housing is a key challenge in many cities and one of the concerns addressed in
Sustainable Development Goal 11. Especially in low-income environments, it is
often hard to find housing that is both stable and affordable. However, there
might be a solution: 3D printing is now at a level where entire houses can be
printed within a few days with costs as low as 5,000 USD per house. Could this
be a solution for housing inequality?
How do you print a house?
In California’s Coachella Valley, the first 3D-printed neighborhood of the country is set to be printed soon. A real estate group and a construction technology company have come together to offer affordable housing to middle-class people who normally could not afford to buy a home. But with 3D printing, up to 80% of the construction can be automated, reducing labor hours by up to 95% percent.
Massive 3D printers are in use all over the world. At the size of a small garage, they are able to print entire houses, using layering technology. A specific cement and adhesives mix results in material that hardens almost immediately but can also be molded into countless shapes such as a roof or an overhang for a house. The technology creates up to 10 times less waste than conventional construction, resulting in 50 percent less CO2 emissions.
In as little as 24 hours, entire houses can be constructed. They are not only cheap and sustainable but also very resistant, meaning they withstand even extreme climatic conditions and hazards such as earthquakes. Since the urban poor are often particularly affected by environmental risks, a robust and affordable 3D printed house could be an ideal solution.
3D printing in practice –
still stuck in the printer queue?
Countries such as Russia, China, and Mexico are already experimenting with printing affordable 3D houses that can be offered to poorer communities and to the homeless. In Mexico’s state Tabasco, a 3D printed community funded by an NGO and two construction companies has allowed 50 families that earn less than 3 USD a day to move into 3D printed houses that are earthquake-proof. Each house offers two bedrooms, a living room, and a bathroom, significantly improving space and security for families.
But can 3D printing really be a larger-scale solution for the housing crisis that countless cities are experiencing? Social housing is affordable housing, meaning that it costs a third of a family’s income or less. Cheap houses such as those coming from a printer can indeed meet the affordability challenge. The question is who provides them. For now, private housing developers and non-profit organizations are interested in using the technology. There is little to no interest from governments, resulting in a lack of funds.
Even if these challenges can be overcome soon, there remains another worry: Affordable houses alone cannot tackle housing inequality. Liveable, attractive cities that can make sure that “no one is left behind” are something that cannot be printed or fabricated. Good public spaces, sustainable mobility, short routes, safety for women and children, and equal employment opportunities are crucial elements for better urban living.
This means that we will need a holistic approach which could consist of integrating 3D printing of social housing into other efforts to improve our cities. Local authorities, municipal governments, non-profit organizations, and for-profit companies need to work together in order to provide affordable, sustainable, and equal housing solutions, supporting not just houses but also entire neighborhoods.
Handing the printers over
to local communities
A potential approach for integrating 3D printing into upgrading entire neighborhoods is Fab Labs. These urban laboratories became popular in 2011 by a project in Barcelona that focused on fabrication cities. Urban making is at the core of this idea, challenging cities to fabricate everything they produce themselves. All over the world, Fab Labs are popping up. They invite local makers to learn how to use 3D printers and many other fabrication technologies. A focus lies on communities: Fab Labs are open spaces that often offer community-driven workshops that go beyond technological issues – for example in Mexico City.
Participatory processes shape the planning in Fab Labs. New employment is created, and funded equipment is available to anyone. Ideally, this places the manufacturing of 3D houses in the hands of local communities eventually. The idea that locals know best how to upgrade their neighborhoods is powerful. While some external guidance can be helpful, 3D printing templates can indeed lead to a shift in affordable housing, making better cities a reality.
Hand in hand with community education, uncomplicated permission processes, plans for entire urban environments, and sufficient funding can lead to a much better quality of life in many cities. While 3D printed houses are currently still something new and adventurous, Fab Lab initiatives can help to bring their many opportunities to life.
