Is the Eco-City the new Utopia Community of the 21st century?


From a recently posted link off Archinect

The new theme is the eco-city.... in an effort to show how this can be addressed, the next big wave of utopian city building is a response to the global warming crisis.

The most ambitious, and perhaps unusual, of this new wave has been designed by the world’s highest profile architecture office, Foster & Partners. Sited in Abu Dhabi, the city will, like the country, depend on fuel for its existence but there the similarity to the other burgeoning desert cities ends. It is being designed as the world’s first zero-carbon city. Foster & Partners senior partner Gerard Evendent says: “What we’re doing is designing a city in context. It’s based on a traditional model in a modern context. There are narrow streets to offer shade from the sun, four-storey buildings with no lifts and a high thermal mass [making them more energy efficient] and all the roofs are covered in photovoltaic panels. It is essentially a walled city, traffic stops at the gates and inside there’s a light rail system and rapid transport with everyone within 200 metres of public transport access.”

What makes the city so unlike its predecessors (and its outrageously energy-hungry neighbours) is its built-in industry... It is a sustainable city in every sense of the word.

Although its designers’ ambition to make it entirely carbon neutral is unique, it is not the only new eco-city. The Chinese, the world’s environmental bogeymen, astonishingly beat them to it. Dongtan, at the mouth of the Yangtse River, is being developed by British multi-disciplinary practice Arup with the Shanghai Industrial Investment Corporation. It is planned to house half a million people by 2050 (it is about three-quarters the size of Manhattan) but it also sits next to an extremely sensitive wetland, home to migrating birds, which it aims to preserve. Peter Head, director of sustainability at Arup, says: “All the transport will be hydrogen- or battery-driven, so it’ll be very quiet. Hopefully, you’ll be able to hear the birds singing. Then there’s a lot of green space and biodiversity. People will be encouraged to walk and cycle through the city’s shady, pleasant spaces. We’ve found there’s been a lot of interest on blogs and on the internet. I think people are looking for something, for someone to give some leadership and direction on cities.”

China estimates it will need to build 40 new cities to accommodate the internal immigration of 300m people from the countryside in barely more than a decade.

Dongtan is an undoubted vision of paradise"

If so what are the implications?
Will the eco-city eventually go the way of previous macro-scale Modernist Urban Utopian planning schemes??

And as this recent news post highlights

Can we really consume (even if in a smarter way, our way out of this problem)...?

Jul 2, 07 11:28 am

For the time being, I think there are only a few basic factors for a city to be as ecological as possible:

reduce heating/cooling by using more thermal mass

reduce transport needs by avoiding zoning of areas

preserve fragile existing biotopes

Jul 2, 07 12:20 pm  · 

there are many more ways that living in a hive, opps, city is more efficient than lower density suburban sprawl. but it's my lunch hour and I have to tend to my crops if I'm going to eat.

but just remember that when land is more $$$ people use less of it and live in smaller honeycombs- so they have a smaller footprint in many many ways.

Jul 2, 07 1:08 pm  · 

Yeah, it's interesting to see all these projects come out at once, but it's too bad they're all new construction.

We need to do a lot more work on retrofitting older cities to lessen their impact as well, unless everybody's just going to abandon Manhattan and move to China and the UAE.

Jul 2, 07 1:22 pm  · 

Actually I'm not so sure that living in a densely populated area necessarily is the most ecological alternative. What you see in the Netherlands is that the proximity of everything makes it more interesting for people to live and work in different places, jamming the motorways and trains. I guess the question of sustainable cities goes beyond only being an issue of density.

Jul 2, 07 1:32 pm  · 

... of course, being a vegetarian also helps, since even local meat production is much more energy consuming than transporting vegetables across the globe, sooo... what's for lunch trekiller?

Jul 2, 07 1:37 pm  · 

@ 765
Yes thats a good point.
We definetly need to do much more in the older developed world,
(USA) to re-engineer our cities.
Given the state of our urban infrastructure we are going to have to anyways.
So lets do so, by including these new techs, and methods not just rebuilding, 19th century industrial centralized systems.
Why not go distributed, "green" and 21st century??

Jul 2, 07 1:49 pm  · 

Here's something I've been thinking about recently, maybe this should be on 'Green Thread Central':

How cool would it be to have a line of electronics that you could plug into the wall just like anything else, but that produced electricity instead of consuming it? An excercise bike that fed current, PVs, stuff to recapture heat from your laptop or coffee cup, a reverse fan/windmill to bring to the beach ... a whole line of stuff that makes juice in dozens of different ways.

Jul 2, 07 3:40 pm  · 

i actually saw a presentation at arup on dongtan and i think it is definately a step in the right direction. However I think the chinese will very soon have to be thinking about green megacities and I simply don't know if they have the time, yet if anyone on this planet can do it they can.

