Ecocity and Ecotopia

Currently the climate change and global warming caused by destructive human intervention is shattering our planet’s life system. Evidently the decisions we make about architecture and urban formation have a crucial impact on earth’s future health.
By now people begin to realize that radical changes have to be made considering human lifestyle to conserve and maintain our natural heritage. Consequently the philosophy of Green Design has found widespread support in major parts of our society. Numerous of contemporary ecological ideas and approaches can be attributed to green visions as for example to the theory of Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach in 1975.
Ecotopia is one of the first advanced visions of an utopia with a strong ecological perspective. Cullenbach’s ideas had a significant impact on the counterculture and the Green Movement. Ecotopia embodies the archetype of an ideal ecologically and socially balanced society. Cullenbach’s philosophy is based on the desire of living in perfect harmony with nature. The idea of a “stable state” is the prior mission of Ecotopia. Cullenbach states that nothing produced in Ecotopia should affect the well-being of nature which can be achieved with the aid of recycling and reusing. In Ecotopia advanced technologies are being engaged to provide a modern way of eco-friendly living whereas mass consumption and production have to be reduced.
Ecotopia’s urban vision is to create a decentralized society with small scaled “minicities” which allow a car-free urban system based on public transportation and pedestrian accessibility. Businesses are located in peripheral areas to make space for apartments and social infrastructure in the city centers.
Coming along with his urban vision of an Ecotopian city Cullenbach suggests major economical changes such as a 20 hours workweek or an energy supplying system sourced merely from sun and sea. In fact, Ecotopia’s economy is isolated to prevent any pressure of a competitive market system and nationalize food and material production at the same time.
Ecotopia is based on a gender equal society. In opposition to our characteristical family constellation Ecotopian inhabitants live in larger groups consisting of approximately 20 members taking care of each other. Political decision are made through social discussions rather than through formal gathering. According to the vision of sustaining the green environment, crimes against nature such as air or water pollution are punished the most rigorous in Ecotopia.
Certainly, Cullenbach’s vision of a socially and economically “stable state” seems extreme, perhaps even impossible. Nevertheless, the theory of Ecotopia corresponds to some fundamental ethics of sustainability and contemporary urban planning.

Indeed, the concept of Ecocities established by the theoretician and author Richard Register favors the theory of Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia in several aspects. In his book “Ecocity Berkeley: Building cities for a healthy future” published in 1987 Register proposes a rigorous guideline for urban planning aiming to create vital, healthy, innovative cities. In his regard, “Ecocities seek the health and the vitality of humanity and nature, and that is all. And, that is enough – because it can guide all the rest.” (*)
According to Register a city is a physical container of culture and civilizations being essential for evolving ideas, art science and innovation. The theory of so called Ecocities is based on the idea of bioregional thinking and learning about the area we live in regarding geology, climate, animal and plant populations and mankind’s coherence with them. Register is claiming that cities should be non-destructively and regeneratively integrated into their biological surroundings.
Accordings to Register, “an ecocity is an ecologically healthy city.” (**) In his view, each city is unique which is why an ideal overall Ecocity model does not exist. Nevertheless, an Ecocity must have certain elemental characteristics analogous to healthy ecosystems and living organisms. First, any human settlement should be based on a self-sustaining system dealing and interacting with it’s natural surroundings. Second, an Ecocity should operate as a subsystem of the ecosystem which it is part of as the bioregion and of course the planet. Third, the Ecocity should perform as a subsystem of the regional, national and world economic system.
Register’s vision is to develop urban spaces which can intensify the creative evolution of society and evoke a healthy coevolution with our natural environment. In his regard, there is no existing Ecocity, yet, but evidently the signs of Ecocity formation can be indicated in modern urbanity as well as in old European cities. Ancient cities which are usually structured compact to waste little land and consume little energy are aesthetically merging with their natural surroundings. However, various modern urbans are making keen progress regarding solar, wind and recycling technologies, green buildings, organic farming and establishing car-free urban centers by enhancing public transportation systems.
Register claims that achieving a healthy future requires an alternate kind of urban growth which could turn cities into Ecocities. In his belief the solution is to create small, compact units by shrinking or even splitting cities instead of infinite growth and over-population.
According to Register’s theory the transformation of cities into Ecocities essentially relies on the citizen’s responsibility and their awareness of environmental issues. In his view, the car is the most destructive object in our society. We are conditioned to integrate automobiles in our lives as a machine for agile transportation, but actually it causes social disintegration and a waste of energy for street refurbishment, highway lightning and petrol consumption. In addition the car industry provokes lung cancer, pollution and acid rain.
Register requests to consider and treat cities as analogous to living organisms. The theory of Ecocities suggests to create human settlements based on a self-sustaining structure and the functioning of a natural ecosystem interacting symbiotic with other ecosystems. All consumed resources have to be renewable while the production of waste should not exceed the amount that can be assimilated.
In Register’s view, a general ecological behavior is not only a planetary supportive lifestyle, but it socially reflects moral principles and reasonable awareness as well.

