2012/10/10 9:20 Jeb Brugmann, The Productive City, City Science Workshop, U. of Toronto

Thematic presentation by Jeb Brugmann on “Cities as systems of systems” to stimulate #cityscience discussion at workshop on “Finding Connections Between City Systems and Subsystems”, University of Toronto, October 10-11, 2012.

This digest was created in real-time during the meeting, based on the speaker’s presentation(s) and comments from the audience. The content should not be viewed as an official transcript of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. The digest has been made available for purposes of scholarship, posted by David Ing.

Introduction by Eric Miller and Steve Easterbrook

[Jeb Brugmann]

What’s the level of ambition we should have?

  • With 9.5 billion people by 2050, need to thrive

Point of reference as practitioner

  • Organized at United Nations 1990: first time wrapping mind around sustainable development
  • Maurice Strong
  • Were debating English and French, sustainability not in parlance

At congress, 2 ideas

  • One idea Agenda 21: had done 30 cities, need a local agenda, have to be brought down to ground
  • 2002 Johannesburg summit, > 120 communities had engaged
  • Other idea on methodologies on greenhouse gases in cities: what is a city? how do we measure greenhouse gases?
  • First round of cities (Toronto, Copenhagen, Portland) set targets of 10% to 20% reductions
  • 80% targets may be unrealistic, but they’ve gone through city governments

Came up with ecological footprinting, overshooting problem

  • Carbon counting is easier than defining a sustainable city
  • City of Calgary is thinking about whether should have developers doing ecological footprint, carrying capacity in 2 or 3 dimensions
  • Twists of measurement silliness, would like some more rigourous

For practitioners, more pressure to create more urban space, e.g. India for 435M people

  • Elasticity of demand for protein and energy consumption near 1:1
  • Building on periphery
  • Urban agglomeration, but not efficient
  • How do we accelerate optimization of internal geography, with underutilized urban assets

Urban periphery, lack of services

In the U.S., where did the subprime crisis happen: 62% of foreclosures in 9 metro areas, most in new peripheral suburbs

  • Economics were aspirational, mansions on the periphery
  • Causing developers to rethink what they’re developing

Optimization of location: how do we find spaces in cities that have low value, and could be developed, e.g. downtown Melbourne with cafes and arts

Urban system optimization: transit corridors

In North America, behind, on the learning curve

  • Kronsberg, Germany, hosting world expo 2000
  • Had 85 hectares, wanted some performance metrics: 3% storm water runoff, affordable to Turkish or Eastern European immigrant per square metre, lower energy use below already tight German standards

In City of Toronto, only place that offers heating and cooling downtown to Central Business District

  • Has been done over 20 yars
  • Complications of heating and cooling systems with potable water

The Extractive City

  • The city as a processing machine, extracting from nature

Have moved to the Eco-Efficient City

  • How to increase the secondary productivity of nature’s production
  • Apply human talent and labour to dematerialize
  • Reduce waste, load
  • Moving from industrial production systems
  • If had been more ambitious in 1990, might have found this path earlier
  • “Managing human ecosystems” a best-selling paper, but nothing that people could do with it
  • Feeling that city has to be a network productivity system
  • How shift from extracting from nature?


  • Evolved from management –> integration –> eco-efficiency –> optimization –>
  • Environmental management –> Integrated Planning –> Retrofits / System Re-ernginggerint –> Green Buildings –> Productive Cities

Market say yes,

  • property management –> property optimization –> location / system optimization
  • Ad hoc development –> … –>

Urban energy production

  • IEA Global Energy Demand, 450 ppm scenario, dependence on fossil fuels will decline
  • Want 9.5 billion people to have average energy use of Europeans today
  • Assume we can get people to act rationally
  • Technology, look at Amory Lovins, etc.
  • Policy drivers
  • McKinsey curve
  • Just for urban population, not looking at rural
  • Gigajoules per capita

Scenario for Hannover, Germany

  • Hannover Renewables Strategy, could be a net producer to get to a sustainable state

Food productivity

  • FAO statistics, calories per capita, declining
  • Arable land, non-forested
  • Reduce food waste
  • Havana: has diversified urban agricultural production, after loss of Russian petroleum, 75% of vegetables are grown within the metro area
  • Regional food production in Metro Vancouver, produces enough to bridge the wedge
  • Doesn’t even include sophisticated methods, e.g. optimizing space to mechanically move plants through light and water


  • Landfill mining

We’ve underestimated transformation of urban areas from rural

  • Corichiba: mob-operated bus, becoming transit that is now overutilized
  • Optimized urban corridor

Hannover 1946 versus today, amazing transformation

  • 50% of midday electricity in German is from rooftop solar

Should feel weird and ridiculous, or aren’t setting enough ambition

Case study of Productive City Rotterdam, Stadshaven masterplan

  • Net producer


In China, eco-city buildings

Issues of scaling are sticky, tricky definitions of measures

  • Not just technical, will be policy
  • e.g. geothermal for a school, what institution enables that?



Issue of water?

  • Rainwater capture as primary production
  • It is a blank, needs to be filled in
  • Rotterdam needs to be a net producer of water, mostly from rainfall
  • Desalination

Complexity of systems, Homer-Dixon says that more we try to optimize, the more energy they require to run

  • Issues of smart, optimizing locally
  • Upstream, how much more energy?
  • Need a lifecycle and scale way of measuring
  • In downtown Toronto, local optimizing
  • Hannover is a biomass energy economy
  • High tech is sometimes upstream
  • Some advocates of hydrogen economy

Seven-times growth

  • Schomo, U. of Connecticut, big multi-year project
  • Have datapoints, could look at Canada
  • Track satellite data around the world

#cities-centre, #city-science, #utoronto