Cities will increasingly play an important and
strategic role in the next few years. It is not surprising, indeed, that,
thanks in part to regional and urban policies for the allocation of funds by
the European Union, strong urban sovereignty, unconnected with national
sovereignty, is developing. During the initial phase of the Covid-19 pandemic,
the urban scenario was perhaps the one in which citizens were forced, more than
elsewhere, to change their lifestyles because of the lock-down, but there’s the
belief that some of those restrictions and rules imposed by the government were
an excellent test, on the one hand for the transition to more sustainable urban
systems and on the other hand for local governments to pay more attention to
serious, already existing problems such as poverty and lack of access to food.
This short and informal contribution aims to analyze and propose, with an eye
to the City of Turin, how cities have responded, and could in the future
respond, to all those food problems that the Coronavirus has contributed to worsening.
The FAO has recently published a report defining the
role of cities in addressing the Covid-19 emergency.
The most relevant measures include mapping the most vulnerable communities and
their access to nutritious food, monitoring unfair competition practices in
food sales and the importance of reopening even smaller food stores (not just
supermarkets). This report has been very useful in drafting this article.
food insecurity and distribution
In June 2020, Coldiretti reported that Covid has
created one million more poor people in Italy,
including those who have lost their jobs, shopkeepers and artisans forced to
close down, workers in the black economy, but also that 39% of Italians are
involved in solidarity initiatives through donations, food packs and the
farmers’ initiative “Spesa Sospesa”. As pointed out some days later
in a Webinar by
however, it would be wrong to define this as a new crisis, because in reality,
it was ‘only’ the worsening of an already existing one. The city of Turin has
responded to this problem through a strong mobilization of volunteers who have
undertaken voluntary activities and also thanks to experts in the sector such
as Toldo herself and Professor Egidio Dansero who have kept the debate and
research in the sector alive thanks to the Atlante del Cibo initiative. The
examples given are explanatory of the fact that for the moment the problem has
been addressed mainly by volunteers and not at an administrative level by the
city council. What is here suggested to the administration of the Metropolitan
City of Turin is to collaborate closely with these social realities.
The first step could be to map the crucial areas of
the city where requests are more concentrated. It would be necessary to set up
hubs for food (re)distribution, maybe near the local markets and allow, therefore,
the occupation of civic gardens by volunteers not only during working days but
also during weekends and during summer. Especially in neighborhoods mainly
inhabited by foreigners, an “InfoPoint” could be placed next to the
distribution banks, to allow those who have certain food needs, due to their
religious beliefs, for example, at least to express preferences and to the
volunteers to collect important data for the subsequent distributions and for
making specific requests to donors.
The collaboration between Eco dalle Città, Food Pride
and Atlante del Cibo led to the creation of a map of all
the different food-providing entities in Turin dealing with food surpluses,
charitable canteens and food banks, Despite this, the problem of the lack of
coordination between these entities has resulted in a partial inefficiency.
in urban mobility and the praise for slowness
The Italian Government launched the initiative of the Green Mobility Vouchers for buying bikes or other electric vehicles just for personal mobility. We have to be aware that this initiative can change the rhythm of (Italian) cities and grocery shopping too. The rise of smart working – that should be balanced with normal working in order not to spend too much time at home and maintain physical contact with society, and a transition to greener mobility will both create slower urban systems. Citizens can profit from this precious slowness to make more responsible shopping, such as going to a farmer’s market instead of the supermarket. Local administrations should care about favoring those subjects of the food chain that have suffered more than others from the lockdown, namely the farmers. With regards to the Lancet Report and the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (2015), to build sustainable diets and to respect the Right to Food for all means recognizing the need for healthier and seasonal products. Thanks to this potential greener mobility, Municipalities should push citizens to give more importance to the social function of public markets and local producers. To have more time for food shopping and to buy more fresh products means sustaining local economies and small farmers, eating consciously and preventing waste.
This leads to believe that building green cities and
guaranteeing sustainable food should also be among the objectives of urban
planners when drawing up the city’s urban development plan. And in this context,
the precise objectives set by the SDGs can act as a catalyst. A “city of urban
markets and food as a common” favors public transport or bicycle/foot transport
of citizens and therefore expands the limited traffic zones (LTZs) and
pedestrian islands accordingly.
