Last Updated on Thursday, 18 November, 2021 at 12:51 pm by Andre Camilleri
Jonathan Mizzi, Director and Founder of multi-disciplinary design practice Mizzi Studio, unveiled a comprehensive and visionary strategy for an eco-driven, future-facing Malta. Mizzi presented solutions for ‘Designing Humanity out of a Climate Crisis’ during a presentation held at the TEDx event, which took place on Friday 5th of November at the University of Malta.
The theme of the TEDx event was Hindsight, with the premise of Mizzi’s talk built on a conversion of hindsight into what he terms ‘creative foresight’ – calling for an attitude that embraces hope and ultimately drives action that addresses the current climate and biodiversity emergency.
His thoughts and proposals come in the wake of the Code Red for Humanity alarm, sounded at the 2021 UN climate change conference (COP26), which kicked off at the end of October in Glasgow. Mizzi passionately unveiled his ideas for how Malta can start to develop its built and natural environment differently – both infrastructurally and emotionally – in a bid to address the planet’s forecast climate eventuality. He referenced the fact that we are now, globally, in the most consequential decade of humanity, proclaiming “what we do between 2020 and 2030 will determine the future of our species”. Mizzi went on to say that “as humans, we need to evolve from a mindset of knowing, to one of true understanding, embracing hope and driving action”.
Drawing from his personal experience, moving from London to a townhouse in Sliema, Mizzi lamented the erosion of Malta’s natural beauty. His talk positioned over-development as having taken precedence over the natural heritage and character of the Mediterranean island, with the high density of cars on the island is pushing noise and air pollution to unhealthy levels.
Mizzi’s central provocation for the talk was to question: how do we design ourselves out of the climate crisis?
His response is to lead with hope. Mizzi spoke confidently about Malta’s ability to become a leader and a source of inspiration in tackling climate change – changing into an island that young people want to live in, rather than one they want to leave.
The Big Five
Mizzi identified the following five key elements which are needed to tackle the crisis: cutting emissions; drawing down emissions; addressing overpopulation; adopting a circular economy whilst adapting and upgrading our infrastructure to be more resilient.
Mizzi went on to explain how, as a studio, his team believes in architecture’s power to make positive social and environmental impact, and strives to add tangible value, improve wellbeing, making the public realm a healthier, more beautiful place, through their projects.In his presentation, he referenced the ‘Malta Bus Reborn’ proposal put forward by the studio back in 2019. The re-imagined, traditional bus design aimed to improve the environmental efficiency of Malta’s current diesel fleet, whilst simultaneously bringing back the lost design character that made the traditional buses so iconic.
Rapid Bus Transport System
Mizzi went on to present the first of his four-part infrastructural proposal that aims to design Malta out of the current environmental crisis: a Rapid Bus Transport System. The system works to support his vision to reduce the number of cars on Maltese roads, creating an exclusive right-of-way path where a road lane would be given exclusive access to buses across all arterial roads on the islands. This would help promote easy flow and efficient travel, while causing minimal disruption to people’s lives.
Pointing to the reason most people not using the bus being traffic delays, Mizzi outlined how if people could have peace of mind that traffic would flow faster on a bus than it would in a car, then more people would choose public transport instead of privately owned cars. His contention was that for every bus, 40 cars would be removed from Malta’s roads.
With an approximate number of 420,000 cars on Malta’s roads at present, Mizzi explained how that translates to ½ million sqm of vehicles, all of which are parked for 96% of their lifetime. He added that, considering he comes from a family of car importers, his proposal to reduce cars in Malta should be taken seriously.
Elevated Cyclist Canopy Line
Other alternatives Mizzi discussed in lieu of using privately owned car transportation include cycling, scooting, or walking, yet noted that local street infrastructure does not allow for safe alternative modes of transportation. His solution to promoting safe pedestrian and cyclist travel on arterial roads in Malta and Gozo once again turned to nature-led design.
Mizzi introduced his developed design concept for an elevated cyclist canopy line – an infrastructural, bolt-on solution that would offer cyclists and e-scooters a safe and swift passageway on arterial roads. The platform is designed with inbuilt solar technology to harvest clean energy, all whilst creating an environment that nurtures biodiversity. It is hoped that the proposal will help reduce the number of injuries and fatalities incurred by cyclists locally.
“What we’re doing here is sheltering commuters from the elements whilst harnessing their power; the power of the sun and giving clean energy back to the grid,” Mizzi explained. “We’re capturing water and growing a clean, green line to clean our air, whilst also providing a home for pollinators – our bees, our insects and our lizards.” said Mizzi. He added: “The best thing is that this can all be prefabricated off site and simply transplanted with minimal disruption to our roads in terms of works”.
Reclaiming Malta’s Village Streets
Aside from his attention and proposed treatment of arterial roads, Mizzi also presented solutions for adapting village streets in Malta and Gozo to an inevitably altered climate future. His presentation included a proposal to restructure local roads; one which created a balance between car lanes and pedestrianised paths. His proposal saw streets adorned with trees, resulting in a cooling effect – a drop in the average temperature from 37 °C to an average of 27 °C on a current typical hot summer’s day. This will be critical for life in 2050 where predictions of repetitive extreme heat waves potentially being plus 50 °C. This bold move would not only allow for safe pedestrian and cyclist travel whilst encouraging physical activity, it would also result in benefits to people’s overall mental and physical wellbeing.
“Rota believes that this proposal will contribute significantly to the micro mobility efforts that the country should be embarking on. There is no one size fits all when it comes to infrastructure, but we can work tangibly in some areas and bring the much-desired change to our transport system.” said Michelle Attard Tonna, from ROTA, an environmental NGO aiming to promote safe cycling in Malta.
Taking the Car Out of the Park
With increased public transport efficiency and through the empowerment of cyclists and pedestrians, Mizzi asserts that a reduction in privately owned cars on our streets would be completely achievable. There is also the future of automated shared cars which will contribute to this reduction. This new condition would offer the opportunity of liberating spaces that were previously allocated to parked cars, transforming the areas into green parks instead, and finally breathing life and clean air back into the community.
Mizzi explained how this could be a phased approach, reflecting the country’s reduction in car traffic as it might unfold over years – a cumulative impact resulting from the rapid bus transport system, elevated cycling canopy line, and part-pedestrianisation of local streets. Having more open green spaces would help continue to design Malta out of an environmental crisis, offering citizens a habitable climate and sustainable future.
Quoting Dr. Jane Goodall, Mizzi added; “we cannot live in harmony together without learning to live in harmony with nature”, concluding his talk with the fact that the design ideas put forward are adaptive multi-modal green infrastructure solutions that also fight climate change – solutions that are implementable immediately.“The climate crisis is not an unheard-of phenomenon; however, it is no longer enough for us to simply know about the detrimental effects of climate change. It is time for us to fully understand that we no longer have the option to wait. Over-consumption and over-development have led us to where we are today, both locally and globally, and it is time for us to take immediate action. We can and we must design humanity out of a climate crisis for our children and all life on earth.”