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Clean tech is here, now we need people power

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Credit: Mimi Phan / Nalidsa / Shutterstock

The MIT in its Ideas Made to Matter informs that per climate experts, cleantech is here, now we need people power to implement what is available, i.e. all smart technology, etc.

Climate experts: Clean tech is here, now we need people power

by Kara Baskin

 Oct 19, 2021

Why It Matters

Bold climate policy is key to decarbonizing electricity, say climate activist Bill McKibben and others. Here’s how companies and individuals can help.

It’s a race against time: To combat the climate crisis, decarbonizing electricity is essential — but how? What will it take to clean up the power grid quickly and effectively?

As U.S. legislators continued to debate the Build Back Better infrastructure plan, which aims to make electricity carbon-free by 2035, climate change leaders convened on Sept. 30 to discuss solutions at the EmTech MIT conference hosted by MIT Technology Review.

The panel, “Cleaning up the Power Sector,” was moderated by Julian Brave NoiseCat, vice president of policy and strategy at Data for Progress, a think tank.

Scientists believe that achieving net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050 is crucial.

“This is what physicists tell us is necessary to prevent — not global warming; it’s too late for that — but global warming at a scale that will cut civilization off at the knees,” said longtime climate activist and author Bill McKibben, a distinguished scholar in environmental studies at Middlebury College.

Clean electricity is a solution, panelists said.

“Seventy-five percent of our carbon problem right now can be solved through clean electricity and electrification,” said Leah Stokes, co-host of the “Matter of Degrees” podcast and an associate professor at the University of California Santa Barbara. “We can use clean electricity to power our homes, our cars, even about half of heavy industry.”

“It’s pretty much a miracle that we’re now at a place where the cheapest way to produce power on planet Earth is to point a sheet of glass at the sun,” McKibben agreed.

We’re now at a place where the cheapest way to produce power on planet Earth is to point a sheet of glass at the sun.

Bill McKibben, Co-founder, 350.org

Yet despite the rise of solar and wind power and the transition away from coal-fired power and natural gas, we’re not moving fast enough.

“Thanks to policy investments over the last decade, we have a toolset available of mature technologies that [are] cheap and ready to scale, including wind and solar power,” said Jesse Jenkins, a macro-scale energy systems engineer and assistant professor at Princeton University. “But we need to be smashing records for the deployment of these energy technologies every year for the rest of our lives.”

How to hit that goal? Panelists identified a way forward — one built on technology and policy and powered by human resolve.

The willpower to divest fully …

Solar and wind power have become cost-effective for a reason: advocacy. Panelists noted that the cost of wind has dropped by approximately two-thirds and the cost of solar power and lithium-ion batteries has fallen as well over the past decade.

“That’s not an accident. That was due to public policy — and that public policy was due to pressure from activists and from advocates, and from public interest groups,” said Jenkins.

That advocacy and involvement will have to scale up massively to reach the 2050 goal, particularly in regards to phasing out the use of fossil fuels.

“Even with [clean] technology available, the hardest thing that humans have ever done, acting with enormous unity, is at every turn [to] keep trying to break the vested interest of the fossil fuel industry and utilities,” McKibben said.

We have to stop using fossil fuels, and we have to stop building any new fossil fuel infrastructure of any variety.

Leah Stokes, Associate professor, UC Santa Barbara

This requires sustained grassroots efforts, such as the anti-fossil-fuel organization 350.org, which McKibben cofounded in 2008.

McKibben cited in particular “the young people around the world rallying around figures like Greta Thunberg,” and said it’s time for high-profile groups to follow suit and publicly renounce fossil fuels — including institutes of higher learning.

“The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is looking a little naked in this regard. Its neighbor Harvard, and its neighbor across the bridge Boston University, have now divested. … It’s time for MIT to pay attention to the physics department and stop trying to profit off climate change, too,” McKibben said.

Stokes called for a “paradigm shift” away from the idea that efficiency can sufficiently mitigate the effects of burning fossil fuels.

“For a long time, we thought if you get a Prius, that’s good enough. If you get a high-efficiency gas furnace, that’s good enough. And what we know now is that it’s not good enough,” Stokes said. “We have to stop using fossil fuels, and we have to stop building any new fossil fuel infrastructure of any variety.”

