Designing for Change

That human society is now capable of altering the climate of our earth is broadly known, but how are these changes going to affect the structure of human society? The UK’s Hadley Center for Climate Prevention and Research at the Met Office recently released a report, Climate: Observations, Projections, and Impacts, detailing the predicted changes in weather patterns around the world and the effect those will have on the economy, geography, and pattern of society.


Higher levels of flooding, extreme heat, and water shortages, all predicted if climate change proceeds unchecked, meaning that more and more people will move from rural to urban areas in search of jobs and refuge from more extreme natural cycles. However, cities too will face challenges, and will need to design infrastructure to cope with the earth’s changes.

 

Traditionally, design for weather has not been a priority in urban planning compared to economic development and maintaining high standards of living. For example, coastal cities, which were established for their proximity to ports and waterways, have evolved with economic intention and have not been designed to face changing levels of flooding caused by these economic activities. While the original urban designs may be achieving their material goals, they do so while creating larger problems. Dr. David Dodman, from the International Institute for Environment and Development told CNN, “In places like Delhi, we’re seeing a growing middle class use their wealth to pay for electricity-hungry air-conditioning units, which contribute to global warming, and this of course creates a negative feedback loop.”

Cheonggyecheon River in Downtown Seoul, part of Seoul's Urban Renewal Project

Some cities are, however, redesigning their urban areas with climate change in mind. Seoul is a notable example, where urban designers have undone prior projects, bringing back to the surface an ancient river that had been buried during South Korea’s rapid economic advancement. Simon Reddy explains that, “This creates a wind corridor to it keep cool, and will also help drain water away in times of high rainfall.” Other urban redesign projects include rooftop gardens, which insulate buildings in the winter, keep them cool in the summer, and absorb rainfall, as well as being an oasis of green in an urban jungle.

Climate change, its immediate and secondary effects, require a redesign of urban spaces to accommodate more extreme weather patterns and subsequent migration and change in social patterns. Some cities have joined to create the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, and are already working on projects to simultaneously counter and design for global climate change. The challenge of climate change will take forethought, innovation, and creativity to redesign our cities, our patterns of living, and our societal mentalities.