Preview: Shanghai Expo Summit Urban Sustainability Forum

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This weekend I’m attending the
Shanghai Expo Summit Forum as part of a United Nations delegation. The Oct. 31 event,
which will be on “Urban Innovation and Sustainable Development,” will mark the close
of the largest World’s Fair in history: more than 70 million have visited the
Expo (the Osaka, Japan, World Fair of 1970 attracted 64 million) where a record
two hundred countries are exhibiting through Sunday.

The Shanghai Expo has been targeting
sustainable cities throughout its six-month run. Developing nations such as
China and India will be the focus of not only emerging strategic sustainability
frameworks, but also of large-scale financial, technology system and cultural
innovation, all of which will constantly intersect with new ways of managing
resources and mitigating and adapting to climate change. 

About 2,000 are invited to the fair’s closing ceremonies, including heads of state, governors, mayors, Nobel Prize recipients and CEOs: China will be represented by Premier Wen Jiabao, while Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will appear for the UN. The Obama Administration is sending Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council for Environmental Quality, to present on “Green Development and Ecological Cities.” Former World Bank economist Nicholas Stern, author of the pivotal 2006, “Economics of Climate Change,” (The Stern Review) will also speak.

Stern asserted that with one-percent investment worldwide in climate change mitigating technologies and development, estimated climate change-related damage to the global economy in the 5 to 14 percent range will be avoided.

Other sessions at the Shanghai
Expo Summit Forum will include:

  • Knowledge Innovation and Cultural Cities
  • Science and Technology Innovation and
    Creative Cities
  • Economic Transformation and Sustainable
    Cities
  • Community Management and Livable Cities
  • Youth Creativity and Future Cities

This year I’ve
been collaborating with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social
Affairs
, which has been preparing for the Summit Forum with Premier Wen Jiabao
and the National Organizing Committee of Expo 2010 Shanghai China. Together,
with the input of other UN agencies and the World Bank, we have been writing the Shanghai Training Manual on
Sustainable Urban Development
. The publication will come out in May 2011 as
one of two “legacies of thematic substance” from the Shanghai Expo, the other
being “The Shanghai Declaration,” which will be released at the Summit.

The “Shanghai Manual” will be an
instrument for knowledge sharing and capacity building for cities around the
globe as they struggle to tackle the economic, social and environmental
challenges of the 21st century. The largest challenge will be the
result of China’s expected increase in urban population from nearly 50 percent
of its 1.3 billion citizens to about 75 percent of its total population by 2050:
that means 400-700 million people will settle into China’s cities in the next
four decades, mostly from rural areas of China.  

Such unprecedented growth in
developing-nation cities prompted the Shanghai Manual to analyze the
intersection of sustainability management and urban planning with the emerging green
economy, science and technology innovation,
management and governance approaches, as well as traditional environmental management
sectors, such as transportation and land use planning, solid waste management
and wastewater management.

The Shanghai Manual will address
topics covered by previous Shanghai Expo urban sustainability forums that have
been held in and around Shanghai since its opening in May (which has an
overarching theme of “Better City, Better Life,”):

·              
Information
and communication technologies and urban development

·              
Cultural
heritage, creative cities and urban regeneration

·              
Science
and technology innovation and urban futures

·              
Low
carbon cities: environmental protection and urban responsibilities

·              
Low
carbon economic transformation

·              
Better
campus; better living: learning for a sustainable future

·              
Economic
transformations and urban-rural relationships

·              
Environmental
change and city responsibility

·              
Good
urban governance and sustainable lifestyles

 

Mayors from North America appearing will
include Vancouver’s Gregor Robertson, who announced a year ago the goal of
attempting to make the Canadian city “the greenest in the world.”

By 2015, according to the UN,
Shanghai will be the seventh largest city in the world, after (in order):
Tokyo, Japan; Mumbai, India; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Mexico City, Mexico; New York,
New York; and Delhi, India. The Shanghai Energy and Environment Exchange, based
in the city’s Pudong District, has 300 companies involved in a market-based
trading system for pollution credits that may become the basis for a city-based
and even national carbon trading platform.

