Climate Crisis: London’s River Village and Pools

https://i0.wp.com/i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02192/london-from-space_2192333k.jpgOne of the greatest challenges facing future urban planning is the very real prospect of running out of land. In addition to urban sprawl encroaching on neighboring farmlands, the concentration of people at the core eventually creates a situation where open spaces become incredibly scarce. Luckily, the city of London – one of the largest and most densely populated cities in the world – is coming up with some innovative solutions.

For starters, the city is developing the area around some former dockyards in East London to accommodate a floating neighborhood. Borrowing from similar projects that were initiated in the Netherlands to prepare for rising sea levels, London’s new river-based housing program is designed to place housing in the one spot that hasn’t been converted to high-rise apartments or suburban dwellings.

https://i0.wp.com/b.fastcompany.net/multisite_files/fastcompany/imagecache/slideshow_large/slideshow/2014/08/3034075-slide-s-3-ondon-is-planning-its-first-floating-village-to-make-room-for-more-housing.jpgExperts from the Netherlands are helping to plan the new “floating village,” which will include 50 floating homes around a neighborhood square that comes complete with floating restaurants, offices, and shops, and possibly a floating swimming pool (more on that below). A floating walkway will lead back to land, where the city plans a much larger development with tens of thousands of new homes.

Earlier in its history, the area, known as the Royal Docks, served hundreds of cargo and passenger ships each day. The three docks were the largest enclosed docks in the world – 250 acres of water and over 1000 acres of land – and got more use than any other port in London. But they haven’t been in use for the last several decades, and that’s why the city wants to transform the area.

https://i2.wp.com/b.fastcompany.net/multisite_files/fastcompany/imagecache/slideshow_large/slideshow/2014/08/3034075-slide-s-1-ondon-is-planning-its-first-floating-village-to-make-room-for-more-housing.jpgAs Richard Blakeway, the city’s deputy mayor for housing, land and property

With demand for new homes in London soaring, we need to put every scrap of available land to the best possible use. Tens of thousands of new homes, workspace, leisure, and cultural facilities are being developed . . . The ‘Floating Village’ will be yet another draw, restoring London’s docklands to their former glory as a centre of enterprise and bringing jobs, growth, homes and visitors.

On the same front, the city of London is also contemplating turning its river waters into a massive public pools project. Known as the Thames Bath Project, this idea was inspired by similar ideas where swimming pools have been created out of waterways. For example, New York has a project called +Pool, which has raised more than $300,000 in crowd-funding, and looks set for a 2016 launch.

https://i0.wp.com/h.fastcompany.net/multisite_files/fastcompany/imagecache/inline-large/inline/2014/08/3034656-inline-i-1-london-joins-list-of-cities-building-pools-in-their-rivers.jpgThe Thames Baths Project is similar, aiming to create a freshwater lagoon amid the meandering old waterway. The consortium responsible consists of Studio Octopi, Civic Engineers and Jonathan Cook Landscape Architects, all of whom won the competition last year to come up with new river uses. Initially, they hoped to create a pool using water from the Thames that would be filtered and treated.

However, that plan has since been updated and improved to something a little more sanitary. Now, they plan to pump in freshwater, rejected the New York City idea of filtering the water as it enters the pool space because of the concern of sewage. And though London has a major sewage system upgrade planned, the designers are worried it won’t be ready in time to ensure sufficient water quality.

london-poolAs Chris Romer-Lee, director of Octopi, explained:

We’re using freshwater because of the sewage overflows from the aging [Sir Joseph William] Bazalgette sewers. They dump millions of tons of sewage into the river after even the shortest rain storm. A filtration system could work. We’ve been looking at natural swimming pools and the filtering systems they use. But the +Pool filtering system is as yet unproven.

The design calls for floating pontoons with space for three pools –  one large, one medium, and one for paddling. A thick layer of vegetation will mark the edges and a ramp leading off the side will connect swimmers back to firm ground. The $8.5 million plans are still awaiting approval from the city, but, if all goes well, the baths could be completed sometime early in the next decade.

london-pools1The purpose, according to Romer-Lee, is about re-purposing something that would otherwise be forgotten:

We need these baths to reconnect Londoners with their largest public space. The river is used extensively for transporting building materials, passengers and the like but is increasingly becoming something that Londoners look over and don’t engage with.

