An ecologically Healthy City

Simply put, an ecocity is an ecologically healthy city. And because each city is unique, there is no one-size-fits-all ecocity model or just one way to get there from where we are now. However, ecocities share basic characteristics analogous to healthy ecosystems and living organisms. As such, a working definition was adopted by Ecocity Builders and the International Ecocity Framework & Standards (IEFS) advisory team on February 20th, 2010, in Vancouver, Canada:

An Ecocity is a human settlement modeled on the self sustaining resilient structure and function of natural ecosystems. The ecocity provides healthy abundance to its inhabitants without consuming more (renewable) resources than it produces, without producing more waste than it can assimilate, and without being toxic to itself or neighboring ecosystems. Its inhabitants’ ecological impact reflect planetary supportive lifestyles; its social order reflects fundamental principles of fairness, justice and reasonable equity.

Living Organisms

Like living organisms, cities and their inhabitants exhibit and require systems for movement (transport), respiration (processes to obtain energy), sensitivity (responding to its environment), growth (evolving/changing over time), reproduction (including education and training, construction, planning and development, etc.), excretion (outputs and wastes), and nutrition (need for air, water, soil, food for inhabitants, materials, etc.). One great way to understand the processes of an ecocity is to pay close attention to the inner and outer workings of your own body. Another is to cultivate and observe the micro and macro relationships inside your garden.

Urban Ecosystems

An ecosystem is a biological environment consisting of all the organisms living in a particular area, as well as all the nonliving physical components of the environment with which the organisms interact, such as air, soil, water, and sunlight. Urban entities (cities, towns and villages) are urban ecosystems. They are also part of larger systems that provide essential services such as regulation (climate, floods, nutrient balance, water filtration), provision (food, medicine), culture (science, spiritual, ceremonial, recreation, aesthetic) and support (nutrient cycling, photosynthesis, soil formation). A bioregional cluster of ecocities with integrated waterways and agricultural lands and connected by public transit and bike-ped greenways would constitute an ecological metropolis, or “ecopolis”.

Ecocity Conditions

In order to improve the wellbeing of something as complex as an urban organism there needs to be a set of criteria by which cities can adopt measures that would enable them to successfully move toward becoming ecocities. Ecocity Builders has been developing a framework that enables participating cities to assess their overall ecological health while also providing guidance towards a more restorative urban environment. Designed for a wide range of stakeholders, the International Ecocity Framework & Standards Initiative (IEFS) charts a city’s steps forward along fifteen conditions, with corresponding verifiable indicators, organized through four fundamental urban arenas: urban design, bio-geo-physical conditions, ecological imperatives, and socio-cultural conditions.

Measuring Holistic Urban Health

An important step in the process of addressing urban challenges and creating effective solutions is the ability to understand, measure and quantify the environmental impacts of cities. There is a need for detailed, accurate data and information about local urban environmental conditions as well as social and economic conditions that affect both the immediate quality of life for residents and the long-term resilience and sustainability of urban areas. Based on a bottom-up approach to documenting environmental conditions at the neighborhood scale, Ecocity Builders’ Urbinsight platform connects communities with web-based mapping tools designed to explore and measure holistic urban health, providing the tools, training, and knowledge for creating more sustainable, resilient urban environments.