Following our excellent interview with futurologist Melisa Sterry, Urban Times spoke to social entrepreneur, economist and academic Tia Kansara. She tells us more about Earth 2.0 and her vision of the cities of the future and a happier planet. Follow Tia on Facebook or on Twitter [Editor]

Tia Kansara; social entrepeneur, economist, sustainability expert.

How did you get involved in Earth 2.0?

Dr. Rachel Armstrong introduced me to the Earth 2.0 team in 2010 because of my knowledge of sustainability and my expertise in the field. It was a meeting of minds, an eclectic but like-minded collective of professionals from science, the creative arts and business with a shared vision for a sustainable future. When I started to put my thoughts into the platform, I felt the traction was gathering momentum.

The transition from the industrial age to the ecological age will be an epic one

What is your role in the Earth 2.0 movement?

As one of the Champions of the platform – I bring my expertise in smart cities and economics.

How would you define happiness?

Peace of mind, ease with yourself and being content with your position in life.

What can we do to maximize happiness in our lives?

Slow down, enjoy the moment, recognize passing ships, have a good dialogue with others and most importantly learn to maximize what you have rather than what you want.

What is the relationship between the happiness of the individual with that of the collective?

A collective is the sum of other people’s happiness, if an individual is happy in themselves as human beings, they infect others and therefore the group benefits. The other way around – the group can often inspire an individual and endorse his or her own individual happiness.

Do you believe certain people have a genetic predisposition to happiness?

Yes, this can also be the case for people who have programmed themselves to think positive. A lot of people from simple communities are happy with their lot, without complications. Happiness is not a destination but a frame of mind.

What factors should be taken into account to maximize the happiness factor in the built environment?

It is fast becoming apparent that buildings and spaces can affect people’s happiness. A building can bring the best out of people if it serves its purpose and is comfortable to live in and it does not impose on people impossible demands. Good architecture can help make people happy.

The 'Happiness Gene'? "According to the Telegraph, behavioral economists asked 2,500 people how satisfied they were with life, then analyzed their DNA. Those with two copies of a certain variant of the 5-HTT gene were pretty happy — 69% said they were either satisfied or very satisfied with life. But people with no copies were significantly bluer — just 38% were satisfied or very much so." (Anna North, http://jezebel.com)

How can social entrepreneurship positively impact urban development?

By involving ordinary people in their own aspiration and aims. They will be secure knowing they participated in their own well-being.

Occupants are the experts of their environment and their own well being

How can urban design and planning be improved to better unite communities and simultaneously celebrate cultural diversity?

By respecting the history, ethnicity, diversity and identity of the people who live there we can unite communities and allow cultural diversity to flourish. There’s no use trying to redevelop a place which has no correlation to the people who will be using it.

The key to success: Respect the history, ethnicity, diversity and identity of the people who live there (to) unite communities... and let them decide their futures.

Given you’re halfway through your Ph.D. on the topic, why is occupant satisfaction necessary to vision future city developments?

Occupants are the experts of their environment and their own well being. We do not need machines to test whether they are comfortable or not, they know. This is why they must be part of the monitoring system of the performance of a building, post occupancy. Stakeholders (not only a person who stakes money or time in a project but also governments, architects, engineers, facilities management and the occupants themselves) must communicate effectively to weave in their feedback to improve the future urban environment.

Our behaviour is influenced by the physical environment we live, work and play in. When we can capture people’s evaluations constructively we can combine these to vision what people want in their city development of the future.

What technologies around at the moment are most suited to the Earth 2.0 vision?

In the built environment, renewable technologies that use solar power as a basis to provide clean energy, moving away from the environmentally unfriendly fossil fuel economy, suits our vision very well. The transition from the industrial age to the ecological age will be an epic one. This is where people recognize their role in the design, the up-keep and maintenance of Earth 2.0.

Solar Power technology is a great basis for powering the Smart Grid infrastructure of tomorrow. Source: http://inhabitat.com

What are your thoughts on Smart Grid Technologies?

Smart grids are the new infrastructure to maintain electric power across the urban environment. Their rapid advancement and popularity are due in part to increasing needs for efficient and effective electricity delivery, making us even more connected. I believe they have huge potential, time will tell how they will develop. One day we will not need distribution centres, as electricity will be generated and stored in the building where it is used directly.

Should smart grid be adjusted in accordance with the various regions in which it is implemented across the globe?

Definitely! It must take account of local sensitivities and diversities as well the historic and cultural values of the people. More importantly it should prepare for the eventual flexibility of upgrade.

Having presented this idea to the European Commission, you aim to create the largest network of people wanting to improve their well being in cities. How do you plan to do this?

Through social networking, conferences, written works and a lot of practicality. The 2050 City vision of my PhD, which develops the wishes of the young for their own future, will allow the youth of today to co-curate their own future.

How do you envision life in cities 10, 20 and 40 years from now?

10

Recognition that an upgrade in our thinking about the planet is absolutely essential in everything that we do, especially sustainable human development.

20

Adaptation to the diminution of fossil fuels and its effect on design, i.e. less fossil fuel driven cars, more zero carbon zero waste buildings and lifestyle examples to follow, governments becoming more aware of opportunities in sustainable living.

40

Greener more sustainable cities and possibly slower lifestyles with an emphasis on quality and harnessing the power of the people. This is where people will play a larger role within society to decide how to vision and contribute their thoughts to city developments.

How would you reconcile the non-linear approach of Earth 2.0 to cities and rural planning with an arguably un-adaptive political and legislative infrastructure?

The political legislative infrastructure will always follow reality. It can never lead due to the short term-ism of politicians. But it will certainly follow and back up success. They will endorse the change to a greener and sustainable world.