5 cases of regenerative urbanisation

A new model of urbanisation, powered by renewable energy and defined by a regenerative, mutually beneficial relationship between cities, rural areas and ecosystems, is urgently needed. At the World Future Council we advocate going beyond sustainable cities to regenerative cities. The long term target for cities should be ‘regenerating’ the same amount of resources as they absorb. This refers to both their ecological footprint and the ecological burden of all materials used, for example, in buildings. Here are five examples where some aspect of regenerative urbanisation is already a reality.

1. Urban food and agriculture – Havana

© Toronto Green Community Garden

Producing food locally, even in an urban environment, means shorter transport routes and less processing and packaging. These parts of the value chain consume more than a third of all energy used for food production in the US. Limiting these activities can substantially reduce the carbon footprint of each meal. In response to severe shortages in food, pesticides and petroleum after the fall of the Soviet Union, Cubans began cultivating vegetables wherever they could, including lots in downtown Havana and other urban spaces throughout the island. The urban agriculture movement was first led by the people but policy makers eventually realised the potential of the movement and invested in its development. Some 150 000 acres of land are cultivated in urban and suburban settings in thousands of community farms, ranging from modest courtyards to production sites that fill entire city blocks. ‘Intra-urban’ agriculture supplies large amounts of food to cities such as Havana and allows the city to regenerate its resources based on sustainable local economies. This is a good example of national policy framework that enables regenerative urban development.

2. Efficient use of water and wastewater – Singapore

© Singapore Government

Cities, directly and indirectly, use vast quantities of water which end up as waste water. The small island nation of Singapore imports nearly forty percent of its water from Malaysia. In a quest for water self-sufficiency, Singapore is trying to reduce water consumption by improving efficiency as well as boosting its three alternative sources: rainfall, desalinated water, and treated wastewater. Thanks to public campaigns, the city-state’s per capita daily domestic water consumption has decreased from 165 litres in 2003 to 153 litres today. It has also lowered the unaccounted-for-water (unconsumed water lost through, for example, pipe leakages) rate to five percent. Singapore collects and treats its wastewater and transforms it into high-quality water which meets the World Health Organization standards for drinking water, which accounts for thirty percent of the water supply. Most of it is used for industrial and air-cooling purposes, but a small percentage is combined with reservoir water before being treated for the drinking water supply. What is often seen as a waste output – wastewater – is thus reintroduced as an input and helps the city regenerate its own resources.

3. Renewable urban transport – Calgary

© Visit Calgary

In the long run, land use planning, favouring compact urban settlements where most daily needs for products and services can be supplied by non-motorised forms of mobility, will be critical to low-carbon urban development. But in the short and medium term, cities have little choice but to pursue alternative mobility options including public transit systems utilizing regionally supplied renewable energy. Calgary’s light rail transit (LRT) system, the CTrain, runs on electricity generated entirely by twelve wind turbines in the province. It carries the highest volume of any LRT in North America, with over 280 000 passengers every weekday. It comprises 44 kilometres of double track, 155 light rail vehicles, 37 stations, and over 13 000 park-and-ride stalls. It is currently the only 100% renewable energy-powered light rail system in North America. Cities that base their transport systems on renewable energy are likely to be more environmentally, socially and economically resilient than cities with transport based on fossil fuels.

4. Waste recycling and reuse – Curitiba

© Pamy Rojas

The vision of a regenerative city incorporates a full circle of waste avoidance and re-use. If waste is produced it must be treated as a resource which can be used to create new products or generate energy. Curitiba has established a recycling programme called ‘Green Exchange’ to complement the city’s ‘Waste That Is Not Waste’ waste collection programme. Low-income families can exchange 4 kg of recyclable material (metals, paper, plastics, glass) for 1 kg of locally harvested produce that the city buys from local farmers. Recycling saves not only raw materials, but also resources such as water and energy that would otherwise be needed in the production process of new goods. Roughly seventy percent of Curitiba’s garbage is now recycled. The programme began in 1991 when there was a surplus of local vegetable production and has the added benefit of helping peri-urban farmers maintain demand. This re-establishes a regenerative relationship between the city and its surrounding agricultural land.