Jul 2, 07 10:47 pm  · 

oh, and i was thinking "seaside, florida" throughout the entire presentation.

Jul 2, 07 10:48 pm  · 

@ Apurimac,
Why Seaside?
Did it seem that planned and hokey/kitschy?
Or was it because you think they will have about as much success?
Please elaborate.

Jul 3, 07 8:04 am  · 

lunch was brown bagged turkey on rye- none of it was slow food/local, but my dinner included salad from my garden with stir fry tofu.

the shifting population from stagnating rural economies to the booming urban zones demands that some attempt to minimize the impact of new settlements/cities is attempted. china seems to understand the economic benefits of reducing the energy loads/infrastructure and the better quality of life that an 'eco-city' will provide compared to the business as usual developments.

Jul 3, 07 11:27 am  · 

A question?
Especially in the case of China, can a mega-city be an Eco-City?
I mean when your talking 20+ million people, as is projected for many urban areas especially in the Developing world over this century.
At that scale can it even be done?

Jul 3, 07 11:50 am  · 

can a mega-city afford not to become an eco-city? especially in an epoch of diminishing resources and growing populations - we MUST do what ever it takes to reduce the energy and materials consumed by everybody...

Jul 3, 07 1:33 pm  · 

I would say that a city as dense as Hong Kong or similar is probably in many ways far closer to being an eco-city than most. When you squeeze people that tight together, there's a lot of resource share going on, a lot of efficiency. Yes, there could be more, things could be made greener (literally), but I think there's definitely a solid base to work with there.

Jul 3, 07 1:42 pm  · 

r- that's my attitude.

arup calculated for dongtan that 50 units/acre had the best balance between density and energy loads- as you get more vertical, systems get more complex and require more energy to serve the density. 50 units/acre probably means walk-up flats 6-stories or so, while to get taller really needs elevators (big energy and space hog), water booster pumps, bigger mechanical plenums/chases, and invokes many fire safety issues. I'd love to do my own calculations on the optimum development density. Of course the higher the population, the greater the utilization of transit versus private cars. walking/biking in a city like paris (6-7 story midrise) is more pleasant than mid-town manhattan + you can have more trees in the midrise fabric then in megablock high-rises.

Jul 3, 07 2:04 pm  · 

But can this really be done on the scale that the urban-rural shift + population increase seem to call for in the near future

Jul 3, 07 2:11 pm  · 

A Seaside Arcology for Southern China

Entropy as the enemy

Arcology's explicit goal is to decrease entropy within a defined region. This is normally achieved by biological organisms [51]. Entropy, a term originating from thermodynamics [52], implies a host of negative correlations attached to our global development paradigm based on Newtonian/Cartesian materialism. Entropy's negative correlations cross ecological, biological, meteorological, hydrological, economic, social, political, psychological and aesthetic boundaries [53]. Arcology reduces entropy by weaving itself into a torn fabric of unanswered needs. Entropy is an interdisciplinary phenomenon. Negentropy (in the form of arcology) is as well.
Jul 3, 07 4:46 pm  · 

i do not see entropy as something negative nor enemy... its sort of a moderator to achieve equalibrum state. is part of the phase-space in any system... no?

i thought the most eco-friendly thing to do is -
1. minimize human on this planet... mainly the earth is not design to have this large human habitate.
2. to have minimum resource to sustain maximum human habitate.

most of the eco-design makes people feels good with green everywhere, but that doesn't mean it do any good to the earth.

Jul 4, 07 3:17 am  · 

many dreams about sustainable city/eco-friendly etc... however, it only make sense as an internal system, while many of those city use up large piece of land and resource to make it sustainable while the rest of the area outside the cities still suffer.

Jul 4, 07 3:21 am  · 

human beans will always have an ecological footprint - its just the nature of being a primate. we need to create an industrial/technological eden that can benefit both us and the rest of the planet to truly be sustainable.

¸¸¸¸.·´ ¯ `·.¸¸¸¸

or else mother nature will take a vonnagut approach and reduce our footprint for us as we drive our SUVs into the sunset.

Jul 4, 07 7:37 am  · 


"Bergeron's epitaph for the planet, I remember, which he said should be carved in big letters in a wall of the Grand Canyon for the flying-saucer people to find, was this:


Only he didn't say 'doggone.'"

- Hocus Pocus

Jul 4, 07 8:39 am  · 
its not utopia just the way things should be

green cities don't make them any safer for our kids, but it does mean they have a planet to play on

Jul 5, 07 7:01 pm  · 

vonnegut schmonnegut, I was thinking about another book, but that quote is better. thanks steven.

Jul 5, 07 10:07 pm  · 

I love how 'utopia' is derogatory.

