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Ruralism: The Future of Villages and Small Towns in an Urbanizing World | Book and Interview

Category: ⚐ EN+publications+sustainability+urbanism

Ruralism: The Future of Villages and Small Towns in an Urbanizing World book

Last year we were contacted by Vanessa Miriam Carlow from the Institute for Sustainable Urbanism to make an interview for the book Ruralism: The Future of Villages and Small Towns in an Urbanizing World. This book is dedicated to the significance of rural spaces ‘as a starting point for transformation’. Different international experts were asked to reflect on rural spaces from an architectural, cultural, gender-oriented, ecological, and political perspective and ask how a (new) vision of the rural can be formulated. As the introduction states:

In an urbanizing world, the city is considered the ultimate model and the measure of all things. The attention of architects and planners has been almost entirely focused on the city for many years, while rural spaces are all too often associated with visions of economic decline, stagnation and resignation. However, rural spaces are transforming almost as radically as cities. Furthermore, rural spaces play a decisive role in the sustainable development of our living environment—inextricably interlinked with the city as a resource or reservoir. The formerly segregated countryside is now traversed by global and regional flows of people, goods, waste, energy, and information, linking it to urban systems and enabling them to function in the first place.

Today we are publishing the interview, answered by Belinda Tato. If you find it interesting, there is much more in the book! We recommend you to get a printed copy here. Here is the full transcript of the interview:

Q: Your office name, ecosistema urbano, brings with it a certain tension that somehow combines unexpected contrasts. How did you come to this name and what do you want to express with it?

A: It took us a while to choose a name or concept that communicated our interests and the complex reality of urban issues we face. We found the idea of ‘ecosystem’ an appealing one, its definition implies a group of interconnected elements formed by the interaction of a community with their environment. This relationship between the natural and the artificial aims for a balance between these two worlds, and reflects the issues we care about when designing architecture and practicing territorial and urban planning.

Q: In your presentation, you said that during your studies the planning approach mainly focused on infrastructure and the physical environment. How would you describe the situation today?

A: I believe there is a clear shift between the object-focused educational approach from the nineties towards a more polyhedral approach and understanding of cities and design that is happening today. There is a growing interest in considering processes and interactions and taking the social, cultural, or economic aspects into account leading to more comprehensive and ambitious proposals to transform reality.

Q: Which approach does your office have today? How would you describe the current role of the architect and planner?

A: That is not an easy question to answer briefly! We recently made an effort to try to summarize our approach and the result is a kind of manifesto in ten points.

Urban. Social. Design. Three words that describe our dedication: the urban context, the social approach, and the design understood as an action, an interaction, and a tool for transformation. Understanding types of behaviour and processes at different levels is crucial.

Creativity is a network. In a globalized world, creativity is the capacity to connect things innovatively and thus we understand that the protagonist of the creative process is not just a team but an open and multi-layered design network.

Community first. Cities are created and maintained by people for people, and urban development only makes sense when the community cares about it. We work to empower the communities to drive the projects that affect them, so social relevance is guaranteed.

Going glocal. Just as cities have residents and visitors, and planning is made at different scales, every urban project is born in a constant movement between the direct experience and specificity of the local context, and the global, shared flow of information and knowledge.

Accepting –and managing– conflict. Participation, like conversation, means letting all the points of view be raised and listened to. Public debate only makes sense if all the stakeholders are involved. Every project affecting the city has to deal with both opposition and support, consensus and contradiction.

Assuming complexity. Encompassing the complexity of the urban environment requires simplifying it. Instead, we prefer to admit its vast character and understand our work as a thin layer –with limited and, at times, unpredictable effects– carefully inserted into that complexity.

Learning by doing. Our experience grows through practice. We know what we can do, and we challenge ourselves to do what we think we should be doing. We solve the unexpected issues as we move, and then we take our lesson from the process and the results.

Planning… and being flexible. Urban development is what happens in the city while others try to plan it. We think ahead, make our dispositions, but we are always ready for reality to change our plans… mostly for the better. Rigidity kills opportunity, participation and urban life.

Embracing transdisciplinarity: We assume that our role as professionals is evolving, disciplinary bonds are loosening, urban projects are complex, and circumstances are continuously changing. This requires open-minded professionals, flexible enough to adapt their roles and skills and to use unusual tools.

