Peter Newman in Edmonton discussing Resilient Cities

Author Peter Newman, in town this week for ICLEI World Congress 2009, gave a free talk tonight at the Shaw Conference Centre on some of the central ideas of the book he recently co-authored, Resilient Cities: Responding to the Crash, Climate Change, and Peak Oil. Presented by Edmonton on the Edge, the talk was hopeful in tone – a nice way to end ICLEI.

Here’s the handbill description:

A new approach to urban development needs to be forged that can, at the same time, enable cities to respond to the deep challenge of decarbonising cities and can use the transition to accelerate the development of what the UN calls the Global Green New Deal. Some hopeful directions will be outlined based on cities from around the world, including cities from down under.

Peter Newman in Edmonton

Peter is from Perth, Australia and he started by saying that Perth and Edmonton are similar in a number of ways (population, land distribution, etc). He next touched on Peak Oil (which Peter says happened in 2008) and the global recession. Peter positioned the Crash as an opportunity (his approach reminded me a lot of Ray Kurzweil). Peter showed a slide with five major economic downturns from the last 300 years or so, and pointed out the technological advances that were made after each. The rate of advance became faster over time, so that today we have exponential progress (this is essentially Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns).

My favorite part of the talk took the bulk of the remaining time – examples, complete with pictures, of cities around the world that have become Smart and Sustainable (together, the two characteristics of cities of the future, according to Peter). A couple of examples:

  • Phoenix, one of the worst cities in the world in terms of transportation by transit, recently replaced two lanes of traffic running through the centre of the city with light rail transit. Peter said if Phoenix can do it, anyone can!
  • Perth has completed significant rail developments in the last 15 years, with some lines going as far as 80km away from the core. During that time, ridership increased from 7 million passengers/year to 90 million/year. Amazing.

Peter introduced a number of acronyms during his talk:

  • IT: Information Technology
  • ET: Environmental Technology
  • TOD: Transit Oriented Development
  • POD: Pedestrian Oriented Development
  • GOD: Green Oriented Development

Naturally, IT and ET go together and TOD, POD, and GOD go together. You can’t have one without the others!

Peter Newman in Edmonton

Peter made reference to the concept of “place based cities” a few times, but unfortunately didn’t elaborate. The general idea is that you can make the local economy more viable by creating a stronger sense of place. Something about it really resonates with me.

The talk was followed by a reception, featuring music by Melissa Majeau. A number of other organizations helped Edmonton on the Edge make tonight’s talk possible, including the City-Region Studies Centre, University of Alberta Faculty of Extension, Edmonton Design Committee, ISL Engineering and Land Services, The City of Edmonton, and M.A.D.E. in Edmonton. Great event!