Nature provides a blueprint for smart, efficient systems that has been largely overlooked or ignored by those who organize our population centers. There is plenty to be considered in the way certain coastal oaks gird themselves against hurricane winds or in the way desert plants make the most efficient use of scarce rainfall, but those are piecemeal solutions to individual problems. McGee is more interested in the wholesale re-imagining of the modern burg via “generous cities” that don’t just feed off their environments, but instead give back to their surroundings.
“Imagine a city where the water leaving the city is cleaner than that coming in, or a city that literally breathers carbon dioxide in to make products,” McGee says. “Or imagine if a city actually increases the biodiversity of a region or facilitates that happening in some way. All of that is possible, and people are working on it.”
Look no further than Calera, a California company that is successfully sequestering carbon dioxide in concrete by emulating sea coral. Rather than heating limestone to create concrete (and lots of carbon dioxide), Calera is mixing mineral rich seawater with power plant emissions in a process that causes the calcium in the water to bond with the carbon in the emissions to form cement. The emissions from the power plant are thus sequestered in the concrete that growing cities are built from (Calera's Moss Landing, Calif., pilot plant is pictured).