Don’t fight fire…

World Bank data suggest an urban population in 2050 of approximately 7 billion, of which close to half will be living in unplanned settlements: favelas, barrios, slums. Delegates at this weekend’s Loeb Fellowship 40th Anniversary Reunion are necessarily concerned.

When the Fellowship was established in 1970, America was in turmoil with civic unrest across the country, major urban centres on fire, tanks on the streets of Detroit, the National Guard deployed against the population.

Faced with this extreme reality, John and Frances Loeb didn’t say “Let’s train a new generation of firefighters”; they decided instead to invest in a strategy of prevention.

There’s a lesson to be learned here.

Earlier today, Mohsen Mostafavi, Dean of the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, made a call for a new “anticipatory design” approach: one intended to meet the world’s future needs. Such an approach contrasts with “disaster relief” that can only operate once problems have occurred. Anticipatory designers prepare for the social and economic changes that trend forecasters see coming.

Can the Loeb Fellows draw together some strands of this thinking? Can the spirit of the initial Loeb investment – prevention is better than cure – be applied to the World Bank’s ominous population forecasts? Can the next 40 years of the Loeb Fellowship be dedicated to Dean Mostafavi’s theme of anticipatory design: to create urban environments that accommodate the growing global population in civic dignity and not to repeat the invisible squalor that is the norm?

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