13 Oct 24 Years of Ecocity Conferences
by Richard Register, Founder of the International Ecocity Conference Series and President of Ecocity Builders
I’ll get to highlights shortly but first… Am I proud of launching the first of the International Ecocity Conferences? Well it does feel great to see that in Nantes the tradition marches on. And yes we who put on the first in the series worked fabulously hard in 1989 and l990 and had some real successes at the time – as I noticed so did Senator of the Loire Atlantique départnent and Conference Chair Ronan Dantec and Annie-Claude Thiolat, Project Manager for the Tenth International Ecocity Conference and the rest of their crew. It all took place in Nantes, France, the European Commissions’ European Green Capital 2013 and home of Ecocity 10, aka, The Nantes Ecocity World Summit. (The European Commission is, says Wikipedia, “the executive body of the European Union responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding the Union’s treaties and day-today running of the EU.”)
But the conference series wasn’t actually my idea. I started off our conference this year with the keynote talk mentioning that. Though in important ways I am the founder of the series for organizing the first of the International Ecocity Conferences and many people assumed I’d had the idea, I had not. But it has been a wonderful success in the eyes of thousands of participants by now and if there is a lesson in the story it is that each of you in the audience, I said, can take away a good idea and apply it yourself – you’ll be hearing many extraordinarily powerful and helpful ideas here in Nantes at this conference – go for it! Carry them back home, out into the world and do something about them. We can do it.
It was a zoologist named Lee Altenberg, I told the audience, who in 1988 suggested the idea for a major ecocity conference. He knew the 20th anniversary Earth Day events were coming up in April of 1990 and there would be a major opportunity to bring important environmental ideas into action through many events because of the anniversary’s added attention. He also had been noticing that it seemed no one but Urban Ecology, the organization I was president of previous to Ecocity Builders, was working energetically on ecocity issues. I realized the conference was a great idea and adopted it. I chose the rather generic name for it – the International Ecocity Conference – borrowed $1,000 at 7% interest and started work, volunteering my time otherwise, paid for mostly by my labors in earthquake retrofit construction – we’d just had the Loma Prieta Earthquake and everyone was bolting down their houses to their foundations or reinforcing the strength of their walls in other ways. I worked about 30 hours a week doing that up to three months before the conference, after which a few small grants and registrations for the event began rolling in paying the bills. At that point an assistant and I started getting paid for the work.
The idea of a conference series wasn’t mine either. To my delight Paul Downton, architect from Adelaide, Australia and one of our star speakers at the First International Ecocity Conference, seeing the high spirits and fabulous information at Ecocity 1, immediately after offered to hold Ecocity 2 in Adelaide in 1992 – and we were off and running as a conference series. The series idea itself, then, was another good idea I happily adopted and activated.
As said, I stressed to the Nantes audience, if there’s a lesson in it, it is that good actions for powerful ideas can echo through history for decades. All that’s required is that people of good conscience gather up their energy and do something. This admonition goes out now to all you readers of this newsletter too.
This was our first conference with a national legislator, Senator Dantec, hosting. It was also the first of our conferences to be attended by a country’s Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. Both of them in their talks had a great deal to offer in terms of real substance for major moves toward ecocity change. Currently I’m in correspondence to get the transcripts of recordings to make them available to our Ecocity Builders members and those in the galaxy of our past conferences attendees, most of whose addresses we have in our Ecocity Builders records.
One of the highlights was in fact their pledges, the Senator’s and the Prime Minister’s, to carry one of the main themes of the conference into international debate. Specific recommendations to link ecocity concepts, current policies and projects to climate change at up-coming international events, such as the COP 19 taking place in November in Warsaw, was among them. As readers of the newsletter will note from many earlier articles herein, we have for years been trying to get the issue of urban layout and design into the deliberations at the highest levels about those ecocity/climate linkages. All sorts of supply side solutions, many very good, such as promoting solar and wind energy, have gotten considerable attention and entered into various national policies and into the global consciousness. All sorts of technologies for conservation, better constituent materials in products and buildings, better recycling, more preservation of natural areas and support for “alternative” transportation infrastructure and vehicles have been debated and turned into policies of various sorts around the world. But precious little was to be heard in these deliberations of the basics of ecocity principles and major changes in the physical arrangement of cities. And this despite the glaringly obvious fact of the scale of cities, largest creations of our species. Maybe this will change and maybe largely due to efforts of people in attendance at our conference, including Senator Dantec and Prime Minister Ayrault. It might be mentioned also that the Prime Minister was also Mayor of Nantes in past days and in that position must have learned a great deal about the workings of and importance of cities in policy, society and nature. It wasn’t for nothing Nantes was chosen by the European Commission as the European Green Capital of 2013.
