The EUKN interview with Maycon Sedrez from the Institute for Sustainable Urbanism

Ivana Vujic

The EUKN conducted an interview with Maycon Sedrez focusing on sustainable urban development in Europe, the linkages between urban researchers and urban policy-makers, and the role local/regional/national governments play in tackling the challenges of sustainable urbanism.

Maycon Sedrez
Dr. in Architecture and Urban Design
Assistant Professor at the Institute for Sustainable Urbanism

Maycon Sedrez holds a Bachelor degree in Architecture and Urban Design from the University of Blumenau (2002), a Master degree in Architecture and Urban Design from the University of Santa Catarina (2009) and a PhD degree in Architecture, Technology and the City from the University of Campinas (2016), all in Brazil. He worked as architect and planner for the University of Blumenau and as an architect in his own practice (Estúdio M2) until 2012. His research interests are architecture, urban desgin & complexity and new technologies for the design process.

 

EUKN    What motivated you to become an expert in the field of architecture and urban design and finally to join the ISU team?

M.S.      Before I started my training as architect and urban designer, my main motivation was to understand how to design spaces with a special quality... I was amazed by how the scale of public spaces could vary and create different feelings, and its close relation to architecture as well. I must say that my naïf comprehension of the architect as an artist quickly shifted during academia for a technological view. Later, after having completed my graduation and worked for some years, I started to develop studies on architecture, urban design and complexity for my PhD research. In fact, I had been researching the relation between architecture and fractal geometry since before my graduation.

I recognized on COBE Berlin’s design for the city of Dakar an unintentional fractal scaling underlying concept. COBE Berlin is led by Prof. Dr. Vanessa Miriam Carlow and she is the head of the Institute for Sustainable Urbanism (ISU). I implemented their design thinking on a parametric design tool (Grasshopper) as part of my PhD research. The computational urbanism is an emergent field of design, aiming the automation of the design process, and those ideas brought me to the Institute for Sustainable Urbanism (www.sustainableurbanism.de) at TU Braunschweig.

 

EUKN    Sustainable urbanism is a complex topic representing one of the biggest challenges of today’s cities. What are the main dimensions of sustainable urbanism according to the ISU?

M.S.      ISU is partly think-tank, partly design laboratory, and is committed to promoting research and scholarship on sustainable urbanism in an international and interdisciplinary setting together with partners in Africa, Asia, South America, USA, and all over Europe. ISU seeks to explore, co-design, engineer and promote all strata of sustainable development. Looking at challenges in contemporary urbanism, our team collaboratively seeks to identify stable and new emerging phenomena in urban development, and to find methods to explain and work with such phenomena. Prof. Dr. Carlow published two books that reflect the vision of the Institute: “Limits: space as resource”, which understands space as a non-renewable source, analysing two spatially restricted cities in Europe (London and Berlin); “Ruralism: the future of villages and small towns in an urbanizing world” compiles papers submitted for ISU Talks 3 from international experts in rural spaces.

One of the approaches we use in our activities is based on three design elements: 5 Minutes City, City for All and Blue-Green Network. Prof. Dr. Carlow adopts this theory in her practice, COBE Berlin, and in teaching and researching activities at the TU Braunschweig. The 5 Minutes City is the connectivity element, citizens should reach most of the facilities in a 5 minutes range (around 500 meters), for instance, bus stops, groceries stores, school and so on, creating lively neighbourhoods. The City for All element provides access for every citizen to basic services, so there is no distinction for the city infrastructure accessibility. The public spaces need to be well distributed avoiding under- or over-privileged zones. And finally the Blue-Green Network aims to recognise the need of nature (water, plants and consequently wild-life) in our daily life and our cities. The idea of nature integrated to cities is being discussed since the Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities, and got a new impulse with the Ecological Movements from the 1980s and 1990s. The combination of these three elements can generate healthier and more sustainable cities.

 

EUKN    What are the common trends you observe in the different ISU projects and research activities?

M.S.      Certainly the sustainability aspects are always prioritized on ISU teaching and researching activities. On our urban design studios we apply the design elements I described before and special approaches according to the sites specificity. We understand urban design as a powerful tool to create complex structures and sustainable spaces. Last semester we did a design studio in São Paulo (Brazil) working on an industrial site close to the old city centre. The urban transformation of the big industrial lots guided the projects which integrated transportation modes, provided accessibility, rethought the connection with the river and, of course, explored the need of high densities for a mega-city. Next semester we are studying a central site in the city of Magdeburg which offers a transition between green and industry. The idea is to develop a strong urban format to integrate living, work and nature. For all our teaching activities the students need to design spaces adequate for people and consider the city's sustainability, resilience, and infrastructure.

