Poor urban design and architecture kills more people each year than terrorism. In just two weeks in Europe, for example, up to 35,000 deaths resulted from the ‘urban heat island eect’ (which means cities are several degrees hotter than their surroundings).1 More people reportedly died in one day from heat-related causes than died in the ‘9/11’ attack on the World Trade Center. e design of urban development both externalizes and conceals negative impacts. e rich tapestry of urban life, however stimulating, masks a resource transfer process that:
• Harms human and environmental health • Destroys our means of survival (the life support system) • Reduces secure access to food and water • Reduces public space and natural amenity • Chains us to the fossil fuel economy • Transfers wealth from the many to the few • Generates conict over land and resources • Cuts o basic life choices for future generations
ese negative impacts are not inevitable. Many adverse eects are not a necessary consequence of physical development, or even of economic growth per se. ey are a function of ‘dumb design’, to borrow Sim van der Ryn’s term.2 It is not people themselves, but the systems that they design that create excessive waste, ugliness and poisons. From a biological perspective, humans do not produce any more waste or pollution than other animals: about six tons of poo in an average lifetime (which microbes could happily recycle for us). erefore, on the physical plane at least, sustainability is a design problem. e good news is that since most negative impacts are caused by physical and institutional design, they can be reversed by design. However, few appreciate that the ‘built environment’ (cities, buildings, landscapes, products) could generate healthy ecological conditions, increase the life-support services, reverse the impacts of current systems of development and improve life quality for everyone [Box 15]. is requires design based on positive thinking, not competition.