Jul 5, 07 10:13 pm  · 

I just really hate the fact that as an architect the word utopia is constantly thrown out there. Why live in a utopia? I don't want to live in a utopia and I sure as hell don't want to build one. Utopia is a state of detachment from reality, you have to take the bad with the good, its the nature of the universe, not to mention I'm a huge entropy fan. You want sustainable? Lets burn our cities to the ground and live in thatched roof huts and grow our own food. Cities are not sustainable, civilization is not sustainable, its a runaway train and all this sustainablity stuff is simply extending our lease on this planet, not to say there is anything wrong with that though. Cities place massive demand on resources and the technology involved with cities/civilization allows for synthetic extensions of life and a population boom not possible without them. How are we gonna fucking feed 12 BILLION people unless we start to turn this planet into one huge city/farm with its related technologies which is a transformation already underway?

Rant over,

-yes it definately seemed that planned, it really was just new urbanism/urbanism with a green sheen to it. It didn't seem kitch per se, but its organization smacked of NU.

Jul 5, 07 10:34 pm  · 

What exactly do we mean by 'Sustainable'? 'Sustaining' what, exactly.

For that matter, what do we mean by 'the Environment'?

Jul 5, 07 10:42 pm  · 

good point 765, I think its fair to say that as natural organisms, does that make what we build synthetic? Would we call an anthill synthetic? If a population of any organism gets too large for the local resources to sustain, it creates an imbalance that will ultimately resolve itself, so I'm personnaly gonna sit here, drink my beer, and wait for the collapse. That's not to say I won't try to delay it a bit for my kids' sake by having my client splurge on some PV panels and low-e glass but to think we can keep this species going for a long as say, the cockaroches is a major stretch imo.

Jul 5, 07 10:48 pm  · 

@ 765
Well given past attempts and conceptualizations of Utopia,
i would argue that it's application within the context of "sustainability"
does perhaps create more problems than it solves...

Eco-Cities are not i would suspect the only/final solution and certainly are not Utopia,
Even if eco-any cmega city with millions+ is not my idea of utopia.....
Although obviously density =better.

Jul 6, 07 11:29 am  · 

just trying to get past 3200 posts, but this is a good thread worth bringing back...

Dec 18, 07 2:36 pm  · 

my boss emailed me with a bunch of questions about Masdar today. That got me thinking about the entire footprint of a city beyond the land and first order energy consumption. Where do they get all the food to feed folks in dubai? 100k more mouths requires lots of lamb, opps, land. even if 640 hectares was farmed with high intensity, they will be luck to feed a few thousand folks entirely with local production.

then there is water, desalination is very, very energy intensive - on the order of doubling the entire energy load for the city to provide potable water, even without las vegas style consumption.

My favorite source on this subject is ecocity

May 5, 08 4:31 pm  · 

i don't have the time to read through these posts right now, but i'll come back to it...

quickly @ 765... "We need to do a lot more work on retrofitting older cities to lessen their impact as well, unless everybody's just going to abandon Manhattan and move to China and the UAE."

i completely agree and this is one possible direction that i see my phd research going... of course i'm just going to be getting started this fall... so i could take some major detour in the next three years before settling on a dissertation topic...

May 5, 08 4:57 pm  · 

ya i have the opportunity to go to Dubai. I just make a new friend at a party this weekend, she is from Dubai she was really cool and told me to defiantly take the opportunity. She said there was everything but Arabs there and it was like a big mall full of mostly slaves, and all her reasons seemed financial.

May 5, 08 5:50 pm  · 

regarding the ideal density, peter newman has suggested that the ideal density is somewhere around 30 units/hectare... which, if i did the conversion correctly, is more like 75 units/acre...

speaking of newman... @ rationalist/treekiller regarding the density of hong kong... i've made it about half way through newman's book "sustainable cities: overcoming automobile independence"... it has a ton of information regarding density/transit/carbon footprints... i'd also recommend his other book "cities as sustainable ecosystems" which i haven't started reading yet...

May 5, 08 8:56 pm  · 

1 ha = 2.471 a

30/2.41=12 units/acre or mayberry

May 5, 08 9:07 pm  · 

that whole auto-hating thing is odd. when i see books like that i really wonder whats going on cuz it is not a search for sustainability but a search for a city without automobiles - not the same thing at all.

they have a goal in mind and it has nothing to do with sustainability, and more to do with their hate for what cars have made posible...conflating the agendas does a diservice to people who actually care about the environment.

what i would like to see is someone who treated the problem as something more than a matter of energy use. it is important but not the whole deal at all...

that is why i admire mcdonough. pity he is otherwise so unimaginative and that no other architects seem interested in looking past the is not easy to get over conventioanl wisdom, but i think now we need it more than ever....

May 5, 08 9:30 pm  · 

hmmm... maybe i'm remembering that 30 units/hectare figure incorrectly... he's definitely talking about a much higher density than 12 upa...

