Car Free Journey: North Conway, NH

July 23, 2014

Car Free Journey: August, 2014—by Steve Atlas


Northern New Hampshire is the epitome of Northeastern natural beauty. While attractive any time of the year, late summer and fall are particularly beautiful times to savor the beauty of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. The charming settlement of North Conway is an excellent base for visitors without cars to explore Mt Washington Valley and the White Mountain National Forest. In addition to being compact, very walkable, and easy to reach from Boston by bus, North Conway Village is home to both natural attractions and tax-free shopping. Sites of interest not within walking distance can be reached using Fast Taxi, a local taxi company in North Conway.

For these reasons, our August Car Free Journey column spotlights North Conway, New Hampshire.

North Conway, New Hampshire

Mt Washington Valley is a collection of 27 towns and villages all surrounding Mount Washington, the tallest mountain peak in the North East. The geographic center of Mt Washington Valley, is North Conway, NH. The entire valley is surrounded by the 660,000 acre White Mountain National Forest, offering seemingly endless hiking, biking, rock/ice climbing, waterfall viewing opportunities and scenic beauty. During each season this region offers gorgeous vistas and plenty of natural and man-made recreation. The region also offers 10 golf courses, adventure and water parks, the Conway Scenic Railroad, and 200 tax-free outlets, shops, boutiques and stores. There is no sales tax in New Hampshire (there is, however, a 9% rooms and meals tax).


Welcome to North Conway

North Conway is a year-round resort area in eastern Carroll County, New Hampshire, with a population of 2,349 (2010 U.S. Census). North Conway is the largest village within the town of Conway, which is bounded on the east by the Maine state line and the White Mountain National Forest on the west and north. Conway is home to Cathedral Ledge (popular with climbers), Echo Lake State Park, and Cranmore Mountain Resort.

Chartered in 1765 by Colonial Governor Benning Wentworth, the town is named for Henry Seymour Conway: ambitious son of a prominent English family, who was elected to the House of Commons at age twenty, fought at Culloden, and became Secretary of State.

The White Mountains became a popular destination for artists in the 19th century. Their paintings, known collectively as White Mountain Art, attracted tourists to the area, particularly after the Portsmouth, Great Falls & Conway Railroad extended service here in 1872. In 1932, “snow trains” began carrying enthusiasts to the area. However, by the 1950s increasing automobile travel brought the decline of trains. The railroad abandoned passenger service to the area in 1961, and freight service in 1972. In 1974, the Conway Scenic Railroad was established. It offers visitors a tour of the region, including Crawford Notch. Its Victorian station is on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979.

North Conway and its surrounding towns offer stupendous hiking in the White Mountain National Forest. The area, particularly Cathedral Ledge in Echo Lake State Park, is a major rock climbing destination. The 500-foot (150 m) cliff overlooks Echo Lake and North Conway from the west. Visitors without cars can call Fast Taxi to drive them to the Cathedral Ledge summit to enjoy the fine views of the Saco River Valley.

Come here to the White Mountains to enjoy autumn colors on the surrounding mountains and forests late September through early October. The Conway Scenic Railroad offers train rides that leave from the village’s Victorian station. In winter, the village is the destination for skiers visiting area resorts such as Cranmore Mountain (located in North Conway), Attitash Mountain Resort, Black Mountain, King Pine, Shawnee Peak and Wildcat Mountain, plus six additional ski resorts.


Getting Here

The only way for non-drivers to get to Mt Washington Valley is by bus. Concord Coach (formerly Concord Trailways). The best place to start your trip is in Boston at either Logan International Airport or South Station (a connection from Amtrak trains or Greyhound bus). At the time of this column, there were two daily trips in each direction. The cost is $30 one-way and $56 round trip. (For more details, visit, or call toll-free 800-639-3317 or the local number: 603-228-3300).

Buses leave Logan Airport at 9:25 a.m. and 3:40 p.m., South Station at 10:00 a.m. and 4:15, and arrive in North Conway at 1:35 p.m., and 7:40 p.m.

Returning buses leave North Conway at 8:30 a.m. and 2:35 p.m., and arrive at South Station 12:20 p.m. and 6:20 p.m., and Logan International Airport at 12:35 p.m. and 6:35. p.m.

The Concord Coach stops at the Eastern Slope Inn in the heart of North Conway Village.   ( From there, all of North Conway Village is easily walkable.

Another option is Sutton Luxury Limousine, which will pick you up at any New England airport and take you to North Conway. For details and reservations, visit, or call 603-387-3663.


After You Arrive

North Conway is a small village and you can pretty much walk to anywhere here. Taxi services are available to take you throughout North Conway. Fast Taxi delivery and shuttle service will be your best friend. They are reliable, friendly and very knowledgeable about the Mt Washington Valley and can take you anywhere you want to go. Info:, or call 603-356-0000.


