Appropriate Technology for Sustainable Urban Development

Sustainability advocates have long had conflicted reactions to technology. On one hand, many individuals going back to 19th century Luddites and 1960s and 70s “appropriate technology” pioneers have questioned whether many forms of technology are desirable or sustainable. On the other hand, other technologies such as those related to renewable energy, low-carbon transportation, ecological restoration, and social mobilization clearly play an important role in sustainable development. The debate over appropriate technology for the twenty-first century is very much with us currently as California considers whether to invest tens or hundreds of billions of dollars in technologies such as high-speed rail and ocean water desalinization. There are no easy answers to the questions surrounding “sustainability technology,” if we can call it that. However, this talk will review the historic tensions between “technology” and “sustainability,” identify key areas of conflict and synergy, and propose guidelines that may be useful for sustainable city technology in the future. Stephen Wheeler is an Associate Professor in the department of Landscape Architecture + Environmental Design at UC Davis. He joined the LDA faculty in January 2007 and teaches courses related to community and regional planning, urban design, and sustainable development. His research interests include the theory and practice of sustainable development, the evolution of built landscapes, metropolitan regional planning, and planning strategies to address climate change.