EcoCities – Dreams and Reality

| Eero Paloheimo’s lecture in Binhai Forum, China, 28th September 2010 |

*1* Ladies and gentlemen,
*2* EcoCities in China have already a short history. For my part it began in 2005 when my book “Europe Future” was published by Southeast University Press in Chinese. In that book the basic ideas of EcoCities were presented.
*3* After that there was a strong effort in Finland to arrange a common Chinese-Finnish seminar to discuss the idea of EcoCity. Mr Li Guangyun in Chinese embassy, Helsinki helped a lot in these arrangements and with valuable efforts of Research Centre VTT from Finland a great seminar of EcoCities was arranged in Tianjin in April 2007.
Two of the main ideas in that seminar were that China has better possibilities to build the first real EcoCity in the whole world than Europe or America and secondly: EcoCity is a product, which can be exported from China later to other continents.
*4* The grounds for the EcoCities were – of course – the extremely critical environmental status of the whole planet today. The EcoCities are a very important part of the solution. The first EcoCity does not solve the problem, but it can give an example to be followed first in some country and then in the whole world.
*5* My proposal for the first EcoCity was then very modest what concerns size but not what concerns quality. It had only 20.000 inhabitants and the proposed area was 100 km2. This idealistic EcoCity had 200 inhabitants/km2. The constructed area was 25 km2 with a density of 800 inhabitants/km2. The city was self-sustainable what concerns food, water, clean energy, recreation areas and even production of industrial timber.
*6* The basic ideas began to realize very quickly. In June 2007 China and Singapore decided to build in Tianjin the Sino-Singapore Tianjin EcoCity, first in the world. When I visited Tianjin in March 2008, not only the planning, but even the construction was going on. That was quite amazing. But the project manager told me that the work is going on with the basis 7 days weekly, 24 hours daily.
*7* But in many details the project was something else than the original idea, which I described earlier.
Firstly: 20.000 people was quite too small for the Chinese ambitions. The density was about 10-times higher even for the constructed area than in my original example. But the city did not produce its timber food or clean energy inside its own area. The houses did not have their own small backyards and many were multi-storey buildings. I saw the difference between the dreams and the reality. But in the same time it has to be admitted that there is not one kind of EcoCity, but the EcoCities are like birds: they may very different from each other, but anyhow, they are all birds.
*8* So, without bitterness, I took part with a Finnish group to an international competition in Tianjin in the beginning of year 2009. Also our proposal had multi-storey buildings, not self-sustainable food production and lots of imported energy.
*9* Now, I would like to return to the basic questions. What is an EcoCity? Why do we need EcoCities?
Firstly: To build EcoCities is not usual business, in which the main goal is to make much money. Secondly: EcoCities are not usual architecture, for which beauty and functionality are the basic goals. EcoCities are built while we want to save the world from environmental disaster. If this criterion is not fulfilled, we should not speak of an EcoCity.
*10* So, the basic imperatives are very simple. An EcoCity must pollute its environment as little as possible, use the natural resources sparingly and combine the nature and built environment in a harmonious way. The EcoCity combines the clean technology so that mutual dependencies of the different sectors of technology are considered. This is why an EcoCity is more valuable than developing the different parts of clean technology separately.
*11* Then, the city reminds more a living organism than a dead object. This means that the city has a metabolism.
*12* The city eats, breaths, thinks, feels, acts, struggles and empties it’s bowels. The city is not it’s buildings, the city is the people living in it. That is why we have to study not only the constructed area but the whole area, which is necessary for the inhabitants; also the area where the food, energy and paper are produced as well as that area, where the inhabitants spend their recreational time.
*13* Every EcoCity is bound to its background. They are not clones of each other.
*14* Finally, there is something behind the EcoCities. Every product needs a factory. The factory, which produces EcosCities and plans of EcoCities is a collection of research institutes, studying the different sectors of clean technology, e.g. recycling, new traffic, clean energy etc. When these are combined we can reach a synergy, which is the necessary to create different EcoCities in different circumstances.
In fact, something like that already is coming to China.

You will find an illustrated version of this article in the homepage of Oy Eero Paloheimo Ecocity Ltd (EPECC) .