Tuesday, January 31, 2006

City within a City

I've been thinking a lot about how the Airport is a City within a City. Cities are always in relationship to their contextual environments. A truly effective city is a dense heart of efficient and complex, spirited and contradictory, human habitat. Cities may recycle and reuse their energies and products, but they continue to draw the vast majority of their energy from the natural resources which surround them. Non-renewable energy sources and renewable energy sources yielding power and life to sustain the city and it's people come from the hills, the forests, the lakes, the mountains, the ocean, the desert, the sun, and the wind; water for life, and coal, oil, photovoltaic cells, wind turbines, to name a few for electricity, transport, and industry. The Airport, the globally distributed City within a City, as a functioning city, also feeds off its surroundings, the city of its outer context. The people, energy, financial support, products and shipping orders, all fuel and support the purpose for the Airport's existence and sustenance.

So, the Airport really is like a contemporary city in its internal habitat provisions (shelter, food, mobility, commerce, even space for arts), and also in its patterns of external resource consumption. The Airport, as a City within a City, looks towards the cities around it as consumption resources.

The Airport, the City within a City, is like an interiorized city, bubbled into a container whose own structure is that of a city. But to disembark from the destructive paradigm of continuous "natural capital" consumption furthered in urbanized locales around the world, the Airport City within a City could be seen as more progressive, even more sustainable in theory, as in a more directly symbiotic, interconnected relationship with its "natural environment", the surrounding city, than the original city is itself. In consideration of the modern city, the modern Airport city gives back more to the original city of its context than the original city gives back to its natural environmental context. Of course, the Airport pollutes like crazy and consumes like crazy, draining natural capital from the natural environment right through the city of its context. But as a paradigm, the Airport City within a City is a fascinating model for how a massive mechanistic and industrial system can be within a "natural" and symbiotic relationship to its mechanistic and industrial urban context.

In this sense, the Airport City within a City is an ironic paradigm of contradictions. The Airport City within a City is a model of postmodernity (industrial and mechanistic functions, forms, flows) and sustainability (interrelationships, context responsiveness, and a system of sustenance). The Airport City within a City is continued, infinite growth and limited, contained space; speed and globalization and locally-based rhythms; draining resource consumption and contextual recognition and responsiveness; and respect for the needs and wants of the passenger's human scale and the industry's global scale. I'd say this mix makes the City within a City a critical paradigm of our twenty-first century global-local human lifestyle.

Noise produced by airflight, for example, becomes what I'll call a "context impact", which is (by the way) one of the impacts considered by Environmental Impact Reports under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). (Within CEQA there are also special guidelines for development within airport plans.) These "context impacts" are the most perceived impacts between the Airport City within a City and the Airport's context city (as can be observed with Amsterdam as Schiphol Airport's context city). They build sociological and environmental relationships which, in a modern perspective of environmental analysis, means impacts to quality of life and environment that are calculateable by contingent valuation, evaluateable by cost benefit analysis, and are mitigateable by use of measures that dampen the problem. Interestingly, the "context impacts" of the Airport, while being therefore within the realms of economics, equity, and ecology (which by the way, make the tri-fold framework of "cradle-to-cradle" analysis professed by William McDonough and Michael Braungart), impact most directly the city's human quality of life issues. And even more interestingly, the “context impacts” monitored by airports are basically limited to noise (the sound of jets in the air), safety concerns (such as crashes and need for emergency landing space), overflight (flight patterns and visibility), and airspace protection (potential hazards to flight such as tall builds and areas where birds may collect); all impacts that are initially more perceptual than tangible in the same way as a visual image. (See California Airport Landuse Planning Handbook, pp summary-8) In short, City within a City context impacts are from man-made to the made-made. City context impacts are more from the man-made to the environmental.

McDonough and Braungart's "cradle-to-cradle" methodology (the most level-headed and progressive "eco-effective" model for design) recommends designing systems, products, processes that treat waste as food in the interconnected arenas of economics, equity, and ecology. Technically speaking, this can be quite complex. The rubber within a shoe sole contains countless different chemicals and to break it down, and to remove the harmful ones, and produce a shoe (as Nike is prototyping) whose rubber is actually beneficial to the environment, is quite complex. On a larger urban planning scale, McDonough's "Huangbaiyu Cradle to Cradle Village Master Plan" in Benxi, Liaoning Province, China, will attempt to implement the cradle-to-cradle concept for a new, developing community.

But to jump back to existing urban centers, and look at the Airport City within a City, we already have a cradle-to-cradle "closed-loop" system (although horribly dirty) in place: the Airport City in relationship to its context city. The Airport, looped into a vital give-and-take relationship to the context city, is then the principle place for revitalizing the city and transforming existing cities into having healthier relationships with their context (host?) cities. From within the City, the Airport City within a City can guide healthier environmental relationship from its existing web of contextual recognition and responsiveness. The Airport, the City within a City. is the gateway to transforming the global-local lifestyle, just as it was the product of modernity that transformed the city of today into what it is.