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Leading the Change: The Built Environment
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I'm reading
Leading the Change: The Built Environment
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I'm reading
Leading the Change: The Built Environment
Pass it on
Pass it on
Articles
30 May 2022

Leading the Change: The Built Environment

We highlight just some of the many exciting initiatives around the globe that are playing a part in changing the system.

By themselves, they might seem small and insignificant compared to the global corporations they stand against. But when their numbers increase – when there is small scale on a large scale – they may yet tip the balance. In the meantime, they are invaluable lifeboats of tangible regeneration, as we navigate our way out of a fraught, degenerative global economic system. 

Written by Dumbo Feather

This story originally ran in issue #69 of Dumbo Feather

Discussed in this Story

The Bullitt Center

Located in Seattle, the Bullitt Center was one of the first energy-positive green buildings. The building collects and treats rainwater for its showers, sinks and drinking taps, with greywater re-used on the green roof and in landscaping. There is also a solar array that completely covers the roof and overhangs the walls. Opened on Earth Day in 2013, it is designed to last for 250 years.

Berlin’s Car-Free Zone

The concept is simple: an area, at the heart of Berlin, where private car use is strictly prohibited to allow more space for cycling, walking and community-building. Car spots become flowerbeds and parks, air quality improves, children play in the street and the city’s carbon emissions are drastically decreased. Emergency and delivery vehicles, taxis and those with a mobility impairment can still drive in the city centre, and each person is entitled to take 12 trips per year in a rental or car share if necessary.

This plan has been drawn up by German group Berlin Autofrei, who point out that only three percent of public space in Berlin is currently devoted to cyclists, even though cyclists account for 15 percent of city traffic. The area in question is 88 square kilometres (the size of London’s zones 1 and 2), which would make Berlin’s car-free zone the largest in the world. The idea has 50,000 backers and counting. Under the “people’s referendum” system in Germany, campaigns such as this are put to a public vote once they gather support from 170,000 people (and may be implemented as public policy even before that).  

15-Minute Cities

A 15-minute city is one in which all the basic amenities that humans need can be reached by foot or bicycle within 15 minutes of home. The idea is attributed to Carlos Moreno, university professor and Paris’s “special envoy for smart cities,” though versions of the idea have been floated by various thinkers over the last century. 15-minute cities encourage localisation, foster community belonging and improve health while lowering the emissions caused by transportation. It’s a model that has enjoying renewed enthusiasm following the pandemic lockdowns of the last two years. Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has already begun rolling out plans for 15-minute areas in her city, and Madrid, Ottawa, Seattle and Milan are following suit. Melbourne is currently trialling 20-minute neighbourhoods in Croydon South, Sunshine West and Strathmore (based on research that 20 minutes is the maximum amount of time most Australians are willing to walk to reach their destination) and has included the concept in its long-term plans for the city.   

Goulburn Street Housing 

Commissioned by Communities Tasmania and designed by Australian sustainable architecture outfit Cumulus Studio, Goulburn Street is a demonstration of how public housing can look and feel. The 25-unit apartment block, which was built in 2021, was designed primarily for elderly people and those with disability. Each apartment is light-filled, bright and gently colourful, with plenty of ventilation and outdoor spaces in the form of either a balcony or courtyard. The project satisfies gold and silver standards of Liveable Housing Design and is built to be not just accessible but high-quality, long-lasting and joyful. 

The Commons  

Constructed in Melbourne’s urban centre, with an offshoot now in Hobart, The Commons is a “sustainable urbanisation” project that engenders community through people-first design and shared spaces (such as a rooftop community garden) where likeminded residents can relax and connect. The original Brunswick project is a 7.5 star rated, 24-apartment building created in 2014 by Small Giants Developments in partnership with Breathe Architecture (also the brains behind the inspirational Nightingale). The project is designed to be affordable, sustainable and utterly liveable, and has earned several awards and inspired others in the industry to engineer similar feats. 

Unión de Cooperativas Tosepan   

Tosepan is a network of co-operatives with 35,000 members across 430 villages in the lush, cloud-forested Sierra Norte mountains of Puebla, Mexico. Tosepan is dedicated to constructing a holistic, sustainable, locally- and democratically-controlled economy rooted in Indigenous culture and knowledge. 

Tosepan’s three civil associations and eight co-operatives cover a wide spectrum of basic needs. Organic staples like corn, beans and vegetables, as well as crops like coffee, pepper and sugarcane are grown on agroecological farms for community needs and local markets. Natural building – using local resources like bamboo and adobe – incorporates features like water harvesting, solar dehydrators, ecological cookstoves and renewable energy. Local healthcare focuses on prevention and traditional herbal remedies. Decentralised renewable energy aims for total energy sovereignty. A local co-operative bank supports the functioning of the entire ecosystem of co-operatives. 

While building up local economic systems, Tosepan’s members also actively oppose the top-down imposition of a corporate-led global economy. They have successfully resisted corporate development projects including hydroelectric dams and a planned Walmart. They remind us all that, in the current capitalist political economy, true regeneration and renewal cannot be divorced from active resistance.  

This story originally ran in issue #69 of Dumbo Feather

This story originally ran in issue #69 of Dumbo Feather

Dumbo Feather

The Bullitt Center

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