Gross National Happiness was the notion of the fourth King of Bhutan back in 1971, represented at our conference by the country’s Secretary of the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement, Dasho Dr. Sonam Tenzin. His brief: highways, bridges, dams, power plants, airports and cities. In 1971 when asked how his country’s Gross National Product was doing King Jigme Singe Wangchuck (pronounced WONG-chook) retorted that Gross National Happiness was more important. Thus, in an off handed manner, he launched that most serious and should-be-legendary GNH initiative of Bhutan. That simple but powerful notion, that the economic objective of production and consumption should be in service to the people’s happiness instead of being the objective of economic policy, was in itself a profound and courageous notion to put into the international debate. And so it was that it became a major emphasis of our conference as well. With approximately the same population of San Francisco and a land area a little smaller than Switzerland, the country’s efforts for GNH made it among nations the mouse that roared out a message of powerful importance putting values ahead of profits. And in the confluence of ecocities and GNH I for one am hoping we can magnify both concepts and show that through far better city design we can make nature as well as people much happier.
Nantes itself was one of the major highlights of Ecocity 10. This western French city, fifth largest in France, has many credits toward ecocityhood, you might say. There are many standing projects, infrastructure, practices and policies, from sporting an efficient and very pleasant rail system with short headways between trains, both local metro and regional, to having a very large pedestrian area with beautifully preserved buildings, plazas and whole districts. Not to be neglected was the best food I’ve had all year. Exquisite! Jules Verne was born in Nantes too, and the city celebrates his 19th century science fiction futurism with a menagerie of giant mechanical animals and trees, heavy iron, bolts, tubes, wood, leather and canvas parts that look like they come straight from Victorian industrialism gone space age. The lumbering mechanized elephant standing 40 feet high – you can creak and clank around the vast grounds between the great lifting cranes on the elephant while it sprays delighted onlookers with water from its enormous mechanical trunk – mesmerized more than a handful of conference participants who visited the old shipyard converted into something far more stylish and authentic and far less commercial than Disneyland. My side observation on all this was that our conference provided a means to bring futurism down to Earth in space age application here on terra firma. That makes sense, saves lives and creates a new vision for a healthy future: ecocities, and at the time of the conference and later hopefully, dancing with GNH into the limelight.
And a last happening that I’m including here as a major highlight, not that other participants would not list more, was the announcement that our next conference host would be the first among our Ecocity Conferences in the Middle East. Quite stunning in her black shawl with bright green leaf patterned embroidery, Suhaila al Munthari stood up to accept the honor and responsibility for the Eleventh International Ecocity Conference representing Abu Dhabi, the Convention Bureau there and several other sponsoring agencies including the United Nations Environmental Program. Some attendees thought this a controversial choice and a location that might have serious problems given the quickly changing and sometime dangerous situation in the Middle East at this time. In any case our Conference Relay Committee, a group made up of conveners of past International Ecocity Conferences, believed our movement could learn much by going to a place we’ve never been before, experiencing cultures of a wide variety, trying to learn all we can and offer the best of our experience to the people there. The exchange in these difficult times we thought important for greater communication and understanding.
In my four talks in Nantes I featured what I called “touchstones,” explained what I thought they were and repeated these themes several times. My notion, which I explained as such, was that most people take away from conferences just a short list of particular ideas, themes or even visual images that stick with them for years, maybe a lifetime. In fact, many people these days regularly call such firm memories of meetings of all sorts “take-aways.” I wanted to emphasis four things I though could be among such touchstones for the conference for most of the conferees. These all represented something new I didn’t want people to forget.