Meanwhile, Berlin also has a proposal for an open river pool, as does Copenhagen, which actually already has swimming in its harbor. No doubt, it won’t be long before others follow. In fact, the idea of re-purposing public spaces that have fallen into disuse is becoming increasingly popular – not just as a response to sprawl, but as an innovative solution of what to do with infrastructure that has fallen into disuse.

Cities like Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Hamilton, Ontario and Montreal, Quebec – just to name a few – all might want to consider getting on board with this…

Sources: fastcoexist.com, (2)

Robocop Then and Now

robocop-2014-wallpaper-robocop-movie-wallpapers1Recently, I took the plunge and watched some of the reboots I had been avoiding. These included the reboot of Robocop, an updated take on the 1987 Paul Verhoeven gorefest about a police officer who is brutally murdered and brought back as a cyborg. The movie was officially released in February of 2014 after being pushed back from its original August 2013 release, and received mixed reviews.

In any case, upon viewing the film, I totally saw what all the mixed reviews were all about. Whereas the new movie does score some points for updated special effects, technology, and has some decent casting, it lacked the social satire, edginess and macabre sensibilities of the first. So while it had some entertainment value, it really suffered from a sense of ambivalence, as if the makers themselves were wondering what the point of the remake was.

To put it in perspective, here’s a rundown on the original and what made it work…

Robocop (1987):
https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/50/Robocop_film.jpgSet in the near-future, the film opens on a Detroit that has become a cesspool of crime, corruption and corporate greed. Having gone bankrupt, the city has signed a deal with Omni Consumer Products (OCP) to run the underfunded police department in exchange for demolishing Old Detroit and building a new metropolis – Delta City – that will renew the city and provide employment.

To remedy the crime situation, OCP plans to deploy the ED-209 enforcement droid. But after a demonstration leads to the death of a junior exec, an alternate plan is considered from the cybernetics division. This involves placing a recently-deceased police officer inside a machine that is armored, has superior firepower, and runs on programming based on three simple directives:

1. Serve the public trust
2. Protect the innocent
3. Uphold the law

https://i2.wp.com/www.joblo.com/images_arrownews/robocop%204.jpgTo get a “volunteer”, OCP transfers officers to more crime-ridden districts, one of which is officer Alexander Murphy. A dedicated officer, he and his new partner run into criminal kingpin Clarence Boddicker and his gang during their first patrol. After pursuing them to an abandoned steel mill, Murphy is isolated and gunned down. Pronounced dead, his body is then used to create Robocop.

His deployment results in an immediate drop in crime, but problems quickly ensue. At OCP, the creation of Robocop leads to an internal power struggle between senior president Dick Jones and Bob Morton – the young exec behind the Robocop program. Boddicker, it is revealed, has been working with Jones for some time, using his crime connections to advance OCPs agenda of taking over Detroit. Jones orders Boddicker to kill Morton, and promises him exclusive control over all vice in Delta City.

https://i2.wp.com/normalguysnetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/robocop.gifMeanwhile, Murphy begins to remember his old life and begins hunting for Boddicker and his gang. After capturing him, he learns of Boddicker’s relationship with Jones and attempts to arrest him, but is stopped by a secret Fourth Directive, which prevents him from arresting an executive of OCP. He narrowly escapes OCP headquarters with the help of Lewis, his old partner, and flees to an abandoned factory to recuperate.

Meanwhile, Boddicker is given advanced weaponry by Jones and a tracking device to go and kill Murphy. In a showdown at the abandoned plant, Murphy and Lewis kill all members of his gang, including Boddicker himself. He then goes to OCP headquarters and presents a video of Jones confessing to ordering Morton’s death. Jones attempts to take the head of OCP chairman, but he fires Jones, giving Robocop freedom to kill him.

http://nureviews.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/robocop-without-helmet.jpgThe movie ends with the chairman asking Robocop if he has a name, to which he replied: “Yes. Murphy”.

