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The shareable future of cities

Alex Steffen, TED

How can cities help save the future? Alex Steffen shows some cool neighborhood-based green projects that expand our access to things we want and need — while reducing the time we spend in cars.

(August 2011)

Riding Bogota’s Bountiful Protected Bikeways

Elizabeth Press, Street Films

Since 1998, Bogotá, Colombia has built more than 300 kilometers of protected bikeways. Streetfilms recently had the chance to explore the city’s bike network with the man responsible for building it, former mayor Enrique Peñalosa.

(8 August 2011)

Solar power for trains dawns in rainy Belgium

Robert-Jan Bartunek, Reuters
Trains already have a reputation for being a very clean form of transport but Belgian commuters can now boast railways which are partially powered by solar energy.

A public-private consortium consisting of Belgian rail management company Infrabel and solar developer Enfinity has installed 16,000 solar panels on the roof of a 3.4 km (2.1 miles) long tunnel between Antwerp and the Dutch border, creating enough electricity to power 4,000 trains a year.

The unique feature of the project, which is designed to produce 3.3 gigawatt hours a year, is that the energy produced does not flow into the national grid but is used directly by the trains.

Enfinity says that by cutting out the middle man, the grid operator, it can offer electricity about 30 percent cheaper.
(12 August 2011)

What’s an Ecocity and Why Should We Care?

Warren Karlenzig, Common Current

“Ecocity” is a popular designation for dozens of global urban centers. Indeed the 9th Ecocity World Summit next week in Montreal, Canada will be packed with city officials, planners, activists, educators, and corporations, as well as the United Nations–all trying to plan how the city can be designed and conducted more in harmony with ecosystems, culture and the biosphere.
The summit will also present a scheme to assess ecocities on defined standards and indicators. Seeing that international standards for overall sustainability at the city level do not yet exist, how can ecocities take things to the next level and collectively push forward urban sustainability performance across borders, languages, cultures and local conditions?
Cities are where sustainability meets true systems approaches and economic need: they’ll go from harboring more than half of the planet’s people to about 70 percent of humanity by 2050. The Earth is undergoing the greatest mass migration in its history as hundreds of millions of rural residents of China move to its booming cities…
Ecocity Builders’ Register, Executive Director Kirstin Miller, Ecological Footprint co-creator Bill Rees and other participants will be addressing the Montreal Ecocity Conference to present the IEFS to participants and partner cities. Four Early Partner Cities (EPCs) for the IEFS–Vancouver and Montreal, Canada; Curitiba, Brazil and Kirtipur, Nepal–will also participate. These cities or communities are already gathering information and data for the IEFS in order to provide initial feedback on the standard and indicator development process.
The IEFS consists of 15 system “conditions” or categories. Cities will eventually be analyzed and measured based on the performance of these components, which have an integral relationship to the city’s bioregions (bioregional mapping will become a key IEFS activities). The 15 IEFS categories include:
Access by Proximity: Walkable access from housing to basic urban services and transit access to close-by employment options.
Clean Air: Air quality conducive to good health within buildings, the city’s air shed, and the atmosphere.
Healthy Soil: Soils meet their ranges of healthy ecosystem functions as appropriate to their types and environments; fertility is maintained or improved.
Clean and Safe Water: Access to clean, safe, affordable water; the city’s water sources, waterways and water bodies are healthy and function without negative impact to ecosystems. Water is primarily sourced from within the bioregion.
Responsible Resources/ Materials: Renewable and non-renewable resources are sourced, allocated, managed and recycled responsibly and equitably, without adversely affecting human health or the resilience of ecosystems.
Clean and Renewable Energy: The city’s energy needs are provided for, and extracted, generated and consumed, without significant negative impact to ecosystems or to short- or long-term human health and do not exacerbate climate change. Energy consumed is primarily generated within the local bioregion.
Healthy and Accessible Food: Nutritious food is accessible and affordable to all residents and is grown, manufactured and distributed by processes which maintain the healthy function of ecosystems and do not exacerbate climate change. Food consumed is primarily grown within the local bioregion.
Healthy Biodiversity: The city sustains the biodiversity of local, bioregional and global ecosystems including species diversity, ecosystem diversity and genetic diversity; it restores natural habitat and biodiversity by its policy and physical actions.
Earth’s Carrying Capacity: The city keeps its demand on ecosystems within the limits of the Earth’s bio-capacity, converting resources restoratively and supporting regional ecological integrity.
Ecological Integrity: The city maintains essential linkages within and between ecosystems and provides contiguous habitat areas and ecological corridors throughout the city.
Healthy Culture: The city facilitates cultural activities that strengthen eco-literacy, patterns of human knowledge and creative expression, and develop symbolic thought and social learning.
Community Capacity Building: The city supports full and equitable community participation in decision making processes and provides legal, physical and organizational support for neighborhoods, community organizations, institutions and agencies.
Healthy and Equitable Economy: An economy favoring economic activities that reduce harm and positively benefit the environment and human health and support a high level of local and equitable employment options – the foundation for “green jobs”.
Lifelong Education: All residents have access to lifelong education including access to information about the city’s history of place, culture, ecology, and tradition provided through formal and informal education, vocational training and other social institutions.
Well Being–Quality of Life: Strong citizen satisfaction with quality of life indicators including employment; the built, natural and landscaped environment; physical and mental health; education; safety; recreation and leisure time; and social belonging…

(16 August 2011)