 In his book, the author considers the global climate destabilization as an endangerment of the entire ecosystem Earth caused by an unhealthy automobile and oil based civilization. The Ecocity is a vision of urban diversity, an ecologically efficient industry, healthy urban growth with a green infrastructure available for pedestrians and bicyclists, a restorated, functionally integrated agriculture and a flourishing culture.
As Richard Register is stating in his theory of Ecocities there is no existing Ecocity, yet. Since the urban growth of cities is one major cause of global warming, some modern civilizations have started to develop ecologically and environmentally healthy.
In fact, the Republic of Singapore is becoming a global model for sustainability and for “a city of future”. As a matter of fact, the metropolitan city-state located in Southeast Asia is one of the most physically and philosophically green urbans on earth. As Singapore is an island country it has to deal with the issues of having limited resources and a dense population at the same time. The vision of a green city state has started to evolve in 1965 under the former prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew as a pragmatic approach for this local dilemma.
Due to it’s lack of land, Singapore is forced to grow vertically up or down. Hence the “sky-rise greenery”, a multifunctional vegetation system of walls and roofs, has emerged and developed intensively. Up to now 64.00 square meters of green roofs have been installed in Singapore to improve the air quality, lower the building cooling costs and certainly also be aesthetically appealing. The green approach also includes a further advancement of wastewater and solid waste recycling as well as electric transportation, passive lightning and irrigation systems, solar energy and tidal turbines.
Despite Singapore’s current green endeavor a majority of the natural world has been destroyed in 19th century by deforestation of the jungle due to agricultural demands. However, to renovate the natural environment and increase the quality of the island country in the mid 1960s more than a million trees and shrubs have been planted.
In addition to it’s aesthetical approach the city-state of Singapore is actively engaged in conservation and recycling processes. Moreover, Singapore is environmentally conscious in political decisions, land use planning and community engagement to become an attractive city with liveable qualities. As a result, Singapore’s population has grown more than double since the 1980s up to 5.4 million inhabitants with a sustainable economy of increasing international investment potential.
Currently, more than 7.000 multinational business companies and corporations are based in Singapore. Local organizations such as the “Singapore Sustainability Alliance” have a significant impact on the positive economic development of the city due to their cooperation with Singapore based companies. The “Singapore Alliance” encourages and supports the sustainable economic advancement of local businesses including sustainable manufacturing practices, sustainable water use, waste management, recycling and energy efficiency.
As part of the green development the “Ecocity project” was established in 2007 in cooperation of Singapore and China as a measure against global warming and climate change. The Ecocity is located in a test-bed in the area of Tianjin, China with disadvantageous environmental conditions such as salinity, ruined vegetation and a water deficit.
The Ecocity covers approximately 30 sq km of land and provides accommodation for a population of 350.000 inhabitants. Regarding environmental protection, transportation systems, landscape conservation and public health, spatial planning for this area is based on successfully developed green projects and technologies such as the Singapore Garden City project. The energy consumption of the Ecocity Tianjin will exclusively be based on alternative and renewable energy resources such as wind power, solar energy, underground heat pumping and air source heat pumping to reduce the carbon emissions in the city. Certainly, every building has to correspond to the green architectural design standards and a well connected public infrastructure based on electronic transportation allows car-free neighborhoods. Due to the fact that the environmental awareness of the inhabitants is particularly keen for the successful creation of a green civilization, the ecological intervention starts at school introducing a green educational approach.
The Ecocity Tianjin is the ideal example of a resource-conserving city with a strong commitment to green and environmental sustainability coming along with a remarkably improved living quality.