Summary:
For many reasons, the movie remains a cult classic and an iconic genre film. Though the franchise didn’t do so well after two sequels, the original remains popular with fans decades after the fact because of the way it pulled no punches and delivered on a message. Set in a future Detroit characterized by rampant crime and urban collapse, the movie showcased a very real problem that was apparent by the late 80s in America, and people certainly noticed.

Thought it was brutal and shocking at times, the over-the-top nature of the violence played into the social satire of the film. As he would demonstrate with later films – Total Recall, Starship Troopers – Verhoeven was known for using graphic violence to parody America’s preoccupation with violence in media. And in this context, it provided a sense or urgency to the plot – with police, politicians, and common folk feeling helpless in the face of it, and corporate execs being indifferent and using it to further their agendas.

In short, the hard-R rating of the movie worked in its favor. And the exploration of issues relating to identity and humanity in an age of man-machine interface were also well rendered. Now as for the reboot…

Robocop (2014):
https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/b/b1/Robocop_poster.jpgThe year is 2028, and robotics and automated military systems are now commonplace around the world, enforcing US military policy in places like Iran. Looking to expand, Omnicorp contemplates ways that they will be able to make robots palatable to the American masses, where the Dreyfus Act currently forbids their deployment. All they need is a critically injured policeman to put inside the machine.

Meanwhile, detective Alexander Murphy and his partner are trying to take down crime boss Antoine Vallon, who has contacts within the police department. A car bomb nearly kills Murphy, and Omnicorp roboticist Dr. Dennett Norton convinces his wife to let them use him in the program. What is left or Murphy is placed inside a full-body prosthetic, and he is awakened.

robocop-2014-1Initially, Murphy is shocked to see what has become of him and tries to escape. But Norton manages to convince him to stay and do his job, if for nothing else for the sake of his family. He begins undergoing testing to see how combat effective he will be, and proves to be inferior to a fully-automated robot. Pressured to make him work, Norton then alters Murphy’s brain so that behavioral software is control of his actions, even though he still thinks he is in control.

This leads to the confirmation of the Robocop program and the company prepares to unveil it to the public. But his first demonstration, Murphy experiences a seizure when they attempt to upload tons of information and video feeds to his brain. Norton and his team then alter his emotional responses again, leading him to coldly enact his protocols before the public and arrest a criminal in the crowd. The arrest is a PR success, and Robocop’s performance begins to reduce crime and convince the public to rescind the Dreyfus Act.

https://i1.wp.com/www.robocop.com/media/images/gallery-2.jpgMurphy’s wife confronts him in the street, which triggers Murphy’s memories and leads him to begin investigating his own death. He tracks down Vallon and destroys his gang in an intense shootout, and then confronts the members of the police department who were supplying him. Seeing this, Omnicorp shuts Murphy’s systems down before he can arrest the police chief and begin to rethink his existence.

They decide to circulate a news story that he died of complications, while plotting to shut him down permanently. With the help of Doctor Norton, Murphy escapes the Omnicorps facility where he is kept and goes to the headquarters to confront the CEO. With the help of his old partner, he is able to fight his way in and narrowly kill the CEO, who is holding his wife hostage.

Murphy is then rebuild in Norton’s lab, the President of the US vetoed the repeal of the Dreyfus Act based on the testimony of Norton, who confesses everything OmniCorp has done, and Murphy goes back to work and living with his family.

