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 »

Active Design Awards: 7 projects keeping people (and the environment) healthy

April 22, 2014

Partially reblogged from

Center for Active Design: Excellence

Recognizing design that can make people healthier and happier is the goal of a recent awards by The Center for Active Design, an organization launched in New York City in 2013 by the Bloomberg Administration’s Obesity Task Force. This week the Center announced the first every winners of the Excellence in Active Design award competition. The competition intends to publicize and recognize the role of design in addressing preventable disease by encouraging physical activity through the design of buildings and public space.

A jury of design and health professionals selected four winning projects and two honorable mentions for the Center for Active Design Excellence award according to the checklists found in the Active Design Guidelines, published in 2010. Preference was given to projects with research studies of proven impact. The jury also acknowledged the extent to which cross-sector and community collaboration were required in order to realize the results achieved. The Leadership in Active Design Excellence award recognizes an early adopter of Active Design with an established track record of Active Design implementation. All winning projects exemplify innovation in the implementation of Active Design, the press release states.

The Center was pleased to see projects submitted for review came from regions well beyond its hometown of New York City, spanning the US from New Mexico to Washington, Virginia to Texas, and countries from Argentina to Denmark. This strong showing is evidence that Active Design is growing nationally and internationally as designers are more knowledgeable of the health affects of their work.

Award recipients will be recognized at “Celebrate Active Design”, to be held in New York City on May 19, 2014. The fundraising event is open to the public from 7pm – 9pm. For more information on purchasing tickets, please click here.

Read on to find out more about these projects! Read the rest of this entry »

Future Arcosanti?

March 4, 2014

by Richard Register, Founder

In a distant world, long, long ago…


What’s Arcosanti? Paolo Soleri’s experimental aspiring city in the high Arizona desert, USA.

I love the place. I was there the first day of construction, July 23, 1970, a long time ago. In fact, with one other of Paolo’s students I raised the first vertical structure there, and if you know something about Paolo’s thinking about rising off the flat suburban format, that might mean something. It also makes me something of a fossil. But you can sometimes learn something from fossils, and not even only about the past. They have that much maligned ability to inform about the whole flow of time and thus hint the future as well as report the past. I guess I was a fundamentalist’s apostate since I grew up in the Jewish/Christian/Islamic monotheistic tradition but thought fossils made sense as something that looked a lot like contemporary bones but older. I am a fundamentalist though, but based on fundamental principles about the things that open inquiry might reveal these days about our beautiful universe, rather than what was thought and recorded several thousand years ago on the same subject.

Anyway, back in 1965 when I met him, Soleri was already saying the flat city of cars was wrecking not only the lives of people through serious car accidents but also wrecking the whole damn future by way of creating flat, scattered cities. That seemed to be bizarrely obscure and unwelcome information to Los Angelenos. I was one at the time I met him; but to me it simply made sense.

I’d been interested in his work for five years already when one morning I decided to call him up on what’s now known quaintly as a “land line” – Los Angeles to Phoenix, “dial up” around a little circle with numbers – to see if he was making any progress on starting his “city of the future.” In his case this future city was not sci-fi or tongue-in-cheek but deadly serious. He wanted to build one and he answered the phone at 6433 East Doubletree Ranch Road, Scottsdale, Arizona. Read the rest of this entry »

Ecocity Insights: Wellbeing and Quality of life, Beyond the GDP

February 25, 2014

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

The International Ecocities Framework and Standards (IEFS) identifies human wellbeing and quality of life as an essential social feature. Specifically, “residents report satisfaction with their quality of life including employment, the built, natural and landscaped environment, physical and mental health, education, safety, recreation and leisure, and social belonging” (

Human wellbeing depends on access to resources sufficient to lead a dignified life (Raworth 2013). This includes access to natural resources such as clean air, water and energy, as well as nutritious food. It also includes access to social resources including education, healthcare, employment and recreation, participation in decisions that affect one’s life, and freedom from persecution for one’s religious beliefs.

Ecocities not only support wellbeing and quality of life through provision of affordable shelter and services, they also enable people to: access jobs close to where they live, breath clean air in car-free cities, and enjoy nature at their doorstep (Register 2006). This is achieved through compact design of the built environment that takes advantage of roof-tops (e.g., for parks and restaurants) and spaces below ground (e.g., for storage and shopping). Landscaped environments at grade blend with the natural environment to foster ecological connections that invite nature into the city (Register 2006).