Technology as a social tool: Today’s technology enables us to better relate and interact with each other and with the surrounding environment. As the digital-physical divide narrows and the possibilities multiply, it becomes an increasingly significant element in urban social life.

Keeping it open: Open means transparent, accessible, inclusive, collaborative, modifiable, reproducible. Open means more people can be part of it and benefit from it. These are the attributes that define a project made for the common good.

Ruralism: The Future of Villages and Small Towns in an Urbanizing World book

Q: From your presentation, it emerged that the integration of the local conditions—as a climatic and social issue—represent an important focus of your work. How do you rate the relationship between global-local influence in relation to the architectural or urban design?

A: This is a very interesting question, and one we have asked ourselves several times. We have worked mostly abroad during the last years, and over and over we find the same situation where we have to balance the local and the global dimensions of design and planning. Local conditions are always the main terms of reference for our work. They give accuracy and pertinence to our proposals. They not only determine the boundaries we have to respect, the resources we have available, or the particularities we have to take into account, but also the potential for improvement that each particular place has. Local context is a source of invaluable site-specific knowledge, even if that knowledge is not always conscious or apparent, especially to locals. Opening a project to participation is a great way to make local values stand out and locals become self-aware… if you are able to ask the right questions and then read between the lines, of course. But relying solely on local conditions rarely provides the best solutions. You usually find situations that have become stagnant precisely by the lack of confrontation and external feedback. Then you need to confront the local ‘ways,’ often loaded with prejudices or relative narrowness, or with something else. And that is where global influence comes into play: the contrast, the opposition that clears concepts, breaks groupthink and gives a relative measure to local values. Global is the mirror that local can use to become self-conscious. We could speak of bringing knowledge from the global to the local, or even generating local knowledge by confronting it with the global. But it is also creativity that is being created or transferred. The ability to connect, articulate, and interpret different contexts is crucial whenever a new approach is needed and local conditions have proven insufficient to deliver it.

Q: You showed us some practical examples of your current work, which pursues sustainable approaches in terms of water recycling systems for the kindergarten in Madrid or climatic adaptations for the Expo pavilion in Shanghai. What opportunities do you see for the implementation of sustainable planning tools or strategies in larger, urban scale projects?

A: Urban planning and urban design have a great impact on people’s lives, shaping the way we live, move, relate, consume, etc… In addition to this, its impact will be of a long term as it is less ephemeral than architecture. For these reasons, it is important to design integrating with nature, its cycles and processes, taking advantage of the environment and optimizing interventions.

Q: Let us take a closer look at the countryside: in the current city-centered discourse, rural spaces are often dismissed as declining or stagnating. However, rural spaces also play a critical role in sustainable development, as an inextricably linked counterpart, but also as a complement to the growing city, as extraction sites, natural reservoirs for food, fresh water and air, or as leisure spaces. Do we need to formulate a (new) vision of ‘ruralism’? What would be your definition of the future rural? What new concepts for the rural exist in Spain?

A: When talking about ecosystems, it is crucial to understand the interwoven connections between the urban and the rural, and how they relate and affect each other in a critical balance. Although the urban expansion has some environmental consequences, there are also some interesting phenomena happening. As today’s IT keeps us connected and allows us to work remotely, this neoruralism enables us to have a renewed vision of the territory and its possibilities, offering development opportunities in towns that have been abandoned for decades, for instance in Spain. This new trend is transforming these abandoned towns into new activity hubs, creating a new migration flux from cities. It will be possible to measure the socioeconomic impact of this activity in a few years.

Ruralism: The Future of Villages and Small Towns in an Urbanizing World book

Q: The once remote and quiet countryside is now traversed by global and regional flows of people, goods, waste, energy, and information, interrelating it with the larger urban system. Is a new set of criteria for understanding and appreciating the rural required? How would you measure what is rural and what is urban?