How fitting that China focuses an
international expo on sustainable urban planning in a city that is its largest,
most dynamic example of how climate change, financial markets and urban
planning are merging into an entirely new global socio-economic model.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current,
an internationally active consultancy based in San Anselmo, California. He is a Fellow at the
Post-Carbon Institute and co-author of
a forthcoming United Nations manual on global sustainable city planning and management. 
 

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Portland, OR and GE sign Green City Agreement

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Portland, Oregon and General Electric announced this afternoon they were signing a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to consider co-developing green technologies, businesses and eco-districts, particularly around energy efficiency, power generation and job creation.

Portland Mayor San Adams said in a Portland City Hall ceremony, “The signing of today’s MoU is a milestone in our efforts to move forward aggressively on our city’s economic development strategy and our climate action plan. I’m proud to bring Portland and GE together to benefit local entrepreneurs and innovators.”

According to the MoU and an associated press release, GE will partner with Portland to:


Engage with local companies to help them develop and expand into new markets
via global product licensing;


Implement residential and commercial energy efficiency retrofits,
and develop neighborhood “Ecodistricts” throughout the city;


Explore city finance needs via municipal, state and GE resources.

The Pacific Northwestern city has been a US sustainability leader in everything from regional green building and light rail development, to renewable energy implementation and farmers markets. Mayor Sam Adams announced the agreement today in a city hall ceremony: “It is an opportunity to take Portland products and services and sell them all over the country and around the world.”

The agreement states that both Portland and GE will inform one another of new products, services, technological developments and business opportunities related to sustainability.

Sustainable urban planning leader Portland State University might also benefit from attention surrounding the agreement with its planned Oregon Sustainability Center research and development supporting related practices, policy and education.

Other US cities attempting to develop sustainability “eco-districts” include San Francisco, which announced a Civic Center district sharing renewable energy generation and project development, and Seattle.

Vancouver, British Columbia, is also investigating new green economic development initiatives. (Portland Mayor Sam Adams visited Vancouver last fall for series of appearances and meetings when Vancouver announced it had aims of becoming the “greenest city in the world.”)

Meanwhile, General Electric, which has long-running marketing program called “Eco-Imagination,” has invested $50 million in a new sustainability R&D center called Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, with the GE focus of the planned 50,000 population center concentrated in smart grid appliance development.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an internationally
active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is author of
How Green is Your City? The
SustainLane US City Rankings
and a Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute

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Vancouver Strives for the Gold as World’s Greenest City–can it become first Eco City-State?

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Vancouver, Canada’s new mayor Gregor Robinson is making good on his campaign promise to make Vancouver “The Greenest City on the Planet.” 

Forget trying to be Canada’s greenest city as Toronto has aspired to be, or North America’s greenest city as Portland, San Francisco and Chicago have vied for. If it succeeds beyond its plans, the Vancouver region will have the makings of the world’s first modern Eco City-State.

Mayor Robertson announced ambitious plans Tuesday at this week’s Resilient Cities conference.

Whatever the outcome, Vancouver will be transformed by the process in reputation and mindshare. This plan should provide the city of 615,000 with an opening to make significant sustainability improvements to its economic competitiveness, infrastructure and use of resources.

With the 2010 Winter Olympics coming to town next February, Vancouver will be able to use an international media platform that key sponsors such as Coca Cola and General Motors are targeting for launches of new “sustainability” products and messaging. Besides the release of GM’s forthcoming Chevy Volt, I’ve been told that Coca Cola is trying to completely reposition its brand in the face of climate change, bottled water rebellion and anti-soda obesity regulations.

As a result of such marketing, and with Olympic Village plans for operations under the Global Reporting Initiative on sustainability, the 2010 games might make history as the first international event associated with sustainability.

