| Eco-Cities, Sharing European and Asian Best Practices an Experiences, Aug. 2014 |
The Basic Character of the City
A city is not a machine. It is a living creature. It even has metabolism.
We might think a city mainly consists of buildings, streets, plazas and parks, all of which, though important, are however merely the city’s skeleton. Similar to the body of a living creature, a city functions with myriads of flows, usually known as infrastructures. The discussion will first focus on these flows. They consume energy. They produce waste.
The two most common materials that flow daily into and within the city for sustenance are food and water. The flow of these materials corresponds to that in the bowels of animals, and in both cases the final result is organic waste. Analogous to this flow, the city also produces two other types of material flows. The first type is the flow of inorganic and other industrial materials, which comes into the city as different useful products and usually discharges as inorganic waste. The second type is the internal and external flow of passengers. All flow types together create a flow of materials through the skeleton.
However, the movement of materials as well as different kinds of production and consumption require energy. Thus, the flow of energy corresponds to the blood circulatory system in animals and the photosynthesis process in plants.
Besides a flow of materials and the flow of energy an additional element, which is not common to plants but essential in all animals, must be considered — the nerves. The electric messages in the nerves of animals correspond to the different information flows within all cities.
Can we convince ourselves a city resembles a living organism simply by these postulations? We have now established an allegory of skeleton, bowels, veins and nerves and — of course — all the different organs taking care of the circulation, treatment and disposal of circulated materials. Will this describe everything? Absolutely not!
In addition to materials flow perspective, the city also encompasses one more human dimension. City inhabitants are instrumental in shaping the city that feels and thinks. The city itself has its memory, its future plans and goals too, and has undergone the stages of childhood, youth, midlife and old age. The city has its soul, character and personality. In short, it can be always regarded as an individual. A machine is not an individual.
It is not enough to claim that the city is a life form as it is actually beyond that. The city possesses characteristics of an animal, and perhaps even that of a human being. If that is the case, what kind of animal will the city take after? Let us make a comparison between a conventional city and an ideal eco-city.
Eco-city as a Product for the Solution
The world is facing a serious environmental crisis. We need a solution to this crisis. (Fig. 1)
Approximately half of the world’s population lives in cities. The renewal of cities is therefore an essential part of the panacea needed to solve the gigantic environmental problem and cure its wounds.
Fig. 1. Parts of the Environmental Crisis 
There are two mundane requirements of cities — first, the city must not pollute or contaminate its environment, air, water or soil; second, the city must not exploit its environment. It should utilize the natural resources as sparingly as possible. The reality is: no city on this planet today fulfills these requirements. All cities today take after the characteristics of animals, but the conventional cities however resemble animals that we used to call parasites. They are parasites of the planet and nature.
By contrast, an ideal eco-city is not a parasite. Instead, it behaves like a self-sustainable, individual animal. It returns to nature all that it has taken from it. This is related to the concept of self-sustainability of infrastructure but also the buildings, streets and the process of city planning that form the skeleton of the city. In sum, the city should apply and adhere to the two basic rules: no pollution, and no exploitation. This is easy in theory but difficult in practice.
In practice, meeting the requirements implies that virtually all infrastructure as well as the production processes of goods of the conventional cities have to be renewed. These will be examined in the next sections. It should be noted that the study of production/consumption processes includes the compulsory life–cycle analysis and the mutual influence of different industrial sectors. (Fig. 10)
Food production and consumption
Food should be produced in the neighborhood of the city to avoid long lines of transportation. The production of food should be integrated with organic waste recycling, bioenergy production and health care. In this consideration, food production should not be examined as a discrete process, but as a complete recycling process of organic nutrients and materials which food also comes from. The outlying suburb areas can be allocated as agricultural land to produce food for urban residents. In the age of information and communication technology (ICT), the necessity of high-density cities may not be as compelling compared to a century ago. (Fig. 2)
Fig. 2. EcoCity has Recycling of Nutrients 
Forestry and recycling of wood products
Forestry, production of paper, timber and other wood products as well as the reuse of paper and wood create the recycling and reuse industry. Forestry is also capable of and can be tapped for bioenergy production, which of course is relevant in regions with forestry and forest industry. However, forestry should be incorporated in the planning of basic land use of the city. Appropriate forestry practice can play a crucial role also in alleviating air pollution. The forest is in fact a carbon sink.
