Ecocity Insights: Regenerative Development and Ecocities

June 2, 2014

by Jennie Moore, Director, Sustainable Development and Environmental Stewardship, British Colombia Institute of Technology

This week, BCIT’s School of Construction and the Environment hosted a living lab design charrette in regenerative design with Bill Reed, principle of Regenesis Group (http://www.regenesisgroup.com/). Regenerative development is the process by which humans play a positive role in stewarding social-ecological co-evolution.  Because BCIT’s School of Construction and the Environment is concerned with the natural environment, the built environment, and the relationship between them, we are interested to learn more about how regenerative development processes can play a role in building ecocities, cities that are in balance with nature.

To regenerate is to make new, to regrow and replace what was and to expand the scope of what could be. Regeneration moves past restoration in the pursuit of evolving potential. In ecology, which is the science of relationships among living organisms and their surroundings, regeneration is the recreation of relationships over time such that the whole system, the ecosystem, is reborn. The integrity of an ecosystem is measured by its ability to replicate itself (i.e., to regenerate) over time. Healthy ecosystems have the ability to make themselves whole, overcoming challenges that negatively impact their potential. Therefore, the process of regeneration can be viewed as a process of healing.

Development is the process of evolving, building complexity, or advancing towards a specific end point. Regenerative development, therefore, is a process of renewal that evolves or advances the potential of an organism or system of relationships towards a destination. The destination could include the ecozoic era, in which humanity lives peacefully with other species staying within the ecological carrying capacity of earth.

Regeneration moves past restoration in the pursuit of evolving potential.

Regenerative development starts with a focus on being, on paying attention to oneself and one’s impacts. Next, attention is given to the immediate system or organization of which one is a part. This could comprise a family, neighbourhood, business, or city. Considerations include how one’s being, meaning one’s intentions and interactions, impact these larger systems. Attention is then given to the cumulative impacts of both one’s being and the system of which one is a part on the whole world. It is an exploration of unfolding potential and related impacts. In sociology, which is the science of human relationships and functioning, regenerative development explores the process by which cultures and societies create beliefs, values and norms of behavior to structure institutions that advance healing relationships with each other and the world.

These concepts draw heavily from the science of living systems (Miller 1978) and permaculture (Mollison 1988) that also manifest in bioregionalism and inform urban ecology and ecocity building. Regenerative development aligns with ecocity development such that the first informs the process of evolution towards the second which is the destination. Regenerative development involves a process for how to engage oneself and the people in one’s community in evolving towards an ecologically healthy relationship with nature that manifests through life patterns, including the built environment. Ecocity development involves the shaping of the destination, a built environment that enables sustainable and healthy living in balance with nature.

References

Miller, James Grier. 1978. Living Systems. New York: McGraw Hill.

Mollison, Bill. 1988. Permaculture: A designer’s manual. Tyalgum Australia: Tagari Publications.

 

British Columbia Institute of Technology School of Construction and the Environment is Lead Sponsor of the International Ecocity Framework and Standards Initiative


Swarms of Apps Will Turn Cities into Sustainable ‘Smart Hives’

May 27, 2014

By Warren Karlenzig. Originally posted on Sustainable Cities Collective.

The amazing growth of sharing apps promises to mark the spring of 2014 as the beginning of a new era demonstrating the power of the swarm. Just as the summer of 1998 marked the beginning of the mainstream Dot Com era and the spring of 2008 saw the advent of global social media, the April IPO of Opower marks a new digital-physical era, the collaborative economy.

The collaborative economy will make cities more convenient, less costly and more sustainable. To provide a mental model of this new world, think of cities as “Smart Hives” for “swarms” of physical activities optimized by, or made possible through open urban data schemes. Earlier this month, I presented this concept in Vienna (ranked as one of Europe’s top smart cities) at IconVienna, a Central European investment forum on smart cities and innovation.

Cities are similar to beehives as they provide the physical locations for the activities of the swarms they host. Of course, both cities and hives need to be in the right place to attract and maintain the largest, healthiest swarms. For beehives, it doesn’t hurt to have access to sunlight, water and flowers. (Admission: I’m an urban beekeeper) Swarms of bees, if they are wild, decide on locating in a hive according to consensus (15 bees must approve of the location) and then they develop optimal social structures according to simple rules and communications.

Cities or metros set laws, regulations and policies at the level of the hive. But emerging swarms, based on digital maps of locations and characteristics of “flowers,” optimize according to physical needs, desires and energy. When bees find flowers, they go back to their hive and dance to show the location of pollen-laden flowers.

Imagine if bees could compare with other nearby swarms how much energy they were using (as Opower enables its users to do), how much other swarms were gathering and the quality of their haul. Or if Airbnb offered swarms an easy way to find convenient unused hives, saving much energy and reducing greenhouse gases in the process.

More and more we humans are using rich digital maps and pricing information for sharing rental rooms, office space, cars, bikes, food, and energy use. Our pollen dance will be our testimonials, use patterns, geo-location, and referrals.