First was the Climate Change initiatives of Senator Ronan Dantec and others. It is high time, even very late in history, to be getting a fair hearing for the connection between city, town and village design and climate change. A powerful focus on this connection between city design and climate change is necessary if we are to solve this all-embracing problem. We must do it from the literal foundation of our built environments on up. Layout of cities and towns is most important, with a whole systems approach, and that implies we need to notice that complex living organisms are organized in three-dimensions not flat. Well-ordered, human scale density solves. Various good technologies and life styles tack on and help further.
Then there is natural carbon sequestration, the notion that we could use a simple common language term that focuses and helps us all understand the immense power of recruiting nature’s own ways of taking carbon out of the air and placing massive quantities of the element deep into soils and in some cases so deep in soils as to become almost like, even function like ores, ores that we leave in the ground, ores to be used not by us but by nature to straighten up the mistake humanity has made by taking the atmosphere’s carbon percentage from 280 parts per million before the industrial revolution to over 400, that point passed about May 20th of this year. Where does nature do this sequestration and how do we help in the job, tweaking powerful forces into action with a little bit of intelligence and simple technologies? In grasslands with special ways of herding animals to lay down richly fertilized soil and seed; in forests by way of not cutting and by way of promoting replanting; in shallow seas, marshes and mangroves by providing protections and once again by replanting; in peatlands by low, small, simple check dams to keep the soil watery moist so that the carbon in dying roots and stems can build up many feet in depth, even hundreds or thousands of feet of deposits rich in carbon. This is a very good idea needing laser sharp focus and simple good terminology. Reshaping cities into ecocities not only could add millions of acres to such landscapes and water environments by removing sprawl development but also, perhaps even more importantly, the ecocity approach models the same kind of whole systems ecological thinking that is the essence of a natural carbon sequestration strategy.
Ecotropolis. This idea – not to go into too much detail here – is to visualize any metropolitan area transforming into something we might call an “ecotropolis.” Many city regions have grown together in a giant mat of asphalt and concrete linked by cars and powered by expenditure of vast quantities of fuels burned. In such metropolitan areas, higher density downtowns could become ecocities in their own right, district centers ecotowns, neighborhood centers ecovillages, many of them farming the land around them. The pattern is a shifting toward the centers while opening up new landscapes and water environments by expanding community and commercial food growing gardens, expanding parks, playgrounds and sports areas while restoring such natural features as small waterways, shorelines, ridgelines and special features like rock outcrops and monumental ancient trees that have escaped cut, fill and crush bulldozer and steamroller initiated development. Such galaxies of communities, each unique yet all with the basic principles of harmonious three-dimensional and relatively dense and diverse design at their functional core, could be seen, each of them, as a new ecotropolis. In areas where cities and towns are being built anew, this visual image could serve to inspire a far better starting design for the community. These centers, not really that far apart, could be linked by rail, bicycle and walking paths.
Gross National Happiness comes together with ecocities with synergistically multiplied good results. Think about that after the conference, I reminded people a few times.
Best practice cities
So how do we assess how we are doing in our march to ecocities world-wide? At the conference many cities showcased their own projects, and Ecocity Builders and the British Columbia Institute of Technology, partners in the effort, have been working for three years to develop what we call the International Ecocity Framework and Standards. Kirstin Miller, Executive Director of Ecocity Builders and Dr. Jennie Moore, in charge of sustainability programs at BCIT presided over and delivered important talks on the subject of standards as they are developing everywhere. What is unique about our version of such standards is the base focus on the layout of city and town development governed by the principle of “access by proximity,” that is, very simply, that distance between complementary urban functions have to be short for physical access to be efficient and ultimately healthy – for people and other living things. It is not enough that there be better building materials used, natural lighting promoted, bicycles and transit emphasized over automobile infrastructure and “better” automobiles themselves. Another way of looking at this: we need to become much more sensitive to what is close enough for walking, then, bicycling, then access by transit, and lastly maybe in the country and where nothing else will work, cars. Among ecocity activists this ranking of transport modes we call “the transportation hierarchy” placing feet first. Another way of understanding access by proximity is for us to become “place conscious.”
