Ecocities Emerging – June 2014 Issue – Reflections on Gross National Happiness

Jay Owen Sustainability News


On May 6th, the Obama administration introduced their big climate proposal. The new rules would cut carbon pollution from power plants 30% from 2005 levels by 2030. The targets are of course getting mixed reactions. The U.S. is already well on the way towards meeting that target and some states have already exceeded it. Nevertheless, Al Gore said that the announcement is “the most important step taken to combat the climate crisis in our country’s history.” 


I’m not sure if that’s cause for celebration.


The next day, according to Reuters, the deputy chairman of China’s Advisory Committee on Climate Change said that china will institute a carbon cap within its next five-year plan along with a carbon intensity metric. 


From a global perspective, this follow up by china does makes the U.S. announcement sound more important if our announcement prompted theirs.


China and the U.S. are the world’s top two greenhouse gas emitters. Since 2005, U.S. emissions have dropped by 10%, largely due to our economic downturn and a shift over from coal to natural gas. Conversely, China’s emissions have spiked by 50% since 2005 as the government pushes forward with massive economic development plans launched more than two decades ago. Powered largely by coal, China’s breakneck urbanization has come with alarmingly unhealthy air quality in many cities and a growing dissatisfaction about it from their citizens. 


Hopefully the U.S. and China’s new attitudes will signal a new willingness to seriously deal with the most pressing problem humanity faces. 


Let’s review the sources of global greenhouse gas emissions by source (IPCC 2007).


Energy Supply (26%) for electricity and heat

Industry (19%) primarily from fossil fuels burned on-site at factories

Land Use and Forestry (17%) emissions from deforestation and land clearing

Agriculture (14%) 

Transportation (13%) fossile fuels burned for road, rial air and marine transportation

Commercial and Residential Buildings (8%) from on-site energy generation for heat and cooking in homes

Waste and Wastewater (3%) greenhouse gas emissions from landfill methane, wastewater methane and incineration



This way of dividing up the problem looks nice on a pie chart. Business as usual is to then examine each sector and propose ideas to reduce the numbers. But this approach to problem solving can only go so far in that all the sectors are connected. 


Moving past the pie charts, where is the demand for all the energy, materials, food, transportation, buildings, water and waste management coming from? It’s largely from our need for land and resources to build, supply, service and operate our cities, towns and villages. 


Instead of trying to improve an unhealthy automobile and oil based infrastructure, the healthy and sustainable solution to permanently solving the emissions problem calls for the city, town and village to be redesigned around the measure, needs and potential of the human being and based upon ecological principles.


Specifically it calls for urban diversity at close proximity, instead of scattered uniformity. It calls for land uses, architecture and a steadily and rapidly growing infrastructure for pedestrians, bicyclists and transit, powered by renewable energy sources and balanced with preservation and restoration of natural and agricultural lands and waters.


As we build, so shall we live, 


signature, white
Kirstin Miller


Executive Director




Keeper of the International Ecocity Conference Series, Ecocity Builders is a non-profit organization dedicated to reshaping cities, towns and villages for long-term health of human and natural systems.

Ecocity Builders 

339 15th Street, Suite 208

Oakland CA 94612 USA

Call For Proposals

Ecocity World Summit 2017

Is your city interested in hosting the next Ecocity World Summit? 


We now invite expressions of interest from cities and organizations wishing to bid for hosting the next International Ecocity Conference after the event planned for Abu Dhabi, October 2015. 


We seek conference hosts who agree that we need both bottom up and top down approaches to solving our urban and environmental problems and that the same applies to approaches for the content of the conferences, that the particulars down to the personal and local level effect the global, climate and biosphere level and vice versa, good policy working its way down to the benefit of everyone at the “grass roots” as well. We have been, from the first conference on to the present, a conference series with a very international, multi-cultural and social justice oriented set of events. We have held conferences on all continents except Antarctica.


To receive an information packet on how to apply to host the next Ecocity World Summit, please email Conference Correspondent Richard Register at [email protected] and cc Ecocity Builders’ Executive Director Kirstin Miller,    


Upcoming Ecocity World Summit 

  • 2015 Abu Dhabi, UAE


Past International Ecocity Conferences/Ecocity World Summit

  • 2013 Nantes, France
  • 2011 Montreal, Canada 
  • 2009 Istanbul, Turkey 
  • 2008 San Francisco, USA 
  • 2006 Bangalore, India 
  • 2002 Shenzhen, China 
  • 2000 Curitiba, Brazil 
  • 1996 Yoff, Senegal 
  • 1992 Adelaide, Australia 
  • 1990 Berkeley, USA     



Thank you so much to all who attended our event, Sustainable Planning in Bhutan with Latha Chhetri

The evening was a great success, with a packed house and many long, animated discussions. Please stay tuned for future events at the Ecocity Co-Lab in the coming months, including film screenings and skill shares. You can view more pictures from the evening here.