Corn syrupy water and automobiles aside, Vancouver is putting forward some serious plans and goals in its quest. Yesterday, I chatted with Melina Scholefield, Vancouver’s Sustainability Group manager, and learned that the city as part of its Greenest City Plan will:

  • Set up a low-carbon economic development zone to attract private equity investment in the green economy, with the goal of creating 20,000 new jobs.
  • Try to increase its walkability, bikability and public transit ridership to more than 50 percent. The city currently has a rate of about 20 percent combined walking and cycling for commuting, one of the highest such rates in North America. Boston, for example, has a combined walking/cycling commute rate of 16 percent, the highest in the US.
  • Develop its own green building standards, which are stricter and more thorough than existing standards such the US Green Building Council’s LEED rating system or the US EPA’s Energy Star rating system. The goal is to have all construction in Vancouver be carbon neutral by 2020.
  • Reduce the amount of solid waste that goes to landfills or is incinerated by 40 percent.
  • Provide all city residents with easy access to green space, so that by 2020 everyone would be within a five-minute walk of a park, beach or greenway.
  • Reduce the per capita consumption of water by 33 percent.
  • Reduce the carbon footprint of food production by 33 percent.
  • The big one: reduce the ecological footprint of Vancouver by 33 percent. This means reducing the amount of arable land needed to support each citizen from 7 hectares to 5.7 hectares by 2020.

Eventually Vancouver wants to reduce its “four planet” Ecological Footprint down to “one planet.” (Tuesday night, I gave a talk on urban resilience at the conference with the co-founder of the Ecological Footprint, William Rees, a professor at the University of British Columbia: our Post Carbon Institute-sponsored talk will be broadcast on 15 radio stations and available here on an MP3 at the EcoShock radio site.)

Vancouver’s performance-based goals are impressive in that they are tangible and measureable. Having measured the sustainability performance, projects and capabilities of the largest 50 US cities in my book, How Green is Your City? The SustainLane US City Rankings, I am looking forward to seeing how Vancouver will pull off developing transparent and verifiable results.

Already the city claims the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per capita of any city in North America, at just under 5 metric tons, with New York City being at about 7 metric tons and the US average being close to 25 metric tons. Vancouver claims 90 percent use of renewable energy, with much of it in hydropower, though I was unable to verify whether that hydropower is small-scale enough to qualify for accepted renewable energy standards, such as that used by the state of California.

Now comes the real test. How will Vancouver plan, manage, construct and fashion a more sustainable future so it can complement its already world-famous quality of life with new technology jobs and opportunities in urban agriculture and food production?

Vancouver will have to compete with clean tech clusters emerging in California, Boston, Austin and Toledo, Ohio, creating green job growth in renewables, green building and advanced materials, advanced transportation (beyond its already-leading fuel cell industry cluster), and water/ energy efficiency.

A final challenge surfaced yesterday afternoon during a panel discussion at the Resilient Cities conference with Scholefield and other members of the Greenest City Action Team (including Gordon Price, Robert Safrata, and Moura Quayle).

Vancouver’s Greenest City Plan has yet to provide details on the participation of its surrounding metropolitan area, though the leadership of West Vancouver, a suburb of 44,000 appeared to be on board when I discussed the plan with its mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones and councillor Trish Panz.

Regional collaboration will be vital to ensuring effective land use and transportation planning, not to mention scaling up regional food and regional energy production, particularly biomass, wind, biofuels and small-scale hydro power.

“We’ll start at the core with the hope that action in the core city will move the outer area along” said Price, Director of the SFU City program, in response to a question about the lack of sign-on from Metro Vancouver, a group of 22 communities in the region.

That strategy might work to kick things off. At some point soon, however, Vancouver will need to more fully enlist the metro area and the Cascadia bioregion to take on an active partnership and even select ownership of Greenest City plan elements. Mayor Robinson did meet with Portland, Oregon mayor Sam Adams, who came to Vancouver this week with a contingent to the Resilient Cities event–the two were said to hit it off well and spent much time together privately.

If Vancouver accomplishes its formidable goals, it would within ten years begin to more closely resembles the Eco City-State concept devised by William Rees.

The city would then be at the center of a regional economy capable of producing most of its own energy, along with a significant amount of its goods
, services and food, while protecting its water, wildlife, biodiversity and cultural resources. And this would be without contributing further to the acceleration of global climate change.

Call it resilience, sustainability, or just getting ready for what’s to come.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an international consultancy focused on  urban sustainability strategy and metrics.

 

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Urban Resilience: climate change, peaking resources, economic crash. Next?

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How do we put the pieces together to make our cities and metro areas stronger than they were before climate change, energy volatility and the Great Recession?