Residents of ecocities enjoy a high quality of life regardless of their socio-economic status. This means that social services are provided based on need, not just an ability to pay.

An important measure for wellbeing is the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI). Invented by Redefining Progress in 1995, the GPI considers changes in income distribution, volunteerism, crime, pollution and resource depletion as factors that affect quality of life (Redefining Progress 2013). This stands in contrast to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which measures the sum of a nation’s financial transactions, but does not consider whether those contribute or detract from the wellbeing of citizens, particularly those who are most vulnerable.


Raworth, Kate. 2013. Defining a Safe and Just Space for Humanity in Linda Starke, ed., State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?  Washington DC: Island Press.

Redefining Progress. 2013. Sustainability Indicators: Genuine Progress Indicator (online resource) (Accessed on November 14, 2013).

Register, Richard. 2006. Ecocities: Building Cities in Balance with Nature. Gabriola Island BC: New Society Publishers.

Register, Richard. 1987. Ecocity Berkeley: Building Cities for a Healthy Future. Berkeley Ca: North Atlantic Books.

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

Why Nantes? Europe’s Green Capitol 2013

March 12, 2013

To those who say Ecocities are impossible, that a green economy will fail, and that citizens will never support or get involved in Eco-principles on a large scale, I give you Nantes.

Nantes: The Venice of France

Following in the footsteps of Stockholm, Hamburg and Vitoria-Gasteiz, Nantes Métropole is the European Union’s Green Capital for 2013. The European Commission launched the Green Capital project in 2008 to recognize and reward cities’ efforts to increase sustainability and improve quality of life. Addressing these issues is a pressing concern for European cities as three in four European citizens currently live in urban areas and that number is expected to grow to four in five by 2050.

This year will bring many exciting events to Nantes including ten local or national conferences and 11 European or international conferences, not least of which is the International Ecocity World Summit this September 25-27th.

Few outside of France may have ever heard of Nantes–it is well worth paying attention to.

Nante’s story mirrors that of many industrial cities in Europe and the United States. After the closure of the city’s main economic source–the shipyards–in the 1980s, city leaders were faced with a struggling economy, civic stagnation and abandoned, decaying industrial sites. But instead of trying to recreate failed systems and lingering in the industrial past, Nantes took a unique leap of faith and decided to invest in sustainable infrastructure, culture and quality of life. No mean feat for the 1980s.

Planners carefully redeveloped the shipyards into green public space and focused on highlighting the city’s history (dating to Pre-Roman times), fostering culture and community development, and connected the city via high speed rail to Paris. Nantes’ planning framework promotes urban density, solidarity, and equal access to green living amenities for citizens of all income levels. The result: in 2004, Time Magazine named Nantes the most livable place in all Europe.

A few numbers from Nantes:

  • 57m2 of green space per person
  • 15% of residents use public transportation daily
  • Everyone lives within 300m of a green space in the city
  • 80% of the Nantes/Sant-Nazaire metro area is natural and farmland space
  • Only 11% of household waste goes to landfills

Nantes works hard to encourage dense urban development to accommodate its growing population rather than sprawling into surrounding green areas. In addition many riverbanks, wetlands and green spaces have been restored to support a thriving wildlife population.

Nante’s city governance also attempts to break with a long history of top-down city planning that has often been patronizing and alienating. City leaders name civic pride and involvement a top priority for the city, and their policies reflect this. Vigorous public outreach campaigns involve citizens with the planning of their neighborhoods and the government also holds household workshops on carbon footprint reduction and sustainability.

Of course it is all a work in progress; still, Nantes is a consummate example of the Ecocity principles in action and we are so excited to come together for the 2013 World Summit in such a remarkable city!

