The NHS began its new Urban Health Collaborative speaker series on Oct. 17 with a speaker event in the Alumni House. Sean Quinn, an architect for design and engineering firm Hok, discussed the themes of urban development and increased efficiency.
Quinn began his speech by discussing how cities around the world threaten the environment. “Can design mitigate the health effects of urbanization and climate change?” he asked the audience.
Quinn drew on his architectural background to highlight environmentally-friendly approaches to urban design and planning. He emphasized strategically placing buildings in areas which receive a lot of sunlight and wind allows for cities to efficiently establish their own renewable energy sources.
But Quinn noted that the general public is sometimes hesitant to buy into new urban development initiatives, such as stormwater retention. “It’s difficult enough to get a developer to be concerned about storm water retention on their own sites. It’s a major investment that they have to foot the bill for upfront,” he said.
“There needs to be a very solid argument to why there is going to be a benefit to them in that.And that goes for cities as well.”
Quinn noted that urban development investment does not always eliminate problems in a city.“We’re not always trying to build a big infrastructure to deal with storm water because as you’ve seen in Houston recently, they had infrastructure for it. It all got overwhelmed,” he said.
Quinn also discussed the global problem of air pollution. “Beijing routinely has a PM [parts per million of particulates in the air] count of an excess of 200,” he said. “The World Health Organization classifies dangerous levels of PM rate over 50.”
“People fundamentally want to lead healthy lives but running in that kind of air. . . about a half hour jog is equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes. How do we begin to deal with that?”
Quinn also addressed the increasing demand for food in growing urban areas. Specifically, he mentioned that the expanding city of Hong Kong lacks a sustainable food supply.
To combat this, Hong Kong adopted the model of rooftop gardens. But this is not effective enough. “If you were to cover every single rooftop in Hong Kong with a farm like this, you would get to 4 percent of the food grown [ to support its population],” Quinn said.
As a solution, he proposed the idea of transforming sides of buildings into gardens increase production. “We need to grow vertically. Vertical farming is a concept that we’ve seen over the course of the past 25 years.”
Ideas such as these plus more eco-friendly building design plans, are visions Quinn hopes will materialize in the future of urban planning in Hong Kong and elsewhere.
“Looking at new principles by which we can better utilize existing natural green space, while still incorporating a lot of the principles that developers that are extraordinarily profit minded in Hong Kong are focused on,” he said.
“Over time, we can begin to create more systematic methods that begin to distribute… resources across and even beginning to institute that on some projects,” he said.
For students interested in urban planning, Quinn suggests an interdisciplinary approach. “You have more opportunities now to study multiple things. Become an expert in one, but try and source out a route and do something else,” he said. “If you want to tackle large scale issues, challenges, or solutions in the world, you fundamentally need to do it from a multi-prong approach.”