Liveblog at 2013 TEDxNYIT at “Meta Resiliency”

TedXNYIT-Untapped Cities-Live Blog

9 am: TedX host and NYIT associate dean, Frank Mruk introduces TedXNYIT “Meta-Resiliency” and talks about how we can really “know” about resiliency on the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy.

9:10 am: Street performers City of the Sun rocking out on acoustic guitars, waking up the audience. You can head bang to acoustic guitar, it seems.

9:30 am: Latent Disruption: What do we learn from events like 9/11, Hurricane Sandy. What does preparedness look like while sitting and waiting for the next disruption?

Viewing of Ric Elias’ 2011 moving talk  ”3 Things I Learned When My Plane Crashed” about what he learned when his plane went down on the Hudson River. A favorite line: “I now collect bad wines. Even if the wine isn’t ready but the people are here, I open it.”

9:35 am: Claes Frossen from City Move talks about Gellivare, Sweden which had to be completely moved because of expanding mining industry. He brought in 40 people from 17 countries to work on how to move lives, instead of buildings. How to do it?

  1. Communicate instead of informing
  2. Build for a desirable community — not just lack of square feet
  3. Attract people with a sustainable environment.
  4. Embrace positive uniqueness
  5. Learn to stick to the people centered process
  6. Help different players to own the common vision

9:50 am: Mohammed Abbas, Sandy First Responder talking about the challenges of evacuating residents, fighting fires in flooded areas on Long Island. Requests that as residents, we listen to calls to evacuate. And not to overuse 911.

10:05 am: Margaret Newman from NYC Department of Transportation talks about Art on the Beach on what later became Battery Park City, from the World Trade Center landfill and her experience on 9/11 living just near the WTC. There’s a shift in how we see our city, “from NYC centric to a city redrawn as part of a  global network.” After 10 years, the site was rebuilt as the 9/11 Memorial. Pier 25 was built but only lasted a year before the water breached the bulkhead in Hurricane Sandy. Sandy was a visceral reminder how hard it is to imagine how things can go wrong. Building, gentrification, natural disasters…summary of what it means to be resilient.

Looking at Coentes Slip‘s transition into public space, a mini version of Times Square pedestrianization. New Times Square plaza will be open this December! Adding street seating to NYC, improving performance of streets with bioswales to manage stormwater. The city is changing the way we light the streets–shifting to LED. Redesign of avenues, like 1st Avenue, with bikes, parking, buses co-existing with protected bike lanes. Citibike has 36,000 rides per day.

11 am: Session on visceral resiliency begins, starting with video by Derek Sivers “How to Start a Movement” about the importance of the first follower.

Sandy Safi from Diner en Blanc International talks about the pop-up white dinner event. Why to people do it? Sandi says that people participate because it satisfies a hunger for doing interesting things. It’s about noticing these places you often go right through in the city. Participation requires of a sense of commitment. Volunteer structure shows that people are willing to commit into their community to create satisfaction for people around you.

11:30 am: Ron Demo from Zerofootprint talking about Toronto’s sustainable, resilient, human and innovative environment on Queens Street downtown. If behavior doesn’t change, what’s the point of having beautiful buildings? If behavior doesn’t change, nothing will be resilient. Cities with an engaged population are more resilient. How can we have resilience without health? Use data to engage and reward good behavior.

2:10 pm: Viewing of Alastair Parvin’s talk  ”Architecture for the people by the people” about the democratization of production in the 21st century as the greatest achievement of design. Parvin challenges the architecture business model to move from designing for the richest 1% of the population, and turn the client from 1% to 100%. Three new rules of design:

  1. “Don’t build” –  architecture is not just about making buildings, the most expensive solution.
  2. “Go small” – the only people who can make cities are large corporations, “form follows finance” – a one size fits all model that few can afford. “Cities made by many with a bit” – democracy giving everything the right to build.
  3. “Go amateur” – the leap from open source software to open source hardware (3d printing) lowered the thresholds of time cost and skill and challenges the traditional economies of scale. “The factory is everywhere, design team is everyone”, “Who should control means to production? No one, all of us”.

