30 Jan

Evolution, culture, economy, development, opportunity for new horizons and experiences... The concepts associated with cities are unlimited since the appearance of the first ones thousands of years ago, even more so today in which urban centers present us with a platform of social interactions rejuvenated with the appearance of the internet and social networks. 

It is on this technology, which in addition to accepting its introduction in cities, with which we can take advantage to understand them and even more, design and modify for the greater well-being of their inhabitants.  Within this line, we could for example use the data of the internet and its different applications to locate areas of greater people density, commercial activities, cultural life, vehicle flows, or many other data that are of interest to us, both in real time and in a statistical form.  In this way, the opportunity offered by these data is to be able to develop a whole host of tools, methodologies or applications which can help us solve any urban need. 

In this sense, the approach from a theoretical-academic perspective as a practice is especially nutritious for specific and particular contexts such as cities. The composition of cities is so diverse and rich, since they are subjected to hundreds of combinations where the location ends up conditioning the expressions of the city itself, or what we call urban landscape.

This landscape, the result of biotic and abiotic elements of the habitat, marks a relationship of information between the subject and the object, and whose relationship ends up modifying both parties. To such an extent, in which people are part of the landscape or as explained by Sigfried Passarge a result of land, water, plants and cultural phenomena.  Considering these aspects, what he called modeling forces: Space, people, culture and history. 

We should think about our cities and this anthropic modeling of the urban landscape where the processes of urbanization, the environmental conditions of the area and the resulting biotope are crucial to understand its root and evolution. This relationship should always be understood as a continuous dialogue with the land, however, we know full well that the modification of land use has appeared as a component of transformation taking the limits of the land to irrational and unimagined points. 

Our cities need thorough revisions, but at the same time recover some fundamental concepts not only from the environmental perspective, but from the economic, social and urban. By understanding the Roman ideals such as Cardus and Decumanus, strategic alignments in certain locations that allowed us to make the most of climate components such as wind in addition to defining strategic positions in the territory with respect to its geography. Or Genius-loci grounded as the spirit of the place, multiple reviews claim that genius-loci falls on those subjective fragments of the landscape such as empathy or resilience. Concepts that although generally known, usually do not go beyond a mere theoretical appearance but that does not take root in the bases of projects and cities, thus remaining as mere ideas or, worse still false facades when naming meaningless concepts that do not come to propose anything significant.

Cities today should be seen as millions of opportunities for the improvement the territorial conditions and therefore of the quality of life. Simply, by making a brief review of some concepts of the environment; and therefore, its potential for study, then we would realize the areas of opportunity for the study of a habitat. For example, we know that solar radiation can be understood as an invariable component in time, since for millennia it will not suffer greater variation more than those variations of which Milankovitch talks about, so it is a much more important urban component than what we usually give it in citizen comfort. Either by some decisions such as eliminating shade-generating elements such as vegetation or not taking into account the solar incidence in buildings or basic concepts such as albedo or reflectivity. Generating decisions that could be perpetuated and end up expressing themselves in hard, hostile and highly heat-winning components.  And what is even worse, selecting materials with high thermal inertia that once they receive that thermal gain they have to dissipate it throughout the day and night. 

Another component such as ventilation, which in urban terms translates into the ability of the natural winds of a particular area to adapt to urban morphology and wrap the geometry of the urban layout to cross streets and public spaces. It means the improvement of  hygrothermal conditions and air quality. Today, cities are saturated with air in poor or very bad conditions in terms of air quality, the presence of multiple toxic components by fossil fuel combustion that generate emissions in the air we breathe with volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and the most recently documented, tropospheric ozone (O3).  Representing this, health risk, to such an extent that strokes; related to particulate matter (PM 2.5 and PM 10), are positioned in the number one according to the UN regarding the mortality rate due to environmental reasons. This warns us about the danger we have in our cities, but at the same time it means that the design of public space is a task that requires multidisciplinary experience. Therefore, it begins to be increasingly common to work with technologies such as remote sensing for the study of the territory. 

Therefore, simply with the review of sunlight and wind it is evident that plant masses in general should be observed from a precise technical perspective, beyond the benefits in terms of the perception of the landscape. 

As a summary, it is important to visualize that cities are a source of constant information, they are the point of union between habitat and human habitation that we have built for centuries. Without trying to leave everything in the hands of unfounded technological use, it is important to emphasize that the good use of current technological tools are essential to understand the evolution and functioning of cities. Technology that can also provide us with diversity in terms of type and magnitude of information, not to mention the tools that facilitate the study and diagnosis processes such as those equipped with artificial intelligence. 

As a result of a multidisciplinary joint work and with the use of the best tools for the study of the territory, an energy-efficient design would be possible, healthy for people and the environment, as well as friendly for the most vulnerable groups.

Studies in other latitudes are currently able to determine the amount of particulate matter collected by the leaves of the trees closest to the roads of greater congestion or to mention another example, cities that develop research aimed at the study of light pollution with the intention of improving the instruments of legislation, not only in the search for energy efficiency but to know the effects on fauna,  especially towards insects. 

For all this, it is important to start from the perspective of knowledge management, or better said by Kelvin "What is not defined, cannot be measured. What is not measured, cannot be improved. What is not improved, is always degraded."

About the Author:

Alfred Esteller Agustí 

Degree in architecture and master's degree from the Universitat Politècnica de València. Master in bioclimatic and sustainable architecture. Associate Professor at Universidad Cardenal Herrera, Spain. He has developed research articles related to urbanism, bioclimatism and architecture, with publications such as "Use of indicators as a response to the introduction of sustainability in Mexican cities in the XXI century" in ISUF-h 2019 – Compact city vs Diffuse city. As well as the study of teaching-learning processes in teaching with classroom research through the use of puzzles in the teaching of urban history. 

He has been technical advisor for the Metropolitan Planning Institute of the Metropolitan Area of Guadalajara for the creation and drafting of the Complementary Technical Standard of Energy Efficiency in Building and currently technician of the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan for the municipality of Chiva, Spain.

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