… and to build furiously

Achieving net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050 is about more than stopping fossil fuels; it requires formidable innovation — and infrastructure — to replace it.

On the technology side, that includes the development of improved hydrogen production, ways to produce steel without emissions, and negative-emissions technologies such as bioenergy, Jenkins said.  

On the policy side, advocates and policymakers need the fortitude to commit not just to fossil fuel divestiture, but to building new infrastructure.

It’s all too easy for well-intentioned people to say ‘no’ to [a] project without understanding that we have to say ‘yes’ to something, somewhere.

Jesse Jenkins, Assistant professor, Princeton University

“We have to shift this whole country into a mode of infrastructure-building that we haven’t seen in my life,” said Jenkins, who said the U.S. is living off of the fruits of the 20th-century investments in highways, cities, and power systems “that really petered out in the 1970s.”

“That has to fundamentally change if we’re going to build a net-zero emissions economy,” Jenkins said, which requires building wind and solar at more than twice the average pace over the next decade and doubling (or tripling) the total amount of transmission capacity in the country to support electrification over the next 30 years.

“It’s a challenge for environmental activists and others who are organizing. We’re very good at stopping things. Now we have to figure out how to accelerate and support the growth of substantial amounts of infrastructure,” Jenkins said.

New projects of this enormity require stakeholder buy-in on a regional scale.

“If we just go project by project, and we leave it to a private company to navigate where the wind project goes or where the transmission line goes, it’s all too easy for them to fumble that,” Jenkins said. “And it’s all too easy for well-intentioned people to say ‘no’ to that project without understanding that we have to say ‘yes’ to something, somewhere.”

Stokes said, “We need businesses right now to be calling up their congressmen, calling up their senators and saying, ‘We want you to actually do this. We want you to act on climate change and act on investing in American families.’”

Policy is key

Stokes visualizes progress along what she calls a “narwhal curve” to track clean energy deployment.

“We need to be getting upward of four or five percentage points if we want to get to 100 percent clean electricity by 2035, which is what President Biden campaigned on and won on and is trying to legislate on currently,” she said.

McKibben called Biden’s agenda the “first serious climate legislation” to arrive on the Hill.

A key component, currently held up by opposition from West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, is the Clean Electricity Performance Program, a proposed government incentive for utilities to receive grants if they deploy clean power at the necessary pace and scale, without a burden on consumers.

“That’s really important because it means that everyday customers who are paying their electricity bills are not going to carry the costs of this transition — the federal government is going to help make electricity bills cheaper while doing this clean energy deployment,” Stokes said.

On the flip side, utilities that don’t move quickly enough would pay a penalty. “It’s not about making bad, dirty stuff more expensive — it’s about making cheap, good, clean stuff cheaper,” Stokes said.

“If you look at the bill in Congress right now, it is our best opportunity to dramatically accelerate that feedback cycle  … by primarily investing in the growth of clean energy technologies and driving and accelerating trends that really are already underway,” Jenkins said.

These include investing in electric vehicles, including rebates and tax credits for consumers, as well as investment in electric vehicle manufacturing and carbon capture technologies.

The legislative process is fraught, due to the deeply held sway of the fossil fuel industry — “one of the most powerful and wealthy industries in the history of humanity,” NoiseCat said.

But change is still possible, even in the face of political headwinds, McKibben said, noting that 70% of Americans want action on climate. “We’ve shifted the zeitgeist,” he said.

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Space Architects Will Help Us Live and Work Among the Stars

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How Stuff work produced this illuminating article on how Space Architects Will Help Us Live and Work Among the Stars cannot go noticed. Hence it is republishing here.

Above is this rendering showing another view of Team SEArch+/Apis Cor’s Mars habitat. The unique shape allows for continuous reinforcement of the structure and allows light to enter through trough-shaped ports on the sides and top. TEAM SEARCH+/APIS COR/NASA

Space Architects Will Help Us Live and Work Among the Stars

By: John Donovan  |  Oct 11, 2021

This 2020 concept of a moon village created by XTENDdesign is located on the rim of Shackleton crater on the lunar south pole. The Moon Village Association (MVA) is a nongovernmental organization (NGO) whose goal is to create a permanent global forum for stakeholders interested in the development of the Moon Village. NASA

If you’re of the Elon Musk mindset and think that humans, to survive, will have to become a multiplanetary species, we’re going to need a place to live and work. Out there. In space. On other planets.