 5. Energy efficiency in buildings – Adelaide

© themaloryman

Buildings account for thirty to forty percent of the world’s energy consumption. Adelaide and South Australia (SA) have been leading Australia in the efficient energy use in commercial buildings. Since 2004 all newly constructed office buildings that are used by the state government must achieve a five-star rating under the Green Star rating tool. There has been a significant improvement in the energy standards of commercial developments since this time, actively involving many property developers. Under the SA Strategic Plan of 2007, energy efficiency of residential dwellings is due to increase by ten percent by 2014. Gas and electricity retailers are required to install energy saving measures to wealthier households, and undertake home energy audits to low-income households. 75 000 households have already benefited from the scheme: in 2009 nearly 380 000 m2 of ceiling insulation was installed; 490 000 light bulbs had been replaced; 10 000 showerheads were exchanged or installed; and 590 water heaters were installed or replaced. This vastly reduces the energy and resource burden of buildings and makes it easier for the city to reach its regeneration targets.

Any strategy for regenerative urbanisation needs to be a holistic approach incorporating renewable energy production; energy efficiency; 100% renewable urban transportation; circular waste and water management; urban food and agriculture; and biosequestration.

You may also be interested in ‘Four urban sustainability projects you may not know about.’

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

5 comments

1 Roland Meingast { 08.03.12 at 17:50 }

These 5 examples are very nice. But the deserving struggle for regenerative urbanisation overlooks the much greater structural problem behind.
I dare say, starting roughly 100 years ago, urbanisation itself becomes an ever growing environmental and social problem. But there is no undetected natural law that orders: „urban settlements have to grow the more the bigger they are and as the counterpart of it, pheriperic regions have to loose the more of its population the more remote they are from cities“.
But historically we can watch this process well, arising with the industrialisation in Europe since about 200 years. And at present it is ongoing overall the world.
Of course, regenerative urbanisation is an urgently needed strategy of adaption to this process of urban growth to appease its destructive power.

The discussion on global warming admits two main strategies – reducing greenhouse gases and a search for adaptions to already inevitable climate changes.
But compared to this debate, is growing worldwide urbanisation not even seen as a man made problem to be solved?
To get eligible data for (probably disadvantageous) eco balances on mass flows between urban areas and their hinterland seems to be something between difficult and impossible. This situation leaves the usual short sighted, barely architectural urban concepts unchallenged.
Growing global warming and growing urbanisation should be seen as two indications of the same basic malfunction of global economy. Prices dont mirror the ecological footprint of goods. This distorting mirror let the use of fossil and nuclear energy look economical wise as well as it let look wise to cram more and more people densily into Megacities.

2 Fiona Woo { 09.05.12 at 15:30 }

Hi Roland, thanks for your insightful comment. Global urbanisation does indeed create problems; cities, after all, are the main agents of climate change. It can also be seen as the solution though. Compact city designs and dense populations can ease rather than exacerbate the strain we place on our land and natural resources, for example through dense public transit networks and waste management schemes. Economies of scale allow cities to condense their services so that more people are served with the same amount of resources. This, however, comes about not as a logical conclusion of urbanisation but rather through a concious understanding and effort of city planners to use the city as a tool against such problems as climate change and natural resource depletion.

3 5 cases of regenerative urbanisation — World Future Council | Dave Sellers, Iconoclast Architect , GroupThink about the {non-gadgety} house, home, neighborhood, culture, and sustainable living situation for the future. IDEAS WELCOME, INVITED, ENCOUR { 09.05.12 at 20:54 }

[...] A new model of urbanisation, powered by renewable energy and defined by a regenerative, mutually beneficial relationship between cities, rural areas and ecosystems, is urgently needed. At the World Future Council we advocate going beyond sustainable cities to regenerative cities. The long term target for cities should be ‘regenerating’ the same amount of resources as they absorb. This refers to both their ecological footprint and the ecological burden of all materials used, for example, in buildings. Here are five examples where some aspect of regenerative urbanisation is already a reality.  [...]

4 World Urban Forum 6 – The need for better policies for our cities — World Future Council { 09.12.12 at 10:17 }

[...] the WFC/ HCU Expert Commission on Cities and Climate Change. Singapore developed the capability to generate much of its own water and is well vested in recycling used water. Despite its rapid rise in affluence and having a [...]

5 Curitiba: A people-centred approach to urban transit — World Future Council { 11.08.13 at 14:36 }

[...] city is also a role model when it comes to waste disposal: since 1989 the people in the favelas can hand in their garbage to collecting points to receive [...]

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