November 13, 2013 By Paul W. Taylor
Reducing reliance on fossil fuel, extracting value from public assets and widening the public conversation about our shared future emerged as the three key themes of a day-long discussion in San Francisco at the FutureStructure Summit on Transportation and the Built Environment.
FutureStructure is an initiative of e.Republic, the parent company of Governing and Government Technology, that takes an interdisciplinary, multijurisdictional approach to building communities as great places to live, work and raise a family.
e.Republic CEO Dennis McKenna emphasized the role of human capital and big audacious ideas – or “soft infrastructure” in the vernacular of FutureStructure – as the key to making great places at human scale. We need communities with sustainable infrastructure, education and opportunities for the people who live there. It is not enough to just talk about infrastructure the way we always have, or the Internet of Everything in isolation. The path to the future requires combining concrete, steel, glass and silicon with big ideas by what McKenna calls “engineers of place.”
Dr. Stephanie Pincetl, director of the California Center for Sustainable Communities at the UCLA Institute of the Environment, picked up on the theme by calling for a new multidisciplinary breed of local public servants who are tied to place and collaborate with neighbors organically in places they all care about.
For Pincetl, the use of organic is more than an analogy (but it is a powerful one at that). The UCLA professor says "urban metabolism" is an important way of thinking about cities as system of systems. Consider water. Communities need to recognize that there is no virgin water. Pincetl concedes that waste water may never become potable but certainly can be used more widely by “purple piping” irrigation, a reference to the U.S. protocol of distributing reclaimed water in purple pipes to distinguish from potable and waste water.