Designing cities for people, not cars, becomes fundamental and an inescapable necessity once the coordinated parameters of distance, time and energy are understood. The better building or transport vehicle doesn’t get us very far tacked on to the sprawling infrastructure we see now in practically all cities, towns and even villages around the world. So insidious and all pervasive have cars, gasoline and asphalt become intruding into the collective built habitat of our species, we often plan around cars with higher priority than we do for people. For example, the first consideration in many planning processes is this: how can we provide inexpensive and sufficient parking for cars? That gets our design and planning efforts of to an extraordinarily bad start. Like looking to maximum GDP instead of maximum happiness, starting with parking instead of what’s best for the pedestrian, aka the person, we are getting the horse behind the cart. And so with the IEFS, our ecocity standards as compared for example with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) the assessment of ecocity progress in policy, projects and functioning infrastructure gets the sequence right for prioritizing the most important measures first, explicitly those that relate to the best layout of the whole built environment and best major social and ecological impacts.
It is useful in trying to understand what actually is best, what is marginal and what is worst in city infrastructure and technologies to look to particular cities for illustrative examples of at least pieces of the ecocity emerging.
Among historic models we have a number of car-free cities including Venice, Italy. Because of its status as a car-free city – and prosperity for its 270,000 citizens, Venice is one of the inspirational achievements on the path to an ecocity future. The Medina of Fez in Morocco for it’s narrow winding streets which create an infrastructure of thermal inertia mediated by the mass of temperature-regulating earthen and stone building materials and for its shade structures in overhead slats of wood and sheets of cloth make it too a car-free model. In fact there are many such places and it’s worthwhile to peruse the list at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_car-free_places
But I would add my own highlights, taken partially from the presentations at Nantes, and these I’d like to draw attention to are: Zermatt, Switzerland, awfully touristy for sure but extraordinarily beautiful in its spectacular location, accessible only by a cog rail system at the foot of the Alps’ famous Matterhorn; Gulongyu, China, the pleasantly quiet, hilly old concession city with bustling street life in its modest downtown across a narrow branch of a bay from Xiamen, China; Avalon, Catalina Island, California of all places just 26 miles across the sea from history’s first and leading car city, Los Angeles – it actually has a few rare old cars left over from before the time of ordinances keeping all future cars out; Lamu, Kenya a small island city threatened with heavy shipping of oil from prospective new wells in Southern Sudan connecting inland from the Indian Ocean by the in-development Lamu Port and Lamu-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor; Masdar City in Abu Dhabi said to be car-free though it’s public “pods” look suspiciously car-sized though impersonally available and not for individual ownership; and, as the world’s first theoretically consistent and highly self-aware car-free ecocity experiment, started in 1970 and still in the building, architect Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti, Arizona.
Then there are the Chinese cities called eco-cities with large super blocks, massive buildings and broad arterials still offering citizens the appearance of mainly automobile access infrastructure but also sporting pedestrian areas inside those large blocks. These, like Tianjin Eco-city, well under construction and to house 350,000 people, are adopting wind and solar energy features, geothermal heating and cooling (more properly called “geo exchange” in some more technical circles) and often are accompanied by very significant restoration of newly established habitat in or along waterways to attract and support resident and migratory native species of birds and fish and other water life. Great City, a new very dense small city soon to be built near Chengdu is a very significantly completely car-free city and has a number of large buildings linked on several levels by bridges above pedestrian street level. Vancouver, British Columbia chose to be freeway-free in the 1960s and it’s high density downtown is remarkable in being so attractive to so many people that the city hosts a counter commute in which people go from the center out to a large number of jobs instead of vice versa. The city’s aspiration to be “greenest in the world” is inspiring – now let’s see how they will do that! In the United States Portland, Oregon is famous for its very early UBG – Urban Growth Boundary — and less well know but very significant project, the restoration of a natural environment and foot and bicycle path along the city’s and its suburb’s Johnson Creek where buildings, mostly houses, have been removed by willing seller deals. In these deals the owners were paid comparable value with nearby similar buildings from Federal Emergency Management Agency and City of Portland flood prevention funds. Chicago, Illinois with its policy and incentive support for rooftop green and other policies is another American example and so is New York with its inspiring pedestrian Times Square, its converted elevated pedestrian pathway called the Highline, which replaces an abandoned freight rail line on the Hudson River side of town three or four stories up in the air. Its waters and shoreline facilities are getting clean and pleasant enough that people are taking to kayaking around Manhattan. And perhaps best know for its ecologically aware policies and actual features that have built since as early as 1972, is Curitiba, Brazil with its 26 blocks of car-free streets in its downtown, five arms of dedicated – buses and emergency vehicles only – streets that extend from downtown through higher density areas out about seven miles from the center. There are numerous other ecological features, such as the reserving of low areas that tend to flood in storms for open parks that fill with water temporarily impounded behind short dams – nobody gets hurt, no damage to property – and many other ecocity features. In France, in addition to Nantes’ good example in a number of particulars, some mentioned above, Lyon had the first significantly large rental bike program in the world followed soon thereafter by Paris.