On our research projects we like to work with complexity combining technological approaches, for instance, “Eye-tracking - iSCOR”, “Data Mining and Data Mapping” or the use of advanced GIS tools and algorithms. We are participating in two substantial interdisciplinary research projects: the Data4UrbanMobility, supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), is researching how to combine multiple data sources to understand and shape sustainable mobility in our cities; and the METAPOLIS – an inter and transdisciplinary platform for sustainable development of urban-rural relations in Lower Saxony, a project supported by the program Science for Sustainable Development of the Niedersäschsisches Vorab by the VolkswagenStiftung and the Ministry for Science and Culture of Lower Saxony (MWK) is researching the rural-urban linkages in Lower Saxony defining new settlement types. These projects are contributing to a better understanding of future cities. For more information on our current research projects such as OPEN CITY (funded by the Robert Bosch Foundation), RELEEZE (funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research) and other activities such as the development of a joint research hub in Singapore on Industrial Symbiosis and Urban Manufacturing (funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research) feel free to check our website sustainableurbanism.de

 

EUKN    Given that sustainable urbanism calls for highly cooperative inter- and transdisciplinary approaches: What role can local/regional/national governments play in tackling the challenges of sustainable urbanism? Do you know of any successful practices and do you think the Urban Agenda for the EU can be a leading example?

M.S.      ISU is successfully working together with municipalities in the Lower Saxony region, participating in the project METAPOLIS, an inter- and transdisciplinary research project to analyse the settlement patterns in Lower Saxony. The collaborative and cooperative research is a challenging task, in fact these methods (inter- and transdisciplinary) in urban design/planning are recent (since the 1990s) and therefore not completely described. In the METAPOLIS project several municipalities are actively participating in a discussions about the urbanisation development of rural-urban areas. We aim the creation of a platform to help politicians to make better decisions about the cities network in Lower Saxony. Here, local municipalities are providing valuable information to support our research and transdisciplinary methods are essential to capture the ideas from ‘non-academics’. It is an advantage for them to have instruments to guide political or administrative decisions and at the same time understanding they form a network of cities. ISU is actively promoting collaborations with local governments by its projects.

 

EUKN    Do you think that the topic of sustainable urbanism is being addressed properly by the policy makers in the EU? If not, what aspects are most problematic? And if so, can you give a few good examples?

M.S.      The EU needs to be aware of the very special quality of European cities and its complex network, which goes beyond geopolitical boundaries. The transfer of scientific and academic knowledge to practical implementations is one aspect the EU could address. On the other hand, the EU urban agenda is broad and seeks to approach challenges within defined priorities.

One good thing I noticed since I moved to Europe is the discussion on certain qualities of cities, such as Coastal Cities, Cities on Borders, Rural-Urban, Transitioning Cities and so on. This is a good way to isolate a problem and learn by comparisons of different realities. At the same time other discussions are tackling problems related to every city in Europe or the world, for instance smart cities, urban growth, mobility or climate change. These levels of discussion organised by several disciplines are necessary to deal with sustainable urbanism in a constructive way.

 

EUKN    Out of the 4 themes (Space as Resource, City in Society, Impossible Sites, and Urban-Rural Relations) ISU is teaching and doing research/projects in, what topic/project would be most related to the Future Cities concept, the theme of the ISU talks 2017?

M.S.      The four themes relate to Future Cities in some aspect. For example, the crescent demand to accommodate more people in European cities, is an opportunity for urban designers to think about space as a resource, and consider impossible sites which can be developed or else designed to densify. Moreover, architects can use this opportunity to design new living typologies. ISU Talks 5 Future Cities wants to discuss how digital technologies are transforming our society. Therefore the transformation, optimisation and upgrade of the city infrastructure are important issues to be discussed. But beyond that, what is the impact on life quality? How to incorporate these innovations to develop sustainable designs?

Prof. Dr. Carlow and Prof. Dr. Boris Schröder-Esselbach (Institute of Geoecology) are co-speakers of the research field ‘Future City’ of the TU Braunschweig. ‘Future City’ brings together the scientists with shared research visions in our university to talk, collaborate and encourage more interdisciplinary projects related to future cities. The ‘Future City’ initiative coordinates research projects to cope with challenges for the topics: convertible city, digital city, healthy city, sustainable city, mobility and safe city.

 

EUKN   For Michael Batty, future cities are not simply places in space but systems of networks and glows. What do future cities represent to you?