Access by cars to central or high traffic areas (such
as a market square in the early morning hours) should be guaranteed for
logistical purposes only and not to such an extent as to discourage the
transition to the so-called cycle-logistic.
and the proposal for a Local Authority for the protection of the right to food
As already mentioned above, the right to food has only been addressed by social actors and volunteers. Cities need to create spaces for dialogue where these different actors can communicate not only with the administration but also with private parties involved in food distribution and prevention of food loss to build a comprehensive and common food policy. The metropolitan city of Milan, aware of these urgent issues and in addition to its international commitments for urban development strategies has drafted its own Milan Food Policy.
Another interesting project is Piana del Cibo, born in the plain of Lucca, Tuscany from a coordinated initiative of some local municipalities. The initiative provided for the establishment of different platforms for dialogue but not only between public-private and administrative social partners. It has created a real panel of experts on the one hand (the Food Council) and also the Mayors Assembly for the drafting of the inter-municipal food plan. Although it is a different context, the City of Turin can take inspiration from this initiative. Actually, the idea of creating a Food Council and a Food Commission in the Savoy city had already been taken into consideration a few years ago and recently retracted by the City Councilor. However, Turin must take advantage of this moment of partial stalemate to make the project a concrete reality.
role of municipalities in building food education
According to the Ministerial Decree of 10
March 2020, which entered into force last
July, Italy has updated some of the so-called Minimum Environmental Criteria
(CAM in Italian) for public procurement in the collective catering sector,
which dated back to 2011. As this area also involves school canteens, it is
vital that once the CAM is implemented, children in schools in Turin become
aware of the reasons for the changes in their school meals. In fact, it is
necessary to follow the path of Milan, whose municipality, in concert with
schools and farms, is promoting partnerships between these actors.
Another possible action in this area could
involve not only schools but also universities and public buildings, as well as
hospitals. CAM also applies to packaged products contained in vending machines,
which are often low in nutrients and rich in calories. For example, vending machines
providing fresh fruit, delivery platforms, office water containers, etc. could
be used to reduce the consumption of sweetened and carbonated drinks and
pre-packaged food. Another important innovation is for example that in kindergartens,
primary and secondary schools it will be necessary to use washable tableware
and glasses instead of single-use ones and that at least 50% by weight of
fruit, vegetables and legumes will have to be organically grown.
The intervention of Alessia Toldo to the webinar “Covid and food system” clarified that certain emergencies should be addressed with a generous degree of practicality, even if at the expense of their formality. It must be said that the cases mentioned in this article only underline the close correlation between law and politics and that the former must be supported by strong popular convictions to work. Where certain activities do not fall directly within the administrative duties, for whatever reason – if only for the fear of slowing them furtherly – it is at least desirable that the PAs can recognize, support and provide spaces for dialogue to the most active citizens. This approach is by no means new in the Turin context where, thanks to the presence of eminent scholars such as Stefano Rodotà and Ugo Mattei, the city has recently adopted a Regulation for Urban Commons. The latter formalizes the “pact of collaboration” as an administrative instrument of public-public partnership so that citizens are the first subjects that take care of the place where they live, sometimes through EU-funded projects. The hope is that this “cure” may one day extend to food, but especially to individuals who have problems related to it.
 Urban food systems and COVID-19: The role of cities
and local governments in responding to the emergency, 09 April 2020
 Milan is in fact the leader of
the international Milan Food Policy Act “an international pact signed by 210 cities” and it’s a party of the
C40 organization for climate change in urban areas and of ICLEI organization
for sustainable development at the urban level.
Urban planning adapts to the needs of its times from industrial revolution to modernity; we have aimed to enhance development at an accelerated rate. We wanted more and bigger cities developed for cars and the ultimate technology. Facing the consequences of climate change, we now feel the urgency to understand our relationship with the materials and resources that make our societies work, which means slowing down our processes and building an innovative and conscious connection with the environment. But how can we continue an accelerated rate of living sustainably?
To transform growth dynamics at a medium-term, the European Commission implemented the European Green Deal as part of a plan to make the EU’s economy sustainable “by turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities and making the transition just and inclusive for all. “(European Commission) The deal puts growth as a priority; the idea is for this new growth strategy to “give back more than it takes away.”
