Ecocity 8: Istanbul, Turkey, 2009

Urban Ecological Foundations for Climate Solutions

Host Organizations: Parantez and Istanbul Technical University

Opening Keynote

Veysel Eroglu, Minister of Environment and Forestry, Turkey

Ecocity 8 launched with the highest national official yet at any of our conferences. Veysel Eroglu, Minister of Environment and Forestry and head of the governmental body for all issues related to climate change in Turkey, led off with the opening keynote address on his country’s strategy for more sustainable cities and forests. Citing his own country’s participation in the Kyoto Protocol in contrast to the United States’ stonewalling for so many years, he said:

Climate change is the most pressing and complex challenge that humanity faces today. Combating climate change requires strong solidarity of the international society… Turkey is planning to adopt nationally appropriate mitigation planning and no-lose targets to limit emission growth and move to a low-carbon economy. This shift to a low-carbon economy is only possible through technology transfer and multilateral financial support.

The Ecological City Index

Dr. Eroglu took the opportunity to introduce and announce the Ecological City Index as a personal statement of hope and commitment in guidance of cities everywhere. The Index is a list of 53 “articles” that are attributes that can be rated in a particular city, for example:

  • Public and railway transport must be developed.
  • Streams must be improved and streams must flow through green valleys.

Add these up to a highest potential of 100 points and thus rate your city’s sustainability.

The Ecological City Index anticipated our own conference emphasis on exploring measures and principles of what constitutes a real ecocity and took a step the conference leaders will use in debating an ecocity accreditation system in the future. Along with David Hall, initiator and sponsor of the two sessions called the “Ecocity Challenge” on the last day of the conference, Dr. Eroglu and the conference leaders agreed that a system to bring attention and clarity to the design and planning of ecocities could constitute a strong and effective stimulus to ecocity development in the future and everywhere around the world.

No Sprawl at All!

Wulf Daseking, Planning Director of Frieburg, Germany presented the city’s many policies and features that have been leading ecocity development internationally for years. One of his main points: city planning is a marathon race, not a sprint. When Turkish speakers said the average time a city planning head was on the job was 18 months, Wulf, planning director for over 20 years in his city now, was shocked and admitted he didn’t know really what could be done about that but try hard to change the practice. With no serious continuity how could there be any good planning?

When asked for brief advice for Istanbul – or any city into the future – he said, “No sprawl at all!” In his city the almost 100% car-free neighborhood called Vauban exemplified a model project that should be known worldwide, the sort of very specific built development that should be front and center at climate change conferences, but as yet is not.

Brent Toderian, Planning Director of Vancouver, British Columbia detailed his city’s “EcoDensity” program and described in words, maps and imagery the city’s design features heading toward very strong pedestrian emphasis and greening of high density. He projected a map on the conference main hall screen depicting the future of the suburbs around Vancouver featuring a pattern of centers of reinforced density and diversity surrounded by recovered green areas emerging from today’s uniform low density development – “roll back sprawl!”

Opening Up to Nature and Real Culture Again

From the San Francisco Bay Area two of Ecocity Builders close associates, landscape architect Walter Hood, and artist, entrepreneur and community organizer, Marcel Diallo, spoke about their work.

Walter Hood was head of the University of California Department of Landscape Architecture and still teaches there. He is presently designing projects around the US and has built notoriety around the world. His approach delving into the “revelatory” potential of designed and built projects in the particular place where he is working has brought a focus in Berkeley to the meaning and function of the watersheds of the city. These are eight parallel basins with creeks running roughly down their centers from the crest line of the Berkeley Hills at around 1,500 feet west to San Francisco Bay four miles away. Unlike any other public process known to Ecocity Builders working in that city through its 20-year life, Walter’s has been successful and putting radically transformative ideas forward that reveal important principles of natural hydrology while shaping places for public gathering and passage. Walter also talked about his ideas for Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, involving removing rather than adding development in those areas where a set of noteworthy and ecologically rich streams and small lakes used to exist.

Marcel Diallo is an artist, poet, buyer and builder of real estate in his community. He’s an unofficial historian of the black tradition of West Oakland, where with friends and associates he runs a café, a cultural center, owns a couple houses and a vacant lot with food garden and fish farm. Oakland’s old Lower Bottoms neighborhood – “bottoms” as in low areas that are moist and largely recovered by fill from the marshy bay shore fringe – was home to the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Second World War ship builders, West Coast jazz musicians, Black Panther leaders and is currently the site of his own efforts for a cultural center neighborhood like Chinatown or Fruitvale Village in Oakland where Latino tradition and people thrive, honoring their history there. His work coordinates with Ecocity Builders’ ecocity mapping of Oakland and his talk focused on the cultural stories to boost the alliance between eco and cultural sustainability.

Several high-density mixed use projects in Turkey were featured by their development companies and reflects the Turkish green building movement well underway. A number of buildings, including the Levent Sapphaire, Turkey’s tallest building and the new Turkcell Building, are approaching completion and built with “sustainable materials” and advanced heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Ahmed Samsunlu, former Minister of Public Works and Settlements and professor at the Istanbul Technical University, reviewed Istanbul’s recent green policy advances and challenges. Hiroaki Suzuki of the World Bank’s Eco2Cities project (“ecological cities as economic cities”) reported on the Bank’s program for making loans to developing nation’s governments to help with leading ecocity projects.