We’re going to need somebody — a lot of somebodies, really — to build us houses and apartment buildings and offices and space Walmarts and modes of transportation to haul us between all those places. Heck, we’re going to have to build a lot of places to do everything we do here on our rapidly decaying home planet.00:17/01:43

We’ll need architects. A lot of them. We’ll need a different type of architect, to be sure, for our ventures into space. We’ll need … space architects.

Luckily, that’s already a thing.

The Idea Behind Space Architecture

Olga Bannova doesn’t carry a business card that reads “Space Architect,” though she admits that would be pretty awesome. Instead, Bannova’s title (or one of them) is director of the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) — it’s been a thing since the late 1980s — in the University of Houston’s Cullen College of Engineering. SICSA is home to the world’s only space architecture graduate program. A diploma nets you a Master of Science in Space Architecture.

It’s not a huge program yet, churning out only a few graduates every year. It is, like much of the whole idea of multiplanetary expansion, an emerging field.

But for those who believe that our very existence relies on someday moving to a different galactic neighborhood, space architecture has us covered. It is, in a very real way, simply the latest exploratory mission away from Mother Earth.

“You can’t stay in your house forever and think that somehow everything else will be the same … everything is changing, including our Earth, including us, including the solar system, including the galaxy. It’s all changing and moving,” Bannova says. “That’s why it’s important. It’s mostly about understanding more about ourselves.”

Team SEArch+/Apis Cor won first place in the Phase 3: Level 4 software modeling stage of NASA’s 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge for deep space exploration.TEAM SEARCH+/APIS COR/NASA

What Is Space Architecture, Really?

Space architecture, really, is just what it sounds like. Bannova heads an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) committee, the Space Architecture Technical Committee (SATC) that concentrates specifically on the field. The SATC, on the site spacearchitect.org — if it has an internet site, you know it’s a thing — describes it like this:Space Architecture is the theory and practice of designing and building inhabited environments in outer space (it encompasses architectural design of living and working environments in space related facilities, habitats, and vehicles). These environments include, but are not limited to: space vehicles, stations, habitats and lunar, planetary bases and infrastructures; and earth based control, experiment, launch, logistics, payload, simulation and test facilities.

Space architects, then, are charged with designing buildings and houses and offices and a whole bunch of other stuff that humans need to survive — those interstellar Walmarts, perhaps — both here and in space plus devising ways to get between them. All this, not for nothing, while dealing with problems that Earthbound architects don’t even dream about. Don’t need to dream about. Maybe can’t dream about.

Say, for example, a lack of oxygen or atmosphere. Weather patterns that make our current climate-change problems look like a calm day at a sunny beach. A lack of sunlight. Too much sunlight. Microgravity.

A lack of material to build what you need. Or no way to ship material that you need to where you need it. Or no way to get it there in a timely way, considering the vast distances between points in space.

It’s not hard to imagine the problems that space architects will face, now and in the future. It’s not hard to imagine, either that we can’t even begin to imagine some of the challenges they’ll be up against.

Carving out a space in space for our species to continue is a huge undertaking, perhaps the most audacious ever for mankind. It must be what the possibility of flying to the moon — of human flight at all — must have felt like to Galileo.

But, yeah, we knocked those out, didn’t we?

Team AI. SpaceFactory of New York also participated in NASA’s 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge, and won second place for its space factory habitat on Mars.AI SPACEFACTORY/NASA

The Challenges Ahead

Identifying the multitude of challenges in our move into space, thinking them through, and realizing that so many have yet to be recognized is a sizable part of what space architects now, and space architects in the future, must do. The field cries out for critical thinkers who have an understanding (if not necessarily a doctorate-level degree) in a multitude of specialties; not only architecture and its different branches, but the different areas in engineering (industrial, aerospace, systems and aeronautical, to name a few), physics, geometry, mathematics, logistics, computer science, human biology and many more.

In meta terms, architecture embraces both art and science. It addresses how we build, how we live, in the space we inhabit. You don’t build a library without figuring out how we move about it, where the books go, where the light comes in.

