EcoPolis: Envisioning the City of the Future

Below are excerpts from "EcoPolis," a fascinating article in New Scientist Magazine exploring what it will take to design and build eco-friendly cities in the 21st century as urban population growth explodes. Not surprisingly, much of the story focuses on the role of the automobile in the city. (Unfortunately, to read the entire article you have to pay a fee online or buy the magazine)

If we are to protect what is left of nature, and meet the demand to improve the quality of living for the world’s developing nations, a new form of city living is the only option….

Fortunately, governments, planners, architects and engineers are beginning to wake up to this idea, and are dreaming up new ways to green the megacities. Their approaches rest on two main principles: recycle whatever possible, and cut car use to a minimum….

Unfortunately, for the past century most cities have been moving in the wrong direction. Planners have designed cities as if resources such as land, fuel and concrete were unlimited, and waste has been something to dump as cheaply and as distantly as possible. Worse, they designed cities around cars rather than people….

This generation of city builders "worshipped at the altar of the automotive god, and idealised mobility and freedom", says Peter Hall, professor of planning and regeneration at University College London….

Planners and architects now agree that to improve the social and environmental condition of cities the top priority is to cut car use. They say zero-emission cars running on electricity or burning hydrogen are not enough. "Automobiles still require massive networks of streets, freeways and parking structures to serve congested cities and far-flung suburbs," says Richard Register, founder of the non-profit campaigning organisation EcoCity Builders in Oakland, California….

What is needed is a wholesale rethink of how new cities are laid out – and how existing ones expand – to minimise the need for cars in the first place….

Take Dongtan, the eco-city planned for southern China. Before a brick has been laid, Dongtan is being hailed as the most ambitious attempt yet at a "green city". The plan is for a car-free, zero-emission, recycling city of half a million people….

Deterring the car is also vital, says Don Shanfeng, the senior architect of the project. "Cars won’t be banned, but driving will not be made easy." A single road will meander through the first phase of the cithy, with traffic lights that automatically switch to give priority to the planned hydrogen-fuelled buses…

Read the entire article here.

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