In affluent societies, the daily water consumption per capita for household use is about 200 litres. Hence, water constitutes by far the main recycled material in any cities. The availability of water resources differs from one region to another. For areas that face challenges of water shortage, the question of a city’s survival becomes very relevant and a sustainable solution must be sought. Water desalination has been made economically possible now by graphene nanotechnology. The division into two different water systems and the use of so-called grey water for secondary purposes is an alternative. More importantly, the recycling of grey water, which is used for industry, agriculture and the like, is absolutely necessary. Grey water is however not recommended for drinking and cooking. Experience has indicated that only water of drinking-quality has passed freezing or evaporation points. (Fig. 3)
Fig. 3. EcoCity is self-sufficient of Water 
It should be noted that the process of the water cycle in mountainous areas has additional economic value as major source of power generation and power storage. In many areas, the availability of rain and sunshine is limited to certain times of the year. As a result, there are periods of overproduction of power and also periods of low production of natural clean energy. Then, there exists the critical problem of power storage. In times of overproduction, this can be solved by utilising energy to pump water uphill in mountainous areas. Whereas during underproduction periods, stored energy can be consumed by using conventional hydropower.
Organic materials recycling
In the planning of eco-cities, various dimensions such as agriculture, waste treatment, water re-usage, bioenergy, energy storage and constructing green buildings using wood should be considered as an integrated entity. As recycling technology requires professional and specialised expertise, this aspect towards sustainable development is usually neglected. This should not be the case in eco-city planning. (Fig. 4)
Fig.4. EcoCity has Separation of Waste 
Planners should observe two fundamental aspects of eco-cities. First, every eco-city is uniquely different, characterised by its dependency on the natural requirements and possibilities of the specific region. Therefore, the issues of water shortage, the possibilities to introduce forestry and energy storage are distinctive to every individual eco-city. Eco-cities are results of individualised planning and thus not clones of each other.
The second important aspect in eco-city planning is incorporating and linking material and energy flows of a community into closed loop system, and it should not be merely the study and design of production and consumption as specialised sectors. The closed loop system consists of at least three flow loops, i.e., organic material recycling, water recycling and energy renewal. The ICT can be utilised to efficiently examine the linkages of these closed loop systems.
Inorganic material recycling loop
The author discusses x recycling in this article, rather than focusing on industry and production per se, which nevertheless form essential components in the recycling process.
In a modern community, many products are manufactured from inorganic materials. The chief difference between recycling loops of inorganic materials and organic materials is that recycling of inorganic materials is not on a daily basis and it is also much slower. There are nevertheless differences for various types of inorganic materials, e.g., the recycling loop of building materials is much slower than that of computers.
There are three common facts about recycling of inorganic materials. First, metal recycling is an easier and cleaner process than the recycling of polymers, concrete and ceramics. Second, most products contain different types of inorganic materials. Third, producing new material from recycled resources requires a shorter cycle and simpler process compared to changing the atomic structure or transforming the chemical properties of substance. (Fig. 5)
Fig. 5. Metals as simplest Recycling of Inorganics 
There are differences between organic and inorganic material recycling in a geographic context. Organic material recycling is a simpler process at the community level; inorganic material recycling however takes on a larger scale and has to be strategically implemented on a national level. An ideal model would be international in scope, in which case, an international audit of the material flows would be useful. This would, of course, need a political agreement.
All recycling loops and material flows need energy. This explains why the design and analysis of energy production and consumption should be integrated with material loops and not considered separately.
The world has no proper energy strategy – yet. In the long run, energy sources must be utilized by sustainable methods most notably the sun is the basic source. There are different applications of the solar-based energy: photovoltaic modules, solar thermal energy, wind turbines, geothermal energy and bioenergy. However, the study of these applications should not concentrate merely on the use of the equipment; instead the entire life-cycles of the systems should be analysed with focus on the material lifespan of equipment and also: not solely the economic costs involved. The materials used should be recyclable to give material waste renewed life by a “cradle-to-cradle” approach. The recycling loop is relevant and different alternatives should be closely examined and compared for the most economical option. (Fig. 6)
Fig. 6. EcoCity is Self-Sufficient of Energy 
A simultaneous comparison of the various production possibilities is essential to explore different energy-saving applications. The optimal result is not the same in all cases, but depends on the climate and a city’s comparative advantage in resources and geographical conditions. Even in this respect, eco-cities are unique and have individual needs and considerations.
