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Forum examines cities and climate change

The MIT School of Architecture and Planning and the Boston Society of Architects this week held the second of two symposia focused on the challenges facing the modern city in a period of global climate change, bringing together leading urbanists from around the world.

Held at MIT's Tang Center, the June 9 event focused on "Cities and Systems: Energy and Mobility in the Green City." Speakers at both events--collectively titled "Mass Impact: Cities and Climate Change"--included architects, engineers, urban and regional planners, political leaders and specialists in urban policy, public health, new technologies and transportation.

Both Monday's symposium and an earlier one, held in March, were motivated by the fact that while cities cover only 2 percent of the world's surface, they accommodate half the world's population and consume three-quarters of its resources. In their density and compactness, they also present a substantial opportunity for easing the causes and effects of global warming.

"The greening of cities will become an enormously important issue over the next decade as urban communities try to confront climate change and meet the considerable demands for carbon emission reductions at a national, state and community scale," said Associate Professor of Architecture Andrew Scott, a co-organizer of the conference. "This is not a problem that is going to go away so the symposium is a first step in creating a cross-disciplinary discourse about the challenge."
A key goal of the symposia was to establish an agenda for Boston, informed by current best practices, that will help it become an example-to-follow as a 21st century sustainable city.

"We have to figure out how to retrofit existing cities, like Boston, to massively reduce greenhouse gases and to respond to the inevitable challenges of energy pricing, limited natural resources and geographic shifts caused by raising sea levels," Scott added. "There are many targets set by government about energy and C02 targets but how do we turn these into effective and coordinated action? How can we effectively measure the carbon footprint over time at a city scale?"

Both symposia included a feature called Ten Slides/Ten Minutes, in which professionals associated with the built environment present projects or research exploring aspects of the discussion topics. The keynote speaker at Monday's meeting was Nicky Gavron, deputy mayor of London from 2004-2008.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 11, 2008 (download PDF).

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