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New Resource: The Living Planet City
Christa Morris, 4 Sep 09
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“Welcome to the Living Planet. It’s clean, it’s efficient — and it’s doable. Today.” This blurb appears on the front page of WWF Canada’s new website, the Living Planet City, which launched on Tuesday. The Living Planet City’s bright animation of thriving urbanism (pictured right, in a screen shot) illustrates 20 big ideas to make any city more sustainable.

In the “west end,” a combined heat and power plant uses “waste” heat energy to provide chilled water for a nearby supermarket. In the “east end,” a municipal waste station feeds into a biofuel plant, complete with solar, green roofs on top. At the waterfront, wave, tidal and wind energy power the city while a rapid transit station ferries people back and forth: all this with plenty of park space.

Clicking around brings up summaries of the technology and provides links to learn more. Once properly informed and inspired, visitors are encouraged to get the ideas out there by sending a link to elected officials, friends, and business owners. You can even send a suggested message to your slated Copenhagen representative.

Good start! But is it good enough?

Maybe, maybe not. Take away the windmills, dull the colors, and it looks just like my pollution-steeped hometown. On one hand, it’s important that WWF wants to promote the Living Planet City as “doable,” suggesting that every city, without changing drastically in function or appearance, can be sustainable and clean. Normal city-dwellers can get behind it, and that is the point.

On the other hand, the Living Planet City could be bigger, bolder, and more beautiful. For instance, although promoting EVs, the cityscape is still a maze of roads. Where are the bike lanes? Where are the inner-city walking-only zones? With 350 ppm as our goal, we have to completely re-imagine our way of life, not simply find alternative ways to power our current one.

As one of the first people on the comment board pointed out, there's no single right answer out there. Toronto is a whole lot different than Copenhagen, the commenter says, and so its future of sustainability will look a whole lot different, and maybe include more cars. How do you adapt and perfect a Living Planet City when there are so many varying starting points, and thus, varying challenges? One solution would be to make the city as interactive as its sister site, “the Living Planet Community.”

In the Living Planet Community, you can commit to any number of thousands of climate-friendly actions or add your own, and the site will calculate the GHG reduction you achieve. You can even create groups -- of friends, coworkers, or strangers -- and set a goal for GHG reduction while engaging in planet-friendly competition.

Why not merge this community and the city? Why not provide a menu of tools, such as wind farms, solar panels, green roofs and bike-sharing programs with which you can remodel your own city? Why not allow users to add their own tools, such as third-place studios or greywater systems? Why not take it further, with a sustainable Sim City-esque program, where, after creating your city, you get realistic feedback on its CO2 output? A well-designed simulation could train leaders (and future leaders) to see the changes necessary to achieve emissions reduction goals in their unique cities.

The Living Planet City is a great idea that will no doubt serve to spread knowledge and inspiration, and for this reason, WorldChanging applauds WWF Canada: it’s only a matter of taking a great idea to its full potential.

Learn more about sustainable cities in the WorldChanging archives:
Sustainable Neighborhood Design
Conceptualizing the One Planet City
My Other Car is a Bright Green City

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Well said, Christa. It is good to see that people are thinking about how to incorporate new technologies, but it is far more important for people to figure out how to alter lifestyles and change the way we live. If you can take an example of an urban idea for sustainability and "scrape off" anything then the plan isn't going far enough. Sustainability has to be integral to the entire operation of our future towns and cities.

It is also foolish to me to think that all green innovations are equally as valuable, equally as necessary and equally as pertinent. Schemes like this that throw everything but the green (low-flow) kitchen sink are not convincing me that the designers really thought through the issues. I would be more interested in a plan that proposes a city with only 20% of roads open to cars or Venice-like canals used for heating and cooling. In my opinion, when confronting problems like this do not start with what we know, start with what we need to accomplish then work from there.

But again, more ideas never hurt anyone. At least it prompts a discussion.

Posted by: T. Caine on 4 Sep 09

Fair enough, there are more ways to ensure a clean city than the "Living Planet" city. However, even getting to that level would be an enormous step. The biggest component of it that precious few people seem to know about is combined heat & power. This is the key to the efficiency of Denmark, which is the poster child for energy efficiency.

Disclosure: I'm associated with Recycled Energy Development, a company that does cogeneration and waste energy recovery. So I'm not unbiased here. But the reason I'm involved is the massive potential: EPA and DOE estimates suggest there's enough recoverable waste energy in the U.S. to cut our greenhouse gas emissions by 20%. That's as much as if we took every passenger vehicle off the road. Meanwhile, costs would fall due to increased efficiency.

Yes, let's have more bike lanes and all that. But there is low-hanging fruit out there that's both pro-business AND pro-environment. And we're not grabbing it.

Posted by: miggs on 5 Sep 09

If people are interested in the intersection between sustainable transportation and urbanism, check out

Recent news: I was just at the Clinton Global Initiative blogging about some of the relevant sessions, including women's role in public transportation, and the role of infrastructure in sustainability and the built environment. Check it out!

Posted by: Erica Schlaikjer on 25 Sep 09

Thanx for the valuable information. I think it is a nice plan.. at least it will keep the earth green.... keep posting. Will be visiting back soon.

Posted by: r4 dsi on 29 Oct 09

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