The Eco-Village Within the Eco-City

dongtan-east-village-and-east-lakePhoto: Courtesy of Arup

Sustainable community planning pauses a myriad of problems among which the car culture is only a partial participant. Our over-reliance on fossil fuels combined with the environmental impact of urban sprawling is a perplexing mix that only gets sporadic answers.

While the controversial blueprints for green super cities (Masdar in Abu Dhabi, as well as  Dongtan and Tianjin, both in China present some of the solution (carless environment, renewable energy generation and high population density), they cannot be duplicated to alleviate our current burden.  The answer may lie in retrofitting both our lifestyles and habitats to recreate inviting community enclaves, where smaller eco-villages are intertwined within the larger eco-city.  

This model is partially represented with the LEED for Neighborhoods pilot program, where 200 communities are rethinking their relationship to a larger ecosystem. While all of these communities tackle the mixed-use residential/business relationship, alas few are aiming for a zero-carbon energy self-sufficiency; and that is what we need to focus on.

From a pragmatic viewpoint, the  Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) offers one promising tool for facilitating the transitions required by ecological city design. A developer can use a TDR to purchase and remove a building whose crumbling foundation sits atop a buried creek. In return, the developer wins the privilege of erecting a larger building in a pedestrian/transit center. The developer gets a “density bonus” and the city gains new open space for a community garden, public park, or sports field and more housing in transit/pedestrian centers.

While many cities around the world are proclaiming to reduce green gas emissions by (too small) percentage points, only a few are aiming for zero emissions.  Melbourne is one of these with an ambitious platform and measurable results. 

Grassroot movements as often, appear to be the necessary motor to such ambitious changes.  We will hopefully see more developments in the future of viable urban reconversions, as we realize the critical relevance of tackling our energy production in a more local and sustainable manner.

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