If our living space is to become outer space — a habitable space that humans have been learning about, up close, for at least 20 years — well, we better start cracking the books.

What’s a habitat on Mars to look like? How do winds there affect what you build? What about gravity? How do you construct a farm, if one can be built, with the radiation of another planetary body beaming down? How do we build living quarters on a ship that may take decades to get where it’s going? How can we make sure that a flying habitat flies?

What can we learn by building these habitats on some of the less-hospitable areas of Earth? How can what we learn help us while we’re still here?

You want to be a space architect? Get yourself a planet-sized toolbox.

“Space architecture is not for the technically timid. To play this game, one needs to educate oneself about the harsh realities of life beyond Earth, and the science and technology for fashioning habitable bubbles in deadly environments,” Theodore Hall, a former chairperson of the SATC and an extended reality software developer at the University of Michigan, said back in 2014. “Only then is one prepared to stand toe-to-toe with the engineers and strive for architectural aesthetics that treat the human as more than a deterministic biochemical subsystem of a soulless machine.”

Those still interested in space architecture — and, again, we’re going to need a lot of forward-thinkers to sign up — shouldn’t be intimidated, though. Plenty of problems are there to be faced, certainly, and it will take all kinds to determine how our species can best live away from home.

But we have cellphones now that are more powerful than the computers that sent men to the moon. We’ve been on the International Space Station for 20 years and counting. We’re exploring Mars and other deep-space outposts at this very moment.

Problems in finding a new home among the stars? Space architects are on the job.

“It’s impossible to predict everything, in space especially. It’s hard to design some close-to-perfect habitat even on Earth,” says Bannova, who carries an undergraduate degree from the Moscow Architectural Institute, dual masters degrees (in architecture and space architecture, both from UH) and a doctorate from Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology. “We have more questions than answers. It’s the nature of the profession. But it gives you an opportunity to see and decide for yourself where your passion is.”

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From Dubai to Southland: a Striking NZ architectural mesh

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A New Zealand Stuff article elaborates on how from Dubai to Southland this striking NZ architectural mesh on Invercargill CBD rebuild is getting the attention it deserves. But what is all the fuss about?

The above image is for illustration and is of Stuff.co.nz.

Dubai to Southland: Striking NZ architectural mesh on Invercargill CBD rebuild

SUPPLIED The colourful facade which will go on the Invercargill Central is made in Wellington. The same company has produced a similar product for Expo 2020 Dubai. [Artist impression of Invercargill project]

Tens of millions of people will walk underneath a striking Kiwi-made canopy at Expo 2020 Dubai, and the same product will adorn the Invercargill city centre redevelopment.

Petone company Kaynemaile​ make a polycarbonate architectural mesh, which has been used in a 12,000-square metre canopy at the Middle Eastern expo, which is a six-month world fair, involving 192 countries.

The same mesh product will cut a similarly striking figure when it is wrapped around the car park of the redeveloped Invercargill CBD.

About a tenth of the size of its Dubai cousin, the Invercargill facade will feature 1200sqm of the polycarbonate mesh, which will be lit with programmable lighting.

Invercargill Central project director Geoff Cotton said it would wave in the wind, as a moving piece of art.

The mesh would screen the development car park, face Tay St, and Cotton said it would go up towards the end of winter 2022.

SUPPLIED Petone firm Kaynemaile made the canopy at Expo 2020 Dubai from polycarbonate architectural mesh.

Kaynemaile’s chief executive officer Kayne Horsham​ designed chainmail costumes to be used in Lord of the Rings, which inspired the architectural mesh.

All their products are made in Wellington. The mesh in Dubai forms a canopy to the entrance of the expo, which is expected to host 25 million visitors over its six-month duration.

The expo was delayed a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic but kept the 2020 moniker, and began on October 1.

READ MORE:
Lord of the Rings chainmail inspires Dubai Expo canopy
Southland welcomes Level 3 in with coffee and catch up on CBD block development
Invercargill CBD block rebuild boss hopes lost time can be made up

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UAE seeks to reach net-zero emissions by 2050

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The UAE seeks to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 with a $163B plan. It is one of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region since its founding that wants to effectively attract investments through diversification of its economy.
The country is one of the biggest oil exporters in the world. It announced an ambitious plan to achieve zero carbon emissions that would see the Gulf nation spending $163 billion on renewable energy. The plan to be completed by 2050, puts this country at the top of the MENA region in terms of concrete climate commitment.