Finally, my own favorite cities to notice, partially because we in Ecocity Builders are involved there, which I described in one of my talks, are Jeju City and Seogwipo on Jeju Island which is part of South Korea. The island is 48 miles long by 20 miles wide and located in a unique almost semitropical bioregional zone 52 miles south of the southern tip of the Korean peninsula and the small ecotowns of Anala and Tungkudempa, Bhutan. What is potentially very strong and influential about the Jeju island towns is that they could become examples in future decades of two modest metropolis areas transforming into two exemplary ecotropolis areas well integrated into their bioregion which is unique to Korea. The island’s bioregion is special not only for its climate, ocean moderated temperatures and warmer latitude but for the tallest mountain in South Korea, an ancient volcano, being located there. These cities and their nearby much smaller towns are already a strong tourist draw for Korean citizens and some foreigners in the know. And finally I’ll mention the two towns of the Panbang Valley on the south central edge of Bhutan with India. These are the towns of Anala and Tungkudempa for which I designed in basic layout and architectural massing along with a fair number of drawings and sufficient description to begin defining a leading and very complete pair of small ecotowns. I did this work for the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement in May and June earlier this year and wrote about the towns in our August newsletter. Part and parcel with these two linked town designs my report dealt with the capital city of Thimphu in a transition strategy toward becoming an ecocity and with recommendations for national policy change in ecocity directions.
A language to meet our needs
Ecocity author and earlier a film maker specializing in rain forests, Herbie Girardet and others brought up the notion that we need the right words to express what we are talking about in trying to transform our cities. As the ancient Chinese saying goes, the beginning of wisdom is in calling thing by their right names. As I often say to people explaining why I think it is so hard to convince people to take serious action on behalf of ecocity transformations part of the answer is that few have the basic knowledge needed and don’t even have a vocabulary fit to the task of such understanding and subsequent action. (That many don’t want to even hear about it, for fear of the changes implied, love of their automobile, NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) pressures in the neighborhood, laziness or some other reason is another question and perhaps one for psychologists and psychiatrists instead of linguists and semanticists.) But in any case, here is a beginning vocabulary:
Ecocity: an ecologically healthy city, which tends to serve people’s happiness exceptionally well but in itself is not guarantee for “social justice” which has to also be pursued if we want it in its own right.
Ecotropolis: a regional cluster of fairly closely spaced ecocities, ecotowns and ecovillages. An ecotropolis restores and/or preserves natural and agricultural land and maintains a healthy bioregion while building and maintaining unique centers of economic, cultural and social vitality.
Ecocity “integral” project or ecocity “fractal”: a built car-free environment whose functions are synergistically complementary to one another, complete in the sense of having all the basic facilities for residence, work, commerce, education, buildings, open spaces like parks and plazas, facilities and networks for conservation and sustainable use of renewable energy, water, food delivery and transport, and all this well organized in relation to overall functioning, sun angels, views, local weather, climate and temperature range and well designed for sustainable use of resources and regenerative relationship with soils, biology and ecology. These projects can be a whole “integral city” – and ecocity – or even small projects that might involved only two or three blocks with pedestrian streets, not invaded by and taken over by cars. The ecocity fractal is then a fraction of the whole with all the essential components of an ecocity represented in small scale. That makes such projects much more easily affordable and buildable than whole cities at once.