Where to Stay

The best bet is to stay in North Conway Village. There are a number of inns and B&Bs in the Village, including the Cranmore Inn, the Kearsarge Inn, Spruce Moose Lodge and the Nereledge Inn. If you want a larger hotel/resort property, stay at the Eastern Slope Inn and Resort. Another option is the Briarcliff Motel.

Further down the road, try Hampton Inn and Suites, Comfort Inn North Conway, Green Granite Inn, North Conway Grand or Residence Inn.

All of these accommodations are within easy walking distance of “the village” (i.e. North Conway Village). For more information (including phone numbers, web sites, and e-mails) about these and other places to stay, visit:, or call toll-free: 877-948-6867. For reviews of North Conway accommodations, Trip Advisor is a good resource. You can find their reviews at


Getting Around

North Conway is very walkable. For times when you need a ride to attractions and locations outside the village, Fast Taxi (, or call 603-356-0000) is the best transportation resource available. Sutton Limousine provides limousine service when needed (, or call 603-387-3663).

Both road and mountain bikes are available for rent in the village. Any of the three biking shops within walking distance of the Concord Coach bus station can give you information about trails and other places to bike. For more information about renting bikes and where to bike, visit: Joe Jones Sun and Ski Sports ( or call 603-356-9411), Red Jersey Cyclery ( or call 603-356-7520), or Stan & Dan Sports ( or call 603-356-5997).

Mount Washington Cog Railway Start.jpg
Mount Washington Cog Railway Start” by Dan Crow – Self-published work by Dan Crow. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


What to Do

The Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau recommend the following attractions that are within walking distance of most parts of North Conway:

Walk to:

Conway Scenic Railroad: scenic train rides and dinner rides:

Cranmore Adventure Park –

MWV Children’s Museum:

Zeb’s General Store – largest collection of New England-made specialty foods in the country:


Take Fast Taxi to the Following Attractions Outside of North Conway

Here are a few ideas for local travel without a car, using Fast Taxi, plus the cost of getting there each way:

Northern Extremes Kayak & Canoe Rental with Shuttle Service
Cab fare: $8 for 1-4 people from North Conway

The Saco River’s crystal clear waters and wide sandy beaches make for some excellent canoeing and kayaking.

Rent canoes, kayaks or tubes and spend your day meandering down the river, then take advantage of shuttle transportation back.

Cranmore Mountain –Includes Zip lines, Bungy Trampoline, Climbing Wall, scenic chair rides,

Summer Tubing, Gem mining, Giant Swing and a small bouncy House. Cab fare: $8 for 1-4 people

Here’s one adventure park with something for everyone.  Scenic chairlift rides take you to the top of the mountain where a new trail offers the perfect loop and picnics are more scenic than ever.  Cranmore Mountain has plenty of exhilarating fun for the whole family.

Diana’s Bath’s has a free hiking trail with beautiful waterfalls and clean water to relax in
Cab fare: $12 for 1-4 people

Take the 6/10 mile hike into this cascading series of pools, waterfalls and natural swimming holes.

This is one of the most special places in Mt Washington Valley.

Mt Washington Auto Road has guided tours to the top of Mt Washington.
Cab fare: $75 for 1-4 people (call for details)

On a clear day, see into four states and Canada from the top of Mount Washington.  Don’t miss the newly opened Extreme Mount Washington Museum on the summit, chronicling the history of extreme weather on the tallest peak in the Northeast.

Storyland- great theme park for children and all.

Cab fare: $20 for 1-4 people

Story Land, celebrating its 60th anniversary, is where fantasy lives! Don’t miss the brand new one-of-a-kind wooden roller coaster Roar-O-Saurus and the new dino-park.

Settlers Green Outlet Shopping: This outlet center has over 60 outlets.

Cab fare: $10 for 1-4 people

Here’s the ideal spot for back-to-school shopping.  More than 60 tax-free manufacturers outlet stores offer everything from shoes to apparel, kitchenware, specialty foods, books, gadgets and much more.

White Mountains panorama.jpg
White Mountains panorama” by Charlie DeTar (Yourcelf (talk)) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


Special Attractions

Mt Washington Valley is world known for its weather. For decades it held the record for the highest winds ever recorded (in April, 1934) atop Mt Washington. The world-famous Mt Washington Observatory is located on the summit of Mt Washington, but it also operates the Weather Discovery Center in the heart of North Conway village.

The Weather Discovery Center is the only museum in the country totally dedicated to weather. Whether or not you are a weather buff, this museum, filled with interactive displays and fun experiments, is a must-see. There’s even the opportunity to go into a recreation of the building atop Mt Washington where the highest winds were recorded and see, hear and feel what it was like to be there back in 1934.

