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The City is the Solution: The EcoCity World Summit
Holly Pearson, 24 Apr 08

"Cities are part of what it means to be human. We need to build cities as much as birds need to build nests. And if we want to have a future, then EcoCities must be part of who we are."

—Paul Downton, Architect, Adelaide, Australia

Greetings from the EcoCity World Summit in San Francisco!

Delegates from around the world are gathering this week in San Francisco to share ideas and innovations, network, and advance the international movement for sustainable cities. This is the 7th international EcoCity Summit, hosted by Oakland-based EcoCity Builders and partner organizations. The conference is back in the Bay Area for the first time since the first EcoCity Summit took place in 1990, having been hosted since then in Australia, Senegal, Brazil, and China.

Why focus on the city in searching for solutions to environmental problems? The conference’s co-convener, Richard Register, President of EcoCity Builders, explains that cities are "directly connected to the state of the planet’s environment as well as to local problems and solutions, both ecological and economic." The EcoCity World Summit brings together key innovators – elected officials, scientists, business leaders, architects, city planners, non-profit organizations, and activists – who are shaping the global conversation around ecological and sustainable cities and villages.

Inspiration, energy, and a renewed sense of hope are running high as some of the world’s foremost leaders in the transformation toward sustainable urban development share their success stories, strategies, and insights. Richard Register framed the dialogue by asserting that cities could run on a fraction of the energy – and generate a fraction of the ecological impact – that they currently do if they were really well-designed, lean, and efficient. For Register, an essential question in fulfilling this mission is, "Where do innovative ideas come from?"

Last night’s keynote address was given by Jaime Lerner, former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, which is widely renowned as one of the most successful models for sustainable urban design and planning. For Lerner, innovation is simply starting. Drawing on his nearly 40 years of experience with rethinking the concept of the city, Lerner sees urban areas not as challenges or threats to ecological sustainability, but rather as opportunities, boldly claiming, "The city is the solution."

Curitiba’s success is based on a broad and interdisciplinary approach, centered around the core concepts of good design, mobility, and social cohesion. But Lerner also attributes much of the city’s progress to a short-term approach that he calls "urban acupuncture" – creating focal points like parks, street markets, cultural facilities, and other great urban spaces, that produce immediate and tangible results.

EcoCity attendees also heard last night from leaders from San Francisco’s delegation, Mayor Gavin Newson and Department of the Environment Director Jared Blumenfeld. Newsom and Blumenfeld shared an impressive list of San Francisco’s accomplishments in promoting sustainability, and emphasized the importance of political leadership and the need to take significant political risks in advancing an environmental agenda.

The EcoCity World Summit continues through Saturday, April 26th. Stay tuned for more updates over the next few days….

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Thanks for highlighting this Holly. I will be referring to this in a piece on my own blog, and submitting it to an environmental news website called ENO at

Posted by: Natalie Chillington on 25 Apr 08

Thanks for the post - I'm jealous of all who are attending this conference.

"Where do innovative ideas come from?"
I would suggest that a far more important question is, "how do innovative ideas become mainstream?" and the related question of how to fund innovative ideas, which carry higher risk (both real and perceived).

Lerner is a terrific speaker, and a very smart guy... once asked how other cities could imitate Curitiba's innovative approach, he said "quit electing lawyers and businessmen to run cities - elect planners and artists." The comment drew a laugh, indicating that most people thought he was kidding, which he was not (also helps to have a high level of political control, as he did).

As long as the economic and political risk associated with greening cities is high, progress will be slow and every positive step will be seen as an 'innovation,' instead of common practice.

Posted by: justus on 25 Apr 08



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