by Al Campbell
VANCOUVER, April 9 (Xinhua) -- Sixteen international delegates put their heads together in Vancouver, the best city to live in the world, on Saturday to address the issues and challenges of building ecological and social-responsibly urban areas at Sustain, a one-day conference examining ways of re-envisioning future cities.
It is estimated that one million people are moving to cities around the world each week, radically transforming, and ultimately expanding, urban centers as they struggle to cope with the endless stream of new arrivals.
Heidi Reitmaier, the Vancouver Art Gallery's director and curator of education and public programs, said Sustain was really about examining issues critical for the future, focused on possible cultural, architectural, geographical and ecological predicaments.
"As we know we are sort of living in a very unprecedented moment, perhaps in a very unpredictable time. It's a time and a sense where maybe we have to take a hard look and really imagine what we can do to make a better world," she said.
"There's many predicaments that we might not be here in 30 years or 50 years and there's major pressures on the world which we live, whether it be population, whether it be food sources, whether it be weather shifting change, so it's important for us to kind of think it through."
Among the delegates in attendance were keynote speakers Newton Harrison and Helen Mayer Harrison, the celebrated husband and wife team considered pioneers in the eco-art movement, Arthur Kroker, a University of Victoria professor and cultural theorist who explored the theme of "Cities in the post-human future," and Alexander Rose of the Long Now Foundation which has created "The 10,000 year clock" promoting "slower/better" thinking, instead of today's "faster/cheaper" mindset.
Inge Roecker, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia's School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, questioned how large areas of historic building were being demolished worldwide when it was more sustainable to add on to something than rip it out and start anew.
There were also social and physical implications of disrupting existing community living. The German pointed to a project she was working on with the City of Vancouver to transform the historic Chinatown area into a contemporary neighborhood.
"At present, about 30 percent of the area is historic buildings. At least 70 percent of the building mass could be replaced with the potential to put new density into housing, activate the community even more," she said.
Roecker, who is currently working on a 50-room art hotel beside the Worker's Stadium in Beijing, said China faced a similar problem, but on a grander scale. She cited the opposition to demolishing the city's famed Hutongs.
"I understand the necessity that things have to grow really fast with the population growing, but of course there is also danger how you wipe out a culture by doing this radical change. It always comes with problems when it's so abrupt, relocating people from a different type of living into tower living," she said. "I think it could be healthy, but it's not always healthy."
Kelty Miyoshi McKinnon is another with China experience. With her company PFS, the landscape architect worked on the Blue Mountain Central Park and Sun Palace Venus and Mercury housing development projects between the Third Ring and Fourth Ring roads in Beijing. Each placed a heavy emphasis on public space, a key element she calls vital for bringing people together to enjoy the basic elements of nature.
"We need to advocate for more public space for people, particularly in very, very dense situations where people are living in very close quarters. They need to have access to outdoor space for socialization to counter the extreme segregation of classes, which I think is becoming more and more of an issue in all our countries, and to have places where people come together and find common ground."
With PFS next set to work in Beijing on a "new sustainable community," Miyoshi McKinnon said cities looking to the future needed a strong analysis made by multiple discipline to decide "what is useable, what is reusable, what is valuable."
"And that's a huge cultural question and of course, there are cultural differences that come into defining what that is. So I think that communication needs to happen, and extended dialogue needs to happen and over time things will get better," she said.
"I think there needs to be a larger sustainable strategy in place for looking at kinds of cultural infrastructures, historical infrastructures of the city and how you can incorporate that into new development. I think it is possible to achieve density and maintain those crucial historical elements of the city," she added.