WikiHouse – open-source construction system, a shared library of 3d models that anyone can download to generate cutting files and make “a really big IKEA kit”. A team of 2-3 can build a small house in a day. A house is no longer a finished product, but an easily adaptive seed of a citizen-led urban development model.

2:26 pm: Thomas Ermacora discusses the psychological dimension in resilience and draws an analogy between recovery from a personal accident and a recovering city. Like his own recovery, Ermacora believes the city undergoes a deep impact in the definition of place.

“Resilience is participatory, collaborative, democratic, local.”

Calls for a recoding of cities – an essential component in how we organize and failproof the systems of the city. Currently they are too bureaucratic and depend on material investments. Ermacora expresses “confidence in people and people technology, to transform cities collaboratively and touch not the 1% but the 100%”.

2:56 pm: Casey Mack questions the focus on ”bouncing back” after a disaster. What if we develop techniques to ”bounce forward”? Presents the 1958 Harumi apartments in Japan, designed by architect Kunio Maekawa and engineer Toshihiko Kimura to be earthquake and fireproof. Unlike the later Japanese design aesthetic that celebrates transparency and thinness, such as Toyo Ito’s Sendai Mediatheque, the Harumi building is about “fatness”.

Harumi was built on a landfill island and was the first building of its kind in Japan (10 story concrete) to attempt earthquake and fire resilience on soft soil. Kimura introduces a new modular typology with a major structure (a large structural grid) that contains minor, non load-bearing structures that support four apartments. Really small apartments – a Harumi unit measured 300 sf, compared to the 330 sf in the New York micro-apartment competition winner.

“Bouncing forward” in Harumi entailed removing the demising walls of the microstructure and then doubling the size of apartment units, or removing whole damaged sections of the building to create open amenities like sky gardens – “Spatial flexibility in the face of combatting earthquakes”. The metabolist influence is evident in this anticipation of the growth of the economy and the increase in apartment size.

Mack argues that the goal for today is about engaging the changing climate and at the same time engaging the changes in society. “Resilient design needs to enable diversity and can’t be simply about recovery.”

3:18 pm: Alex Alaimo also discusses an alternative to “bouncing back”. “To ‘bounce up’ takes something extra,” – demonstrates how a bouncy ball jumps higher when he inputs more initial energy. Meta-resilience requires us to examine the process of bouncing back and develop new and better processes. Operation Resilient Long Island (ORLI)- new methodology for designers to engage the public and communities.

After Sandy, Long Beach residents mandated to comply with FEMA regulations – raise/rebuild their home, or pay insurance premiums. Dissatisfied with the design solutions, Alaimo asks how the rebuilding will impact the look and feel of these communities. He concludes rebuilding is not an option – “comprehensive way beyond resiliency is what bouncing up is”. He found himself in the role of a broker. ORLI launched a design competition that empowered the public with a voice to bounce up and developed new ways for towns, communities and designers to interact and generate new visions of resilience. “Getting other engaged and excited about design can create new roles for the architect”. A disaster like Sandy is a catalyst to recreating process, to reinvent how we build back.

3:30 pm: new session – “Paradigm Shifting”. What are the changes in the basic assumptions going forward? How will these affect future interventions?

3:33 pm: screening of the brilliant ”Forget What You Know” TedX Teen talk by Jacob Barnett.

3:55 pm: David Dixon, FAIA “Resilience as City Building”

“We need to begin to help the rest of the world to understand numbers connected to resilience… This country will adapt to climate change because we don’t have a choice.” Need to “find a way to meld environmental and urban agendas” and “inspire an era of humanistic cities”.

“Go west, young person!” – the East Coast sea level is expected to rise by 5-6′ by 2100. We are paying for not addressing resilience: Katrina and Sandy cost (and these numbers vary, tellingly) – $200bn in recovery, $100bn in lost GDP from Sandy, (from sandy – 100 b in lost gdp), 100,000 refuges, 2,000 lives. These could have been prevented. 7 of 10 US cities with largest GDP face resilience. These seven cities generate $4.4 trillion GDP – 25% of US economy, and they are growing 50% faster than national economy as a whole.

