The 2050 City

In this TEDxYouth@MSC video, architect Gregory Kiss walks us through the next 38 years, in which the world’s urban population is expected to double. This shift, emphasizes Kiss, means that cities are where the “future environmental footprint of the world is going to be defined.”

After acknowledging the world’s most important renewable resource, The Youth (or, to his young audience, “you guys”), Kiss goes on to talk about all the other renewable resources we’re going to have to rely on in the year 2050.

Kiss has been working in “the art and technology of environmentally responsible architecture” for over 20 years, founding Kiss + Cathcart Architects in 1983. And he seems to have spent much of that time wondering – is it possible to build a truly sustainable city? One that generates its own energy renewably and provides its own food and water sustainably? During his TEDx talk, Kiss shows a slide with a picture of a city inside a dome: “Now we’re not suggesting that we want to build cities in domes,” he laughs, “but we’d like to see if it’s possible to have cities that perform that way.”

Kiss then walks us through modern day NYC’s use of the resources necessary to sustain such a city. The most striking set of slides first shows a pea sized spec on the map that represents the aggregated acreage of fields used to grow the vegetables eaten in NYC (data is for 2010). Kiss then jumps to a slide showing a basket-ball sized circle representing the amount of land is used to grow the vegetables that feed the animals that we eat.

But the slides are meant less as a scare tactic and more for baseline comparison. Kiss projects that by 2050 – through improvements in technology (solar panels, hydroponics) – we can shrink the geographic requirements for all these energy needs to an almost city-sized scale.

Kiss goes on to talk about some real-life projects he is working on in NYC that include adding features such as solar panels, rain gardens and green roofs to existing infrastructure, with varying results (one project generated about 25% of its own energy, while another was paying energy back into the system with 108% “energy independence”.)

His grand finale is a series of slides showing the design for a non-real project that he developed for a museum. It is an impressive, sustainable, and beautiful “mini-city” housed in a building that incorporates greenhouses, helicopter landing pads, movie theaters, wind turbines, and more.

The talk is worth a watch – it’s aimed towards kids, so don’t expect anything revolutionary, but seeing Kiss bristle with a restrained excitement and an optimism for our future is absolutely inspiring. It’s a great reminder that there are smart folks out there working on the kind of real-world problems that face us in the next few decades.

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