Today, polluting, fuel-powered cars dictate land use and design in urban planning. Cars pollute the air of cities, occupy vast area of parking places and even command the land use. Large cities consist of special residential areas, business centres, industrial areas and administrative districts. As facilities and amenities become more centralised, people spend more time commuting. Smaller shops — being replaced by larger shopping malls — gradually vanish. The social disconnect in city planning is the result of making provisions blindly for fuel-powered, privately owned passenger cars.
Fuel-powered cars are not an ideal mode of transportation in eco-cities. As early as 20 years ago, a different kind of traffic system would have been possible in the form of small, electric vehicles with central navigation system that operate by automatic rechargeable batteries and are available through rental. These vehicles will operate like ultra-cheap but driverless taxis. (Fig. 7) We are gradually moving towards this new form of traffic system, albeit too slowly.
Fig. 7. Vehicle presented for General Use in 1995 
Electric buses are also a possible alternative, already adapted in some cities. However, electric buses do not offer the same flexibility and convenience as the small, clean and safe automatic electric cars.
Buildings and streets
Buildings and streets form the skeleton of an eco-city. Being permanent and stationary, buildings and streets do not pollute or put a strain on natural resources. They do, however, cause materials flow and movement during the construction stage and subsequent repair and maintenance. Energy flow also constitutes a type of movement when streets are lit and buildings are being cooled or heated. Studying the indirect influences of materials flow and movement on environment, it is also found that heating or cooling of buildings has usually the greatest impact.
It is usual that certain basic principles and standard practices are not taken into consideration in conventional construction. One of these considerations is that local materials should be used for construction. Also, when designing a building, specify the intended lifespan for occupancy. The flexibility in the functions of a building is also a key factor. The life-cycle analysis of energy consumption should be given due attention.
Streets function not only as traffic routes but maybe also as an energy source — the asphalt road surface can absorb sun’s heat effectively. Harnessing energy from streets – that would probably bring radical engineering changes in vehicles in the near future – is possible and even tempting. This would also bring revolutionary changes to vehicle parking provision and design.
Land use planning involves multi-layered decision-making, which then lays out the entire skeletal frame of the city. In eco-cities, land is designated in zones for different purposes: protected nature reserves, commercial forest, agricultural land, courtyards and gardens, parks and recreational areas as well as built-up urban areas and plazas. An ideal eco-city should contain a mixed array of types of spaces to meet the needs of residents with accessibility to work, education, shopping and entertainment within close proximity to their home.
Today’s cities are however the antithesis of eco-cities. Centralised areas with equal functions that are located at large distances apart are in fact unnecessary today. Such urban planning of course benefits and supports the automobile industry but it is not people-centric.
Before tearing down outdated buildings in old cities, the first question urban planners should always ask is: should the space be replaced with new buildings or possibly be planned as a park, forest or even agricultural land.
In modern communities, all materials flow and movement are electronically controlled by computers. ICT is essential in every modern system comprising different networks of machines and subsystems.
ICT is commonly associated with digital transmission of information and person-to-person communication via mobile phones, the Internet, and the TV media, etc. ICT also has important application in modern eco-cities, connecting various recycling loops electronically.
Though the definition of ICT is well established, the author prefers to explore further by studying it as an allegory to the human brain. Our human mind consists of two parts: the conscious and the subconscious. To explain simply, the conscious side of our mind is associated with doing and processing information, whereas the subconscious side is associated with acting upon something without the use of willpower or intent. It is known that the subconscious side of our mind plays a bigger and more important role than the conscious side.
The communication — e.g., the action of sending messages — between persons and groups via networks and the Internet constitutes the conscious function of the eco-city. However, the subconscious side predominates over the conscious side. It controls the entire hidden loop network: the energy flow, materials flow, information and communication networks, the consumption and recycling of energy and materials, as well as the plants, infrastructure and institutions that keep the machinery of the eco-city running. (Fig. 8)
Fig. 8. ICT has its conscious and subconscious part 
Two Basic Types of Eco-Cities
There are very few well-known examples of cities in the world that have been planned for or built on a totally undeveloped, virgin land. Brasilia in Brazil is a famous example that was built from scratch. Projects that involve building of completely new districts as parts of former cities are, however, more common than projects that involve developing an entire city.