Some swarms will get smaller or even die off, while other swarms will grow until they divide and form new swarms based on emerging needs and changing conditions. Open data will reduce urban traffic congestion: no longer must cars circle downtown blocks as real-time parking rates and open spaces become transparent. Even more sustainable are those who are deciding to telecommute or use public transit on days when they know that parking costs are spiking or when spaces are unavailable.

Likewise mobility and housing availability will be based on shared uses through sharing and peer-to-peer platforms such as ZipCar, LyftUber, and Airbnb. Walkability data through Walkscore already allows people to analyze and select the most walking-friendly housing, jobs and vacations, so they don’t even have to depend (or spend!) on cars or transit. At a TEDx Mission a while back, I showed how hacktavists use open data from the Paris Velib bikeshare program to map bicycle availability in real time.

 

Gathering local food has been juiced by fruit and berry locator maps like the Urbana-Champaign Fruit Map (above), including the University of Illinois campus, being one example on the Urban Foraging site. Wouldn’t it be great if the fruit could start to pulsate on the map when nearing ripeness! An illustrative example of smart hives as a bottom-up opportunity, I doubt whether the cities or university would provide or condone this.

For energy use, besides Opower, companies such as C3 Energy and Stem provide Big Data energy analytics for businesses and industries, so they can reduce energy consumption through more intelligent use of utilities. These applications differ from sharing platforms, but still rely on bottom-up use strategies based at the level of digitized electrons—with energy being the last realm of digitization in our society, after communications, entertainment, and financial or healthcare services.

In Vienna, the hive and swarm concept I presented was met with excitement. European Union contingents of investors are planning trips to explore San Francisco Bay Area sharing economy start-ups as a result. The European Union is spending $92 million Euros on an ambitious smart city funding and strategy effort as part of its Horizon 2020 program, yet I was told that swarm-type user-centric applications have been largely overlooked so far. That omission is not surprising, as even in the US, cities such as Los Angeles are only now preparing to open up their data.

Smart Hives (cities) must offer not only the best amenities, such as high quality of life, transit on demand and walkability, but they also must reduce restrictive policies favoring business as usual in order to enable massive, easy and open access to city data.

The swarms are coming: if you’re a city leader, you can block them or anger them. Or you can accommodate the swarms and share in the eco-efficiency and abundant ‘honey’ they produce as they prosper.


 

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current (www.commoncurrent.com), a global consultancy for urban sustainability planning, policy and development. He has led urban sustainability strategy with clients including the The White House Office of Science and Technology; the United Nations; the nations of South Korea and Japan; Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; US Department of State; nation of China’s Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MoHURD); and the private sector. He is co-author of the United Nations publication the “Shanghai Manual: Guide for Sustainable Development in the 21st Century.” Warren wrote the original language for one of the nation’s first municipal green building ordinances (San Francisco).


Car Free Journey: Bar Harbor, Maine

May 21, 2014

Car Free Journey: June, 2014—by Steve Atlas

A favorite getaway choice in summer for many Americans is a visit to a national park. Acadia National Park, located in Bar Harbor, Maine is the only U.S. national park in the northeastern United States. While not as large as the national parks in the West, Acadia’s scenic beauty and coastal location makes it a popular choice for visitors from around the world.

Fortunately, visitors who don’t want to drive can easily enjoy Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. Be sure to plan your trip here between June 23 and the second Monday in October (Columbus Day) when the free Island Explorer buses can take you nearly anywhere you want to go in Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park, and other popular spots on Mount Desert Island.

Because the Island Explorer begins operating on June 23, this month’s Car Free Journey spotlights Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. Read the rest of this entry »


A Recent History of Bike Lanes in the U.S.

May 13, 2014

As frustratingly slow as Ecocity change seems to be at times, good people are working on good projects all the time. Look no further than the streets of San Francisco at the astounding development of bike infrastructure there. In the past 5 years designated bike lanes, bulb-outs and the like have exploded. Riding “The Wiggle”–a winding path that avoids the steepest hills between downtown and the Panhandle–has gone from a terrifying race through speeding traffic on Market, Oak and Fell streets, to a much saner and more accessible protected bike lane route. The signature green paint and share-os of bike lanes seem to multiply every week.

San Francisco’s rapid development of cycling infrastructure is no accident, and is not simply the work of Bicycle Coalition lobbying. The Fog City is part of a network of cities organized by the Department of Transportation called PeopleForBikes Green Lane Project. The Green Lane Project creates a bridge (and funding opportunities) for bike advocacy groups and city governments to work together to improve urban biking conditions. Selected cities receive up to $250,000 of financial, strategic and technical assistance from the project for building protected bike lanes.

In cities across America, investing in bicycle transportation is transitioning from an add-on catering to few cyclist hobbyists to an essential component of citizen transportation. In the last two years, the number of protected lane projects in the country has nearly doubled, reports Streetsblog. According to the Green Lane Project, 48% of all trips in the U.S. are 4 miles or less–a perfectly acceptable cycling distance for most riders. Protected bike lanes not only protect riders, but shave been shown to reduce traffic crashes for all street users by 34%. Dividers, bulb-outs, and other road development “help to make drivers more aware of their surroundings and more cautious.”

