In January 2017, the Urban Futures Studio (UFS) at Utrecht University launched a global call to artists, designers and other creatives to submit ideas for the post-fossil city of the future. Having recognized a crisis in the imagination of fossil fuel free cities, they invited interested parties to think beyond the many, typically unacknowledged absurdities of carbon-dependent cities, and to apply all the senses in exploring what daily life might be like after fossil fuels. 250 ideas were received from around the world, mainly from the Netherlands and the United States. The top 10 concepts were selected by a jury consisting of researchers, artistic professionals and policy makers, and were presented at a PechaKucha event in Utrecht in March. The finalists were awarded €1,000 to develop their concepts further for the Post Fossil City Exhibition. The exhibition was formally launched on 14 June and ran until 31 August in the central hall of the Utrecht Municipality Building, one of the Netherlands’ busiest public spaces next to its largest train station.
One of the ten finalists was the Post-Fossil African City concept by Blake Robinson and myself. Blake is a sustainable cities expert whose work focuses on the role of infrastructure and planning in promoting sustainable development. We collaborated to prepare three images of a street corner in a fictional African city:
The first image depicts a fossil fuel intensive current reality, where the air is thick with exhaust fumes, smoke and emissions from coal-fired power stations. Without formal infrastructure, residents adopt innovative and often dangerous measures to meet their needs for energy and other essential services. They travel to places of work in unreliable and unsafe taxis, and have to buy overpriced water from informal vendors and entrepreneurs. Without alternative housing, shacks extend beyond the horizon.
The second image represents a vision of the future similar to those promoted by multinational technology companies and real estate developers. This is a city of high security compounds served by “smart” technologies that integrate renewable energy, robotics and private mobility to optimize the convenience of the wealthy. Security cameras and checkpoints keep out the poor, who live in unserviced informal settlements on the urban edge and resort to begging on the streets. This city combines the latest technologies from around the world to meet the needs of the rich, but does little for those living in ever-expanding slums.
The third image represents a more inclusive vision of a city which aims to meet the needs of all income groups. The city is alive with colourful owner-operated stores, markets and vendors instead of big name retailers and shopping malls. Affordable housing options are located close to work opportunities, reducing the time and costs of commuting. Free public wifi and fast data connections empower citizens to access education, innovate, and participate in the economy. Cycle lanes allow entrepreneurs to move people and goods through the city in affordable pedal-powered vehicles, and trams provide safe and reliable transit for longer journeys. Passive design improves energy efficiency, and renewable energy is generated at multiple scales. A network of greenery cools and purifies the air whilst providing habitats for indigenous flora and fauna. These ecosystems extend upward through the green facades of forest-like buildings made of sustainable construction materials, featuring technologies that minimize environmental impact. Higher densities around transport hubs free up fertile land on the urban edge for agriculture, making fresh food affordable and accessible.
A video summary of the Post-Fossil City competition.