Summary:
Compared to the original, the reboot suffered from multiple problems. In addition to being toned down and less violent, as evidenced by its PG-13 rating, it was c0mparatively confused and muddled in terms of its message. Whereas the original was a hard-hitting movie about corporate greed, corruption, crime, and the fight to retain humanity in inhuman circumstances, the new movie was a rather bland commentary on the morality of robotics and autonomous machines in today’s world.

https://i0.wp.com/blogs-images.forbes.com/scottmendelson/files/2014/03/robo.jpgWhile these issues are certainly very relevant, the way the movie went about presented them seemed at once too subtle and heavy-handed. This is best illustrated by the character of news pundit Pat Novak (played by Samuel L. Jackson), a clear parody of Bill O’Reilly and a slew of other Fox News commentators. In addition to being loud, extremely biased and a corporate shill, he completely hands the message to the audience within the last few seconds of the movie:

Now I know some of you may think that this kind of thinking is dangerous and these machines violate your civil liberties. Some of you even believe that the use of these drones overseas makes us the same kind of bullying imperialists that our forefathers were trying to escape. To you, I say… Stop whining! America is now and always will be the greatest country on the face of the Earth! 

The way his scenes are shot, he’s even addressing the viewing audience. So he’s effectively breaking the Fourth Wall when he says this. It was honestly the most obvious scene and message I’ve watched in some time!

Another odd aspect of the movie was Murphy’s sense of self, which was a key aspect of the original. After having his remains dismembered and placed into a “full-body prosthetic”, Murphy’s memory was erased to prevent any semblance of his old personality from coming through. This was to ensure that Robocop would function perfectly and not experience complications due to things like anger, sadness, trauma, or an attachment to his old life.

https://i0.wp.com/cephuscorner.jadedragononline.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Making-of-RoboCop-3.jpgBut in this movie, he wakes up inside the machine remembering everything that happened to him and has trouble performing on par with automated robots. To remedy this, they have to go through a convoluted process whereby he’s no longer in control, but thinks he is thanks to the magic of brain-altering software. All of this seemed unnecessary, clunky, and took away from the story. It also begged the question, why not simply erase his memory and avoid all this?

But above all, the decision to go this route also robbed the movie of its most central theme – i.e. the Jesus allegory of death and ressurection! Murphy does not rise from the dead at all in this movie, but is simply put in a body to keep him alive. So ultimately, his transformation – dying and coming back to life as something completely different – is something that’s very watered down and ineffective by comparison.

robocop_concept_art_walkerThis all seemed weak when they could have simply gone with what they did in the first movie and erased Murphy’s memory, which would have worked way better for the plot. That was one of the most important aspects of the old film and how it exposed OCPs corruption and delved into the whole issue of man vs. machine and what it is to be human. Not only was OCP looking for an automaton, Murphy’s recovery of his past self got the audience emotionally involved.

To boot, the bad guys were very underdeveloped in this film. Vallon was no match for Boddicker, having little screen time and no sense of motivation compared to Kurtwood Smith. His allies in the police department were also afterthoughts, who seemed to be nothing more than bride-taking cops who betrayed Murphy because he was too dedicated. And Michael Keaton is poorly cast as the crooked CEO of Omnicorps, which in this movie falls far short of the cold, indifferent corporate crooks of the first one.

Robocop_concept_art_UAVTo be fair, some casting choices weren’t bad. Joel Kinnaman wasn’t bad in the lead role, Gary Oldman played his role ably, and Samuel L. Jackson (though not very well scripted) certainly delivered on his portrayal of a loudmouthed, angry, horribly-slanted media pundit. But compared to Peter Weller, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith and Miguel Ferrer, the guys were just eating crumbs off the table.

All of this leaves me wondering, what was the point of this remake? The idea was to relaunch the franchise for a new generation by focusing on modern issues, updated technologies, and a fresh take on the whole cybernetics thing. And in all of these respects, save for the technology aspect, they failed. Too bad, because their certainly was potential, given the range of issues that could have been explored better.

Between the highly contentious issue of UAVs, killer robots, and their effect on foreign and domestic policy, this movie could have really been something. Instead, it was a confused, half-hearted and obvious effort. And this is really too bad, because it’s likely to lead to yet another relaunch in a few years time. Don’t believe me, just look at Terminator: Salvation!