Join us

Liberating Streets

July 26, 2012

By Sven Eberlein

Sunday Streets returned to my neighborhood in San Francisco’s Mission District. Sunday Streets is an event organized by the City of San Francisco, MTA, and Livable City that creates a large, temporary, public space by closing off stretches of a neighborhood’s streets to automobile traffic, and opening them to pedestrians, bicyclists, and activities. Or to be more specific, a huge street party for old and young to come out and be human for a day.

sunday streets 1

I’ve posted about Sunday Streets quite a few times and I keep telling myself that I don’t need to do it again, but what makes this event so special is that it’s never quite the same. Each time I go, even for just a couple of hours, there are new sights and sounds.

The people who’ve been there before keep reinventing themselves, and all the first-timers add so many new layers of fun and creativity that it’s hard to keep up. I really can’t say it enough, but when the streets are for the people and the people get out of their cars, really cool, creative, and unexpected stuff happens, just like that.

sunday streets 2

Of course, there were the usual suspects, like the lindyhoppers…

Sunday Streets, June 3, 2012

the hula-hooping kids…

Sunday Streets, June 3, 2012

and the finger-pickers…

Sunday Streets, June 3, 2012

there was serious chillin’ out…

Sunday Streets, June 3, 2012

and the roller-blading acrobatics…

Sunday Streets, June 3, 2012

There were some variations on familiar themes. For example I’d seen lots of cute pets and heard cool tunes, but I hadn’t seen the bulldog standing in as a flyer for a sidewalk sale…

Sunday Streets, June 3, 2012

or a Balkan brass band smokin’ it up…

Sunday Streets, June 3, 2012

But I knew something was up when even bubble girl — a Sunday Streets institution — was stopped in her tracks. Was that really what I think it was?

Sunday Streets, June 3, 2012

Yup, it was a mechanical pony, a modern day hobby horse made for streets of few cars. Bubble girl couldn’t resist a closer encounter…

Sunday Streets, June 3, 2012

But wait, that wasn’t it. As we kept walking, they kept coming in our direction…

Sunday Streets, June 3, 2012

as if it was the most normal thing in the world, like checking your emails…

Sunday Streets, June 3, 2012

Indeed, this could become a daily sight if it’s up to these guys bringing horses back to the mission district…

Sunday Streets, June 3, 2012

This kind of transportation may seem a little unusual, but I think it really signifies the bigger kind of changes we need to see in how we get around in our cities, if not literally but definitely symbolically. It’s all nice to tinker around the edges, a bike lane here and a Smart Car there, but I think it’s not just about physical changes but about a different kind of thinking, a more imaginative way of being together, if we really want to have cities and settlements that are on a people scale.

Most ideally, a little people scale…

Sunday Streets, June 3, 2012

In order to create a whole new paradigm we really have to dare to embrace the impossible, and as we were walking back towards 24th Street, we were stopped in our tracks by a perfect demonstration of what’s possible when we collectively attempt to rearrange the existing pieces…

Sunday Streets, June 3, 2012

Yup, there it was, the leaning tower of street jenga…

Sunday Streets, June 3, 2012

With the slanted table and a fierce San Francisco wind blowing we thought that we were pretty much witnessing the end of the game, but what happened next…

Sunday Streets, June 3, 2012

was really amazing.

Sunday Streets, June 3, 2012

One guy after another kept stepping up, pulling out piece…

Sunday Streets, June 3, 2012

after piece…

Sunday Streets, June 3, 2012

There were so many oohs and aahs, and people were having a great time, laughing and cheering each other on…

Sunday Streets, June 3, 2012

With each move it felt more and more like we were all in this together. This kid was amazing, he literally took out the foundation of the tower…

Sunday Streets, June 3, 2012

and unbelievably, with its entire bottom corner missing, the tower stood…

Sunday Streets, June 3, 2012

It was nothing short of a miracle, but then again I kept thinking to myself that this is what we can do on a larger scale, to re-envision our entire foundation without collapsing the whole thing. We just have to work together and support each other. And we’ve got to be bold!

Sunday Streets, June 3, 2012

In the game, however, we know what must happen…

Sunday Streets, June 3, 2012

but in life it’s the process of collaborating, pushing each other further, and expanding our horizon that frees us from the same old building blocks that got us stuck in the first place. The future we want is in our hands, and in our streets.