Binhai in Tianjin and Masdar in Abu Dhabi are new eco-cities that are planned and constructed without any pre-existing infrastructure and simultaneously according to some fundamental requirements of eco-cities. The crucial question is: do we respond to the basic challenge with these new eco-cities? The answer is: “That is not enough”.
Eco-cities should serve as exemplary cities for new areas that are being developed worldwide. We should simultaneously reflect upon the built environment — past and present. Also then we should think about the severity of pollution in the atmosphere, ocean and soil, extensive deforestation, endangered species, loss of agricultural land and exploitation of natural resources. Will developing new cities or eco-cities bring serious impact on the environment in reality?
Of course, building eco-cities is absolutely necessary now and in the future, but that alone is not enough. The greater challenge is to renew old cities to the standards and requirements of new, ideal eco-cities. How this could happen will be discussed as follows.
Cities like Rome, New York, Bombay, Baghdad and Tokyo have histories that date back to many centuries. Being old cities, it is absolutely impossible to destroy or even change their appearance and architectural value. This is however not even necessary. In fact, we have wide experiences in renewal of cities. The mode of transportation in the past was horse-driven carriages, which were replaced by cars today. Buildings in the past were constructed of timber, bricks and stone, whereas buildings today are concrete and steel structures. In the olden days, candles were our source of lighting and wells our source of water; in today’s modern world, we have electricity supply, water supply and drainage systems. The new challenges for the future world concern also the already existing cities. The greater focus is to renew old cities than to build new eco-cities, because the existing cities build the majority of our urban environment.
To effectuate changes, only the infrastructure need to be renewed, not the buildings or streets. The skeleton should remain. Electric power plants and other power generation plants using alternative energy take up large areas but must be constructed. They can be built outside the city. More green areas need to be incorporated. Green spaces can be created from land vacated by demolished disused buildings. New vehicles on the streets need less room than the conventional cars. Therefore all streets and the basic cityscape can remain. Similarly, buildings can go green by installing thermal insulation without any changes made to the building façade and appearance. So, transforming existing cities to sustainable green cities is a gargantuan but not an impossible task. It can be considered to be of much smaller scale in comparison e.g. with the restoration of many cities after the Second World War.
At any rate, this renewal project should be realised worldwide in imminent decades. There is certainly no time to waste and delay the project e.g. for the next century. This implies also that new technology should be developed and incorporated as one of the main teaching programmes in all technological universities. New technology will naturally lead to thousands of new industries, such as production of energy-efficient automobiles, wind generators, innovative and economical solar panels, etc. Investments and innovation are driven by the market, which is in turn conducted by international political decisions.
Eco-Cities as Individuals
Eco-cities are intelligent and self-sustainable, resembling animals in many ways. They are each uniquely different, and should thus be regarded as individuals.
Geographical conditions – such as climate, soil fertility, topography, natural building materials and other factors – vary region from region. Hence, every eco-city has its own distinctive strengths and weaknesses indigenous to its location. Water shortage may be a severe problem in some regions, whilst other regions may face challenges in achieving energy self-sufficiency. In fact, obstacles that are inherent in the region, present themselves as new possibilities or opportunities rather than as a burden at planning stage. Therefore, monotony can naturally be avoided because each city has its unique characteristics and should not be reproduced in multiplicity.
In contrast, also an eco-city will have a memory, its history, its own background and heritage founded on different cultures. This diversity, in terms of architecture that is an amalgamation of the East and the West – different religions, various traditions and values – represents richness and does not pose a problem. This does not revoke the fact that all Eco-Cities are in an important way similar to each other and at the same time different from all conventional cities.
We are also reminded of the reality that the variety of Eco-Cities is determined by the amount of money being invested. In the same vein as consumer products like automobiles, mobile phones or daily necessities that range from the economical to expensive categories, eco-cities of the future will also be differentiated by the investment amount — cheap or expensive, and by scale — small or large-sized.