But regardless of what any reboots or relaunches attempt to do, Detroit still loves Robocop! As evidenced by their commissioning a massive statute of the guy. And Peter Weller and Kurtwood Smith… still the men!

robocop-statue-2

Detroit’s New Robocop Statue

robocop-statue-2Some of you may recall how a few years back, a group of Detroit citizens began talking about erecting a statue of Robocop in their fair city. At the time, Detroit’s Mayor David Bing shot the idea down, eventually referring to it as “silly”. This led to a campaign that was dedicated to making the statue happen, and after three years, it looks like they are finally going to get their wish.

In addition to a promotional video starring Peter Weller (Robocop himself), a Kickstarter campaign was mounted to fund the statue’s creation. The campaign was launched back in 2011 by the group known as Imagination Station, a Detroit nonprofit specializing in art and renovation. Within 45 days, they had raised over $67,000, thanks to public donations but also from an unexpected source.

ROBOCOP-Concept-Art-Image-02 As the story goes, Brandon Walley – director of development at the Imagination Station – received a call from Pete Hottelet, the founder of Omni Consumer Products (OCP). As anyone who’s seen Robocop knows, this is the name of the evil megacorporation at the center of the RoboCop universe. But in this case, OCP specializes in selling real-world versions of products seen in popular movies and TV shows.

Apparently, Hottelet had contacted Mayor Bing’s office and was told outright that the city was not involved in any such project. He then called Walley, got the low-down on their intentions to go ahead with creating one anyway, and agreed to match the money they raised. After six days and $25,000 raised, Hottelet cut them a cheque for the same amount. Thirty nine-days later, they had the remaining ten grand they needed, and then some.

robocop_concept_art_walkerAnd as I recently learned, back in May production began on the statue right here in British Columbia by Across the Board Creations, a studio that specialized in 3D models, props, and artistic recreations. This past Wednesday, the finished product arrived in a crate at the Imagination Station, and photos have began to circulate of the finished product.

The Imagination Station in Detroit has offered a place on its property at Roosevelt Park to install the 10-foot-tall statue, which has now been cast and is headed to Venus Bronze Works in Detroit to be bronzed. And as you can see from the photo (see below), it is rather large, detailed, and pretty badass! Plans have already been made to erect the statue in 2014, just in time for the Robocop movie relaunch.

Robocop_concept_art_UAVYou may also notice I’ve peppered concept art for the movie throughout. These include Robocop’s new sidearm, OCP’s ED-209 Assault Walker, and the XT-908 Area Drone. Clearly, they are looking to merge elements of the original with a more model feel, going beyond mere cyborgs, walkers and corporate greed to include unmanned aerial surveillance and the motif of a police state.

Pretty badass, huh?
Pretty badass, huh?

And be sure to check out Peter Weller’s hilarious promotional video for the statue, plus the trailer for the Robocop relaunch. Enjoy!


Sources: blastr.com, motherjones.com, kickstarter.com, acrosstheboardcreations.com

Google CEO Wants Land Set Aside for Experimentation

future-city-1Back in May, Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page hosted a rare Q&A session with the attendees of the Google I/O keynote speech. During this time, he gave some rather unfiltered and unabashed answers to some serious questions, one of which was how he and others should focus on reducing negativity and focusing on changing the world.

Page responded by saying that “the pace of change is increasing” and that “we haven’t adapted systems to deal with that.” He was also sure to point out that “not all change is good” and said that we need to build “mechanisms to allow experimentation.” Towards that end, he claimed that an area of the world should be set aside for unregulated scientific experimentation. His exact words were:

There are many exciting things you could do that are illegal or not allowed by regulation. And that’s good, we don’t want to change the world. But maybe we can set aside a part of the world… some safe places where we can try things and not have to deploy to the entire world.

So basically he’s looking for a large chunk of real-estate to conduct beta tests in it. What could possibly go wrong?

detroit_experimentOne rather creative suggestion comes from Roy Klabin of PolicyMic, who suggest that an aging and dilapidated Detroit might be just the locale Page and his associates are looking for. This past week, the city declared bankruptcy, and began offering to sell city assets and eradicate retirement funds to meet its $18 billion debt obligations.

What’s more, he suggests that SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who’s always after innovation, should team up with Google. Between the two giants, there’s more than enough investment capital to pull Detroit out of debt and work to rehabilitate the city’s economy. Hell, with a little work, the city could be transformed back into the industrial hub it once was.