For more information, visit


Where to Eat:

The Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau offers these suggestions: There are a number of great restaurants in North Conway Village:

  • Horsefeathers Restaurant – American food, casual
  • Hooligans Restaurant – American food, casual
  • Elvios Pizza
  • The Met Coffee House – coffee, pastries
  • Frontside Grind – coffee, light fare
  • White Mountain Cupcakery – fabulous cupcakes (owners won an episode of Cupcake Wars)
  • Stairway Café – breakfast, lunch
  • Pricilla’s – breakfast, lunch
  • Flatbread’s Pizza (located at the Eastern Slope Inn) – organic pizza
  • Chef’s Market of North Conway – sandwiches & soups + gourmet meals to go
  • Courtyard Café – light sandwiches, smoothies, coffee
  • Shalimar of India – Indian cuisine
  • North Conway Golf Course – eat lunch on the deck overlooking the 18th hole and Cathedral ledge beyond.
  • Vito Marcello’s Italian Bistro – fine Italian cuisine

Also, look for the Valley Originals flags (yellow with a fork) outside restaurants. This is a collection of 30+ independently owned restaurants dedicated to community spirit and finest local cuisine.

For more details, phone numbers and web sites for these restaurants, visit


For More Information

The Mt Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau is your best resource for all vacation planning and help while in the Valley. It’s located in the heart of North Conway Village at

2617 Main St # 1, North Conway, NH. You can reach them via phone at 800-DO-SEE-NH (800-367-3364) or locally at 603-356-5701. Vacation planning concierge and staff are on hand 9-5pm (M-F) to answer questions.

Their website offers the perfect resource for planning your lodging, dining, and recreation. Go to for complete information. Additionally, the Information booth managed by the Mt Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce is a cute yellow building adjacent to the chamber offices and an easy stroll from anywhere in North Conway village. It’s packed with brochures, maps and more plus very knowledgeable and friendly volunteers who will be happy to offer assistance and ideas for those without cars.


Do you have a favorite getaway or vacation destination you would like spotlighted in a future Car Free Journey column? E-mail Steve at Steve also loves to hear comments and suggestions from readers about recent Car Free Journey columns.




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 ( 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 ( Anyone interested in participating in this standard can send an e-mail to

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

Swarms and Smart Hives, Part 2

June 28, 2014

In his last post, Warren Karlenzig discussed how cities enabled by data and modeled after beehives can improve our urban experience. Here is part 2 of his discussion, including a mention of Ecocity Builder’s Ecocitizen World Map Project.


Recently I explained how cities benefit from open data-enabled “swarms” of sustainability apps for energy, the built environment, mobility, food and more, transforming them into “Smart Hives.” The focus was on the rise of citizen-business user sharing apps and crowd-sourced capabilities emerging in the Silicon Valley as the Next Big investment wave. Let’s look at how global cities can plan capacities to attract and facilitate these emergent Sharing Economy swarms. Read the rest of this entry »

Car Free Journey: Churchill, Manitoba

June 24, 2014

Several months ago my wife and I visited the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore and enjoyed a polar bear exhibit. After marveling at the bears, we read about Churchill, Manitoba: Polar Bear Capital of the World. We learned that Churchill, located in the far north of the Canadian province of Manitoba, is one of the few destinations that cannot be reached by automobile. The only ways to get to Churchill are by passenger train or air. For that reason, Churchill is our featured destination in this month’s Car Free Journey.

Welcome to Churchill

Churchill is a town of just over 800 permanent residents (according to the Canadian 2011 Census) on the west shore of Hudson Bay in Manitoba, Canada. The location is most famous for the many polar bears that migrate toward the shore in the autumn, leading to the nickname “Polar Bear Capital of the World”. In 1717 the Hudson’s Bay Company built the first permanent settlement in the area, Churchill River Post, which was only a log fort a few miles upstream from the mouth of the Churchill River. The trading post and river were named after John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (an ancestor of Winston Churchill) who was governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company in the late 17th century. Read the rest of this entry »

Reflections on Gross National Happiness

June 3, 2014

On Friday, May 23rd Ecocity Builders had the pleasure of hosting Latha Chhetri, Chief Urban Planner for the country of Bhutan. Ms. Chhetri spoke to a packed room about her country’s development policies. She enlightened us about the cautious steps Bhutan is making to ensure development aligns with their cultural and historical values. Ecocity Builders’s president Richard Register also presented slides from his recent work in Bhutan.

Bhutan has a commitment to Ecocity principles nearly unparalleled in the world. Thanks to strong nature-respecting traditions, the government has sworn off any environmentally damaging industry. Electricity is produced from renewable hydropower. The government has just announced the goal to have 100% percent organic agriculture by 2025. Growth is strictly constrained to traditional styles and materials in carefully guarded development corridors.

