Climate Change, Planning, and Cities

Following on the last UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report and the earlier Stern Review on economic consequences, a consensus has emerged that the impacts of anthropogenic global warming are (a) real, and already being felt, (b) costly and, if not held below two degrees C. above pre-industrial levels, potentially devastating, and that (c) to avoid the most horrific outcomes, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced on the order of 80% below 1990 levels by the year 2050. The city, and urban planning, are implicated in these findings because buildings and transportation account for most emissions and urban populations are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of continued global warming, including sea level rise and extreme weather events. Technology fixes alone, such as more fuel efficient cars and more robust flood control structures, will not be sufficient.This research seminar treats the city both as potential \”machine for carbon mitigation,\” through urban planning strategies that reduce greenhouse emissions, and as resilient locus for adaptive responses to the impacts of global warming that, even with our best efforts, will be unavoidable. On the mitigation side, urban density, connectivity, and mix of land uses provide opportunities for the planning and design of low carbon transportation, energy, and building systems. Managing the risks caused by extreme weather, including increased flooding, wildfires, drought, and the exacerbation of the urban heat island effect will require both \”hard\” and \”soft\” solutions, including climate-conscious city and regional plans that incorporate adaptation strategies in the location, intensity, and design of new development and redevelopment.The seminar will lay the groundwork for an anticipated Spring 2009 options studio that is part of a collaborative effort between the GSD and the Dutch Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management entitled \”Climate Change, Water, Land Development, and Adaptation: Water Is Our Enemy, Water Is Our Friend.\” Accordingly, particular attention will be paid to case studies of governmental and private sector responses to specific conditions in deltaic and coastal regions. We will canvass U.S. and international experience and emerging best practices related to climate change and adaptation, including a review of climate action plans at the state, regional, and municipal level; plans for new towns and major development projects aspiring to \”carbon neutrality;\” and tools for the evaluation of greenhouse gas emissions associated with different planning scenarios at multiple scales.