Anatomy Analogy: The comparison of cities to ordinary complex living organisms. From this comparison many things become evident, such as…
- 3-D best, 2-D not so good, 1-D worst of all: This means the lessons of compact three-dimensional form of living organisms applies to healthy city design and function as well as to biology. Flat two-dimensional cities based on cars, asphalt, concrete paving, cheap energy are extraordinarily damaging to nature and urban conviviality. One dimension in city layout terms is the long, thin strip, worst geometry and negative impacts of all.
- Access by proximity: a guidance indicating that physical access can be achieved by design and layout rather than far flung transport. We sometimes say, “The shortest distance between two points is not a straight line but placing the points close together.”
- Density shifting: moving from sprawl development toward centers of vitality: ecocities, ecotowns and ecovillages and neighborhood centers that become ecocity fractals. Transfer of development rights, TDR, and similar zoning and associated land acquisition tools and development tools exist to facilitate this shifting of development into a radically more healthy pattern.
- IEFS: the Inernaitonal Ecocity Framework and Standards offered by the Ecocity Builders process with unique locational “access by proximity,” criteria for high achievement rating.
- New Urbanism: the popular set of design ideas of architects and planners supporting adding density and community facilities around transit hubs and stations, usually called TODs: Transit Oriented Development projects. Seen by New Urbanist Peter Calthorpe as a “transition strategy” the question remains “transition to what?” Ecocities.
- The transportation hierarchy: a ranking of types of “modes” of transportation with the most desirable being pedestrian infrastructure and support; the second, bicycles; third, elevators and streetcars; fourth, rail ecotropolitan “ecotros” (“metros” in a lesser-accomplished metropolitan context); fifth busses; and last, cars for mainly country and some specialized, usually emergency uses, if in cities at all.
- Ecocity architectural features: these can add to the meaning and richness of detail and warmth – or lack of it that comes with over-scaled projects – in design and building of cities. They include:
- “view” or “keyhole plazas” which are typical plazas for people gathering together in an open space but with a side or corner open to a locally cherished view to a natural feature,
· live rooftops and terraces, which can include…
· rooftop gardens and feature…
· living or green walls,
· bridge buildings over pedestrian streets and
- bridges between buildings to enhance…
· pedestrian permeability,
· exterior glass elevators – and elevators in general for efficient, low energy vertical transportation (again for pedestrian permeability),
· wind screens for comfort for people and rooftop plants and gardens since higher buildings are breezer than those topping out closer to street level,
· weather protective awnings and bridges under which harsh sun and precipitation can be avoided,
- sky-lit interior pedestrian streets and spaces, very pleasant and can be highly commercial or great places of dining, strolling, relaxing…
- Natural Carbon Sequestration: a common language way of talking about and helping create a unified strategy to utilize natures surface with the atmosphere: grasslands, forests, peatlands, shallow seas, mangroves and sea grasses and various wetlands for removing carbon from the atmosphere and reversing global heating. This approach uses whole system and ecological thinking, as does ecocity design.
- Gross National Happiness, or GNH: Bhutan’s initiative and economic theory including both national and international education and policies to place human happiness ahead of sheer production, consumption and growth. This too, like ecocity design, is a whole systems approach to healthy building and living.
Contacts for further progress
And lastly we get down to what happens next. For me the bottom line is what helps to get something built and functioning, which includes what get’s passed in to laws that govern what can get built, what’s encouraged to get built and what’s funded to get built. Generally that’s zoning, and though many people at Ecocity 10 in Nantes emphasized that we need to act locally, as far as I remember I was the only speaker to specifically mention the crucial role of local zoning. This is one of the most important powers affecting our future and it’s almost always within the control of local politics. Unfortunately it is also surrounded by fear of losing home equity and fear of losing a car or two, such fear that it is often difficult to even get a hearing for the kind of basic changes that make ecocities possible. But lets assume a little courage to listen and think and let’s assume there is at least a rudimentary awareness of the language of ecocity building by at least it’s meanings and implications, even if most of the words and concepts in our last section of this article don’t roll easily off the tongue. Then the notion becomes, what to do as we leave Nantes and the Ecocity World Summit #10 for home and when we return and settle in to lives with a few new perspectives.