M.S.      Because of my research on complexity, and inspired by professor Batty work, I understand cities as complex systems. These systems can be self-organised and small interference may cause big effects (see the butterfly effect theory created by Lorenz in the 1970s). Thus cities are an opportunity to explore how technology implementations affect the system in terms of citizens’ comfort, mobility, connectivity and so on. I am in favour of the automation of processes, routines, and applications; I believe future cities can lead the research on technological innovation.

A second thought is that Future Cities will be designed differently. The daily activities in the cities are in transformation and demand new design processes from urban designers. For example, the connectivity with virtual and augmented realities needs to be studied by urban designers in multi-, cross-, interdisciplinary teams. On the regional level our cities will thrive by making connections. The physical and virtual network between cities will be strengthened.

It is ambitious to make predictions, although Antoine Picon properly explains some directions in his book Smart Cities. So ISU Talks 5 is looking first to technological aspects (which are pushing forward the idea of smart cities). We want to discuss what the implications for the design process are. How do these interfaces create better spaces or better city experiences?

 

EUKN    The University of Utrecht’s Urban Futures Studio is currently investigating the Urban Agenda for the EU from an experimental governance point of view. What role do you see for research in reaching out to policy-makers and influencing political agendas, how can the local political level be involved and which methods can be used to keep them involved in initiating projects as those at ISU?

M.S.      There is a gap between academia and the implementation of state of the art approaches on the administrative level. At ISU we are seeking to connect our research on sustainable urbanism with the decision makers, administrations and public as well as with private stakeholders. We are constantly seeking, developing and establishing new tools and initiatives to bridge this gap. This goes into both directions: in our research projects as well as in teaching we are eager to learn from and identify pressing issues from transdisciplinary stakeholders whilst trying to jointly develop ideas, visions and hands-on answers to tackle these challenges and develop sustainable spaces for all. It is important to keep an open dialogue with political actors, decision makers and administrators. ISU effectively communicates and cooperates with the public administration when proposing an urban design studio in a city. Recently we had an exhibition in Leipzig presenting the last semester students’ projects for the city. We invite the municipalities’ experts for our events, lectures and other activities in which we can actively discuss cities challenges. An approach we are developing in the METAPOLIS research is forum meetings. In these meetings we work with transdisciplinary methods to promote the debate (we are currently working on a scientific paper to explain these methods). Our space for discussion in the METAPOLIS project is local/regional, and ISU Talks reaches an international level every year. We believe in this open cooperation to connect our expertise of ISU and our interdisciplinary scientific partners with the 'real world' – which is in our understanding of sustainability research.

 

EUKN     What are the main elements of the current urban policy in Europe that need to be changed in order to promote sustainable urbanism?

M.S.      More research is fundamental to support cities to move towards sustainable attitudes. It is a long democratic process with numerous actors and stakeholders, and it is up to science to help policy makers to achieve better solutions and consider different decisions. The support from citizens is relevant as well, discussing problems and challenges will definitely create more resilient solutions. I believe setting priorities in terms of climate change is a necessary starting point. Our time to recover our planet is running low. This sustainable shift has already started, but needs innovations and postures from small daily actions like recycling to education and improved regulations, to name a few.

 

EUKN     Which advice would you give to cities who want to develop a successful sustainable urbanism? What are the main mistakes to be avoided? 

M.S.      Well, I commented already several ideas on how to achieve sustainable cities, so here are a few extra suggestions:

  • Consult urban designers and planners.
  • Talk to your community to find solutions, problems, priorities and new initiatives. Therefore, implement mechanisms to listen to the citizens.
  • Try the impossible: cities have always been the engine of innovation. Academia together with all stakeholders have the potential to work on a joint vison of sustainable living.
  • Forget your city political borders. Your city is part of a global network, collaborate with your neighbours.
  • Join ISU Talks 5 Future Cities in Braunschweig, November 14th.

 

 Maycon Sedrez thanks the colleague Olaf Mumm for the valuable inputs.

 

ISU Talks
The ISU Talks is an annual series of conferences to discuss emerging and relevant issues regarding contemporary urban development. Previous editions have explored the topics housing, mobile cities, ruralism (which is also published as a book) and Urban Africa. The conference combines scientific research with  daily practices, inviting academics, practitioners and society to engage in a conversation about specific topics. The ISU Talks connect the presentation of research papers or posters in open conversations with expert speakers and invited moderators. Every year the ISU team gathers to discuss current topics for the conference, being a reflection of ISU's research and teaching goals.

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