May 5, 08 10:24 pm  · 

i think no cars is often pushed because when you do the math behind it to live on less is what is required and that is the biggest step to take. How we plan around that being important because 33% of space is designated for cars and zoning mandates this situation. So looking for a creative solution is forward thinking to what we know is inevitable.

May 6, 08 2:25 pm  · 

there is not zoning in houston and the pattern is no different than portland. so it is too easy to blame zoning.

the lesson most people take from houston in specific is that people choose/create the way their cities look as much as imbibe them passively based on what planners are dishing up. that makes the problem much more complicated.

there is a lot of evidence that people live they way they want to. if this is leading to a tragedy of the commons outcome then we need to use regulations to enforce other patterns. lacking that will (which seems to be the case) then the better strategy in my view is to begin with reality and see where we can go rather than start form the future and reverse engineer to the present (which is what most of us are taught to do). i don't like it but see no other real choice.

cars are a red herring. if cars were suddenly 100 percent free energywise and non-polluting i think the books about getting rid of cars would still not go away. it is a disengeuous attack that makes no sense. i live in a super dense city (tokyo) and don't use a car, buy local-grown food, and because i live the way all japanese do i also use 7 times less energy than the average american. BUT my lifestyle is still no more sustainable, for all that. japan continues to require more energy every year and pollutes in all kinds of nasty ways. the no-car lifestyle also causes some negative externalities that are sometimes difficult to reconcile, like lack of clean air, noise pollution

there are solutions, but i really do think we need a paradigm shift and have to step away from the old bogyman of the automobile. the car-thing is more and more looking to me like a solution searching for a problem and not the core problem we need to be dealing with...

hell, if we wanted to pursue energy issues we could just as easily go after agriculture. meat costs a LOT of energy and produces lots of global warming type gases. aint gonna happen, any more than autos are going to dissapear. we need to be a lot more smart to win this game.

the recent new city foster is doing is intriguing, and there are other similar examples...but it still feels like we need to go further into the tipping point before things really start to change.

or something like that.

May 6, 08 9:10 pm  · 

I just read an interesting article on Volume's website.

Entitled "Packaging Utopian Sustainability", It asks the question can a "green" utopia only be achieved via highly planned and controlled urban development??
A Quote
"Thus, Foster + Partners must rely on these ancient Arab methods of city planning to control Masdar's environment. Control applies to both the residents and the climate...In this way Foster + Partners' model may appear to be a popular trend to address the looming environmental crisis. We don't have to look as far as China to under - stand Masdar as a contextual response to the Persian Gulf, however. Additionally in the UAE, Ras al Khaimah and Dubai join the ranks of Abu Dhabi, where Rem Koolhaas has planned Gateway Eco City and Waterfront City.
Strikingly similar.
This leads me to ask: is an architecture of control the only means to create sustainable development? Perhaps, but perhaps this isn't the right question."

And so I ask...DO you agree. Is the current model of green Utopian urbanism follow a model of architecture created in league with the concepts of authority and control?
See full article

Jul 20, 08 11:10 pm  · 

ok, so, environmentally sound design is very, very important. but that's something you can hire a consultant to do to pretty much whatever you've already designed.

let's not let 'eco-friendly' get in the way of real architecture: good design that is artistically noteworthy and a pleasant place to live for the inhabitants. it can be eco-friendly too but that should never be the main goal, or else it is not architecture.

Jul 21, 08 2:54 am  · 

high performance is 'real architecture'. Low performance that looks good is crap architecture and does not serving the public health safety or welfare.

Nic, take off your starchitect tinted glasses. Most buildings are never going to be 'artistically noteworthy', at best they may be pleasant places to live. But that is no excuse for the zaha's and gehry's to ignore creating buildings that don't leak and meet all energy code. Look at what Thom or Renzo or Sir Norman or Grimshaw achieve, and compare that with Asymptote or Greg Lynn or Eisenman's failures of performance.

As to control, the mess we're in is a classic tragedy of the commons. But creating a place that provides options to the private auto, reduces the cost of occupancy, and increases the inhabitant's health does not need to make a dystopia or totalitarian place.

If we have choices to reduce my consumption, why wouldn't we?

Jul 21, 08 9:54 am  · 
ok, so, environmentally sound design is very, very important. but that's something you can hire a consultant to do to pretty much whatever you've already designed.

you can't post-rationalize ecology and energy savings.

and who says eco-friendly isn't real architecture. eco-friendly is now one of the main goals. if it isn't sustainable, its not real architecture--these days. i pity you if you live in California, Seattle, Boston or one of the many other places that mandate LEED mins these days.

Jul 21, 08 9:54 am  · 

Every infrastructure should be, as much as possible, eco-friendly. If not, then what is the point of architecture? To ruin the environment? I don't think so.
yamaha raptor 250r

Jul 15, 10 7:45 pm  · 

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