And if you enjoyed the delicious momos (Himalayan dumplings) and want more, you can find them at Cafe Tibet in Berkeley (


Reflections on Gross National Happiness


America, Bhutan, and the biggest challenge to Ecocities
by Naomi Grunditz, Ecocity Builders


On Friday, May 23rd Ecocity Builders had the pleasure of hosting Latha Chhetri, Chief Urban Planner for the country of Bhutan. Ms. Chhetri spoke to a packed room about her country’s development policies. She enlightened us about the cautious steps Bhutan is making to ensure development aligns with their cultural and historical values. Ecocity Builders’s president Richard Register also presented slides from his recent work in Bhutan.


Bhutan has a commitment to Ecocity principles nearly unparalleled in the world. Thanks to strong nature-respecting traditions, the government has sworn off any environmentally damaging industry. Electricity is produced from renewable hydropower. The government has just announced the goal to have 100% percent organic agriculture by 2025. Growth is strictly constrained to traditional styles and materials in carefully guarded development corridors.


Bhutan seems to be doing everything right. So what is the greatest challenge to their Ecocity policies? What can we learn from them?


Swarms of Apps Will Turn Cities into Sustainable ‘Smart Hives’

By Warren Karlenzig, Sustainable Cities Collective

The amazing growth of sharing apps promises to mark the spring of 2014 as the beginning of a new era demonstrating the power of the swarm. Just as the summer of 1998 marked the beginning of the mainstream Dot Com era and the spring of 2008 saw the advent of global social media, the April IPO of Opower marks a new digital-physical era, the collaborative economy.


The collaborative economy will make cities more convenient, less costly and more sustainable. To provide a mental model of this new world, think of cities as “Smart Hives” for “swarms” of physical activities optimized by, or made possible through open urban data schemes. Earlier this month, I presented this concept in Vienna (ranked as one of Europe’s top smart cities) at IconVienna, a Central European investment forum on smart cities and innovation.


Cities are similar to beehives as they provide the physical locations for the activities of the swarms they host. Of course, both cities and hives need to be in the right place to attract and maintain the largest, healthiest swarms. For beehives, it doesn’t hurt to have access to sunlight, water and flowers. (Admission: I’m an urban beekeeper) Swarms of bees, if they are wild, decide on locating in a hive according to consensus (15 bees must approve of the location) and then they develop optimal social structures according to simple rules and communications.






by Jennie Moore, Director, Sustainable Development
and Environmental Stewardship, British Colombia
Institute of Technology


This week, BCIT’s School of Construction and the Environment hosted a living lab design charrette in regenerative design with Bill Reed, principle of Regenesis Group ( Regenerative development is the process by which humans play a positive role in stewarding social-ecological co-evolution.  Because BCIT’s School of Construction and the Environment is concerned with the natural environment, the built environment, and the relationship between them, we are interested to learn more about how regenerative development processes can play a role in building ecocities, cities that are in balance with nature.

To regenerate is to make new, to regrow and replace what was and to expand the scope of what could be. Regeneration moves past restoration in the pursuit of evolving potential. In ecology, which is the science of relationships among living organisms and their surroundings, regeneration is the recreation of relationships over time such that the whole system, the ecosystem, is reborn. The integrity of an ecosystem is measured by its ability to replicate itself (i.e., to regenerate) over time. Healthy ecosystems have the ability to make themselves whole, overcoming challenges that negatively impact their potential. Therefore, the process of regeneration can be viewed as a process of healing.

Development is the process of evolving, building complexity, or advancing towards a specific end point. Regenerative development, therefore, is a process of renewal that evolves or advances the potential of an organism or system of relationships towards a destination. The destination could include the ecozoic era, in which humanity lives peacefully with other species staying within the ecological carrying capacity of earth.

Regenerative development starts with a focus on being, on paying attention to oneself and one’s impacts. Next, attention is given to the immediate system or organization of which one is a part. This could comprise a family, neighbourhood, business, or city. Considerations include how one’s being, meaning one’s intentions and interactions, impact these larger systems. Attention is then given to the cumulative impacts of both one’s being and the system of which one is a part on the whole world. It is an exploration of unfolding potential and related impacts. In sociology, which is the science of human relationships and functioning, regenerative development explores the process by which cultures and societies create beliefs, values and norms of behavior to structure institutions that advance healing relationships with each other and the world.