Resilience will cost more than WPA and Interstate Highway Program combined (%570 bn -$1.52 trillion). Resilience is primarily a pragmatic goal. The Dutch made the connection in 1950 to merge environmental and urban resilience to not have to pay for both. There are some lessons:

“No Retreat”.”It would make more sense to relocate New Orleans…” – an unnamed US Congressman. Resilience is not an isolated concern, but a call for united communities. Cost so much more to move 50,000 people. “Masterplan for every person and every place”.

Shape environmental resilience around an urban agenda. “Sadly we don’t have an urban agenda” – if we spend at least $1 trillion, it is enough finance that form can follow. ”Resiliency is all about smart growth.”

Wetlands and other ‘soft’ resilience: parks that connect people and nature. American cities have not done much in the last 100 years for creating parks. A 21st century system of parks (like Olmsted’s system for 19 century) does not exist. Investment in soft resilience gives us a chance to build 21st century parks. Dixon gives examples of successful soft resilience parks in Asia including Cheonggyecheon Creek in Seoul.

“Hard resilience” will consume most of the money. Instead of building seawalls, the Dutch built new neighborhoods to protect their cities. In US, these additions would be an opportunity to improve intellectual competitiveness by expanding the city through seawalls – the livable and pragmatic ideal of resilience.

“Equity” – US stopped trying to address generational poverty. Underinvestment in the younger generation costs $500bn/year in lost GDP. More people live in suburbs than cities for the first time.

Implementing environmental and urban resilience requires a new era of strong public leadership.

4:30 pm: Fernando Romero: “The buildings are the results of the technology of their time, a translation of a specific historical moment.” Examples of innovation’s importance to the definition of context (“artificial light expanded the definition of the architectural night”, “Wright brothers and airplanes – the possibility of flying – seeing context in new perspective”).

Innovation is always looking forward. Casting concrete at higher floors and control of air conditioning allows to build more vertically in less space. New York is an example of how we can use technology and architecture to densify the context. Romero draws parallels between automotive design/technology and architectural icons of the time (Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoie, Philip Johnson’s Glass House, etc), and how computers and the internet affect context today. “Google has resources to invest in innovation sectors, such as a company that attempts to expand life expectancy.

In design we overlap all possibilities and moments and ways of how we work and interact. Gehry’s Bilbao got everyone excited when a $200m building produced ten times the return for the city. Then architecture became so disobedient and we decided to get rid of icons, to now become more simple and economical. In his practice, Romero seeks to “explore possibilities to create icons without reducing efficiency”. “Cities will evolve to have more private control. ‘Uber’ makes us realize how difficult it will be for governments and bureaucracies to compete with how the private sector can utilize technology. Challenge for future and architecture is how infrastructure of a city will be replaced by private innovation.”

5:05 pm: Carter Brey – Habitat 4 Music and Principal Cellist of the NY Philharmonic.

“Expectation of transcendence dooms the performer to failure, as do real life has obstacles, like 72 hour Breaking Bad marathons.”

“Live long enough and you will see a classical musician lecture about the significance of molecular bonds.”

“If I’m asked to perform Dvorak, it is not my job to sense his longing. It is my job to make sure my audience feels that.”

“Hitting the bar consistently is for professionals. Inspiration is quite literally for amateurs.”

“A child can grow up so surrounded and inspired by music that he couldn’t conceive it as not included as a major part of that life. Our artistic heritage is the DNA of our cultural heritage. Protecting that heritage can go hand in hand in humanitarian efforts. During WWII Allied armies created Allied Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives unit, consisting of art historians, artists, architects, etc. that were sent to identify, protect, repair, and retrieve damaged and stolen works of art. In the context of war, these works were still treated as important artefacts of our identity, one that we shared with our enemy at the time.”

The mission of Habitat4Music is to recruit and deploy highly qualified performance students to disadvantaged areas to share music education to improve those communities, “something that falls within my understanding of meta-resiliency”.

5:10 pm: live performance by Amphion Quartet.