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Is There More to an Eco-City than Environmentalism?

An eco-city is an urban area designed and constructed from a series of principles and philosophies that respect and nurture the environment. At this point in time, pure and authentic eco-cities are more ideal than actual, as the multiple factors that are necessary for the eco-city are varied and require intensive advance design and cooperation from many constituents. Honestly, in most of our cities. we’re just not there yet. We can begin to adopt the language of the eco-city as a starting point, however, moving beyond just the voices of scholarly discourse and urban planners to include the average person in the conversation. Then we’ll start to have incremental progress toward making eco-cities not only a reality but a common way to think about urban living.


What is an Eco-City?

The term “eco-city” has been part of our policymakers’ language for a long time, but it’s only been recently that this way of thinking about urban areas has been part of serious planning agendas. What’s the reason for that shift?  You’ve got it: climate change awareness.  

So, what is an eco-city, anyway? Eco-cities attempt to limit if not eliminate carbon waste. They produce and self-regulate energy via renewable resources. They create and celebrate the natural environment through careful maintenance of green spaces. Eco-cities also extend beyond mere environmentalism toward the goal of ensuring that their citizens have valuable economic opportunities. They have infrastructures that help to reduce poverty. They offer mixed use, efficient buildings and higher population densities so neighborhoods have social dynamism. Cultural opportunities are pervasive. Another byproduct of the eco-cities is improved health for all citizens.  

Eco versus Sustainable: Two Separate Concepts

Environmentalism tends to focus on green issues. That is, when you hear the term “eco,” you think of the elements that come together to protect and cultivate our environment. Yet, to be “sustainable,” a place requires multiple and sometimes seemingly disparate elements to merge into a cohesive and self-perpetuating whole. Sustainability, then, is a larger goal than being eco-friendly. And it takes a lot more commitment.

Adam Werbach’s book, Strategy for Sustainability:  A Business Manifesto, is occasionally dark and cynical. It also offers a realistic equation that would create a climate in which eco-city citizens could lead vital and productive lives, urban planners could achieve environmental goals, and financiers could breathe once they saw the bottom line. He outlines what he sees as four equal components of sustainability:  

  • social, to address conditions that affect us all, including poverty, violence, injustice, education, public health, and labor and human rights;
  • economic, to help people and businesses meet their economic needs—for people: securing food, water, shelter, and creature comforts; for businesses: turning a profit;
  • environmental, to protect and restore the Earth—for example, by controlling climate change, preserving natural resources, and preventing waste; and,
  • cultural, to protect and value the diversity through which communities manifest their identity and cultivate traditions across generations.

Do you have what it takes to live in an eco-city? Anything ideal probably has adjustments and conceptual shifts needed in implementation, and eco-city living is no different.  In the next article in this series, you’ll learn about the challenges that exist to gaining public acceptance for eco-cities, as they require citizens to adopt radical changes in their established views, lifestyles, and patterns.

Sustainability mandates with how much water, energy, food, and production will be allowed in urban areas, as hypothesized by some naysayers, may not become eco-city actual practice, but each of these criticisms does contain a shade of truth….

Photo credit: Sustainable sanitation via Foter.com / CC BY