The payoff on cycling investment continues beyond the safety and enjoyment of the cycling experience to addressing pressing needs for urban transportation in the coming years.

“When you have a swelling population like the USA has and will have for the next 35 years, one of the most cost-effective ways to better fit that population is to better use the existing grid,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx at a recent Green Lane Project gathering. Bikes are part of the solution to a highway trust fund that is “teetering toward insolvency” by August or September, he said.

Six U.S. cities–Austin, Chicago, Memphis, Portland, San Francisco and Washington, DC–began the Green Lane Project in 2012. This April the partner cities expanded to include Atlanta,  Boston, Denver, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Seattle.

To celebrate the new city partners, the Green Lane Project has released a short film highlighting the advances in cycling infrastructure of the last few years. Enjoy!

The Rise of Protected Bike Lanes in the U.S. from Green Lane Project on Vimeo.


Ecocitizen Map Project Slideshow: Casablanca, Cairo and Medellín

April 30, 2014

See the photos from the Ecocitizen Team’s recent trip around the world – Morocco, Egypt, and Colombia – conducting trainings on community mapping. Also includes pictures from the wiWorld Urban Forum 7 in Medellín. Read the rest of this entry »


Ecocity Insights: IEFS at a Glance

April 29, 2014

by Jennie Moore, Director, Sustainable Development and Environmental Stewardship, British Colombia Institute of Technology

The IEFS encompasses 15 conditions that together constitute the parameters of an ecocity (www.ecocitystandards.org). Indicators within each condition inform whether a city is achieving ecocity performance. The IEFS encompasses six levels of performance that move a city from an unhealthy and unsustainable condition through three phases of green city development and onward through three levels of ecocity development. Cities that pass the Ecocity 3 threshold would theoretically achieve GAIA status, existing in regenerative symbiosis with nature’s ecosystems.

In order to understand what constitutes an ecocity, Ecocity Builders has been working with an IEFS Core Advisor Group to develop the Ecocity 1 performance parameters. This includes identification of a suitable group of indicators within each of the 15 ecocity conditions that if achieved would indicate that a given city is an ecocity, a city in balance with nature.

The fifteen ecocity conditions span ecological, social and economic considerations and comprise the following:
– access by proximity
– clean Air
– clean and safe water
– healthy soil
– responsible resources and materials
– clean and renewable energy
– healthy and accessible food
– healthy culture
– community capacity/governance
– healthy and equitable economy
– lifelong education
– well being/quality of life
– healthy biodiversity
– earth’s carrying capacity
– ecological integrity

Next steps in developing the IEFS include working with early partner cities to test the applicability and suitability of the indicators within each of the 15 conditions. In some cases the data needed to assess an indicator may not be available or may prove costly to obtain. Strategies for accessing data and obtaining missing information will need to be explored in order to develop the IEFS in such a way that all cities, regardless of their level of development and access to resources, can participate in self-assessment using the IEFS.

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British Columbia Institute of Technology School of Construction and the Environment is Lead Sponsor of the International Ecocity Framework and Standards Initiative


Car Free Journey: Spokane

April 28, 2014

Car Free Journey: May, 2014 — by Steve Atlas

When thinking of the Pacific Northwest, Seattle and Portland are the two cities that come immediately to mind. However, there are other places in Washington and Oregon that are also good choices for visitors who don’t want to drive. Best of all, they are likely to be less crowded and more compact than larger cities.

In this month’s Car Free Journey, we will spotlight one of these too-often-overlooked getaway cities: Spokane, Washington.

Spokane has an average of 260 days of sunshine, is close in the midst of the outdoors and has a walkable city center. It is a great choice for visitors who don’t want to drive as much of what you need is accessible on foot or bike, and anything outside of downtown can be easily reached by public transportation.

Let’s begin our Car Free Journey.

Welcome to Spokane!

Spokane is the largest city in Spokane County of which it is also the county seat. It is the fourth largest city and metropolitan area in the Pacific Northwest region. The city is located on the Spokane River in eastern Washington, 92 miles south of the Canadian border, approximately 20 miles from the Washington-Idaho border, and 232 miles east of Seattle. According to the 2010 Census, the city of Spokane has a population of 208,916. The Spokane Metropolitan Statistical Area (including Spokane, Stevens and Pen Oreille counties) has a population of 532,253.
The city’s name is drawn from the American Indian tribe known as the Spokane, which means “Children of the Sun” in Salishan. Spokane’s official nickname is the “Lilac City” for the flowers that have flourished since their introduction to the area in the early 20th century. Spokane has three major claims to fame. It is known as the birthplace of Father’s Days; it hosted the first environmentally themed World’s Fair, Expo ’74; and Spokane was awarded the All-America-City award by the National Civic League in 1974 and 2004. Read the rest of this entry »


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