News

The 20th United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) is taking place in Lima this week, with Ecocity Builders in attendance. Lima is an obvious choice to host this gathering focused on solutions to climate change. Lima is the 2nd largest desert city, right behind Cairo,...

By Richard Register, founder, Ecocity Builders His name is Wang Rusong, last name first in China, and Wang pronounced “Wong” – much softer in sound, as befits this wonderful man. At five minutes after midnight on November 28 in a Beijing hospital my friend Wang Rusong died....

By Richard Register, Founder and President About 90% of the way through Lester Brown’s autobiography, Breaking Ground (W. W. Norton & Company, New York and London, 2013), he confesses, “I’m way beyond my comfort zone writing an autobiography.” A few friends have suggested I write one...

Infinite growth is impossible Our newsletter readers all know that infinite growth in a limited environment is impossible so I’ll mention here, without trying to prove the case, an interesting fact: life depends on energy, 99.97% of which arrives in the thin zone of life on...

by Sven Eberlein “Is this your first WUF?” is a question commonly asked at the World Urban Forum, a gathering for, by, and about city people that was first convened by UN Habitat in Nairobi in 2002 and descended on Medellín, Colombia last week for its...

Brief Note from Richard leaving China I’m on my way back from China reflecting on some of the best opportunities and heaviest responsibilities I’ve gotten myself into since starting ecocity work almost 50 years ago. I first gave a plenary talk at the Tenth International Green Building and Technology Conference and Expo in Beijing. Then I spoke to university audiences at Tsinghua University in Beijing, Tongji University, Shanghai; Tianjin University in Tianjin and Southeast University in Nanjing. How my hosts at C&P Architecture in Beijing, especially Mr. Bin Fan, President of C&P, and Ruby Yangxue, my translator, guide and general assistant, pulled it all together is quite amazing—and at very short notice too. The story is long and my space here short, but two photos and two short observations, one something of a confession, are in order. Confessions first, so, as usual with confessions, I can then move on more relaxed.

Tall buildings

In my slide presentations I frequently feature images of the two big towers in Shanghai. I took the picture six years. I make the comment that super tall buildings are linear development. They are not integrated into the community in the three-dimensional arrangement of complex living organisms obeying the rule of internal and external “access by proximity.” One has to be relatively close to things in the environment (external), both natural and built, to have easy, efficient, healthy access to the benefits of the environment. So too for the organism itself (internally). An organisms internal functions work best with organs close together in a 3-D, not flat (2-D) or linear (1-D), arrangement.
by Richard Register, President, Ecocity Builders Dancers by RenoirFirst, it’s helpful to understand that we live in a capital system, not a capitalist system. That system is a subsystem of an economic system made up of the total system of natural economics and human economics entwined in the ecological realities of solar energy, the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere and biosphere. For better elucidation here I’ll call that the total economic system or total economics, italicizing the terms I want to emphasize so we can hone in on the ideas behind the terms as we go. As the Gaia theorists have amply demonstrated with little if anything to counter their assertions, life plays a role of regulating the entire natural economy plus human economy on Earth, the total economics. Life forms in their billions of species through time and their mind boggling number of individuals, through various negative feedback loops, have regulated oxygen in the atmosphere at levels supportive of life and salinity in the oceans within limits, also amenable to life. It is hard to see this pattern on something as gigantic as the Earth with its towering mountains and endless plains and oceans but that’s mainly because we can’t easily grasp the enormity of time involved in the total evolutionary process. Simply this: given enough time, little things add up – especially if their numbers are as staggering as the time over which they work.
I suggested the title of this article as the overall theme for the 11th International Ecocity Conference in Abu Dhabi, which will be convening next October 2015. This will be the first Ecocity Summit to be held in the Arab region. The official theme is still being discussed and debated, with the hosts leaning towards a regional theme with an emphasis on ecocity adaptations for hot climate conditions. They in Abu Dhabi do have real expertise on this subject to be sure, and it is deeply rooted in their history. Examples of city planning and design that meet the challenges of such an extreme environment of sun and sand date back hundreds of years. High-density towns like Shaban in Yemen, with their heavy building materials of sun-dried earthen bricks – nine stories high in Shaban – and their narrow streets create a pedestrian environment pleasant in temperature and conveniently “mixed use” in the way of complete communities with lively economics and culture. We have a lot to learn from such examples in the Arab Islamic world. Another car-free model, also ancient, is the Medina of Fez, Morocco. While larger in population than the world’s other substantially car-free city – Venice, Italy – Medina shares with that Italian city a plan of narrow, shaded and “passively” cooled streets and buildings. In addition, Abu Dhabi is home to one of the most interesting modern ecocity projects I know of: the car-free, once again compact, pedestrian-oriented town of Masdar. Masdar is partially built and has the potential to exert powerful influence around the world in the realm of planning, especially if it pushes boldly in ecocity directions.
by Richard Register I’ve lately struck up an e-mail correspondence with Shin-pei Tsay, friend and colleague of Deborah Gordon author of Two Billion Cars: Driving Toward Sustainability, co-authored by Daniel Sperling with introduction by Arnold Schwarzenegger, my very own former governor who I met at a breakfast place in 1971 on Venice Beach a couple hundred feet from “Muscle Beach” where he was working out at the time, pre-movie star days. Shin-pei is presently Director of Research and Development for a start-up nonprofit in New York City called TransitCenter, Inc. that deals with public transportation related issues. We had been talking about major changes in cities and habits and attitudes toward them. She signed off a couple days ago like this: “Let me know if you have any breakthroughs from the 70s through the 80s.” That got me thinking and I came up with some from ecocity perspectives, but leading into other “breakthroughs” sliding into more modern times, post 2000. But first… There are the changes, not exactly breakthroughs, but good signs nonetheless and it’s educational to think about them some, cheer ourselves up some after thinking about climate change, species dying out, economic and social problem, the Middle East, etc. and on and on. I’ll come up with some of those, illustrated, the assess what I think, if not breakthrough, are important steps or stones – milestones – along a way toward ecocity improvement. Mariposa Grove De-paving Many of you know that “depaving” has been a preferred activity of Ecocity Builders from the start. My own first depaving project was for the San Diego Ecology Centre in 1973 when the group hired me to organize Earth Day events of a wide variety. That first depaving project was at the Campus Lutheran Center, hosted by the enthusiastic and imaginative Jim Nessheim, still there in San Diego. The project tore up about six parking places he courageously donated to the cause and put in a Native American food garden featuring corn, beans and squash: corn as a pole for the beans to climb, beans for fixing nitrogen in the soil and all three including the squash soaking up the nutrients providing a pretty balanced set of vegetables, plus it got stunning coverage in the local media.