Against this background I have a few hopes for follow through. Regarding local and small scale, often traditional approaches, I would hope that Rob Hopkins would bring back to the many localities where he is encouraging gardening, friendly neighborhood cooperation and a rekindling of basic skills that he include among them the skill (backed by some knowledge) of how to work for basic reshaping of the built environment in the direction of ecocities. There is a head start where he started, in small towns of the rural UK. Go to his website, transitionculture.org and see his logo/illustration: a very small scale ecovillage of clustered buildings with attached solar greenhouse, food gardens, some commercial activity, bicycle path and wind electric machine on a distant tower and you see what might be applied as ecotown and ecocity, lessons from the small scale to the large. But to apply these ideas on a larger scale, we will need the zoning and other inducements to entice.
Severn Cullis-Suzuki lives on the Canadian island north of Vancouver Island called Haida Gwaii, formerly more commonly know as Queen Charlotte Island. Life there is very rural, maybe close to Rob Hopkins’ ideal. Severn became famous at the age of 12 delivering to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro the message that her generation was inheriting a wounded planet from its elders – get busy and improve! We want a healthy world as much as you want material security and prosperity – by some definition and maybe not Bhutan’s. (She didn’t mention Bhutans already 21 year old GNH initiative.) She enlivened our closing ceremony having all in the room stand and make a “small pledge to yourself” change something in their lives in the future toward helping save the planet for future generations. The people standing and pledges registered by everyone’s private consciousnesses. She then said tell the person next to you what that pledge was. The exercise surprised and delighted everyone except those in the audience who always hate audience participation. Mine was drink less beer and the fellow next to me was eat less meat. (I wonder what yours would have been?) Moving into the future, with her world audience occasionally popping into her life, as she leaves again from her tiny village, my hope is that she will think of the bridges from the small pledge to the larger actions that we need if we are to build an ecocity future and mention some of those steps from time to time.
I met the Senior Technology Transfer Officer, also holding title as the Cluster Coordinator for Climate Change Mitigation from the Global Environment Facility, the worlds largest source of appropriate development funding for sustainability development in poorer countries, often crafting aid and investment packages with business investors, foundations, The World Bank and other funding sources. Her name is Chizuru Aoki and my hope for her is that, now that the ecocity movement is fairly solidly linked up with Bhutan – the GEF can only fund governments – that we can help find and fund projects in Bhutan to join in a joint GNH/ecocity program that can amplify even more the happiness our speaker Sonam Tenzin described so well, happiness both for people and for nature.
My hope for host and Senator Ronan Dantec and Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault is that they can in fact move on in their circles to make a strong connection between cities and climate change and that those connections will yield much greater and faster-moving advance for ecocities, the very cities to, along with natural carbon sequestration, renewable energy roll out and biodiversity restoration, freeze and then reverse the growing disasters of climate change. A litmus test would be to see if they can get COP 19 in Warsaw to give significant attention for the first time to city layout and design, and in fact, the whole complex of ecocity involved set of solutions to the subject of their deliberations.
We in Ecocity Builders have had a seven-year close and productive relationship with Jennie Moore, chief sustainability officer at the British Columbia Institute of Technology and her campus. BCIT has adopted many policies and completed actual construction projects moving the old northern third of her campus strongly in an ecocity fractal direction. My hope for her is that we can accelerate that project to be all it can be as an ecocity integral project and that the lessons therein can rapidly infect the larger Vancouver of which it is a part. The city claims to be striving to become the greenest in the world. Prove it! Look to Jennie for some of the best answers. She presented at Ecocity 10, along with Ecocity Builders’ Kirstin Miller, for our International Ecocity Framework and Standards which I described as bringing “place consciousness” to a wide range of problems for ecocity solutions. May she – and we – progress there.
And lastly, onward to Abu Dhabi in 2015. Suhaila al Munthari accepted the baton the Relay Committee handed her. May the next International Ecocity Conference there in the Middle East also be all it can be and may we report there that my above hopes have not only be taken miles toward fulfillment but that those of everyone else who came to Nantes will be too.
Richard Register can be reached at email@example.com.