‘Lasting’, ‘economical’, ‘green’, ‘ecological’, ‘clean technology’ and ‘renewable’ are all terms that denote the dawning of a new age in the history of humankind – one characterised by growth and development under restricted conditions. Growth is expressed in the increasing number of people on the planet and explosion in urbanisation. Development is expressed in people ceaselessly striving for a better life.

More than half the world’s population lives in cities. They are places that bring together vast amounts of social and economic capital, while at the same time having a highly concentrated effect on the environment. Cities also pose a variety of socio-economic problems that hinder advances in people’s quality of life: poverty, inequality, the availability of education and health care, and so on.

Although urban planning is designed to create a physical civic space, specific solutions must take into account natural tolerance, the development of the economic environment and people’s need for self-realisation. That’s why the term ‘eco-city’ is a much broader concept than one that merely considers the natural environment.

Around 100 large-scale eco-city initiatives are taking place around the world in 2011.

Eco-cities can be approached in one of three ways:

  • new cities can be established in naturally favourable locations;
  • existing cities can be substantially reconstructed; or
  • attempts can be made to fuse the ‘green solutions’ of eco-cities with existing urban structures.

The latter is the most socially acceptable solution, but is not as environmentally efficient as new construction or extensive reconstruction.

Eco-cities are set apart from ordinary cities by the limited transport needs of their residents, their use of renewable energy, their environmentally efficient buildings, their well-developed systems of public transport, their density of construction and their emphasis on the green network (grass roofs, recycling of waste, low carbon emissions and so forth).

A number of ecolabels have been established for the assessment of the ‘greenness’ of buildings and new developments:

  • Buildings: BREEAM, EcoEffect, CASBEE, Minergie and others
  • Developments: BREEAM Communities and LEED Neighbourhood Development

All ecolabels are designed to recognise creative and effective approaches to sustainable urban development.

The best-known eco-cities and development regions are:

  • Middle East: Masdar City
  • Europe: Freiburg, Växjö and Thames Gateway
  • Africa: Johannesburg and Kampala
  • South America: Curitiba and Loja
  • North America: Denver, Seattle, Washington DC, Vancouver and Portland

TED videos about eco-cities: