be made by hand.

AFS also has a second line of business. It sells the laser-sintering printers it makes to others, for this is a rapidly growing industry. And some of its machines, which cost up to 1.5m yuan (about $250,000), can do more than just sinter plastics, wax and sand; they can sinter metals directly.

Indeed, one of the country’s largest 3D printers (though it was not made by AFS) does just this. It is 12 metres long and it belongs to the National Laboratory for Aeronautics and Astronautics at Beihang University. Wang Huaming, the laboratory’s chief scientist, told a digital-manufacturing seminar organised recently by the Laboratory of High Performance Computing, a government research institute, that this behemoth is being employed to make large and complex parts for China’s commercial-aircraft programme, which plans to build planes to rival those turned out by Airbus and Boeing.

These parts include titanium fuselage frames and high-strength steel landing-gear—objects that require the metal they are made from to be free of flaws which might cause them to fail. Printing such things, rather than making them from precast metal, will be a technical tour de force, and Dr Wang’s team is therefore working on the tricky problem of controlling the recrystallisation of metals after they have been melted by the laser.

Read more . . .

via The Economist
 

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Stanford scientists help shed light on key component of China’s pollution problem

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Study reveals scale of nitrogen’s effect on people and ecosystems.

It’s no secret that China is faced with some of the world’s worst pollution. Until now, however, information on the magnitude, scope and impacts of a major contributor to that pollution – human-caused nitrogen emissions – was lacking.

A new study co-authored by Stanford Woods Institute biologist Peter Vitousek reveals that amounts of nitrogen (from industry, cars and fertilizer) deposited on land and water in China by way of rain, dust and other carriers increased by 60 percent annually from the 1980s to the 2000s, with profound consequences for the country’s people and ecosystems.

Xuejun Liu and Fusuo Zhang at China Agricultural University in Beijing led the study, which is part of an ongoing collaboration with Stanford aimed at reducing agricultural nutrient pollution while increasing food production in China – a collaboration that includes Vitousek and Pamela Matson, a Stanford Woods Institute senior fellow and dean of the School of Earth Sciences.

The researchers analyzed all available data on bulk nitrogen deposition from monitoring sites throughout China from 1980 to 2010.

During the past 30 years, China has become by far the largest creator and emitter of nitrogen globally. The country’s use of nitrogen as a fertilizer increased about threefold from the 1980s to 2000s, while livestock numbers and coal combustion increased about fourfold, and the number of automobiles about twentyfold (all of these activities release reactive nitrogen into the environment).

Increased levels of nitrogen have led to a range of deleterious impacts including decreased air quality, acidification of soil and water, increased greenhouse gas concentrations and reduced biological diversity.

“All these changes can be linked to a common driving factor: strong economic growth, which has led to continuous increases in agricultural and non-agricultural reactive nitrogen emissions and consequently increased nitrogen deposition,” the study’s authors write.

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via Stanford University
 

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