Cities in today’s world are finding it hard to be liveable, environmentally friendly and economically strong all at the same time. Balancing the immediate needs of today without compromising the needs of tomorrow is what is required from cities today. An eco-city is a city which continuously aims to be environmentally efficient and eliminate carbon waste; meanwhile reducing poverty, generating employment and creating a sustainable place for its inhabitants. A sustainable city or eco-city creates a stable way of life for its citizens across four domains namely; ecology, economics, politics and culture; the main pillars of sustainability.
The term ‘eco-city’ first surfaced in 1970s when a US-based movement known as Urban Ecology first used it. Later, author Richard Register mentioned the term in his book ‘Eco-city Berkeley: Building Cities for a Healthy Future’. Hence, making cities environmentally sustainable is not a new concept. Creating residential and industrial spaces and merging them with greenery and modern infrastructure is a phenomenon that developed post-World War II. It was a popular attempt to reinvent and rebuild cities in a sustainable manner.
There are several indicators and criteria that need to be met by a city; covering distinct dimensions of urban life to be considered as a sustainable or eco-city. Some of them are; human capital, social cohesion, economy, public management, governance, environment, mobility & transportation, urban planning, international outreach and technology. A city should perform well across all the above-mentioned metrics, not just outclass in one area.
Let’s have a look at a few top eco-cities of the world today:
Considered as one of the happiest cities in the world, Copenhagen is a green dream. The most popular and preferred way of travelling amongst the people of Copenhagen is by bicycle. There are more than 100 bike hiring centres across Copenhagen. This implies that the level of CO2 emissions in this city is almost negligible. Danes are also known for recycling and composting. To reduce their dependence on oil and gas Copenhagen has put a major focus on increasing the number of offshore wind turbines and building more bio gas plants in upcoming years. Energy efficient buildings are also increasing in number; hence, contributing in development of a complete environmental-friendly city. Moreover, the public transit in the city includes a metro system as well. Electric busses generating no emissions are also a part of implementing a holistic long-term environmental planning.
London falls into the category of one of the busiest cities in the world, being the capital of the United Kingdom. The city is an important financial hub hosting multinationals from across the globe. Measured by international arrivals, according to the Office for National Statistics, London was also world’s second most-visited city of the world in 2016. It can be challenging to maintain an ecological balance within such a major city but surprisingly, half of London city is still green. Parks, wildlife habitats, natural reserves, outdoor spaces and gardens contribute to a better bio-diversity, less pollution, less rainwater run-off and better air quality.
London array, a wind farm, generates enough energy to meet 25% of all London homes; hence, reduces carbon emission in the city. London has been focusing on actively promoting the use of renewable energy sources and new green projects such as hybrid busses on the road and more fuel cell-powered busses in upcoming years. The city also imposes taxes on personal transportation to control congestion.
San Francisco, U.S.A
The main factor contributing towards San Francisco being considered an eco-friendly city is the prominent level of recycling. The city was the first in United States to introduce the coloured bins recycling system into homes and workplaces, making recycling easy and obligatory. The waste from residential and other areas goes directly for recycling instead of trash. San Francisco actively encourages the use of renewable energy by financing solar panels, wind turbines and hydro-geo thermal power for public facilities. In 2007, the city banned the use of non-recyclable plastic bags entirely. Moreover, San Francisco has been a leader in green building, with more than 70 projects registered under the LEED certification system. Cycling, sharing rides, van-pool and electric transportation also helps the city to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
Renowned for urban planning the city of Curitiba in Southern Brazil boasts vast green spaces and biodiversity conditions to create an eco-friendly environment for its inhabitants. Home to the popular botanical garden, the city has strict environmental laws in place to protect its green spaces. The city’s government can be given credit for developing one of the largest bus and public transport systems in the world and about three-quarters of its residents rely on this system for daily travel, limiting the usage of private vehicles. About 70% of this Brazilian city’s waste is recycled as a result of one of the first-ever recycling initiatives back in the 1980s. The government also works hard to make Curitiba greener by planting more than one million trees along the highways and creating greener public spots as well.
British Columbia’s biggest city is a world leader in hydroelectric power generation; drawing more than 90% of its power in the form of renewable hydroelectric energy. The city prides itself on having over 200 parks and more than 18 miles of waterfront. Vancouver is now charting a course to use wind, solar, wave and tidal energy to reduce fossil-fuel use and minimise CO2 emissions to the lowest level. With a vision to make Vancouver the greenest city in the world by 2020, the government and inhabitants of the city have formed a team called GCAT (Greenest City Action Team) to achieve this mission meanwhile creating thousands of jobs in the green business industry. GCAT aims to plant more trees; improve water and air quality; promote local food production; and motivate recycling processes within the city. The government is also rapidly expanding the cycling infrastructure in the city.
Amsterdam has an infrastructure that mainly includes networks of canals and narrow streets; therefore, biking is the most popular and efficient mode of transportation to get around this city. An extensive system of bicycle and pedestrian paths can be seen in Amsterdam and the city actually has more bicycles than its population. With more than 300 charging stations around the city, electric cars are also increasingly prominent in Amsterdam. The city’s government initiated a program called ‘Amsterdam Smart City’ in 2009 with an intention to reduce CO2 emissions. To reach this goal the government encouraged recycling, solar panel installation, electric cars, bus services and more cycling routes. The majority of Amsterdam’s residents produce energy from solar panels and small wind turbines.
Sydney has been on a quest for carbon neutrality, by creating awareness about global warming and introducing innovative food-waste disposal programs in the city. It has a vision of ‘Sustainable Sydney 2030’ to address areas such as water sensitivity, increasing greenery, low-carbon initiatives, etc. The city has ‘Environmental Action Plan 2016-2021’ in place to improve the city’s overall environmental performance. More recently, the city has accelerated action on developing more energy efficient buildings and plans to spend an extra $8 million on tree plantation over the next decade.
Urbanisation is a trend that is likely to continue with rise in population, economic growth and technological advances. There is also a growing awareness amongst nations towards issues such as climate change, global warming and fossil fuel depletion. Cities are becoming crowded as more people move in from the countryside and villages in search of work. Thus, making it harder to manage city space, waste, water & power regulation, traffic, etc. while staying environmentally efficient and sustainable. One potential solution to this problem is developing new eco-cities from scratch by laying down foundation of a sustainable and liveable place to live in.
One exemplary example is set by governments of both China and Singapore governments who introduced the concept of Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city in 2007; against the backdrop of rapid urbanisation and sustainability. Tianjin Eco-city’s vision is to be “A thriving city which is socially harmonious, environmentally-friendly and resource efficient – a model for sustainable development”. The Chinese government chose the location for this city based on two criteria: non-arable land and shortage of water. The city aims to house 350,000 residents in a low-carbon and green environment by 2020. It aims to create sufficient jobs for at least 50% of the population.
Tianjin Eco-City, China
Other examples of new eco-cities striving to provide a sustainable and civilised place for people include; Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, PlanIT Valley in Portugal and Auroville in India. As far as its’ success is considered, public acceptance of an eco-city and its policies is of utmost importance.
PlanIT Valley, Portugal
The biggest challenge in developing an eco–city is convincing the public, in other words, people who will potentially want to live in the city. Human beings by nature tend to avoid change or want what they already know or have seen. To achieve this purpose, developers and planners need to demonstrate how an eco-city benefits its inhabitants and is vital to sustain the upcoming generations. The concept of an eco-city has moved much further along the lines than just being characterised by its eco-friendliness, to a place that is socially and economically uplifting as well.