City Environments around the Globe: Past Challenges, Future Visions

Workshop Report (15–16 December 2018, New York University, NY)

The new collaboration between Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU Munich) and New York University (NYU) focuses on understanding urban environments over time, and aims to explore urban issues and challenges via a comparative, transnational, and global framework.

ParticipantsChristof Mausch and Talitta Reitz, Rachel Carson Center/Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich; Sophia Kolantzakos, NYU-Abu Dhabi; and Mary Killilea and Anne Rademacher, NYU-New York.

By Mary Killilea

The day started with an introduction by Anne Rademacher (see her PowerPoint presentation below) on the Killilea–Rademacher collaboration, the NYU Urban Greening Lab. After the presentation, we discussed the potential outcomes of the City Environments around the Globe collaboration.

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We worked on the plans for another workshop to be held in Munich in 2019 (in addition to the February 2019 gathering in Abu Dhabi). All agreed that it would be highly beneficial if these workshops produced a variety of outcomes; there is interest in both scholarly and course materials, as well as the creation of a virtual exhibition. We specifically discussed creating curricula that would bring different disciplines together, and which could compare urban ecologies in New York, Munich, and Abu Dhabi.

For the second half of the morning we were joined by Simone Müller (RCC, Hazardous Travels project) via Skype from Munich. We talked about water as being a theme that could link the focal cities, noting that all cities require a way of providing water to their populations and dealing with wastewater. We also discussed water as one of the mediums through which cities connect to surrounding biophysical and social environments. In trying to think through comparisons between Abu Dhabi, Munich, and New York, the following points were made:

  • In the late nineteenth century, glacial waterpower in Munich was referred to as white coal. This provides an interesting intersection between New York City’s energy supply, still largely hydroelectric, and Abu Dhabi’s, which utilizes cogeneration (electricity) with desalination.
  • In general, water allows thinking across connections; boundaries are often porous and currents flow in and out of cities.
  • Debates were highlighted around bottled versus tap water, alongside other issues of water supply and demand.
  • Questions arose of how to use open water sources to deal with sewage from cities and how water is a conduit of urban waste.

In the afternoon, the group was joined by Kristen Day, Associate Dean for Academic Administration at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, and Cecil Scheib, Assistant Vice President of Sustainability from NYU. We noted the importance of including infrastructure in discussions on water (e.g. Do leaky pipes provide water for urban street trees? What about impervious versus pervious surfaces in cities?). We also discussed how questions of water supply can influence land ownership in and around the city. Kris and Cecil shared with us contact information for particular projects at NYU that might be points of interest and collaboration.

Following Kris and Cecil’s visits, Mary Killilea gave a presentation about the history of Abu Dhabi as a city, focusing particularly on the ways in which the coastal area has been augmented over the past decades. We agreed that a visit to the Corniche would be an interesting component for the Abu Dhabi workshop in February 2019. Mary also described the unusual dynamics of Abu Dhabi’s coastal mangrove forests, and there was a general consensus that, if possible, we would also try to visit that area during the Abu Dhabi workshop. Mary’s collaborator at NYU-Abu Dhabi, the biologist and ecologist John Burt, was mentioned as someone to invite to join us for some of our Abu Dhabi deliberations.

A lesser known part of Abu Dhabi – its costal mangroves. Photo: we_like_it via flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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