Our way of living has changed drastically over the last 20 years, and to ensure sustainability and relieve pressure on mobility, we’ll have to do a lot of things differently. We spoke to Flemish Government Architect Leo Van Broeck about the most trailblazing developments of today and tomorrow, and the role that organisations such as Bringme play in living 2.0.
Creating space instead of occupying it, that's Leo Van Broeck's creed, and to hear him tell it, we really need to get cracking. That is, if we want there to be something left for our children. On 1 September 2016, Leo Van Broeck was elected Flemish Government Architect (that institution has now existed for 20 years and every 4 to 5 years it offers a mandate to a Government Architect, along with a set team). Leo's function of Government Architect, combined with his background as managing director of an architecture firm and as university professor, make him the ideal person to discuss the most prominent evolutions in construction and living, for today and tomorrow.
How would you characterize the role of Government Architect?
The role entails two chief tasks. First, we support local administrations and municipal authorities, especially in smaller cities and villages, that support is more than welcome. We help them draw up programmes, from the functions of spaces up to drafting a project definition and helping them to find the right designer. Second, we support the authorities in establishing a vision on town and country planning.
Mobility and sustainability are cornerstones of your vision of the future. Where are we headed with living 2.0?
We need to aim for a society comprised of a selection of large and small cities, meaning that the extant cities and larger towns will densify. Alternatively, less land will be taken up and mobility pressure will be relieved. The current challenges of being in gridlock traffic to and from work will be a thing of the past. Within such dense cities, initiatives such as Bringme are a boon. With the internet economy soaring, so are the numbers of deliveries. If you can relieve that pressure by having online orders delivered to the Bringme Box in clusters, that's a big step forward. In addition to this, couriers can combine different deliveries and never end up in front of a closed door, they don't have to drive as much, lowering carbon emissions. We need to get rid of large, half-empty lorries driving through cities with only a few parcels to deliver, at the same time, I wonder about the low prices currently charged for delivery. When I consider how little it costs to ship a parcel here from Korea and how large the carbon footprint of that transport is... Also, an urban logistics storage centre could play an important supporting role: a place where all water-, rail-, and road-based transport converges and can be loaded onto small (electric?) vans, which then make their way into the city proper.
All of us must resolutely opt for a more sustainable society. The earth's ecosystem needs space to survive, and our vision is one of "Space for Humanity and for Nature". Today, humanity's needs trump those of nature, we have to change that. We literally need to make room for a new societal model which helps us to produce quality instead of just consuming. Everything starts with awareness: our daily choices (e.g. our shopping) have enormous consequences for the world around us. Services such as Bringme can contribute to the transition towards more sustainability, e.g. collective recycling by facilitating the collection of special waste fractions like batteries and low-energy light bulbs.
And how can cities boost their appeal?
A charm offensive! I have to say that many cities have already launched one. The city has become an event. Cities need to densify, but, at the same time, they need to be fun places to live. Less space requires creative solutions: we may shift from a standard garden to a roof garden. That's where urban convenience comes in: think about collective facilities such as swimming pools, a gym, urban farming and shared gardening. Co-housing is also on the up and up. We're going to share things and maintain our individuality, in that sense, the "co" isn't an obligation. No, it's a supportive service available in your neighbourhood. You don't have to take part, but you can. Privacy when you want it, interaction when you want it. Thanks to the sharing economy, investing in facilities together has suddenly become a lot more affordable. That also goes for a home delivery box that's always accessible and available to whoever needs it at that time. It unburdens people.
How can innovative living help us achieve those objectives?
We have to make room. First and foremost, that means we have to make additional open space instead of taking it away. In their urban home, people should be able to find everything they would want in a large detached home in the country. Furthermore,it should no longer be about giving things up. The innovative home is close to public transport, school, work, and we gain quality time because we're no longer stuck in traffic. We need to go back to the bare essence of living: in Belgium, over 70% of people don't live where their home is. I mean to say: they only sleep in their home. All other activities, such as work and going out, take place somewhere else. No, we should sleep, work, and live in a smaller radius around the same place.
What can Bringme do to help make urban living more attractive?
I can only applaud an initiative that makes urban living easier, in a way, it's a replacement concierge. It provides you with more facilities and possibilities in a collective housing project than you would have living alone. It seeks out those economies of scale and adds appeal to urban living, because the future will be urban, or there simply won't be one. People think that soon they won't be allowed to do all sorts of things anymore, actually, it's the other way around. Change is necessary in order to avoid our not being able to do certain things anymore in the future. That's what it's all about.
At Bringme, we feel that every building would profit from having its own logistics centre. How future-proof is that idea?
I take an even broader view. I feel that the complete logistics of living—including the technical logistics—should be a part of that. It should be standard practice that maintenance and repairs are taken out of residents' hands. Indeed, "unburdening" citizens can only be a good thing in our over-stressed society.