A: In a globalized world with an unprecedented ongoing process of urbanization, and under the impact of climate change and global warming, it is becoming more and more difficult to precisely define the limits between the rural and the urban as the urban footprint is somehow atomizing and gobbling the rural. Cities are the combination and result of the simultaneous interaction between nature and artificial technology, and their ecological footprint expansion forces the extraction of natural resources from even further sources, with obvious environmental consequences. At the local scale, it is necessary to point out the close relationship between the way a city relates to its environment, the way it manages its natural resources, and the quality of life it can provide to its inhabitants. This could be summarized as: the more sustainable a city/territory is, the better its inhabitants will live.

Q: What role do villages and smaller towns have in a world in which the majority live in cities? Could you comment on and describe a bit about the situation in Spain or the other countries you have been working in?

A: In cities, innovation and creativity concentrate and emerge naturally. The rural environment also requires people willing to create, to innovate, to connect, etc…. This creative ruralism could lead to the creation of eco-techno-rural environments, which would provide some of the features of the rural combined with specific services of the urban…the perfect setting for innovation to take place!

Q: Which role could the rural play at the frontlines of regional transformation and sustainability? What are the existing and potential connections between urban and rural spaces?

A: The rural could provide a complementary lifestyle for people fleeing from the city to re-connect or re-localize. At the same time, we would need to explore and expand technology’s possibilities, pushing its actual limits, and foreseeing potential new services that could enhance life in the rural by making it more diverse, fulfilling, and even… more global.

Q: And what role can urban design play in preparing rural life and space for the future? Is the rural an arena for ‘urban’ design at all?

A: I think the challenge would be to create the conditions for social life and interaction. We do have the conditions for that activity to happen digitally, but how can we foster social activity in low-density environments? Would it be necessary to create small urban nodes in the rural? These issues are interesting challenges we have to face conceptually and design-wise.

Are you interested in this topic? You can get the book here…

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X International urban conference “City 2016. City management” in Katowice

Category: ⚐ EN+city+ecosistema urbano+events

Salesiam Museum in Katowice - photo by

Salesiam Museum in Katowice – photo by Ziemowit Cabanek on Flickr

Next Monday, November 14th Belinda Tato will be giving the ‘keynote speech’ on urban social design at the X International Urban Conference “City 2016. City Management” in Katowice, Poland.

This event is organised by Jan Olbrycht, member of the European Parliament, and Think Silesia, a regional think tank based in Katowice. Participants will reflect on environmentally friendly cities, discuss the conclusions on Habitat III and the opportunities behind big data and open data.

You can see the event announcement and the program at the URBAN Intergroup website.

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Urban land teleconnections and sustainability

Category: ⚐ EN+research+sustainability+urbanism

Review of the paper “Urban land teleconnections” by Karen C. Seto, Anette Reenberg, Christopher G. Boone, Michail Fragkias, Dagmar Haase, Tobias Langanke, Peter Marcotullio, Darla K. Munroe, Branislav Olah and David Simon.

Recently a research paper was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) concerning the conceptual development of global sustainability, in relation to both urbanization (urban sustainability) and land change. The paper argues that land change and urbanization dynamics are explicitly connected, and suggests “urban land teleconnections” as a new framework for dealing with global sustainability.

Urban Land Teleconnections

“We propose urban land teleconnections as a process-based framework for integrating urbanization and land change, for revealing their linkages and pathways across space and time, and for identifying potential intervention points for sustainability. Through the lens of urban land teleconnections, new and surprising diverse urban forms and processes, such as periurbanization, can be better understood and foreseen. The urban land teleconnections concept could also be useful to the wider research community to anticipate implications for global land resource use.”

More and more people live in the cities. The increasing urbanization is raising many discussions about sustainable planning, and this recently published paper feeds the debate with new inputs. Encouraging a reconsideration of the terms on which we base sustainable policies, the research is widening again our perception of the relationship between the urban field and land. The term “teleconnections” refers to climate science, where it is understood that events have impact over large geographic areas – when the waters of the North Atlantic go through a warm phase, fire incidents increase in the western United States. Just such urban land teleconnections explain the interrelation and invisible bond between urban processes and land use processes, which we must consider when planning our sustainable future. The key to develop strong sustainable planning, is to stop thinking of urban sustainability and land use sustainability as limited to local scale and place, and instead start to take into account the processes and global connections merging urbanization and land use.

