Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Definition of a Sustainable Cities

A majority of cities now face the growing crisis  of food dependency, air pollution, traffic and a whole host of issues that are decreasing the quality of life for its' residents. EcoCities are basically cities that are built to curb pollution, be resilient, generate food, create mass transit and improve livability.   Humanity is being driven by the necessity to implement sustainability, ecological balance and economic justice. The scope of this paper will be to cover ground up eco city projects.  Later we'll look at 'greening' cities, garden cities, and eco-villages.  Building a eco city from the ground up is monumental but represents an opportunity to really get it right using all of the design knowledge and materials that in an already built environment might now be possible.

As a strict definition: sustainable city, or eco-city is a city designed with consideration of environmental impact, inhabited by people dedicated to minimization of required inputs of energy, water and food, and waste output of heat, air pollution - CO2methane, and water pollution. Richard Register first coined the term "ecocity" in his 1987 book, Ecocity Berkeley: Building Cities for a Healthy Future.[1] Other leading figures who envisioned the sustainable city are architect Paul F Downton, who later founded the company Ecopolis Pty Ltd, and authors Timothy Beatley and Steffen Lehmann,[2] who have written extensively on the subject. The field of industrial ecology is sometimes used in planning these cities.

  Can the city maintain itself and a high quality of living perpetually?

-Decentralized Energy production
  Does the city produce enough energy to its needs without having to import in energy?

-Food production
  -The greater the amount of food a city can produce within it's boundaries the more sustainable it is.

  Can the city efficiently move good, services, and people within its boundaries?

-Environmental Impacts
 Does the city have a minimum impact upon the environment.  Is the air quality good? Does the city put out excessive CO2?  Impacts to the environment can be minimized on so many levels: from creating habitat for wildlife to flow.... to minimizing waste production.

 Is the city livable? Does it have low crime rates, easy access to satisfying the needs of its inhabitants?

 A city can be sustainable but can it be resilient? How does the city deal with earthquakes, economic trauma, defense against war, etc...?

The three Eco-cities that I'm going to look at represent massive projects from the ground-up.  These projects are in theory supposed to embody all of the elements of sustainability and provide blueprints for humanity in its' move forward towards a promising future.
Zira's brochere

I looked at the Zira Island site two years ago and am incredibly enthusiastic about its potential.  This is the creation of Denmark's  BIG architects. Check out the the film you will understand what I mean about promise. Currently, Zira island is under construction and it is my hope to get some photos and video feed of this city.

Tainjin- Eco City

Tainjin represents the massive influx of money being thrown at a problem that many countries are feeling: urban pollution, city livability and costs to society.   
China has long had a reputation for paying little attention to ecology and pollution. China is currently ranked 116 of 132 countries on the Environmental Performance Index, and since 2007, China has overtaken the U.S. as the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter. Recognizing the unsustainability of its growth model, the Chinese government has called for a major policy shift to address the environmental impacts of economic growth. In fact, China claims it is one of the first developing countries to propose and implement sustainable development as a national strategy. The government has achieved substantial advancements in sustainable development, including poverty reduction and population control. 

China has over a billion people and the impacts of China's development is being felt all over the world. China's foray into eco-cities represents a commitment to change.  There are over thirty provinces in China that have declared the creation of either an eco-district or eco city.  Tianjin represents the farthest along in development while Dongtan looks like a total failure.   Dongtan is both unfinished and at this point showing little movement towards finishing.  The initial monies for the city ran out and the local support has been small.   Cities like Dongan take years if not decades to finish and need long term support.  Also, Dongan has been questioned about it's true resiliency and ecological impact.  Dongtan has been located on wetlands.   By contrast, Tainjin has been located on a dry alkaline lake bed to minimize impacts but now will require strict attention to water which was planned for.

The Middle East is seeking options away from oil and is in the process of creating green cities such as
Masdar, a city outside of  Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi is a sheikhdom of eastern Arabia and capital of the United Arab Emirates.   Masdar goal- "One day, it is expected that up to 40,000 people will call the car-free, pedestrian friendly, energy-efficient city home"   

Currently, Masdar has about 150 people living there and it hasn't quite lived up to its' promise. (link to Masdar's critique).   The city is well planned and while sitting in the middle of the desert it pays attention to old desert city designs which favor narrow raised streets.   The city has not implemented building solar panels due to the desert winds.  Instead, Masdar has created a huge solar facility that generates heat for creating power.  Masdar has a university, and has attracted some major corporations including Siemans- a corporation dedicated to sustainable city development.

Apparently, Masdar has suffered a bit due to the 2008 world economic collapse.  The money that was supposed to go into finishing the city has instead had to prop up Abu Dhabi.   Even through Masdar is not as large as it was supposed to be it has contributed to some very important technological innovations.   Masdar shows that eco-cities can be created and will contribute to sustainable urban development.  Unfortunately, Masdar is suffering from what many huge projects do: The need for large amounts of money and the general lack of it.

In Conclusion

Giant urban eco city developments are in their infancy.  The technology and knowledge base for creating resilient cities are available but the implementation, monies, and political support for these projects are limited.  Any kind of resilient sustainable development is a movement in the right direction.  Limiting Co2, waste creation, creating better living conditions and transportation options will be a challenge for cities.

In many ways, mega-city development projects are really unrealistic and will largely be limited to countries that can either afford it or can entice corporations and entities to make it happen.  Masdar and Zira are both funded by oil.  Tainjin has been funded by the rapid economic expansion of China.  In order to move eco-city development forward on a grand scale will take massive political will.  In theory, it would be most beneficial to rebuild cities recovering from destruction.  Cities like New Orleans, and others represent amazing opportunities for evolution.  A list of qualifications could be drawn up for cities in need and systemic urban planning which involves all parties and a process of facilitation.   

1 comment:

Josh Pasmore said...

Really good article!