A Healthy and Equitable Economy in the International Context?

January 6, 2015

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

A socio-cultural feature of ecocities is that they support a healthy and equitable economy. The International Ecocity Framework and Standards (IEFS) identifies that the city’s economy “consistently favors economic activities that reduce harm and positively benefit the environment and human health and support a high level of local and equitable employment options” (www.ecocitystandards.org).

Whereas many cities focus primarily on economic growth as a means to achieve prosperity, research shows that equity is more strongly correlated with health and social improvement (Wilkinson and Pickett 2009). This is particularly true for developed economies where most of the population’s basic needs for food and shelter are already met. Yet, even among developing economies, those that achieve a more equitable distribution of wealth and invest in social services, including education, achieve higher levels of development while simultaneously keeping their demand on nature’s services low.

Countries such as Cuba and Ecuador obtain similar longevity and literacy levels as the USA, but at a fraction of energy and materials consumption (Moore and Rees 2013). Germany and Japan surpass the USA in terms of quality of life (e.g., human health and social wellbeing) while simultaneously consuming less (Moore 2013; Moore and Rees 2013; Wilkinson and Pickett 2009). Not only are these countries more efficient in their use of resources, they also have lower per capita ecological footprints. An ecological footprint refers to the amount of land and sea area required to support a specified population at their current levels of affluence and technology (Wackernagel and Rees 1996). Indeed, populations in Cuba and Ecuador live within global ecological carrying capacity as measured by their ecological footprint (WWF 2009).

The World Commission on Environment and Development acknowledges that “rapid growth combined with deteriorating income distribution may be worse than slower growth combined with redistribution in favour of the poor” (WCED 1987, 24). Unfortunately, rapid growth with deteriorating income distribution has been the dominant trend for over forty years, and today many societies are succeeding in terms of material growth and failing in terms of social health (Wilkinson and Pickett 2009).

Poverty in the midst of plenty.

Poverty in the midst of plenty.

Ecocities support economic activities that reduce harm and positively contribute to both environmental and human health. This includes efforts to reduce emissions to air and atmosphere from the combustion of fossil fuels, avoiding the use of toxic chemicals applied to soils or discharged to receiving waters where they can bio-accumulate in animals and plants, and supporting locally and organically produced foods and renewable energy sources. Ecocities also support local and equitable employment options that are integrated within the design of the city. For example, the layout of land uses as well as the city’s policy framework play an important role in: a) making jobs and housing accessible and b) ensuring that companies comply with environmental protection legislation. This approach sets the foundation for “green jobs” and “ecological-economic development” (www.ecocitystandards.org).

However, the city acting alone can only go so far. A supportive framework at senior government levels (e.g. provincial, state, national) is also important. In our globally integrated economy, the implications of national government policies and international trade agreements play a determining role in the policies local governments can enact. This is particularly true with regard to efforts by cities to advance sustainable modes of production and consumption. In North America, the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (http://usdn.org/home) comprising local government staff working to advance sustainability in over 100 cities is addressing this important topic. A recent workshop hosted in Eugene Oregon (http://scorai.org/eugene-2014/) by the Urban Sustainability Directors Network in collaboration with the Sustainable Production and Consumption Action Research Initiative (http://scorai.org/ ) identified the schism between i) locally focused community economic development efforts that advance equitable and sustainable economies and ii) globally focused national economic strategies that perpetuate economic growth without careful attention to who benefits and pays as a result of their implementation. Stay tuned to their research to find out whether a healthy and equitable economy for cities is possible within this international context.

Invest in your country's human capital.

Invest in your country’s human capital.

References:

Moore, Jennie. 2013. Getting Serious About Sustainability: Exploring the Potential for One-Planet Living in Vancouver. Dissertation in Partial Fulfillment of the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Vancouver BC: School of Community and Regional Planning, University of British Columbia.

Moore, Jennie and W.E. Rees. 2013. Getting to One-Planet Living in Linda Starke ed., State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible? Washington DC: Island Press, pp. 39-50.

Wackernagel, Mathis and William E. Rees. 1996. Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth. Gabrioloa BC: New Society Publishers.

Wilkinson, Richard and Kate Pickett. 2009. The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger. New York: Bloomsbury Press.

World Commission on Environment and Development. 1987. Our Common Future. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Worldwide Fund for Nature. 2009. Living Planet Report. Gland, Switzerland: World Wide Fund for Nature.