(See “*answer” at end of this post…)

That’s what I’ll be discussing tomorrow (Tuesday) night on a panel, “Urban Resilience in Post-Carbon World,” in Vancouver with Bill Rees, of Ecological Footprint fame, and Daniel Lerch, author of Post Carbon Cities: Planning for Energy and Climate Uncertainty.

The panel, sponsored by the Post Carbon Institute, will be open to the public and is part of a larger event on urban resilience bringing together local government leaders from Canada and the United States, as well as academics and practitioners in urban sustainability–er, resiliency–management.

Vancouver has been viewed for a decade as a success story in sustainable planning and programs. From the city’s emphasis on increased downtown density, bikability and green buildings, including its sponsorship of a “21 places for the 21st century” contest, to a city farmer program for exchanging surplus fruit, Vancouver is on the vanguard of urban resiliency innovation. It also is one of Canada’s most diverse cities, home to significant numbers of Asians from many countries, including India, as well as indigenous North Americans.

The rich offerings of the Resilient Cities event demonstrates that Vancouver is thinking ahead once more. Besides its Mayor Gregor Robertson, minions of regional and local government, non-governmental and business leaders will be putting on events, including:

  • The Vancouver Design Nerds and Open Space Network will be facilitating an urban agriculture ideas jam while another group of food system experts and producers will examine “Planning Metro Vancouver as if Food Matters.”
  • A local university campus (BCIT Burnaby Campus) will be having a design charette, led by Ecocities founder Richard Register, to reduce its ecological footprint by a factor of four.
  • City government and groups including TransFair Canada will examine how to invigorate local economic development through fair trade and sustainable purchasing.
  • The city’s “Greenest City Action Team” including the manager of the City of Vancouver Sustainability Group will share advice on engaging people in change.
  • BC hydro will lead an interactive session on sustainable community energy.
  • Provincial official will examine convening action throughout British Columbia (Vancouver’s province) that achieves settlement in balance with ecology.
  • Real estate experts including David Suzuki Foundation author Nicholas Heap will explain how climate change could impact the region’s real estate.
  • Other cities, from New York City, with former Sustainable South Bronx’s Majora Carter, (a Fellow at Post Carbon Institute along with Bill Rees and myself) to Berkeley, California, will have case studies presented. AAt in 

Key to a successful event will be how well presenters and activities engage systems approaches for resilient communities, rather than just repackaging siloed sustainability chestnuts under a new label.

Besides regional government organization Metro Vancouver‘s hosting of a session on “The Politics of Decision-Making for Sustainability,” Vancouver is making attempts at coordinating with Seattle and Portland on how to make the Cascadia region a more interconnected and better managed bioregional market. Cascadia forces helped push Amtrak to connect Portland and Vancouver for the first time without border fees, for instance.

Portland Mayor Sam Adams will be at the event with a contingent from that Oregon city, as will Jim Diers, author of Neighbor Power: Building Community the Seattle Way.

* The easy answer to my opening question, by the way, includes providing better regional
collaboration, particularly in the area of land use, planning and
transportation.

Unfettered growth in car-dependent sprawled communities proved during the past few years to be the biggest economic risk factor in real estate, endangering the whole US economy. Exurban Sun Belt homes and entire neighborhoods went from being hot properties to foreclosed or even largely abandoned, as rising gas price rises changed speculative economics from 2006-2009. 

Sprawl also has which has massive implications for higher average water, building and infrastructure energy use, increasing greenhouse gas production beyond tailpipes.

Which means that because of climate change, the issue of how to control and rethink sprawl on the regulatory and policy level should become a leading order of business in metro areas, states, nations and the world.

The unplanned sprawl that already exists will need to be re-engineered or “undone,” which means that the alternatives provided by the Vancouvers and Portlands–transit-oriented development, multi-model mobility (including walking and biking), regional energy and food production–will need to be applied at regional levels throughout North America.

The suburbs and exurbs are ground zero for change, particularly in the United States, where though most people live in urban areas (79% in 2000), they do not live in big cities. Only a quarter of US residents live in cities above 100,000 in population, so no matter how green cities become, we must think in terms of metros and their smaller cities if we really want to prepare for the future.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an internationally active urban sustainability consultancy. He is author of How Green is Your City? The SustainLane US City Rankings and co-author of a forthcoming book from the Post Carbon Institute on urban and societal resiliency     

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