Comparing the city of Singapore to the two concepts of Ecotopia by Ernest Cullenbach and Ecocities by Richard Register, Singapore can certainly be considered as a healthy city which shares several basic ideas of both theoretical urban visions. Singapore is an example of a city area with major environmental disadvantages and a lack of local resources within a shattered natural surrounding, but which is developing a green civilization due to it’s sustainable consciousness.
Singapore is becoming a self-sustaining system based on green energy supply and waste recycling which is the main characteristic of an Ecocity or even an Ecotopia. Furthermore, Singapore is growing vertically due to its’ spatial and environmental limits as well as to its’ lack of natural resources. In fact, the city-state has to grow compact with an naturally defined urban expansion limit instead of infinite wide spreading growth. Interestingly, Singapore is growing in an alternate manner to adapt to its’ natural surrounding which is an essential notion in Register’s theory of Ecocities. Furthermore, Singapore’s green development of public infrastructure allows an alternate kind of transportation to the usual urban automobile transit system which approaches particularly with Register’s request for car-free cities.
Due to its’ environmental awareness the city island of Singapore makes a strong effort to establish a comprehensive green vision by including all areas such as society, urban planning, architecture, policy and economy. Accordingly the socio-economic situation of the city is crucially influenced by the concept of green thinking. Singapore’s population is constantly increasing, but following an sustainable approach leads to healthy growth and a liveable city which is attractive for inhabitants as well as for businesses and investors.
As a matter of fact, the efficiency of an economy is essentially dependent on the society’s well-being and therefore on the living qualities of the city as well. Expressed in other words, creating an appealing urban space will benefit economically and socially. In economic terms, property prices and the land value will raise due to the establishment of green designed cities with high qualities. In addition, energy costs can be reduced by using advanced technologies for energy-saving and renewable energy sources.
In social terms, the physical and mental health of the inhabitants will improve, as well as the environmental conditions.

Taking in consideration Register’s and Cullenbach’s theoretical work, the green awareness or consciousness of the inhabitants is keen for any sustainable development. The consumption of resources has to be reduced rigorously down to the essential human needs and we have to reconsider the desire of infinite urban growth. To create urban spaces which corresponds to the theoretical framework of Ecocities or an Ecotopia, the human awareness for the limitations of nature and natural resources has to change significantly iincluding politics, education and the individual attitude. To establish an alternate type of healthy urban growth we have to reconsider the human way of living and recognize that we are destroying our own planet and the world we live in.
Considering the concepts of the Ecocities and the Ecotopia as potential guidelines for an advanced urban design, is a literal implementation of these green visions realizable?
Cullenbach’s vision of an Ecotopia is quite utopian and unrealistic. Nevertheless, in my point of view his approach is to discover alternative ways of thinking and creating an illusory ideal of a city which is not necessarily meant to be implemented into reality. The Ecotopia is an abstract paradigm which can serve as an inspiration for future urbanism and society.
On the contrary, Richard Register’s urban approach is far more realistic. The Ecocity of Tianjin can be implied as a representation of his theory. The project was determined to create an idealistic green city by realizing the concept of Ecocities.
To sum up, I belief that our duty as architects is to maximize the value of a city by identifying urban challenges and investigating in potential solutions. Due to development achievements and technological progress we are able to provide sustainable solutions for architectural challenges. Creating advanced architecture implies adapting to environmental conditions and creating green identities.
Nevertheless, in my regard we as architects are particularly obligated to develop and sell advanced ideas. Currently many people are willing to spend incredible amounts of money for example on organic food because the value of health in our society is increasing constantly. If we as architects investigate in green concepts and sustainable solutions as a convincing respond to future urban challenges, it is very likely that clients will be willing to invest in the preservation of our environmental heritage.

(*) “Ecocity Berkeley: Building cities for a healthy future”, published in 1987 by Richard Register
(**) “Ecocity Berkeley: Building cities for a healthy future”, published in 1987 by Richard Register






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