The above image is for illustration and is of Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan as seen during the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates January 13, 2020. WAM/Handout via REUTERS

UAE seeks to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 with $163B plan

BY REUTERS

This file photo dated July 8, 2020, shows hydropanels, produced by Zero Mass Water Inc., at the planned site of the IBV drinking water plant in Lehbab, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, using technology to extract moisture from the atmosphere using energy from the sun. (Christopher Pike/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The United Arab Emirates on Thursday announced a plan for net-zero emissions by 2050, and would oversee 600 billion dirhams ($163 billion) in investment in renewable energy.

This makes it the first country in the Middle East and North Africa region to launch a concrete initiative to achieve that climate commitment.

The Gulf state has launched several measures over the past year – coinciding with 50 years since the country’s founding – to attract investment and foreigners to help the economy recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The economic initiatives also come amid a growing economic rivalry with Gulf neighbour Saudi Arabia to be the region’s trade and business hub. read moreReport ad

“We are committed to seize the opportunity to cement our leadership on climate change within our region and take this key economic opportunity to drive development, growth and new jobs as we pivot our economy and nation to net zero,” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai.

The UAE, an OPEC member, has in the past 15 years invested $40 billion in clean energy, the government said. Its first nuclear power plant, Barakah, has been connected to the national grid and the UAE aims to produce 14 GW of clean energy by 2030, up from about 100 MW in 2015, it said. read more

No further details on the 600 billion dirhams of investment were given.

The UAE will use the path to net zero as a way to create economic value, increase industrial competitiveness and enhance investment, said Sultan Al Jaber, minister of industry and advanced technology and special envoy for climate change.Report ad

The UAE is bidding to host the COP28 global climate talks in 2023.

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Why The Gaza Strip May Be The City Of The Future

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Gaza is a landscape of extreme economic deprivation born of the region’s complicated political dynamics – but one whose contours may soon become more common. So why may The Gaza Strip be The City of The Future? Let us see what World (c) 2021 and Zach Mortice, Bloomberg tell us.

The above image is of Bloomberg‘s.

In many ways, the political and physical conditions of the Gaza Strip are unique.

Why The Gaza Strip May Be The City Of The Future

When Americans turned on the TV or glanced at their smartphones for news of the deadly clashes that engulfed the Gaza Strip in May – or if they followed the more recent spasm of violence in August that threatened to break the region’s fragile truce – many saw scenes that looked familiar: streets flooded with protesters, engaged in a struggle against highly armed security forces on the streets of a battered-looking city.

In many ways, the political and physical conditions of the Gaza Strip are unique: Nearly 2 million people are packed into a 25-mile-long rectangle of land along the Mediterranean roughly the size of Philadelphia. For decades, the territory has been home to Palestinians displaced by the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, and subject to Israeli occupation since the 1967 Six-Day War. But since 2007, after the political wing of the Islamist group Hamas was elected to power, Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade. In response, Hamas militants have attacked Israel with suicide bombers and missile attacks, and the two sides have settled into a gruesome rhythm of low levels of violence punctuated by intense conflagrations. In May’s fighting, as many as 260 Palestinians were killed; in Israel, 12 people were killed. 
Gaza is a landscape of extreme economic deprivation born of the region’s complicated political dynamics – but one whose contours may soon become more common. 

That’s the premise behind the recently released book Open Gaza: Architectures of Hope, published by imprint. Edited by, an urban geographer who focuses on the Middle East, and essayist, theorist, activist, and provocateur Michael Sorkin, the book presents a vision of Gaza as a glimpse of an imminent future, where violence, surveillance, resource scarcity and provisional use of an extremely compromised built environment are visited on all. 

Sharp sees connections, for example, between the unrest in Gaza and the racial justice demonstrations in U.S. cities after the murder of George Floyd in 2020: In both, the key issue is who has a right to the city – the right to claim contested urban space. “The Black Lives Matter protests and that broader movement and recognition of the types of oppression that are going on [in Gaza] is something that’s been made visible,” he says. 

