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New Year’s Day in Portland: 2030


Editor’s Note: As a lead-up to Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, Jan. 17-24, Masdar sponsored a blogging contest called “Describe the Ideal City in 2030.”  The following post was a runner-up.

By Ozzie Gonzalez

Julio, my compadre from Minas Gerias, Brazil, is being dropped on the roof of my vertical farm habitat by a DroneCab.

Although he was the best man at my virtual wedding last month, Julio and I have never met in person. Last night during our telepathic Skype session, he impulsively booked a seat on the Mach-5 Skylon from Brazil to my home in Portland, Oregon, 6,800 miles away. (Of course he complained about the boring 2-hour flight to get here.)

Julio is justifiably proud that, way back in 2014, his state of Minas Gerais created an international model of regional planning. Its bold concepts for sustainable housing, transportation and resource management inspired the transformation of other regions around the world.

But when Julio arrives it will be my turn to show off. Like so many international communities in recent years, my city has an impressive sustainability story to tell.

For instance, take my sleep tank. The saltwater “mattress” in that tank is the only water my 400-square-foot apartment requires other than the water I drink, which is gathered from a rooftop catchment system.

I “shower” and do laundry with reusable, super-absorbent nylon polymer beads that absorb dirt and stains using a virtually water-free process. As these bead washers replace traditional washing machines, each year in the U.S. alone we’ll save 10 million swimming pools worth of water and a carbon imprint equivalent of 5 million cars.

We’ve also seen a revolutionary shift in how cities use – and don’t use - water for sanitation. Water-free anaerobic decomposition toilets treat their own waste, eliminating the need for old-school centralized sewage treatment infrastructures and underground piping networks.

It’s part of a new era of collaborative, rather than predatory, relationships with our fellow life forms. “Sentinel” plants and animals signal “early warning” of air or water pollution. "Smart microorganisms" contribute water treatment and nutrient recycling (and the glow they emit makes our rooftop parties the coolest on the block.)

With everyone teleworking nowadays, many former high-rise office buildings like mine have found new life as vertical urban farms and habitats. Ever since solar and wind energy achieved grid-parity cost equivalence with fossil fuels back in 2014, we’re seeing countless new renewable energy applications. They include the solar- and wind-powered pumps that pull a continuous flow of recycled water to our building’s roof, where it then travels to nourish each floor’s different crops through gravity flow. Nowadays the “farm” in “farm to table” is often just a floor away. (The fresh pineapple on 7 is to die for.)

But in 2030, environmental responsibility has come to mean much more than dazzling technology. Cities everywhere are celebrating economic and ethical emancipation from high energy costs, endless environmental cleanups and cruel competitions for limited resources.

I recall a 2005 high school reading assignment, "Guns, Germs and Steel" by Jared Diamond. It’s a fascinating but depressing read -- a review of how through history new technologies were habitually used as weapons to suppress, conquer and even exterminate vulnerable victims.

But in 2030 I believe humanity has finally, truly, thankfully turned the corner. As I reflect on the things I just wrote in this 2030 Masdar Engage Blogging Contest – about this quality of life I cherish – it strikes me how far technology, environmental responsibility and indeed humanity have come in the last few years.

As I rush off to greet Julio, “Happy New Year” seems a wish somewhat inadequate. Given the optimism I feel right now, it feels more like…

…Happy New Life.

Image credit: Flickr/Ian Sane

3p Contributor

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