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

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Considering Impacts of Scale: Reflections on Guangzhou, China

December 9, 2014

Ecocity Insights

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

The Chinese national government has embraced the ecocity as a model for urban development. China is the third largest country by area and one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with a national population of 1.3 billion. China is also the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions due to the manufacture of consumable goods for export. China has instituted a one-child policy to keep its population growth in check. It has also adopted a circular economy policy that aims to reuse resources to reduce pollution and improve energy and materials efficiency. Nevertheless, many cities in China are plagued by pollution and traffic congestion problems.

For example, Guangzhou is a bustling and prosperous Chinese metropolis with a population over 14 million people. It is situated in Guangdon Province, an open economic development zone that is home to several manufacturing industries supplying global export markets. The area has seen annual increases of greenhouse gas emissions at a rate of 10% per year for the last decade (Liu et al. 2014). Buildings in Guangzhou reach 100 stories. Everyone lives in some form of multi-unit residential dwelling, ranging from four-story walk-ups to large high-rise towers. Despite achieving super-high density, complete with a rapid transportation subway system, the urban development pattern in Guangzhou is dominated by automobile traffic with six-lane streets and triple stacked roadways. This is an example of three dimensionality designed around automobile dependence. The city is often blanketed by smog, sourced from motor vehicle emissions.

Guangzhou road layering

Guangzhou road layering

Guangzhou pedestrian overpass

Guangzhou pedestrian overpass

I had the good fortune to visit Guangzhou last week. The purpose of my visit was to learn more about the environmental pollution challenges this and other cities in Guangdong province face. High density, walkable villages surrounded by green abound at the outskirts of the city. For example, just north of the Guangzhou airport are the villages of: Shiputang, Guagancun, Shangzhou, Caibian, Leping Village, Yumin New Village, Chigantu, Liantancun, Gangzai, Gangwei and many more. Yet, even in the heart of this bustling, prosperous Chinese city, hints of ecocities emerging can be found. I took a walk through part of the Guangzhou central city and found several examples of narrow pedestrian streets with shopping on the main floor and residences above, reaching an average height of six stories. Trees and greenery at corner pocket parks added to the charm of these interstitial spaces. Most people travelled by foot, bicycle or some combination thereof. Curiously, the newer high rise developments on the main thoroughfares also follow a pattern of commercial at grade (and subsequent three to four stories) with residential (up to 85 stories) above. The pattern is the same, but the scale is much bigger. Most people in the newer development areas travel by bus or private automobile; nevertheless, elevated pedestrian walkways also enable people to move around freely by foot.

Guangzhou intersection on pedestrian commercial street

Guangzhou intersection on pedestrian commercial street

Guangzhou pedestrian street

Guangzhou pedestrian street

Comparing these similar patterns of development at different scales provides a wonderful opportunity for reflection. In both the old and new development of Guangzhou, the same patterns of mixing commercial and residential uses within buildings exist. However, the streetscape in the new development is expansive. Ecocity development must work at a scale designed for mobility of the human body, not the car body. This is what enables access by proximity. I found one exciting example of this approach at the Guangzhou Pearl Market. Can high rise development be designed such that the street scape remains pedestrian-oriented, at a small and intimate scale? Could different approaches to massing of buildings enable a more pedestrian-oriented environment without sacrificing density? Much research exploring these questions is currently underway and warrants further reflection and experimentation.

Guangzhou Pearl Market

Guangzhou Pearl Market

References:

Chunrong Liu, Yaoqiu Kuang, Ningsheng Huang, Xiuming Liu. 2014. An Empirical Research on Evaluation of Low-Carbon Economy in Guangdong Province, China: Based on “Production, Life and Environment” in Low Carbon Economy, 5: 139-52.

 

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

 

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Ecocity Insights: Preliminary Comparison of IEFS with ISO 37120

July 14, 2014

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

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has just released ISO 37120 Sustainable development of communities — Indicators for city services and quality of life (http://www.iso.org/iso/catalogue_detail.htm?csnumber=62436). The purpose is to advance a holistic and integrated approach to sustainable development through uniform measurement of standardized indicators. The hope is that the indicators will be used to track and monitor city performance towards the goal of achieving sustainability. However, conformance to the standard does not confer sustainability status.

