Eco City – All in the Mind?
The description “Eco” City has a strong, optimistic, almost personal ring to it, as it should have, being derived from the ancient Greek term oikos meaning a “Place to live”. When Richard Register first coined the term in his 1987 book, Ecocity Berkeley: Building Cities for a Healthy Future, most of us would not have foreseen the extent to which his thinking would eventually come to influence the development of cities, nor how the changes he advocated in the way cities are planned, used, lived and worked in would become such imperatives. And even while the term Eco City may not yet be wholly, comprehensively or consistently defined it has certainly entered the mainstream and is used extensively as the backdrop for a wide range of activities in urban sustainability.
The debate around what constitutes an Eco City has been gathering momentum since the early nineties. Eco City summits in Montreal, Istanbul, Shenzhen, Curitiba and others have explored philosophy, policy and practice, while challenging thinkers like Herbert Giradet and Mark Roseland have produced an extensive range of literature and guidance on creating Eco and sustainable cities.
In the last five years or so it has been the likes of the ambitious and high profile UAE Masdar City and the Sino-SingaporeTianjin Eco-city which have gained the headlines. These showcase examples are rich in intelligence around new technologies, innovative urban planning processes, 21st century mobility, and funding mechanisms. They also demonstrate the deep challenges of carbon neutrality and of proving commercial returns.
But while these all inclusive models of urban sustainability are pushed, pummeled and pressed to prove their durability, a huge range of cities are testing micro models of Eco district and neighborhood development. They are embracing in a more local way the core Eco City principle of minimizing environmental impact and maximizing social and economic good.
This incremental approach reflects both the difficulties of trying to create a universal blueprint of the Eco City and the practicalities of large scale transformation in established cities. What is clear however, is that Eco City metrics of performance will be as important to the market as the measurement of the value add of green buildings. Understanding risks, returns and benchmarking one city against another, will be an important feature in the Eco City arena. But how can we measure what is not well defined? This is an uncomfortable question from the purist researchers’ viewpoint, but pragmatism demands that some measures are better than none and experience tells us that markers in the ground are important.
Companies like Siemens and their Sustainable Cities Index and Mercer with their Eco-City ranking have begun the process of measurement and comparison. CDP Cities, with whom Jones Lang LaSalle is proud to partner, are now delving very deeply into a very wide range of sustainability practices in cities. 48 cities are now filling in a very detailed questionnaire about Sustainability aspects of governance, strategy, finance, partnerships and risk awareness amongst many other issues. The results of the survey give a very clear insight into the different measures of challenge and progress across cities and the very different routes they are taking towards a sustainable future.
Our Global Sustainability Perspective this quarter comments on many of the issues that stem from thinking about the ultimate goal – for all cities to be Eco in the sense of working together towards a built and living environment that gives environmental, social and economic quality now and protects it for future generations. We look at the current gaps between the commercial and city hall views with regards to creating a common approach to instilling sustainable behaviors and outcomes, at the extensive activity in China, the injection of major sustainable schemes in the London Olympics and inland Ports in the USA and at Green City mobility in Paris.
The transformation of our cities will largely be through incremental change, through the spread of best practice and through assessing and measuring what works and what is, bluntly effective and affordable. The likelihood is that in the next few years this column will be covering the definition of not just Eco Cities, but how we assess affordability in the light of continuing environmental and social challenge.
For further information please contact:
Rosemary Feenan, Director, Head of Global Research Programmes