Until the 1972 Bhutan remained a highly conservative nation closed off to outside influence. The progressive 4th Dragon King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck was disturbed by the effects of westernization was wrecking on neighboring countries but opened the country to modernization after taking the throne. Cell phones have become available only as of 2008. Yet while many of Bhutan’s citizens were kept literally in the dark beyond their neighbors, the wisdom of King Wangchuck’s hesitancy about modern conveniences has been revealed with time. Bhutan managed to avoid the disastrous industrial rush that has so irreversibly damaged much of the world. They are now entering modernity at a time of greater reflection on the practices of development.

King Wangchuck IV abdicated the throne in 2006 and turned power over to a newly established parliament. His son, Wangchuck V, holds no executive power but exercises important influence over the country. Wangchuck V is committed to carrying on the legacy of his father, most notably, the policy of Gross National Happiness. This concept, invented by the Fourth King, was also adopted by the government of Bhutan as a foundation for all their decision making.

GNH is a simple yet brilliant concept. It states that a country’s wellbeing cannot be measured by wealth, growth, or power alone, but by the wellbeing of its citizens. Gross National Happiness asks with every economic or political decision: will this result in the best outcome for the long-term happiness of our people?

Tied into this web of wellbeing is, of course, ecological health.

GNH measures closely reflect the goals of the International Ecocity Framework and Standards (IEFS): easy access to meaningful employment, healthcare, and cultural activities; clean water, air, and good food. GNH recognizes that life is full of complex systems that cannot be removed from each other. Environmental quality is integral to health and happiness. Healthy, happy people, at the same time, are more inclined and able to care for their environment and each other.

How refreshing–relieving, even–to meet with a government that gets it at a fundamental level. Meeting with Latha and hearing her stories provided all in attendance with renewed hope and drive for an ecologically healthy future. In the midst of the anger, rhetoric, and willful denial that is keeping so many nations on a track for disaster, there are indeed beautiful things being done all the time. Even better to see them at such high levels of governance.

When I asked Latha what the greatest challenge was facing GNH and the ecocity goals of her country she had a familiar answer: “The people who just don’t understand what we’re trying to do.” For example, since urban growth is highly constrained, many individuals moving to the cities now build illegally outside of the city limits (and, therefore, the approval process). This practice not only frustrates the ability of planners to protect natural resources, but puts these individuals in danger of flood and earthquake-prone zones.

At an aggregated level, this behavior is maddening. At an individual level, it’s understandable. People want to move to the cities, which they have a right to do. They have few resources, and see open land. They build. And build and build.

Again, the fundamental challenge to our survival is what has allowed us as a species to get so far in the first place: the human ego, the tendency to think short term and about the self only. This isn’t an American problem, or a Bhutanese problem. It isn’t a problem of the rich or of the poor. This is a human brain problem.

Luckily, our biology and our culture also gives us the counter ability: to be altruistic, to think long-term and globally, and to care and create close bonds with others. Some cultures such as that of Bhutan promote the bonds of family and community more powerfully. Tradition, respect, and obligation are honored in these cultures. The Western perspective, and particularly in America, promotes independence, individual innovation, and self-reliance. These are also good qualities too! Yet they lean too far to only individual considerations…to disastrous results.

I don’t want to oversimplify the cultural divide. Tradition and community respecting cultures have mostly fared no better in protecting human rights and the environment (India, China). Still, the fact that the people of Bhutan have adopted GNH in the first place perhaps does come from a place of understanding the connection between the self and the other (and nature) a bit better than we do here in the West. Still the problem of egocentric thinking remains–and the urban peripheries in Bhutan expand bit by bit.

It is a human problem.

To move forward with an ecologically and socially healthy future, both the world and the ecocity movement will have strike that fine balance between promoting responsibility to others and allowing personal freedom. We will all need to give up a little bit of the comfort of our daily lives for the greater good. Yet we needn’t give up all. The fear of that “perfect” world and society is all too obvious in the dystopian paradises of Brave New World and countless other fictions. It’s most vocal in the knee-jerk rantings of the Agenda 21 conspiracy theorists. Whether or not this fear is realistic, the ecocity movement must recognize that it is very real, and is its chief obstacle. Every human reacts negatively when he or she feels agency and independence is threatened. Getting past that instinct is the challenge.

The solution is education, as difficult as it may be. Importantly, people need to understand the constraints we ask them to abide by in order to agree to them. It is a simple but heavy lesson in cause and effect, of how individual actions aggregate into mass impact. But at the core of these lessons is what I think an uplifting message: the truth is that individually we are all powerful. Each individual life’s actions matter, whether you are simply using reusable shopping bags, or leading an eco-crusade. Or building or dumping illegally.

Embrace your own influence, and understand, in the words of a great American icon, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

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 ( 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.


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 (, 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).