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 2017.
The given brief was to imagine a possible solution for a Post-fossil fuel city and the social, technological and environmental obstacles that would come with this. For this project, I collaborated closely with sustainable cities expert Blake Robinson and our entry looked specifically at emerging cities in Africa, and what the possible outcome scenarios could be. Our entry made the final top 10 list, and for the final presentation, these illustrations were printed large format and displayed at the Stadtskantoor in Utrecht.
A visualisation of a current day African city street.
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 “Smart” future.
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 optimise 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 “Wise” future.
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 minimise environmental impact. Higher densities around transport hubs free up fertile land on the urban edge for agriculture, making fresh food affordable and accessible.
Photographs of the physical exhibition, held at the Stadtskantoor in Utrecht.
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To learn more about the Urban Futures Studio and their work, click here.