Postcard from Rio, Part 3

June 28, 2012

This month, a team of Ecocity Builders associates went to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) to give talks, listen, collaborate with local communities, and promote the International Ecocity Framework and Standards initiative. This is part 3 of a series of impressions from Rio.

by Jonn Braman, IEFS Core Advisor

As a public servant and environmentalist, one of the things that impressed me at Rio+20 was the number of Environment Ministers attending who took time to interact with the Major Working Groups.

Rio Centro exhibit, photo by Rick Smith

Brasil’s minister spoke at a couple of events I attended, highlighting her country’s achievements toward sustainability, which are many. I am not sure their shift in policy around the Amazon forests is being seen as positively by others as she described. But certainly their progress away from fossil fuels is impressive and if my nose’s impression of Rio’s air quality is accurate, even with this cold, vehicles burning cleaner fuels will be most welcome here.

Denmark’s Ida Auken spoke briefly about the successes and challenges in her country. Geothermal energy provides them with huge potential for green energy export, but comes with nature’s own air quality challenges for the planet, and in particular for those living on the smaller islands, while the much larger Greenland continues to “green” as the ice pack on it melts at an ever alarming rate. Recent measurements of CO2 levels at 400 ppm on Canada’s equally northern Ellesmere Island seem to indicate the permafrost melting feedback loop may have begun. I would very much liked to have heard more from her, but she cut her talk short to accommodate Ban Ki-Moon arrival at the session.

Of all the environment ministers I heard (and I didn’t get to all sessions) it was the Singapore Minister for Environment and Water Resources that resonated most for me. As a city nation responsible for 5 million citizens on a 30 km long island they, like many island nations, are good allegories for our only planet. They do not have the space for waste or contaminants and they have a very real water supply challenge with a fully built environment. Unlike our planet, they do have neighbors to trade with and they are supporting their commerce, in part, with “green economy” such as export of their desalination technology. Tianjin, a Sino-Singapore Eco-city development is another example. While neither Singapore, nor Tianjin are ‘perfect’ EcoCities in the visionary sense, they are huge steps forward in the recognition of the finite capacity of our planet and our species essential role to ‘get it right’. We can only hope all our countries ‘get it’ and soon!

Petroleo e morte bici e vida. “Oil is death, bicycle is life.” Photo by Rick Smith.


What’s the smartest, most advanced approach to building a city?

April 11, 2008

Lately it seems that hardly a day goes by where we don’t hear about another eco-city plan being trumpeted. What particularly is interesting is how many developing nations are interested in the concept, and seem to be going straight to the concept when expanding and building new cities.

It reminds me of the phone system in the US compared to that of China. In the US and many Western countries, every single home has a phone line, and that copper goes from you to the telco office and beyond. Millions upon millions of miles of phone are in the ground. That is a huge amount of infrastructure that is being used less and less as many users leave their traditional phone lines and move to cell phones for the convenience, mobility, and value.

In China, instead of burying millions of miles of copper in the ground to get every man, woman and child a phone service, they build a cell tower in a town, village or neighborhood. There are 431 million cellphone numbers in China. The wisdom of cutting straight to the smartest and most advanced system available is pretty difficult to argue with.

So, you’re building a city from scratch. What’s the smartest, most advanced approach to use?


And here’s the announcement of yet another, with the cooperation of China and Singapore.

The Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city Joint Working Committee approved Tuesday the draft master plan submitted by the combined team from both countries.

The committee, co-chaired by Singapore’s National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan and China’s Vice-Minister for Housing and Rural-Urban Construction Qiu Baoxing, gave the go-ahead to the proposal.

And the proposal will be released by the Tianjin government for public consultation in mid-April.

The plan incorporates natural existing conditions of the site, such as wetlands and rivers. It will also include a mix of commercial, residential and business park developments.

The proposed city will also have a comprehensive public transport network that features an LRT line, buses and extensive cycling and foot paths.

Buildings will be erected using environmentally-safe standards and the use of renewable energy will also be promoted.

The eco-city is another cooperation project announced by both countries’ leaders last November when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Singapore, following the construction of the Suzhou Industrial Park in eastern Jiangsu Province.

The eco-city will serve as a model for sustainable development for other Chinese cities. It can attract about 1.5 million people to work and live in.

[Read entire article]

There’s not a lot to go on from this announcement, so it’s hard to get too excited yet. But it most certainly is part of the growing trend and awareness of ecocities internationally, and especially in developing countries.