And due to a mass exodus of industry and working people from the city, there is no shortage of space. Already the city is considering converting segments of former urban sprawl into farming and agricultural land. But looking farther afield, Klabin sees no reason why these space couldn’t be made available for advanced construction projects involving arcologies and other sustainable-living structures.

dragonfly-vertical-farm-for-a-future-new-york-1Not a bad idea, really. With cities like Boston, New York, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Moscow, Chendu, Tokyo and Masdar City all proposing or even working towards the creation of arcologies, there’s no reason why the former Industrial Heartland – now known as the “Rust Belt” – shouldn’t be getting in on the action.

Naturally, there are some who would express fear over the idea, not to mention Page’s blunt choice of words. But Page did stress the need for positive change, not aimless experimentation. And future generations will need housing and food, and to be able to provide these things in a way that doesn’t burden their environment the way urban sprawl does. Might as well get a jump on things!

And thanks to what some are calling the “New Industrial Revolution” – a trend that embraces nanofabrication, self-assembling DNA structures, cybernetics, and 3D printing – opportunities exist to rebuild our global economy in a way that is cleaner, more efficient and more sustainable. Anyone with space to offer and an open mind can get in on the ground floor. The only question is, what are they willing to give up?

venus_projectThere’s also a precedent here for what is being proposed. The famous American architect and designer Jacque Fresco has been advocating something similar for decades. Believing that society needs to reshape the way it lives, works, and produces, he created the Venus Project – a series of designs for a future living space that would incorporate new technologies, smarter materials and building methods, and alternative forms of energy.

And then there’s the kind of work being proposed by designer Mitchell Joachim and Terreform ONE (Open Network Ecology). And amongst their many proposed design concepts is one where cities use vertical towers filled with energy-creating algae (pictured below) to generate power. But even more ambitious is their plan to “urbaneer” Brooklyn’s Navy Yard by turning natural ecological tissues into viable buildings.

future-city2This concept also calls to mind Arconsanti, the brainchild of architect Paolo Solari, who invented the concept of arcology. His proposed future city began construction back in the 1970 in central Arizona, but remains incomplete. Designed to incorporate such things as 3D architecture, vertical farming, and clean, renewable energy, this unfinished city still stands as the blueprint for Solari’s vision of a future where architecture and ecology could be combined.

What’s more, this kind of innovation and development will come in mighty handy when it comes to time to build colonies on the Moon and Mars. Already, numerous Earth cities and settlements are being considered as possible blueprints for extra-Terran settlement – places like Las Vegas, Dubai, Arviat, Black Rock City and the Pueblos and pre-Columbian New Mexico.

Black Rock City - home to "Burning Man" - shown in a Martian crater
Black Rock City – home to “Burning Man” – shown in a Martian crater

These are all prime examples of cities built to withstand dry, inhospitable environments. As such, sustainability and resource management play a major role in each of their designs. But given the pace at which technology is advancing and the opportunities it presents for high-tech living that is also environmentally friendly, some test models will need to be made.

And building them would also provide an opportunity to test out some of the latest proposed construction methods, one that do away with the brutally inefficient building process and replace it with things like drones, constructive bacteria, additive manufacturing, and advanced computer modelling. At some point, a large-scale project to see how these methods work together will be in order.

Let’s just hope Page’s ideas for a beta-testing settlement doesn’t turn into a modern day Laputa!

And be sure to check out this video from the Venus Project, where Jacque Fresco explains his inspirations and ideas for a future settlement:


Sources:
1.
Elon Musk and Google Should Purchase and Transform a Bankrupt Detroit (http://www.policymic.com/)
2. Larry Page wants to ‘set aside a part of the world’ for unregulated experimentation (theverge.com)

3. Six Earth Cities That Will Provide Blueprints for Martian Settlements (io9.com)
4. The Venus Project (thevenusproject.org)
5. Arcosanti Website (arcosanti.org)
6. Terreform ONE website (terreform.org)