One of the Green Deal’s action plans is to “boost the efficient use of resources by moving to a clean, circular economy,”(European Commission) an action plan that primarily targets cities as regions that are both the producers of environmental footprints and spaces with the potential to develop a global sustainable development. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, cities play a leading role in implementing a Green New deal as today account for about 75% of the world’s CO2 emissions.
The Green New Deal has decided to bet for implementing a circular economy as it seems to be a responsible way forward to relate to our consumption and production habits, especially in cities. In a joint effort to reduce CO2 emissions, theorists, civil societies, NGOs, governments, and supra governmental institutions started adopting more circular measures.
Even if circularity is not a new term, it has popped up more and more in recent years. It forms part of a group of concepts such as resiliency, sustainability, and climate change that can transform the way we think about nature and resources as much as they can become buzzwords. Circularity refers to a transformation in how our societies relate to materials; the aim is to generate a cycle or value chain that prevents waste.
From self-destructive to self-sustaining
According to Francesca Zannotto, any production process and decision made brings waste as a consequence, “waste is a basic, unavoidable part of the metabolism of reality” (Zanotto,2020). Human needs at the pace our societies have reached consume a high volume of resources and produce lots of waste. As Zanotto describes, we face the contradiction of having waste at the center. Our everyday life consumption and domestic presence erode resources and leave debris.
Moving to a clean circular economy would mean to think clearly of the physical dimension of waste and resources while at the same time influence behaviors that foster circular practices. The Green New Deal plans to tackle the contradictions of waste vs. human existence by focusing on the circular economy, creating a synergy in which governance meets design and, most notably, urban design. The deal would bring changes not only to infrastructure but also to practice, but is this enough?
The circular economy action plan includes investment in environmentally-friendly technologies, supporting industry innovation, implementing cleaner, safer and healthier forms of transportation, decarbonizing energy, ensuring buildings are more energy-efficient and improving global environmental standards with international partners.
By principle, a circular economy aims to close loops, extend the life cycle of objects, and implement business models for circular and climate-neutral consumption. However, all this can be supported by creating thriving, resilient communities through new sharing, co-owning & managing cities’ resources. The transition to clean energies involves normative in creating products and their life-long cycles and people and their everyday life consumptions and practices.
The supranational focus on circular economies would validate efforts from civil society and governments to implement circular practices. However, as stated above, it remains primarily a task for cities and municipalities to think and implement circular practices. For instance, the Green City Accord is a policy initiative derived from the European Green Deal to fund the implementation of techniques for clean and healthy cities for Europe, with a €1.8 trillion package to put regions and cities at the core for a green, digital and resilient recovery.
The European Union’s efforts in a complex topic such as reducing carbon footprint have their caveats. There has been a proposal to think beyond the so-called technocratic approach to thinking of a Circular Society, not only a Circular Economy, meaning that the transformational change emphasizes the social perspective, addresses the long-needed systemic transformation, and reshapes the balance between techno-, eco-, and sociosphere. (Calisto, F. M, 2020) This approach thinks of a systemic change that implements self-sustaining dynamics to reach a mid-term scale transformative cycle.
Contemporary challenges have proven the importance of rethinking the growth pace that our societies have developed in recent years, especially in cities. To achieve that, efforts like Europe’s Green Deal propose a platform for design to meet policy, this might translate in an efficient way to redesign our relationship with waste and consumption through sustainable practices such as Circular Economy. Cities will be the main target for this transformation since they are both centers of hazard and opportunity, the next questions rely on how circularity can be part of not only the economy but also society and the city system as a whole, involving its citizens and their practices.
A European Green Deal. Striving to be the first climate-neutral continent
Calisto, F. M., Vermeulen, W. J. V., & Salomone, R. (October 01, 2020). A typology of circular economy discourses: Navigating the diverse visions of a contested paradigm. Resources, Conservation & Recycling, 161.
EU Circular Economy Action Plan. A new Circular Economy Action Plan for a Cleaner and More Competitive Europe.