What is an eco-city?
In 1987, Richard Register introduced the term “eco-city,” also known as sustainable city, in his book Ecocity Berkeley: Building Cities for a Healthy Future. The basic premise of an eco-city is to create a place where people can live productive and healthy lives while having minimal impact on the environment. In order to achieve this goal, eco-cities incorporate various technologies and practices to reduce or eliminate the environmental impacts and costs. An eco-city is generally self-sufficient, providing its own power, water, etc. with renewable energy sources rather than relying on outside areas or resources. Other practices common in eco-cities include composting, recycling or converting waste to energy; producing low amounts of pollution; using land efficiently; planting more trees and increasing green spaces; improving public transportation; or decreasing urban sprawl.
Today the eco-city concept is spreading around the world and becoming more and more popular. Below are a few examples of some of the world’s eco-cities.
The Hammarby Sjostad eco-city, located just south of Stockholm, was originally supposed to be an Olympic village. However, after Sweden lost its bid for the 2004 Olympics, the once polluted industrial area was developed into a successful eco-city. There are strict environmental requirements for all buildings and infrastructure in the city. It has also been designed to support public transportation including bicycles and carpools instead of cars. Emissions in the city have been reduced by 30 to 40 percent and no harmful materials or chemical products are used in buildings. Also, the city is said to produce half of its own energy through renewable fuels, reusing waste heat, biogas and energy efficiency. Hammarby features ample parks and water to improve biodiversity and also the quality of life for residents. What is unique about this eco-city is that the majority of the environmental goals are built-in, meaning that even if citizens are not eco-friendly in the beginning, they will become so just by living in the city.
Middle East: UAE
Abu Dhabi is currently developing the world’s first zero-carbon city, Masdar City, located 17 kilometers outside of Abu Dhabi. This eco-city will be constructed without using polluting technologies or fossil fuels. Once completed, it will be home to 50,000 people, 1,000 businesses and a university. It will also be powered by renewable energies such as solar and wind power. Developers plan to use the desert heat to their advantage by using solar technology to power the entire city. Despite its location in the middle of the desert, Masdar City will be cool. Much like an ancient Arab city, a wall will surround Masdar and streets will be narrow so that buildings will shade each other. There will be no tall buildings or skyscrapers and wind towers will create a breeze. Within the city no cars will be allowed to reduce air pollution. Citizens will either walk or use an underground transportation system, the Personal Rapid Transit or “podcars,” which will drive using magnetic lanes to take passengers to any destination they wish. Masdar City is being built by the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company and is expected to cost between $15 and $30 billion dollars (paid for by the Abu Dhabi government).
China is pushing to dominate the world in clean energy and the country is investing billions of dollars to become greener and more energy efficient. Currently, there are around 30 eco-cities being developed around the country. One example is the Tianjin Eco-City, located 150 kilometers east of Beijing. A collaborative project between China and Singapore, Tianjin will serve as a model that can be reproduced in other areas of the country. With an expected completion date of 2020, the city is expected to be a sustainable and resource efficient city for 350,000 Chinese to live and work. The city will be eco-friendly with ample green space, wetlands and biodiversity. Because there is little rain in the city’s location, Tianjin will get most of its water from sources like desalinated water. The city will also focus on reducing and reusing waste and reducing carbon emissions. Residents will move around using a new light-rail system as well as buses and trams. Socially, the city will be designed so that people of different generations, income levels, etc. can easily live together and interact, another important aspect of an eco-city. The project recently received a $6.16 million donation from the Global Environment Fund that will be used to help establish legislative, institutional, financial and monitoring systems, as well as green transportation and architecture.
Future of eco-cities
According to UN Habitat, 70 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas by the year 2050. This means that building eco-cities will become more and more important not only in developed countries and cities, but also in less developed areas, especially emerging countries. New and innovative technologies and strategies, as well as support and cooperation from businesses, governments and citizens will be essential in making these cities successful over time.