What will 2016 hold for green design and the environment? It’s a brand new year filled with boundless potential – and we’ve called upon some of the world’s most prominent designers, makers, movers, and shakers to help separate the signal from the noise. Hit the jump for 10 predictions for the coming year from luminaries in the fields of architecture, design, technology, transportation, and climate science.
It will be a hot year–for the planet, as El Niño lingers for the first months, and for the fossil fuel industry as the #ExxonKnew scandal continues to burgeon.
After realizing the scope of the climate problem in Paris, we’ll finally start having a serious public conversation about Nuclear power. Sadly we’ll continue to develop autonomous cars in the guise of the old cars they are replacing. This means the opportunity to truly reform transit through smaller, lighter, safer, more efficient vehicles will be lost forever. Dozens more awesome electric thingies like the xtracycle, onewheel, Boosted Board, and more will enter the market in droves and milennials will ignore traditional transit solutions in favor of small electric wunder-wheels and a shorter commute. It will occur to people that storage is really key, and we’ll find out that the TESLA wall is not nearly enough. There will be renewed interest in fly-wheels, thermal, and compressed air solutions, people will invest money, it’ll still take a while. Republicans will continue to suck on climate and energy issues. Democrats will continue to suck on their stance on nuclear power, and their incapacity to make laws at the local and state level that encourage the right kinds of behaviors. It will still be difficult to permit the correct building retrofits. More charlatans will pretend that they’ve solved cold fusion by calling it LENR. Steady progress will be made in wind, solar and electric vehicles by good profitable companies and innovative start-ups. Oh yeah, and VW will not do anything nearly satisfactory for the millions of people it screwed by lying about emissions.
Architecture for migration. This should be and, I believe, will be very important topic in 2016. The world needs architecture and design solutions that cover the entire process of migration. Starting with first camps, using movable and temporary architecture, then transitioning to semi-permanent camps and habitats with multiple layers and functions, and ending with housing, work and infrastructure solutions in destination countries. (I see great potential in the regeneration of unused building and areas.) Architects throughout the world should start to take this issue seriously, because spring is coming.
2016 will be a year to test and pilot new strategies for resilient urban infrastructure. As the climates change, our cities and their infrastructural systems must adapt to the challenges of the future – questions of sea level rise, increased precipitation, temperature change, urban development pressure, and social fragmentation and stratification. In New York City, post-Sandy planning efforts led at the federal and local levels are combining to create intelligent pathways toward a new urban ecology; 2016 will be the year to put these theories to the test and learn from the results. New landscape infrastructures are proposed throughout the city, from mitigation marshes and wetland banks to wave-attenuating oyster reefs – what is needed from all is collaboration and in-situ experimentation at all levels and scales to pilot solutions to tomorrow’s threats.
2016 will be an important year for Chevrolet when it comes to electrification. We expect production of the Bolt EV to begin before the end of the year. The Bolt EV is a game-changing vehicle not just for Chevrolet but for the entire industry in that it will be the first affordable, long range EV with more than 200 miles of range on a full charge, priced around $30,000 (net full Federal tax credits). This truly makes long-range electric vehicles an option for the most consumers, not just the chosen few. I believe the Bolt EV, along with the second-generation Volt, represent a true inflection point in the adoption of EV technology today and into the future.
I believe that in 2016 we will see investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy really start to take off. My sense is that companies got out of COP21 the credible signals they wanted, and that we’re approaching a tipping point in perceptions about climate change that will prove to be irreversible. Renewable energy investment will continue to grow exponentially in 2016, and despite continued resistance from some incumbents power and influence will shift toward advocates of both large scale renewables and distributed generation. New financing models and further cost reductions will make solar systems even more attractive, and – with favorable state and local policies – they will become the default choice for new home construction in many areas. Along with smart meters, intelligent (and more efficient) appliances, and efficient design this will drive buildings even closer toward net zero energy. Electric vehicles will also become more popular, and when integrated with the energy systems in their owner’s homes will help hasten the transition to a cleaner energy future.
The Paris climate agreement in December set the stage for what will need to be a sprint to shift from a global economy fueled by fossil energy to one powered by 100% renewables. Every country came to the table to make this historic agreement possible, but to keep global temperatures well below 2 degrees C, we’re going to need bold movements in every country demanding that we break free from fossil fuels and leave them underground. Keep an eye out for this fossil fuel resistance movement that is poised to change the political debate in the US and across the world.
We are on the cusp of a new movement, one where going slower in an automobile becomes a lifestyle choice for many people. And that changes everything—the car experience, ownership, what it means to drive, even the whole fume equation. A big reason we want to drive fast is to shorten the amount of time we are away from productivity or entertainment. But as autonomous cars become a mainstream reality surprisingly soon we’ll start to see a ‘slow traffic movement’ emerge that will alter both how we commute and how we design our roads and cities. Robotomobiles will be setup as office/living rooms on wheels where we can do a conference call or check in on our social networks. Then the extra 8 minutes of traveling at 45 MPH rather than 65 MPH will seem trivial. We won’t mind the slow lane as long as it comes with a high speed data connection. The result will be roads and driving conditions that are safer and more sustainable. ‘Texting while driving’ will be a non-issue with the added benefit of more survivable low speed crashes (if there are even still crashes). Both our cars, roads and charge will last longer along with reduced impact of going slower. Plus we can infill new fume free energy options like hydrogen fill up or battery swap with less resources by utilizing the ability of robots who can visit fewer & farther stations at 3 AM rather than the many stations needed to support human procrastination. Riders will share cars and either get out and let the car run off to their next chore or park themselves awaiting your next order. This will allow home & parking garages to become extra space re-purposed for recreation, shelter or productivity. The slow lane will be where you get ahead.
I believe 2016 will be the year of landscape architecture. Cities and their populations are growing and they will need smart strategies to design our narrowing public spaces. Well designed, green spaces are not just a main element of a city’s health and well-being, but also attract residence to an area and increase business for the surroundings. Landscape architects understand the benefits of nature and how to use it to make our cities better.
Not only will it be a good year for landscape architecture, but for landscapes as a whole. Nature is closer to art than our built environment and people will turn towards art, nature and beauty especially in times of increasing climatic changes and environmental pollution.