The Gaza Strip, the book’s promotional copy declares, is “one of the most beleaguered environments on earth.” But the territory and its urban center, Gaza City, is appallingly understudied in terms of architecture and urbanism. That makes it a fitting swan song for Sorkin, who died last year of Covid-19. “Michael wanted to go where others wouldn’t dare,” says Sharp.

Featuring contributions from scholars, urbanists and architects from the occupied Palestinian territories, Israel, India, the U.S. and the U.K., the book’s essays explore the extant condition of Gaza and its wider socio-political context, and offer speculative designs aimed at wresting back sovereignty and dignity for its residents. It posits that the ad-hoc, low-carbon design techniques that Gazans have developed look ahead to a planet failing to meet the challenges of a climate cataclysm, a global pandemic, and growing inequality. As brittle regimes are wracked by crises, mass migrations harden borders, and infrastructure buckles, Open Gaza suggest that the rest of the world may start to look more and more like Gaza.

Or has already. Anyone who’s searched for clean water in Flint or has seen their home destroyed in wildfires or floods might understand what who contributed to the book, means when she says, “The Palestinianization of cities is happening worldwide. It’s happening by destruction and erasure, but also with dramatic climate change.” 

Eco-Adaptation by Necessity

Open Gaza isn’t content to just praise the ingenuity and resourcefulness of Gazan and allied urbanists and architects; nor is the book interested in depicting Gaza purely as a dystopian prison. “You could call [these visions] utopian, but I think these are alternative possibilities,” says Sharp. “They’re not fantasies.” Instead, the collection serves as a “demand that [Gazans] be able to live and shape their urban context and infrastructure, and social lives in ways that are dignified and respectful of their humanity,” he says.

The book presents Gaza’s architectural condition – extant and speculative – as defined by its power imbalance with Israel. This asymmetry means Open Gaza is free of the antiseptic techno-solutionism that often populates architecture tomes. Such documents often claim that low-carbon buildings, made from nothing more than the trees and dirt on their plot of earth, will exist in an atmosphere of happy consumers sipping lattes poured by robots, munching on locally sourced avocado BLTs. Open Gaza tells us this scenario might be a fairy tale. The book’s prescriptions operate with found conditions and severe local constraints on materials; it suggests that your first shower warmed by solar power might happen in between air-raid sirens.

This reality is why buzzwords like “sustainability” or “resilience” don’t mean anything to the average Gazan, says Palestinian architect Salem Al Qudwa, who writes about the territory’s quotidian, everyday buildings. , recycling brick may be a way to save carbon and bestow new buildings with the patina of age. But in Gaza, there is no choice. 

Al Qudwa has developed “incremental housing” templates, he says, that begin by setting foundations and structural columns, and letting Gazans fill in the gaps, creating a low-cost lattice for expandable housing units that feature shaded courtyards and roof decks. Homes often lack electricity, so cross-breezes are essential. Made from local materials, they offer climate-attunement Al Qudwa says non-local NGOs intent on building often miss. “My people need decent shelter,” he says. “A good house with proper insulation, with natural light, etc.”

There is no nostalgia for vernacular buildings or ways of living, says Sharif, but these practices are critical. “Gaza is looking at environmental practices out of necessity,” she says. “The only way forward is [through] traditional ways of living because there is no alternative.”

Rafi Segal and Chris Mackey’s “Solar Dome” – whose name riffs on  – makes the convincing case that there are few places better suited to an entirely solar grid. Gazans uses less than 2% of the average American’s energy footprint, and Gaza’s sunny climate further reduces the need for expensive energy storage. And the concept of “energy independence” takes on new meaning when citizens acquire utilities from . As such, Segal and Mackey recommend a system of building-scaled photovoltaic panels augmented with solar water heaters, and a district-scaled system of concentrated solar power towers.

Similarly, a chapter by Denise Hoffman Brandt unveils a plan for pavilions that collect fresh rainwater and use sunlight to desalinate groundwater, and floating ocean desalination pods made from trash.

Sharif’s “Learning Room” plan, detailed in her chapter of Open Gaza written with Nasser Golzari, addresses the imposed mutability of Gaza’s built environment. A system of modular, mobile shelters made from, rammed earth, wire mesh, bamboo, and more, it’s a migrating community center for exchanging skills, made from rubble itself. “The idea of the was not to see it as a permanent structure that is going to shape the identity of the city,” says Sharif. “It was an experimental space [you] can keep modifying and changing. It’s not a new urban structure. It’s more of a lab to allow new structures to happen.” In this way, the Learning Room underscores the difficulty of long-term planning in Gaza.