The economy of eco-cities is not necessarily an issue. Poor rural areas in less developed countries fit more closely to the ideals of eco-cities compared to large metropolis of wealthy countries today. The author makes a heretical remark that he does not think that people living in large, affluent, modern metropolis are necessarily happier than those living in smaller and more modest places. It is deeply an issue of values, which change constantly today and in the future. And let us remember: the physical and spiritual environments are mutually dependent.
Eco-cities as Spiritual Centres
The aforementioned views touch on the material aspects. All kinds of metabolism, including the subconscious network of the eco-city infrastructure, fall entirely under the material category. There is, however, a deeper goal related to the conscious, informative network of the eco-city. The material environment functions as a tool to create more important things. Like a human, an eco-city also embraces goals and ideas of an ideal future. Beyond that, the goals of various eco-cities may differ but certain characteristics may appear to be common to all eco-cities. (Fig. 9)
Fig. 9. Mutual Influence of Material and Spiritual Dimensions 
Nature and Built Environment
Ethics are broadly referred to as intrinsic values and instrumental values. The material dimension discussed above is primarily recognised as instrumental value that explains the underlying context and the understanding of happiness. Then the question to probe is what defines the intrinsic ethical value of an eco-city.
The concept of eco-cities is founded on the concern for the future of our planet earth. It is not only for the destiny of the mankind, but also for the survival of the rich biodiversity of this planet. Every single life on earth has its intrinsic value and this justifies the rationale of building eco-cities. However, marrying nature and humanity harmoniously in eco-cities should be a goal in itself towards attaining the spiritual dimension.
No cities today can live solely on the basis of ideology, not even eco-cities. It is unrealistic to think that a modern region could be self-sustainable without its neighbouring cities or countries. Like any independent states, eco-cities need to trade both in import and export. An eco-city can engage in production if thorough evaluation of the type and location of industry is conducted.
Moving production subterranean will be a probable solution to industries that cause noise and other pollutions, as modern automation enables production and operation to be controlled by ICT from an office above the ground level. There is no physical restriction to the type of production and trade, whether import or export, that an eco-city can engage in. In addition, substantial precedent or support from other regions should not be required in deciding to build an eco-city. Moreover, each eco-city will be unique and almost independent.
Exalting what daily life in an Eco-city should be may be too bold a statement to make and that would violate the individual freedom of the city’s inhabitants. Living in Eco-Cities does not need to embrace a totally new kind of religion or morality.
We can make enlightened and educated guesses instead. A city that integrates nature into its physical environment brings new vibes. Introducing more pedestrianized streets in urban areas that are also bicycle-friendly and building offices, schools and shopping amenities in the proximity of residential areas within walking distance will reduce noise and air pollution from cars and change the streetscape. Pedestrian streets in many cities today will give a hint and glimpse of what a pedestrianized city would look like. The clean air and reduced noise pollution from motor vehicles will certainly make a difference to the quality of living in cities.
Living in proximity to work has offered the flexibility and freedom of having various work-leisure time combinations, as well as possibilities of working from different locations. Last but not least, enjoying sufficient wealth in a conducing a natural environment reflects the sound strategy of work-life balance.
Changes to cities are necessary and that constitutes a new industrial revolution. In today’s context, to bring about changes will require beyond professional expertise, and in fact, it requires new attitude and new skills of engineers and architects. This thus leads to a revamp of teaching programmes and curricula in technological universities.
In essence, a profound technological change without gaining society’s acceptance is tantamount to an alien visitor in a society. Therefore, technological changes result in transformation in education goals, from kindergartens to universities. This is a hard truth, and notably, such changes are already going on in many countries.
Eco-valley: Essential Basis of Eco-cities
Silicon Valley in California is exemplary model of successful centralisation of clusters of new ideas and technology. Such similar centralisation is necessary for clean technology too. A major difference for clean technology is that it involves a much larger combination of different components other than information technology. It also has deeper and more extensive influence on people’s life than information technology, because any technological advance in ICT is only a subset of that of clean technology. (Fig 10, Fig 11)
Fig. 10. Mutual Influence of different Technological Sectors 
Fig. 11. EcoValley combines Science and Life-style 
In fact, the earth needs many more eco-valleys.