“The virtual shrinking of distances between places, strengthening connectivity between distant locations, and growing separation between places of consumption and production are emerging topics in “telecoupled” human–natural systems and tropical teleconnections of deforestation […] In an increasingly urban world, characterized by global flows of commodities, capital, and people, where land that provides goods and ecosystems services for people is becoming more segregated from the space of habitation, teleconnections captures links between distant processes and places, and can be used to explore consequences of urbanization and land changes at great distances from points of origin that would otherwise go unrecognized.”

Urban Land Teleconnections

Urbanization and land change have so far been treated as parallel processes. Apparently this has limited the progress of the concept of sustainability. The paper states that a simultaneously treating of urban sustainability and land change as interwoven, non-separable processes is the keystone to advance in developing sustainability:

“The magnitude and accelerating rate of contemporary urbanization are reshaping land use locally and globally in ways that require a reexamination of land change and urban sustainability. Worldwide, urban populations are projected to increase by almost 3 billion by 2050 and the total global urban land area by more than 1.5 million square kilometers—an area three times the size of Spain—by 2030. Urban economies currently generate more than 90% of global gross value added, meaning few rural systems are unaffected by urbanization (3). Given such trends, we must reconsider how we conceptualize the many connections and feedbacks between urbanization and land change processes.”

The paper is confronting three understandings of the urban – land relationship that so far have been key themes in sustainability policies.

One is the Land Classification Systems, on which the paper states:

“By definition, because urban is human-dominated, urban areas “appropriate” natural ecosystems, ecosystem services, and natural capital. By this logic, urban cannot be natural capital. However, such a conceptualization contradicts underlying principles of urban ecology as well as sustainability.”

The second theme is Place-Based Definitions:

“The place-based conceptualization enforces the idea that urban sustainability requires urban self-sufficiency. […] However, decisions and behaviors that are local or even regional in scope do not account for critical consequences of teleconnections, which may undermine sustainability efforts at great distances or influence the overall sustainability for the entire system. Eating locally might undermine livelihoods of distant farmers who may be using less energy-intensive methods to produce food than local growers. Put another way, sustainability initiatives often focus on the importance of place while ignoring the processes of urbanization that may have farreaching effects on distant places and people. These processes can generate uneven and undesirable outcomes that may be undetected when focusing solely on place.”

On the third theme, Land Transitions, the paper argues:

“[…] Although not always explicit, a common assumption is that land transitions in Europe and North America can help understand future trends in Asia, South America, and Africa. Such assumptions disregard the realities that cultural differences influence conceptions, codifications, and uses of space and land, and that use of distant land to meet demand for local populations can significantly alter the pathways of change. As a result, there is no universal or linear transition process; phases identified in one context can be shortened, prolonged, overlapped, or even omitted or transgressed elsewhere.

Urban Land Teleconnections

Urban Land Teleconnections is suggested as a new key theme, a framework to address sustainability. In an immediate invisible network, urbanization and land change are constantly in a process of affecting one another. The term itself indicates that the concept of sustainable urbanization and sustainable land use has merged. Conceptualization of sustainability should contain both processes at once.

“By using an urban land teleconnections framework, we move away from conceptualizing urban sustainability and land as attributes specific only to a place, to begin to link dynamic global processes to their spatial “imprint”.”

This means that changes in nonurban places affects urban places and that change in urban space affects nonurban space. In this way, urban and land relations are interwoven in a global network wherein neither the themes Land Classification Systems, Place-Based Definitions nor Land Transitions can stand alone to define the framework for developing sustainable concepts.

“ […] we can study multiple urban regions jointly, rather than trying to aggregate and generalize across many disconnected sets of case studies, and consequently provide a more organized way to integrate knowledge globally. A more holistic analysis of the underlying and spatial effects of production, consumption, and disposal will enable development of policies that promote viable and fair solutions, and ultimately global sustainability.”