It also distills the tactical flexibility Gazans must demonstrate to keep themselves housed. Western architects have made it a polemic to use only materials close at hand – to design their buildings as a bird builds a nest. Architect Jeanne Gang , but it’s unlikely Gazans need such a reminder. 

The most visceral and imaginative collision of low-carbon aspiration with apocalyptic utility arrives in Helga Tawil-Souri’s chapter on the IPN: “The Internet Pigeon Network.” To surmount Israeli restrictions on electricity and bandwidth, the NYU media scholar proposes a decentralized network of pigeon roosts, trainers, and pick-up nodes. This avian internet would fly pigeons with flash disks tied to their necks from point to point, offering a faster and more secure way to share information. Reliant on local knowledge and labor, it’s another way of Gaza asserting infrastructural independence.

A Different Kind of Smart City

But it’s not as though the built environment of Gaza is untouched by technology. In some ways, the digital network that monitors the city and its residents represents a variation on the data-intensive “smart city” concept – another way Gaza looks ahead to the future.

Since 2014, Gaza’s reconstruction has been managed through an online database called the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM). , the GRM records all the building material that flows in through its border, along with what it’s to be used for and who will receive it. The mechanism, designed to ensure that resources aren’t being used for military purposes by Hamas, was agreed upon by Israel and Palestine, and was meant to be temporary. But Franceco Sebregondi of says it puts Israel in an “ultimate supervisory role”: His chapter in Open Gaza, called “Frontier Urbanization,” details how the GRM gives Israeli authorities a granular picture of Gaza’s built condition, and the ability to delay Gaza’s rebuilding.

Such omniscience is increasingly a goal of the design and building industry, where there’s a push to translate plans into data and ensure that what’s built closely aligns with digital models, to more efficiently manage construction and operational performance. But that’s not the only way it could be used. How much of this information, for example, might a refugee resettlement nonprofit at the U.S.-Mexico border want to share with immigration authorities? While the GRM is relatively primitive, its broad usage across Gaza still creates a map of its reconstruction that exists nowhere else.

For, who earned a PhD on the architecture of the Gaza blockade from Goldsmiths, University of London, this intrusion reveals that the problem of the smart city is not technical. It’s political. As with sunny visions of our eco-friendly future, design and urbanism themselves have no inherent autonomy to resist political agendas, and their calls for ease, efficiency, and low-impact living make ready Trojan Horses for power. “Who will be in charge of accessing certain data?,” says Sebregondi. “What levels of transparency and access [are] granted by using this infrastructure? I don’t think that the technologies behind smart urbanism cannot be re-engineered toward serving another idea of collective urban environments. But the ones that are currently marketed and very light-heartedly deployed across our cities tend to pursue the opposite.” This, he says, is a “dark horizon we need to avoid and fight against.”

The complex intimacy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has turned the region into something of a proving ground for purpose-built surveillance technology that could be plugged into a future smart city. Indeed, Israeli companies are selling cybersecurity technology all over the world, including the U.S., where it’s used in a new training center .

Sebregondi sees Gaza as further along a continuum of ricocheting colonial violence: As states become more fragile and defensive and climate change adds layers of stress, inequalities skyrocket and people divide into camps. Where these two groups are anywhere near each other, the market for surveillance and control technology booms. Debates over the on the streets of U.S. cities and the rise of privacy-eroding public safety technology have collapsed the distance between Palestine and Pittsburgh.

“There is an extent to which Palestine becomes a sort of crystal [ball] of this particular future, within a very compacted and dense territory, [featuring] some of the most striking aspects of this splintering urbanism,” says Sebregondi. He describes the “boomerang effect of colonization,” where techniques to wield control over restive populations in distant countries eventually come home, as with the NSA’s experiments using the. 

It’s a cycle that’s eradicated distance, says Sharp, pulling Gazans and the rest of the world closer together, and bringing the front lines, already at their doorstep, into ours.

“These circulations of violence and containment,” he says, “come back to haunt us all.”

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