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We cannot avoid the expansion of cities, but we can design the way cities impact nature.



Being responsible for the environment is in fashion, and if you want to be responsible, there is a premium to pay in your new house. While this tradeoff works for high-end construction, most new developments are devoted to social housing, and the most important aspect of our new cities is being neglected because it is not seen as economical or necessary beyond what the law requires.

The COVID-19 crisis showed the cracks in our systems. We discovered what happens when a development of 1,000 houses that were meant to commute every day to work stayed at home instead. We saw what happens when you don’t have enough parks and instead relied on malls that now had to close. We saw how broken our food supply network is, and how the creation of dependent suburbs force people to drive or commute just to buy a carton of milk.

Nature-Centered Cities coverThe purpose of the Nature-centered Cities framework is to increase awareness and communicate that taking care of our environment is not only an ethical choice, but it is also an economical choice that we have to make for our cities and our future, and that beyond a premium, it is a requirement for human life. The framework is composed of a series of steps derived from analyzing existing and proposed developments that can be scaled to a wide range of scopes, from individual buildings in already existing cities to new city-scale suburb developments. It proposes a holistic way of working that can be adapted to individual practices and new territorial settings.

Main question to be answered
How can we design Nature-centered cities that minimize the impact of human life on the environment and promote a connection with nature?
Key steps within the framework
How can we gain a deep understanding of the terrain and hydrology in a potential new city?
How can we contextualize the site of a potential new city with the existing cities around it?
How can we map the potential growth of this new city?
That result in actions for:
From recycling to the treatment of water, cities need to provide closed circles for their needs and byproducts. Each city should become a hub onto itself, and not a burden to an overextended system.
Some systems cannot be closed-cycles, but they can allow for independence of the cities they form. This issue regards the accessibility of services and needs of citizens, in the spirit of creating a city that contains everything you need without commuting for long distances.
Cities need to be independent but also need to be connected with each other. This includes the integration with public transport, information, and services.
Connection with nature
Nature is not just making parks, but rather, making sure nature is a part of every aspect of our lives, from the way the streets are made, to the way wildlife is managed. Of course, it is also about making parks, the right parks, and making sure they are available to everyone.

The resulting framework will be shared open-source, not only as a tool to follow but as an ever-evolving way of working that will be shaped by the individual experiences of all the people that apply it. The framework will be developed by researching a number of key cases that were developed in the architecture and landscape industry in Mexico. The framework will try to find answers to the research questions by researching the work of these experts, and through it, find a way to communicate it in an actionable manner to other people in the industry. An important addition to this pool of expert practitioners is that due to the authors experience as a student in TU Delft, he is also able to approach and add a number of experts from research from mobility, urbanism, and human-centered design that will help to further expand this tool into a universally applied method.

The framework aims to turn itself into an embedded tool in the practice of urbanism for new cities, as well as becoming an easy-to-understand method that can guide the creation of new policies towards creating truly sustainable cities. 

Who will take these actions?

Creation of the framework
Framework author: The author of this proposal is an industrial designer with experience in the use and development of design methodologies applied to design and architecture.
Practice experts: A cohort of experts in the field of design, architecture, urbanism, and landscape, mostly based in Mexico, will form the body of the case analysis for the framework with an estimated 10-15 cases to be analyzed. Experts from practice have been approached to form part of this group based on a pre-selection of cases.
Research experts: Based in the TU Delft, they will serve as both co-authors and research fellows. They will make sure that the theoretical side of innovation is present in the framework.

Citizen and citizen groups: A key part of the framework, as their result will directly affect the way they live. They will be approached in the form of workshops that have the objective to mold and understand their expectations and needs.
Industry: They form the gatekeeper of the framework to be fully applied, and they must be shown the value of it in the form of workshops in which their points of view will be integrated into the proposal.
Appointed city officials and government representatives: As the industry stakeholders, they form an important part of the acceptance process of the framework, as well as the possibility of integrating parts of it into relevant laws.

What are the projected costs?

Costs associated with the development of the framework:
Workshops with stakeholders and experts: $500-$1,000 per event (10 events estimated)

Costs associated with the publishing of the framework:
Design and maintenance of the online sharing platform: $1,000-$2,000 per year
Design of toolkits and printed material: $500-$1,000 per unit (5 estimated)
On-demand printing of framework and toolkits: $0

Total projected costs: $12,750 (USD)

Not included in the projected costs are the man-hours devoted to the research of the framework by experts and partners, as it is intended to be a semi-voluntary work that will be compensated by the sale of specific tools and workshops based on the framework and taught by the experts to interested parties. For the research fellows, the research might also count towards their expected publication rate at their host university. The author is expecting to devote 15-20 hours a week during the duration of the framework development, approximately 1,000 hours.

The biggest monetary cost in the development of the framework is expressed in the way of workshops with stakeholders. These events have a cost associated with the use of space and necessary materials. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, these events could be shifted to a virtual setting, reducing cost but potentially leaving out stakeholders that do not have the ways to be connected in this manner. If this road is taken, this problem should be fully taken into account and the workshop plan is made in a way that includes every relevant stakeholder.


2021 - Phase 1
March to August - Secondary research & case data gathering
September to December - Main work on the framework and workshops with experts and stakeholders
2022 - Phase 2
January to February - Finish final editing and publication of framework and platform
March to August - Presentation of results during the 2022 design and architecture fair/conference cycle

About the author(s)

Rodrigo Flores is a Mexican industrial designer researcher who graduated from CEDIM, one of the most relevant design universities in Mexico, where he later studied a Master in Business Innovation. As a professional, he has worked in a range of industries: from consumer products to engineering. Starting in 2017, he worked as a Project Leader at landscape architecture firm Ecotono Urbano in Monterrey, Mexico, a place in which he acquired a fascination for the way cities mold the lives of people and how the lives of people mold back the cities. In 2019, he emigrated to the Netherlands to pursue an MSc in Strategic Product Design at the Delft University of Technology, from which he will graduate this year with a thesis project researching the future of telemedicine in the post-COVID-19 world.

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