Richard Register Interviewed by the BBC

April 29, 2008

During the the busy Ecocity World Summit last week, Richard Register found a few minutes to record an interview with the BBC World Today, one of the most listened to programs in the world. If you missed it live, that’s ok; we’ve got it here.

Richard Register on the BBC


Live blogging – Greenr’s wrapup

April 28, 2008

This in from the greenr blog:

Closing Slide - EcoCity 2008 Conference in San Francisco

This closing slide says it all!

Worldchanging Summit Blogging – Ecocity Highlights

April 28, 2008

Highlights from the 7th EcoCity World Summit


In order to transform our cities, we need to move from ego-culture to eco-culture.”

—Rusong Wang
President, Ecological Society of China

The EcoCity World Summit (see my intro here) wrapped up on Saturday afternoon in San Francisco. An incredible assemblage of the world’s brightest minds that are working to build greener cities and towns gathered for three and a half days of presentations, discussions, city tours, arts & culture, and celebration. As an urban planner for whom the sustainable cities movement is not only a passion but also a raison d’etre, professionally speaking, I found the conference to be nothing short of mind-blowing.

A vast amount of information and ideas was exchanged, and after letting it all sink in for a day or so I’ve summarized what I thought were some of the most interesting concepts and initiatives presented at EcoCity.

The Big Picture for Saving the Planet: Sustainable Cities

Amazingly, somehow I have worked as a city planner in Oakland, California for almost a year without knowing that right here in my own neighborhood is one of the leading green city advocates in the country, if not the world: Richard Register. Dubbed “EcoCity Master” by his conference co-organizer, Rusong Wang of China, Register is the President of non-profit EcoCity Builders.

Looking critically at the environmental movement, Register asserts that humanity is “winning the battle but losing the war.” Despite lots of successes – stronger environmental legislation, recycling programs in most metropolitan areas in the U.S., and the like – ecological degradation continues and is, in fact, worsening. That’s because, says Register, we’re not paying attention to the big things. And the big things, first and foremost, have to do with the design and functioning of our cities. Urban population is on the rise the world over, and cities are by far the greatest sources of natural resource consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and other pollutants. For this reason, a sustainable global future cannot be achieved without re-thinking and redesigning cities to reduce their ecological impact.

An important point that Register makes is that the eco-city concept is not a new phenomenon – it’s actually hundreds or even thousands of years old. The old city, the expression of humankind still living more or less in harmony with our natural environment, was much more ecologically sustainable. So working now toward eco-cities is really more of a reclaiming of past ideas about city form and function, as well as a revival of smart and ecological alternatives that have been neglected or suppressed for the past few decades. “All the solutions are here,” says Register.

Americans are Connecting the Dots

Parris Glendening is the former governor of Maryland and the current president of the Smart Growth Leadership Institute. His talk on the importance of compact, dense urban land use patterns that are well served by multiple and sustainable modes of transportation – a theme that was well covered at the summit – was informative. But for me the most insightful of Glendening’s contributions to the dialogue was his observation that mainstream Americans are starting to “connect the dots.”

What he’s referring to is the shift that is starting to take hold in our collective consciousness about the degradation of our quality of life and how this relates to issues like land use and transportation that, in the past, have seemed irrelevant to the layperson. But “common folks,” says Glendening, are starting to understand that our ever-diminishing free time, the loss of sense of community, rising gas prices, the sub-prime mortgage implosion, and a whole range of other current societal problems are all pieces of a bigger puzzle. We’re starting to understand that all of this points toward a fundamental problem with the way America has designed and developed our communities over the past 60+ years. This shift in thinking among the American mainstream is beginning to bring about the popular and political will to rectify our past errors.

EcoDensity in Vancouver

No serious discussion about urban sustainability goes far without somebody bringing up Vancouver, British Columbia. Vancouver is highly lauded and well studied for its achievements in city planning and sustainability. It ranks #1 on many a list of the the world’s most livable cities. But like a true overachiever, Vancouver says it still isn’t doing enough.

Planning Director Brent Toderian spoke about the City’s new EcoDensity initiative – a groundbreaking public outreach campaign and dialogue about what he calls “strategic densification.” Toderian explains that from a physical standpoint, including the street grid system, zoning code, etc, Vancouver is ready to accept higher density development on a large scale. But the more crucial question (and city planners everywhere will nod their heads in understanding) is, is the city ready to accept density from a political standpoint?

This was the impetus behind the EcoDensity initiative, which involves lots of media coverage and extensive public participation. The goal is to increase public understanding about the ecological value and necessity of denser urban areas, and to allay some of the common fears and misconceptions about density. The campaign is using innovative tools, like community publications, video, and a great website that summarizes the deliberative public process.

Curitiba, Brazil: It’s About the Kids

Jaime Lerner is the man behind one of the world’s greatest urban success stories as the former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil. He was the highlight of the summit for me (and not just because he drank out of my water bottle since they didn’t stock disposable cups at the water dispenser in the exhibition hall).

One of the most memorable moments of the conference was the recounting of how Lerner, a former architect, came up with the idea for the bus-boarding tubes that help make Curitiba’s transit system so efficient and successful. He was thinking about the design of a subway system, with its tunnels, cylindrical form, and stations for entering and exiting the trains, and started to move his hands back and forth in the shape of a subway tunnel. It seemed to Lerner that building an efficient transportation system on the ground was simply a matter of bringing the subway-boarding concept to the surface. That’s brilliance in action, if you ask me!

