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Green Building & Sustainable Development

Eco-Cities - Building Better Cities for the 21st Century

In response to the environmental challenges resulting from the unprecedented tide of urbanization worldwide, schemes to create 'eco-cities' have been launched in many countries. Seeking to address simultaneously a myriad of environmental issues, projects from China to the United Kingdom will showcase leading-edge technologies and urban planning. If they work, they could help turn cities into more sustainable spaces.

The year 2007 marked a turning point in human history. For the first time more than half of the world's population live in cities and towns. By 2030 that figure will rise to two-thirds.

It is evident that urbanization is not just a challenge for cities, but a challenge for humanity and the environment as a whole. The good news is that many currently available technologies can greatly reduce the environmental footprint of urban dwellers by cutting energy use, improving water quality, reducing air pollution, and diverting solid wastes from landfills.

But replacing aging infrastructure in cities is not only expensive, but also technically challenging. The tantalizing vision of building green cities from scratch has been around for decades - concepts embraced by politicians, urban designers and philosophers alike.

The most publicized and ambitious eco-city is planned for an area near Shanghai, China, on a 630-hectare island site near sensitive wetlands at the mouth of the Yangtze. The city of Dongtan is slated to open with accommodation for 50,000 by 2010.

The planned 'city' will eventually support half a million people, produce few carbon emissions, use no landfills, and will deploy a variety of water and energy saving technologies. Innovative design features and high density planning will encourage public transit use.

Building on a "Town of Villages" approach will integrate commercial, residential and industrial neighborhoods as one. The city will also make use of green spaces and waterways to maintain a connection to the natural environment.

An 'energy centre' will manage power provided by wind turbines, bio-fuels and recycled organic materials. Waste will be reused when possible, and organics will be composted or used for biomass energy. Sewage will be treated and used for irrigation and composting.

Another environmentally friendly city will be created in the oil rich region of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. The Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (ADFEC) has announced plans to develop a zero-waste, zero-carbon 'city' and clean technology cluster on a 6 million square meter plot of land.

The city will house clean technology companies as well as a research and development institution established in cooperation with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Project plans include extensive renewable energy, widespread public transit, and efficient infrastructure.

Billed as the 'world's first zero carbon city', the development is expected to house at least 50,000 people when it opens in 2009 and as many as 100,000 eventually.

The challenge for cities in the coming century will be enormous. Cities are living entities and as such require vast amounts of water, energy and supporting agriculture and natural resources. Densification, green building techniques and community diversity are all important considerations. Even more important are infrastructure decisions being made today which will have lasting impacts for 50 to 100 years in the future.

How we respond to the environmental challenges of urbanization will in large measure determine not only the health, quality of life and economic opportunities of upcoming generations, but also the course of human development overall. Eco-cities represent much more than an urban planner dream: they may ultimately be the key to preserving civilization as we know it.

From The GLOBE Foundation of Canada.

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