Sven Eberlein, Ecocity Media

Sven Eberlein is a writer, musician and activist living in San Francisco with roots in Germany. As an associate of Ecocity Builders, Sven has been intimately involved in the advancement of sustainable cities and urban design. His essays have been featured in magazines ranging from the SF Bay Guardian to Global Rhythm Magazine. His new book, Dancing on the Brink of the World, weaves themes of ecology, social justice and spirituality onto a canvas of art, music and creative storytelling. He is a founding member of the band Chemystry Set and publishes the creative portal Tuber Creations. You can read Sven’s creative musings at his blog, A World of Words.

West Coast Green tackles a sustainable future for West Oakland

October 7, 2008

The concerns of West Oakland got a hearing at the latest edition of West Coast Green, the eco-builder conference held last week in San Jose that otherwise featured the usual suspects: a trade show floor packed with green building goodies and speakers such as Al Gore and environmentalist David Suzuki, host of the long-running Canadian TV show “The Nature of Things,” talking the righteous green talk.

 Tucked away in one corner of the conference, though, a discussion was going on about the future of West Oakland, a place not commonly thought of as having much of a bright future, green or otherwise.

The people doing the talking weren’t green movement celebrities, but a collection of more than 160 developers, government officials, designers, architects and community activists – all stakeholders in the future of an industrial and residential part of Oakland that has long suffered from high crime, pollution and neglect.

They were gathered together as part of what’s known as a planning charrette, a term used in urban planning circles (and other disciplines) to describe meetings designed to elicit input on a project from a wide range of affected parties.

Organized by Oakland’s Ecocity Builders, a nonprofit involved in the theory and practice of sustainable city design, the charrette was to help flesh out a report dubbed “The Sustainable Urban Villages Project.” Ostensibly a blueprint for a sustainable makeover of the area, the report is being funded by a $73,000 grant from the Bay Area Air Quality Management Board. When completed in late 2009, Ecocity will share it with other cities such as Richmond.

Ecocity’s idea for the future of West Oakland, an area surrounded by freeways and streets full of big rigs going to and from the busy Port of Oakland, is to create affordable homes within “urban villages” in the area.

Executive Director Kirstin Miller defines an urban village as a neighborhood about a half-mile long where residents can easily walk or take public transportation to just about any activity – work or school, shopping and recreation. The idea is in keeping with Ecocity’s mission of “thinking through how to re-design cities more for people rather than cars,” Miller said.

The nonprofit also wanted to study a place that needed help. “That’s why we didn’t go to Montclair,” Miller said, referring to Oakland’s pricey hillside neighborhood north of Piedmont with a vibrant shopping district.

By contrast, West Oaklanders don’t even have a supermarket. An area that Ecocity foresees as a possible urban village is on Seventh Street across from the West Oakland BART station where there is currently a retail strip.

Another reason for choosing West Oakland is that Miller foresees a return to cities by suburbanites no longer able to afford their commute or McMansions. While it usually leads to the development of expensive urban lofts, Miller said community leaders she’s talked to want to make sure development in the area doesn’t leave local residents priced out.

To lead the charrette, Ecocity brought in developer John Knott whose company, the Noisette Co., is in the process of building affordable housing units on the site of a former Navy base in North Charleston, S.C. – an area similar to West Oakland, where residents wait and wonder to hear the fate of the nearby vacant Army base. Created with the help of community leaders, the development is seen as an enhancement to existing neighborhoods and property values are rising.

Among the ideas bandied about at the charrette were proposals to grow bamboo in West Oakland’s soil, long contaminated by local industrial runoff. Apparently, bamboo doesn’t need pristine dirt to grow and can be irrigated with reclaimed water. Bamboo is in demand for products such as flooring and rows of it would also break up the industrial landscape of the area. Another idea was to raise food crops in elevated beds to avoid using the toxic soil.

If an urban village is built in the area, activists made it clear that they want zoning laws enacted to preserve the many newly remodeled Victorian homes, such as those in the Lower Bottom, a part of West Oakland where a housing development is being built on the site of the Central Station, the former West Coast terminus of the transcontinental railroad.

Perhaps the greatest asset attendees came away with from the charrette was a sense of empowerment over a process they normally would feel left out of. The process showed them that by “thinking through the big picture vision an urban village has a logic to it. It’s not something that’s too obscure to figure out,” Miller said.