Perhaps what endeared Lerner to me the most was his philosophy that making a better city starts with the children. A lot of effort has been made in Curitiba to teach environmental ethics and stewardship to children in the schools from an early age. And then, Lerner explains, the kids teach their parents. “This is the fastest way to make people understand that it’s possible to make their lives better.”

Day 3 kickoff with Paolo Soleri

April 26, 2008

Paolo Soleri, Arcosanti

Born in Turin, Italy on June 21, 1919, Paolo Soleri was awarded his Ph.D. with highest honors in architecture from the Torino Polytechnico in 1946. He came to the United States in 1947 on a fellowship with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West in Arizona, and at Taliesin East in Wisconsin. His major project is Arcosanti, a prototype town for 5,000 people, under construction since 1970. Located at Cordes Junction, in central Arizona, the project is based on Soleri’s concept of “Arcology,” architecture coherent with ecology. His proposed cities would be for people on foot, not designed around automobiles, compact and three-dimensional, not two-dimensional, that is, not flat and scattered over large distances. Arcology advocates cities designed to maximize the interaction and accessibility associated with an urban environment; minimize the use of energy, raw materials and land, reducing waste and environmental pollution; and allow interaction with the surrounding natural environment.


Richard Register on Day 3

April 26, 2008

Richard Register addresses “the most important architects in the world”.

Ecocity Summit Blogging: ecolopop

April 26, 2008

de ecolopop:


Freiburg (Allemagne), Dongtan (Chine), Auroville (Inde) : autant de projets, parmi tant d’autres encore, a priori irréalistes, conçus pour la nature et le bonheur, et déjà colonisés par des dizaines de milliers d’habitants. C’est à la fin de ce mois qu’aura lieu à San Fransisco le sommet mondial des ecovilles, le World Ecocity Summit ! Complètement inscrit dans son époque, le sommet n’a qu’une ambition : sauver la terre grâce aux villes, aux éco villes bien sur. Parmi les conférenciers qui se produiront, le fameux Paolo Soleri présentera l’entreprise de sa vie : bâtie au coeur de l’Arizona, la communauté d’Arcosanti héberge des formations pratiques aux arts de la vie. Agriculture en permaculture, scuplture, céramique, ne sont que prétextes à faire fonctionner un quartier surgi du désert qui peu à peu prend l’allure d’un village pensé pour l’avenir. Concentré et efficace, il préfigure un usage rationnel des resources naturelles, selon les principes d’intégration dans une nature qui doit être bouleversée au minimum. Une entreprise qui s’affirme, avec un objectif d’accueil de 5000 habitants , comme une alternative durable au modèle urbain du “suburban sprawl”, ces fameuses banlieues tentaculaires qui envahissent, après les USA et l’Europe, toute la planète. Avec à ce jour une centaine d’habitants permanents et plusieurs dizaines de milliers de voyageurs par an, le site fonctionne… grâce aux revenus générés par le tourisme de masse…

A voir :

Live Blogging Day 1 @ Ecocity 2008

April 26, 2008

From our friends at worldchanging:

Cities are part of what it means to be human. We need to build cities as much as birds need to build nests. And if we want to have a future, then EcoCities must be part of who we are.”

—Paul Downton, Architect, Adelaide, Australia
Greetings from the EcoCity World Summit in San Francisco!

Delegates from around the world are gathering this week in San Francisco to share ideas and innovations, network, and advance the international movement for sustainable cities. This is the 7th international EcoCity Summit, hosted by Oakland-based EcoCity Builders and partner organizations. The conference is back in the Bay Area for the first time since the first EcoCity Summit took place in 1990, having been hosted since then in Australia, Senegal, Brazil, and China.

Why focus on the city in searching for solutions to environmental problems? The conference’s co-convener, Richard Register, President of EcoCity Builders, explains that cities are “directly connected to the state of the planet’s environment as well as to local problems and solutions, both ecological and economic.” The EcoCity World Summit brings together key innovators – elected officials, scientists, business leaders, architects, city planners, non-profit organizations, and activists – who are shaping the global conversation around ecological and sustainable cities and villages.

Inspiration, energy, and a renewed sense of hope are running high as some of the world’s foremost leaders in the transformation toward sustainable urban development share their success stories, strategies, and insights. Richard Register framed the dialogue by asserting that cities could run on a fraction of the energy – and generate a fraction of the ecological impact – that they currently do if they were really well-designed, lean, and efficient. For Register, an essential question in fulfilling this mission is, “Where do innovative ideas come from?”

Last night’s keynote address was given by Jaime Lerner, former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, which is widely renowned as one of the most successful models for sustainable urban design and planning. For Lerner, innovation is simply starting. Drawing on his nearly 40 years of experience with rethinking the concept of the city, Lerner sees urban areas not as challenges or threats to ecological sustainability, but rather as opportunities, boldly claiming, “The city is the solution.”

Curitiba’s success is based on a broad and interdisciplinary approach, centered around the core concepts of good design, mobility, and social cohesion. But Lerner also attributes much of the city’s progress to a short-term approach that he calls “urban acupuncture” – creating focal points like parks, street markets, cultural facilities, and other great urban spaces, that produce immediate and tangible results.

EcoCity attendees also heard last night from leaders from San Francisco’s delegation, Mayor Gavin Newson and Department of the Environment Director Jared Blumenfeld. Newsom and Blumenfeld shared an impressive list of San Francisco’s accomplishments in promoting sustainability, and emphasized the importance of political leadership and the need to take significant political risks in advancing an environmental agenda.

The EcoCity World Summit continues through Saturday, April 26th. Stay tuned for more updates over the next few days….