The ISO 37120 indicators are categorized as “core” (mandatory), “supporting” (voluntary), and “profile” (descriptive). The Ecocity Framework and Standards (IEFS) groups headings of indicators according to “Urban Design,” “Bio-Geo Physical Features,” “Socio-Cultural Features,” and “Ecological Imperatives.” Both IEFS and ISO 37120:2014 are intended to be applicable to any city, municipality or local government regardless of size, location, or level of development. Using standardized indicators helps to make the performance of these cities comparable. A key consideration for both is that the methodology for measurement of indicators is consistent and verifiable. The IEFS indicators emphasize ecological sustainability and social equity in an attempt to distinguish the achievement of a minimum ecocity standard of performance, meaning a city that exists in balance with nature. ISO37120 indicators emphasize city services and quality of life. In the future these indicators could also be used with ISO37101: Sustainable development in communities – Management systems – General principles and requirements anticipated for release in 2016 (http://www.iso.org/iso/home/news_index/news_archive/news.htm?refid=Ref1856). Anyone interested in participating in this standard can send an e-mail to harjung@iso.org.

In a preliminary comparison of the ISO37120 with the IEFS (see Table 1), several important similarities and distinctions are noticeable. Both ISO37120 and IEFS present commonality in addressing topics related to education, economy, and energy. However, there are no headings in the ISO37120 to address food or soils, arguably important gaps where sustainability and resilience are concerned Whereas ISO37120 captures multiple indicators under the heading of “Environment,” the IEFS breaks these down into more refined categories including: “Ecological Carrying Capacity,” “Ecological Integrity,” “Clean Air,” etc. On the other hand, ISO37120 introduces multiple category headings to deal with “Water and Sanitation,” as well as “Wastewater.” The IEFS captures these under one heading: “Clean and Safe Water.” Similarly, ISO37120 introduces multiple category headings for “Health,” “Safety,” “Recreation,” “Urban Planning,” “Telecommunication and Innovation,” and “Finance.” Most of these issues are grouped within the IEFS under two headings: “Healthy Culture,” and “Well Being/Quality of Life.”

There are also differences in terms used for headings that seem to approach measurement of similar phenomenon, e.g. ISO37120 identifies “Transportation” whereas the IEFS identifies “Access by Proximity.” In the case of the latter, the IEFS includes access to shelter within this category, whereas ISO 37120 establishes a separate heading for “Shelter.” Similarly, ISO 37120 introduces “Governance” as a heading, whereas IEFS addresses this topic under the heading “Community Capacity Building.” Where ISO37120 identifies “Solid Waste,” the IEFS identifies “Responsible Resources/Materials.”

These distinctions reveal important nuances in the values and thought-processes that contribute to the emergence of different indicator groupings. The evolution of indicators to measure city performance is an important step towards sustainable community development and specifically what can be defined as an ecocity.

Table 1: Comparison of IEFS and ISO37120 Categories and Headings

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


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


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


Ecocity Insights: Healthy Biodiversity

April 1, 2014

By Jennie Moore, Director Sustainable Development and Environment Stewardship
BCIT School of Construction and the Environment

 

Biodiversity refers to the vast array of species, both flora and fauna, that populate the Earth. Their interactions create the ecosystems upon which we depend, characterized by various biomes including: deserts, rainforests, grasslands, and coral reefs (Newman and Jennings 2008).

Healthy biodiversity needs intact nutrient cycles, no net loss of soils, and no accumulation of pollutants (in soil, air or water). Although approximately 12% of Earth’s wild places have been dedicated as natural reserves, global change processes, including climate change, mean that the systemic conditions needed for these places to thrive are being undermined. Biodiversity losses are being driven in part by urbanization processes that fragment natural habitats and nutrient cycles, deplete soils and aquifers, and increase pollution levels (Newman and Jennings 2008).

To achieve the “Ecocity: Level 1 Condition” requires that the geo-physical and socio-cultural features of a city are in harmony with its surrounding bioregion (www.ecocitystandards.org). This means that indigenous flora and fauna are allowed to flourish. Equally important, ecocities do not draw down the resources or increase pollution levels in areas outside the bioregion either. This could happen through trade imbalances and/or taking advantage of global common resources, such as the waste sink capacities of oceans and atmosphere. Therefore, ecocities are concerned both with preserving and enabling healthy biodiversity in their bioregion as well as in the world generally.

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The ecocity vision includes tightly clustered development immediately adjacent to naturally preserved areas (Register 2006). This allows people to experience nature at their doorstep despite living in high-density urban environments. Ecocities also utilize clean and renewable energy and responsible resources and materials that do not contribute to the destruction of natural habitat in their extraction nor the accumulation of toxics in their manufacture, use and disposal. Finally, by ensuring healthy and accessible food, ecocities also help to protect soils while keeping citizens well nourished.

References:

Newman, Peter and Isabella Jennings. 2008. Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems: Principles and Practices. Washington DC: Island Press.

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

 

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

 


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 »