Further reading: Urban Land Teleconnections paper – PDF

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urban acupuncture | ecoboulevard

Category: ⚐ EN+daz

The whole proposal for the eco-boulevard in Vallecas can be defined as an urban recycling operation consisting of the following actions: insertion of an air tree-social dynamizer, over an existing urbanization area, densification of existing alignment trees and reduction and asymmetric arrangement of wheeled traffic circulation. Superficial interventions reconfiguring the existing urbanization (perforations, fillings, paint, etc.) that defaces the executed development. continue reading

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urban actions | think big – start small – act now

Category: ⚐ EN+daz+ecosistema urbano

In contrast to traditional problem-solving methods for reactivating degraded public spaces, we believe another form of intervention is possible – one without spending vast amounts of money, time, and energy.  We focus on low-cost actions capable of generating responses from residents, in effect  obtaining a system of self-produced revitalization where the citizen plays an active role in the creation of public space. continue reading

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open source future | shanghai urban interface

Category: ⚐ EN+daz+ecosistema urbano

Alongside the latest expressions of art. From this perspective, the Air Tree emerges as an experimental prototype of intervention in contemporary urban public space, capable of reactivating sites and creating the conditions to empower the use of the collective space. It is conceived as a technological urban furniture, a self-sufficient climatic comfort generator, that is being used not only as a breathing space but as well interactively. continue reading

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Urban Social Design – "Arquitectura en Beta"

Category: ⚐ ES+urban social design

En Ecosistema Urbano desde hace unos meses estamos trabajando a la puesta en marcha de un nuevo ilusionante proyecto. Se trata de la asociación Urban Social Design cuyo objetivo es la investigación y promoción de un nuevo ámbito profesional, situádo en un punto intermedio entre arquitectura, ingeniería, urbanismo, geografía, política, sociología, informática, economía.

La asociación Urban Social Design promueve un nuevo marco de referencia basado en los entornos de trabajo en red, la cultura libre, el uso de las nuevas tecnologías, el procomún, las licencias creative commons, la creación colectiva, la inteligencia colectiva y la innovación social.

En 2011 la asociación pondrá en marcha lo que provisionalmente hemos llamado “Urban Social Design Institute”: una serie de cursos (on-line, de momento) que pretenden presentar enfoques y lineas de trabajo innovadoras en el campo de la Arquitectura y la Gestión Urbana.

En estos próximos dos meses Ethel Baraona y Paco González impartirán el módulo “Arquitectura en beta” para testar, aprender, compartir y facilitar el desarrollo de los futuros cursos de Urban Social Design Institute. Tenemos que agradecer públicamente a las personas que se han prestado desinteresadamente a participar en esta primera fase con el compromiso de que sus proyectos se vean mejorados en el transcurso de estos dos próximos meses. continue reading

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ecosistema ubano joins Harvard- GSD (Graduate School of Design)

Category: ⚐ EN+ecosistema urbano+urban social design


This semester, ecosistema urbano is teaching at one of the option design studios of the Urban Planning and Design Department at Harvard GSD. Under the title urban social design, the studio will explore Boston looking for new possibilities and connections between people, technology, public space, virtual space and interaction. The studio meets physically and virtually every week alternatively. Final presentations are scheduled to be held October 28th and December 7th and several critics and guests are being invited. You can now download the presentation which was used for the launch of the semester last August 31st. We will soon inform you about some network initiatives we are developing to communicate the content and material produced during the term. continue reading

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PROJECT ECO-DELTA: DESIGN FOR COASTAL CITIES

Category: ⚐ EN+architecture

On August 29th, Van Alen Institute and Environmental Defense Fund will host a roundtable discussion at the Venice Biennale US Pavilion to explore the environmental challenges faced by coastal cities throughout the world.

Titled Project Eco-Delta, the initiative is part of VAI and EDF’s ongoing collaboration in developing design strategies for the landscape surrounding New Orleans—the Mississippi River’s coastal delta. The forum will feature leading experts from the fields of design, engineering, public policy and environmental science, who will discuss innovative ways with which we can address the needs of fragile deltas and the communities living in them. continue reading

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ecosistema urbano en el WORKSHOP INTERNACIONAL- Recycling Urban Industrial Landscapes

Category: ⚐ ES+ecosistema urbano+sostenibilidad

Ecosistema Urbano participa en el WORKSHOP INTERNACIONAL- Recycling Urban Industrial Landscapes.
Este taller es co-organizado por el Centro de Cultura Contemporánea de Barcelona y el Máster en Intervención y Gestión del Paisaje de la Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona con el objetivo de reflexionar sobre el futuro de la central térmica de Sant Adrià de Besòs y el área urbana de las tres chimeneas. continue reading