In 2007 Ecocity Builders participated in a National Ecocity Conference in Kathmandu, Nepal. The event was a “round table consultative meeting” with approximately 45 participants called – “Ecocity: the Time to Act is Now.” Participants came mostly from the Kathmandu area but some from far districts of Nepal as well. The event was hosted by the Resource Center for Primary Healthy Care and Lumanti, an organization whose name means “memory” in the Newari language of the Kathmandu Valley, in memory of a pioneer in housing for the poor named Ramesh Hanandhar. Ecocity Builders delivered short talks about our work – a sort of ecocity thumbnail sketch. We commented that Kathmandu was historically – and still is in many ways – a mainly pedestrian city and hence, in our opinion, well on its way to being a full out ecocity. Others spoke about what needed to be done for Kathmandu to further its progress toward becoming a healthier city in terms of sanitation and clean environment. Some represented poverty groups, some transportation solutions, some were health care delivery professionals, some concerned with the air and water quality in the city and some focused on recycling and sewage treatment.
Professor Sudarshan Tiwari of the Institute of Engineering inspired the gathering by getting down to the very structure of the city as it arose historically from the local traditions. He prefaced his presentation saying that ‘urban ecology’ concerns all aspects of the city in their interrelation – the society, economy and physical city itself. The city, he said, was the physical manifestation, potentially an ecocity. When healthy, the physical city is well tuned with the social and economic aspects and the whole functions smoothly with all parts mutually supportive. In the history of the Kathmandu Valley, it was considered sacred to use agricultural land well, he said, to leave the best land for the natural plants and animals for them, and to build strictly only on the higher mounds that were less fertile than the bottom of the valley.
Further, the city was seen as a ‘desert,’ to use Tiwari’s term, a dryer, warmer environment designed clearly to comfortably shelter people from precipitation and cold and to facilitate their social and economic lives. Therefore the city was also a compact and very diverse pedestrian environment convenient for citizens coming together for commerce, socializing and celebration, much of it strongly ritualized. Further, shrines were built at the edges of the city to define the edges rigidly – no sprawl allowed! It would be a sacrilege to build a house on farmland. Finally, it all had to resonate in harmony with the natural cycles and celebrate its own internal cycles of cleansing and rejuvenation. Thus festivals were held at the walls of the city to reinforce the notion that there was a skin there that should not be broken, another festival in which everyone would take part in cleaning out the water system of the whole city and so on. I was impressed.
At our meetings, both at the Kathmandu Ecocity Conference and personal meetings with several NGO leaders, discussion circulated around what could be done to help take this city, in many ways an ecocity, even farther in that direction.
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