With this concept in mind, the author proposes a radical, but not very large-scale eco-city combined with several such institutes, which would study the different sectors of clean technology, such as recycling, food production, water management, traffic, clean energy, waste treatment, ICT, urban planning, health care, construction, new architectural features, environmental arts and various social issues. This combination can be called an eco-valley. It produces three types of synergy, namely synergy between different technologies, synergy between theory and practical, and synergy between different cultures.
Synergy between Different Technologies
It is understandable that making the switch from petrol-powered motor-cars to electric cars does not prove to be advantageous if the electricity is generated by a power plant that burns coal. Most technology sectors are mutually dependent on each other and rarely can one find any sector that is completely independent. One can try!
For example, environmental arts can adopt new water management as a theme to portray water issues in a series of works of arts in urban environment. That every sector is dependent on many other sectors explains why eco-valleys are needed in the near future. Developing technological sectors independently is a mistake and simultaneously a waste of time and resources, and should therefore be avoided.
Synergy between Theory and Practice
We can produce plans of eco-cities, develop different clean technologies, solve scientific problems and invent innovations. However, the objective of eco-city planning is also to have a consultation with people to understand their needs, their wishes, their feedback and criticism about living in eco-cities.
That an eco-valley is made up of a cluster of institutes that focus on making new innovations to improve people’s life with sovereignty is a misconception. In fact, the inhabitants of eco-cities are experts, contributing their observations and investigation, and they are, in many ways, playing the role x of teachers to the scientists working in the institutes of an eco-valley.
Therefore, a real-life simulation laboratory is needed for the entity so that inhabitants can provide immediate feedback on the usage of prototypes of various innovations, including all clean technology sectors such as traffic management, waste treatment, energy consumption, etc. The synergy between theory and practice is important, otherwise, the goals and results of any studies may end up fundamentally misleading.
Synergy between Different Cultures
An eco-valley may be located amidst a specific world culture, but its basic innovative results should be applicable to the whole world. It should be understood that systems or the components within products may be internationally adaptable and applicable but the final result — that is, the eco-city — will be essentially different in Africa, America, Europe, India, Arabic countries, etc. Cultural differences should be respected at the outset. Of course, some influences and plagiarism — which have happened historically — are unavoidable.
Serious mistakes can be prevented by attracting people from multicultural backgrounds to join the institutes at the very beginning. The ethnic and cultural diversity will help enhance understanding and awareness of various cultural sensitivities and treat other people’s belief with respect and compassion. Thus incorporating diversity in institutes is fruitful. An example is realized, when traditional Chinese medicine is incorporated into Western medicine in medical treatments for complementary effects.
Mentougou — An Example of an Eco-valley
In the whole world, there is no realised example of an eco-valley, but there is at least one proposal for such a project. That is a combination of 10 institutes and a city for 20.000 people. In 2010-2011, a project was created by Eero Paloheimo EcoCity Ltd with the assistance of Eriksson Architects Ltd, to design and build an eco-valley in Mentougou, a town, which is located about 50 kilometres from Beijing, China. The plans and designs are currently ready for implementation and realisation. (Fig. 11 – 21)
Fig. 12. The Area of MenTouGou EcoValley 
Fig. 13. Traffic Institute 
Fig. 14. Food Institute 
Fig. 15. Recycling Institute 
Fig. 16. ICT Institute 
Fig. 17. Construction Institute 
Fig. 18. Energy Institute 
Fig. 19. Health-Care Institute 
Fig. 20. Tourism&Leisure Institute 
Fig. 21. Water Institute 
Eco-valley as a Fundament
Eco-cities are analogous to consumer products created by factories. This makes eco-valleys fitting into the production role and provides essential information to worldwide eco-city builders. Eco-cities are at the same time regarded as individuals, whereby they build a new family with a common goal. This is to ensure the survival and sustainability of our planet. Hence, there is a pressing need also for eco-valleys to fulfil the role of necessary factories towards attaining this goal. The World needs this very soon.
 Illustarations drawn by the author, presented earlier in many seminars and conferences in different countries.
 Illustrations presented earlier in the report of Eco-Valley, MenTouGou, 2011.
 Illustarations presented earlier in the book “Future of Europe”(Eero Paloheimo)1996.
 Illustration presented earlier by the author e.g. in Tianjin conference “The Finnish EcoCity for the Future in China” 2007.