Past governor of Maryland and current president of the Smart Growth Leadership Institute out of Washington, DC, Parris Glendening, had a clear and simple message: After relating America’s diversion from sanity into paving, and rampant car culture, and setting the worldwide trend of environmentally destructive sprawl, he said “Don’t follow us!” Wang Rusong, member of the Chinese People’s Congress and department head at the Chinese Academy of Science’s Research Center for Ecological and Environmental Sciences, compared and harmonized ancient Chinese ecological theory with current ecocity ideas. Canadian Colin Grant described his See-it online graphic program that aids cities, NGOs or others in their planning and tracking progress toward ecocity goals in their cities.

Healthy Energy Systems + Less Demand = Solar Ecocities

Arnold Goldman, founder of the solar electric energy company BrightSource Energy and a citizen of Israel, was one of our speakers and described how his thermal electric power plants worked. In addition to his presentation, he made a point that a very major step in peaceful progress could be made in Turkey — if it would take the lead in developing ecocities. To focus on one particular city might be a good idea for concentrated effect. Enhanced leadership for a secular and forward thinking Islamic country which would come from being first or very early in ecocity development could help stability in the region.

The Ecocity Challenge

An actual ecocity project in construction, called the Tianjin Ecocity, was featured in the Ecocity 8 session, the Ecocity Challenge. The session objective was to clarify what we meant by “ecocity,” and in the future lead to consensus towards a powerful certification system for cities on the road to becoming ecocities. Tianjin Ecocity is being planned and constructed in China cooperatively by the governments of Singapore and China, working with a consortium of companies. The project was represented by Singapore’s project lead Beng Lee Ong. The compact, automobile-lite city is sited on low-lying salt marsh lands and is dedicated to considerable energy conservation by compact design and restoration of biodiversity on nearby lands.

But when Mr. Ong mentioned the city would strive for only 20% of its energy to come from renewable sources, protests went up from not just the audience but his fellow presenters as well. Tianjin Ecocity planners seemed to believe that energy to run the city had to come from the physical footprint of the city, a preconception held also by many architects and sustainable development advocates.  They believe a building that provides for all its energy needs is the Holy Grail; in the case of Tianjin, only 20% seemed feasible. So whatever source was on the power lines – and the answer was coal – was going to be the main source. From the audience, Arnold Goldman pointed out that renewable energy does not have to be produced from a city’s physical area; it can come from some other places better suited. Some in the audience and on the Ecocity Challenge panel said such low ambition for moving away from fossil fuels and toward renewables was enough in itself to disqualify the project from calling itself an “ecocity.”

Mitch Gelber, from international architect Ken Yeang‘s office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia presented new imagery from their recent work. Ken, who spoke at Ecocity 5 in Shenzhen, China and Ecocity 7 in San Francisco, USA is famous as the world’s leading “bio-climatic” architect. Ken works on literal green – of plants, followed by local wild birds and naturally air-conditioned breezes in hotter climates – spiraling up into, over and through his skyscrapers. In Mitch’s presentation, we saw plans for clusters of buildings of mixed uses with ramps of plants leading up from rolling turf, with trees to make three-dimensional the usual two-dimensional art of the landscape architect, and a total assemblage constituting perhaps the world’s first of what we call in the movement, ecocity fractals.

Novatek, a company out of Provo, Utah, presented the project in planning called NewVista. This relatively low-density, mostly one-story, but car-free version of an ecocity envisions everyone a farmer, at least part-time, with food gardens wrapping around all housing and up and over rooftops in greenhouses. Mixed-use buildings would punctuate a very uniform and repetitious design, the object of which was very low-energy consumption and healthy local food. Behind the numbers was the objective of a community that could be replicated around the world and provide housing and services for everyone on Earth, leaving no one in poverty. Novatek’s owner, David Hall, could not come but sent Carl Bellingston as project representative. Critique of this offering circled around surprisingly low density and as-yet vague notions of how ownership and citizen representation would work. Many were delighted that someone was crunching numbers in an attempt to build a completely car-free and seriously equitable environment. Hall’s engineers had calculated that a whole NewVista city could be built for no more than the cost of the automobile infrastructure of a conventional American city. Though the form of NewVista departed radically from complex, mixed use, and three-dimensional compact ecocity development projects, it was recognized as a possible form for a simpler agricultural community structure adjunct to larger ecocities.

Ecocity 9, Montréal, Canada

The conference concluded with an announcement for our next installment. Luc Rabouin, executive director of the Urban Ecology Center of Montreal, described a few of the many ecocity features of his hometown and shared his organization’s early plans to host Ecocity 9 in August of 2011. Montréal is the second largest francophone city in the world after Paris, and will host the first International Ecocity Conference in a northern, cold climate. New issues will be raised, and with an emphasis on democracy as well as ecology. It is especially auspicious that the Montreal Protocols on CFCs was signed there, the treaty that saved the biosphere from one of humanity’s inadvertent steps over the cliff. If we saved the atmosphere and biosphere from one deadly stumble once before, maybe we can (finally!) wake people up to the real solutions for global heating there in Montreal that are still so illusive for humanity despite good efforts at Copenhagen.

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