These concepts draw heavily from the science of living systems (Miller 1978) and permaculture (Mollison 1988) that also manifest in bioregionalism and inform urban ecology and ecocity building. Regenerative development aligns with ecocity development such that the first informs the process of evolution towards the second which is the destination. Regenerative development involves a process for how to engage oneself and the people in one’s community in evolving towards an ecologically healthy relationship with nature that manifests through life patterns, including the built environment. Ecocity development involves the shaping of the destination, a built environment that enables sustainable and healthy living in balance with nature.


Miller, James Grier. 1978. Living Systems. New York: McGraw Hill.


Mollison, Bill. 1988. Permaculture: A designer’s manual. Tyalgum Australia: Tagari Publications.  

British Columbia Institute of Technology School of Construction and the Environment is Lead Sponsor of the International Ecocity Framework and Standards Initiative    

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Imagine an ever-evolving toolbox and mapping platform built by a growing network of community organizers, designers, technologists, geographers, coders, media developers, artists, educations, space-makers, agitators and planners where anyone can freely learn about, contribute to and apply methods for urban regeneration. 

How can spatial data visualization tools further bolster holistic and participatory land use planning rooted in racial and economic justice, urban equity and ecological design? What are examples of accessible and adaptable resources that support trans-local solidarity and the growth of informal economies in cities? How do we sprout and sustain community-led efforts in localized data collection of the built environment to encourage resilience-based resource management and restorative practices? 

Ecocity Builders’ Participatory Information Technologies Program Manger Dave Ron will be presenting a workshop to explore these questions at the upcoming Allied Media Conference in Detroit Michigan.

The session will introduce participatory information technologies, including crowd-sourced building data metrics, distributed geographic information systems and urban metabolic audits. Their use can identify threats to public health and housing tenure, or highlight opportunities for community-controlled clean energy production and urban agriculture.

If you are attending the Allied Media Conference and would like to participate in this session, please RSVP to [email protected]

The AMC is a collaborative laboratory of media-based organizing strategies for transforming our world, held every Summer in Detroit.

Car Free Journey: Bar Harbor, Maine



A favorite getaway choice in summer for many Americans is a visit to a national park. Acadia National Park, located in Bar Harbor, Maine is the only U.S. national park in the northeastern United States. While not as large as the national parks in the West, Acadia’s scenic beauty and coastal location makes it a popular choice for visitors from around the world.


Fortunately, visitors who don’t want to drive can easily enjoy Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. Be sure to plan your trip here between June 23 and the second Monday in October (Columbus Day) when the free Island Explorer buses can take you nearly anywhere you want to go in Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park, and other popular spots on Mount Desert Island.


Because the Island Explorer begins operating on June 23, this month’s Car Free Journey spotlights Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.




In this issue

:: Reflections on Gross National Happiness

:: How Swarm technology will save cities

:: Ecocity Insights: Regeneration

:: by Richard Register

:: Car Free Journey: Bar Harbor

:: Event: Eats, Beats and Brews

Ecocity Builders Sponsors Berkeley “Eats, Beats and Brews”


Join Ecocity Builders in Downtown Berkeley for Center Street’s “Eats, Beats and Brews.” Every Sunday in June Center Street will be closed to vehicles and filled with music, food, and activities for all ages. Ecocity Builders is an official sponsor of the series. Come hang out with us and experience Center Street as it could be, oriented towards pedestrians!

More info on Facebook or the website



to Ecocities Emerging!


Send articles, tips, pitches, links, events, and more to [email protected]

Ecocity Global Spotlight

Sustainable stories and highlights from around the world

Car usage down across America
via Streetsblog

Even as the population grows and economy recovers, Americans are still driving less than they were 10 years ago. So why are we still focusing on automobile infrastructure over public transportation? Read more

Reefs cheaper than concrete walls to defend coastal cities
via Earth Techling

Instead of committing billions of dollars to build breakwaters and sea walls, many tropical cities should consider conserving or restoring their coral reefs, say researchers from the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Read more

A free community guide to resilient planning

The National Wildlife Federation’s new report “Green Works for Climate Resilience: A Community Guide to Climate Planning” is a primer on nature-based approaches that communities can use to prepare for the impacts of climate change. It provides specific examples of approaches communities are taking, where they are being used, and how they are being implemented.

Read More or Get the Workbook

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Founded in 1992, Ecocity Builders is a nonprofit organization dedicated to reshaping cities for the long-term health of human and natural systems. 


More information coming soon!


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Additional Partners and Sponsors


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UN Habitat

Education and technology to increase transparency, access, and collaborative creation of sustainable and equitable communities. LEARN MORE


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