22 April 2010

International Ecocity Standards

Reposted in full from Ecocity Builders web site:

'Ecocity Builders, along with our advisors and partner organizations, and with support from the Helen and William Mazer Foundation, Novatek and others, is working to define “ecocities” by developing of a set of standards, criteria and metrics against which to evaluate and judge new and existing cities’ progress towards becoming an “ecocity.”

International Ecocity Standards will evaluate different scales of development, from the small neighborhood scale to the regional scale.


As the consequences of climate change and resource depletion manifest themselves more and more clearly, the way we have built our cities, particularly in the past half-century, has come into question. First used by Ecocity Builders’ President Richard Register in 1979, the term “ecocity” is fast becoming a buzzword in many cities around the world. In many cases, the legitimacy of such self-proclamations has been questionable. Just how ecologically healthy are these cities or projects? A set of principles, standards, and metrics, as well as models demonstrating ecocity elements is vital in bringing clarity regarding the definition of an “ecocity”.

While many in city planning circles use the term “ecocity” interchangeably with “green” or “sustainable” city, Ecocity Builders uses a definition of “ecocity” conditional upon a healthy relationship of the city’s parts and functions, similar to the relationship of organs in living complex organisms. We believe “ecocities” need to take healthy organic, ecological and whole systems lessons seriously to be able to reverse the negative impacts of climate change. We are concerned with city design, planning, building, and operations in an integral way and in relation to the surrounding environment and natural resources of the region. We propose that “green” and “sustainable” are vague terms, suggesting merely the increase in vegetation or sustaining unhealthy urban systems and development practices into the future.

What’s Unique about Ecocity Standards

Bioregional/ecological indicators
We propose that urban systems, cities, have the potential to become not just less damaging but “net contributors” to restoring global biodiversity, productive agriculture, and energy independence. International Ecocity Standards will measure net energy and materials input/output, appropriate locations, and impact of external trade and will be selected in a way to address basic principles of ecologically healthy whole systems design.

Emphasis on the whole system and “end-point” indicators
An ecologically healthy city is in many ways analogous to complex living systems, like our human bodies. Ecocities are lean and compact, with their complex parts interacting three-dimensionally and in relatively close proximity. International Ecocity Standards integrate means of judging the functionality of the whole system as well as “end-point” positive measures such as clean air, energy conservation, biodiversity restoration, and agricultural productivity. This emphasis shifts the focus from judging the individual building – subject of most design and construction standards to date – to assessing the whole built community while continuing to acknowledge the importance of the building itself.

Access to minimum basic needs
International Ecocity Standards distinguish between amenities and necessities, and incorporate “plain good and solid” indicators of urban health, such as those used by the United Nations’ Human Development Index including poverty rates, food and water security, infant mortality, longevity, and basic literacy.

Social justice
Programs and policies that promote social justice will be evaluated, such as the distribution of health, wealth and consumption. International Ecocity Standards will deeply re-consider the meanings of “prosperity” to include both human and natural wealth.

Target Users
International Ecocity Standards (IES) would be targeted towards local governments, municipalities, regional agencies in charge of development strategies including transportation, land use, housing, watershed management, agriculture, resource management, and regional development goals. Additionally, larger governmental bodies and organizations, including the United Nations, and countries developing long-range strategies to address climate change, would be potential customers. We expect that developers, environmental nonprofits, think tanks, educational institutions and community groups would want to use the IES as a tool for developing and evaluating proposals and seeking approvals for proposals. Community groups and advocacy and watchdog organizations would likely use the IES to weigh in on development proposals and planning/political processes, and help shape them from an advocacy perspective.

Finally, we believe that the IES could be useful to any one person or organization wanting to build awareness and partnerships around complex issues within the nexus of humanity, nature and the built environment.

Collaboration & Synergy vs. Competition
Recent studies in evolutionary biology point out that it is collaboration and synergy rather than competition that provided species with an evolutionary advantage over others. We see collaboration and synergy as opposed to competition as the course we will pursue in developing the International Ecocity Standards. We will learn and incorporate as many of the principles expressed by other related standards and become synergistic with them where possible. We are inspired and will consider collaboration and synergies with The Living Building Challenge initiative, the Ecological Performance Standards for Cities being developed by HoK and the Biomimicry Guild, The Natural Step methodology for the Sustainable Canadian City Index and the like.

For more information about the IES please contact Richard Register, President of Ecocity Builders at ecocity@igc.org'

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