Eco Cities

Sharing European and Asian Best Practices and Experiences

To facilitate the move from “theory to practice”, the purpose of this book is to share the experiences and expertise of both Europe and Asia in building eco-cities.

The chapters in this publication have been written with the aim of showcasing experiences and examples that would be useful to both Europe and Asia. They are arranged in order of broader discussions of theoretical frameworks, broad principles, and features of eco-cities to more specific discussions of themes related to eco-cities to finally country and even local examples of eco-cities that are either in practice or are being built.

Harriet Bulkeley and Simon Marvin focus on the importance of governance as critical to the development of eco-cities, from the conception of the problem that eco-cities seek to address, to the creation of particular constellation of actors, to the implementation and continual maintenance of specific projects. Governance is broadly defined as cutting across the public/private divide, various levels of governments and transnational arenas, and that works through different socio-technical systems of cities. Citing examples of the retrofit model in Greater Manchester, the infill development model in Hammerby (Stockholm), and the green field model in Bangalore, they show how the development of these projects are structured by the dynamics and discourses of urban governance. In particular, they found that the strategic imperatives of cities and national governments, intermediary organizations, and individual champions are critical in driving the progress of eco-cities. At the same time, such progress pose challenges in the forms of governance capacity and capability required to intervene in the complex systems of a city, the conflicts of interests that emerge around what an eco-city should be, and the long-term nature of engagement by intermediaries and policy champions to see projects to their fruition.

Simon Joss highlights the importance of social sustainability as a key pillar of urban sustainability. Making a case for strengthening public engagement, Joss discerns three distinct functions of participation relating to the design, policy-making and public discourse processes. In his view, each function of participation adds value to the processes and should not be conflated. He also shows how the public can be better engaged in terms of the methodological design, the integration of the participatory procedures into policy-making and planning, and the resonance of the participatory procedures with the wider public sphere. He further cautions against regarding the “public” and the “community” as a monolithic whole but as comprising a plurality of stakeholders and interests. Such a recognition would pave the way for more tailor-made engagement processes that take into account the different types of participants involved.

Julian Goh recounts Singapore’s experience in three main areas of housing, economic development and environmental protection before and after independence in 1965. He observes that Singapore was able to grow its economy while protecting its environment, and providing for a high quality of life. He acknowledges that Singapore did not deliberately aim to be an “eco-city” from the start. Rather, its leaders learnt from the mistakes of other cities and consciously avoided them so that Singapore started on the right footing. He attributes Singapore’s success to two key factors. The first factor is to have dynamic urban governance, a point also made by Bulkeley and Marvin above, that includes its leaders setting the right vision and direction, and making adjustments along the way to suit changing circumstances as well as the creation of strong public institutions. The second factor is to have integrated master planning and development. An example of this is Singapore’s land use, which is meticulously guided by the Concept Plan (reviewed every 10 years) and Master Plan (that further details land development over the short to medium term). In his view, Singapore’s experience serves as a reference for other cities undergoing rapid urbanization.

Ryokichi Hirono explains how Musashino City (a subdivision of Toyko metropolitan area), despite having a sizeable aging population over 65 years old, has been able to build an economically, socially, environmentally and culturally sustainable urban community. He attributes this success to a well-balanced combination and synergy of responsive local leadership with a strong sense of ownership of other players, including residents in Musashino City, who collectively uphold the principles of TAP4E4S4.24 Such a keen sense of community ownership did not emerge automatically but arose over time through a series of top-down policy interventions led by the city mayor and bottom-up initiatives by civil service organizations and other stakeholders active in the affairs of the city. He further distils lessons from the Musashino City experience which other small and medium-sized cities in Asia and Europe might find useful.

Qin Tianbao elaborates on the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city in Tianjin, China as an example of how countries in Asia are working closely together for mutual benefit. The governments of China and Singapore are working closely together on this project. Apart from examining the achievements of the eco-city since it was first conceived in 2007, Qin suggests areas of improvement such as taking into account more bottom-up initiatives including public participation, raising the ecological awareness of residents, improving the surrounding amenities in residential areas, diversifying sources of investment inflows, and reforming the body that oversees the eco-city from that of an “administrator” to that of a “servant”. Qin is optimistic that these shortcomings can be overcome and that the eco-city will provide valuable experience for the transformation of other Chinese cities.

Judith Ryser makes a case for reciprocal learning between Asia and Europe in building eco-cities. In her view, practice or on-the-ground projects are essential in driving in the positive direction of sustainable development. An example is the BedZED in South London that showcases how eco-construction and green lifestyles can be easy, accessible and affordable, and yet enhance quality of life. At the same time, Ryser observes that one of the key challenges faced is capturing the value of sustainability. There is a need to move away from the conventional way of calculating real estate value based on the built-up area to a broader approach that takes into account the quality of design, sustainability and value that are reflected and experienced in the neighbourhood as a whole. In other words, the value of sustainable environments is reflected in place making, not in the narrow price of individual buildings. There is room for defining sustainability through more quantitative, evidence-based measurements so as to make a more convincing case to the public that it is in their interest to opt for more sustainable living.

Eero Paloheimo identifies certain intrinsic (i.e., intangible) and instrumental (i.e., tangible) characteristics of eco-cities. These include a strong emphasis on the harmony between nature and humanity, the presence of supporting economic activities, the beneficial lifestyle changes that would accrue to residents, and the importance of an EcoValley. An EcoValley encompasses an eco-city and a bunch of institutes dedicated to the study of different aspects of clean technology, such as energy, information and communications technology, food production, water management, waste management and construction. In an example of a collaborative effort between Europe and Asia, he cites a proposal by the Eero Paloheimo EcoCity Ltd. to build an EcoValley in Mentougou, 50 kilometres from Beijing.

Daniel Zwicker-Schwarm shares the German experience in urban development in light of several challenges, including demographic shifts, economic and technological change, rollout of sustainable energy and adaptations to climate change. Rather than focus on green field projects for eco-cities, the German experience emphasizes steps taken to transform existing settlements into more eco-friendly cities. In contrast to the more top-down design of the Singapore experience, he highlights several exemplary projects undertaken at the local level in the areas of land use, green spaces, climate protection, transport and eco-industrial parks. All the examples underscore the importance of an integrated approach that incorporates all dimensions of sustainable development such as economic prosperity, social balance and healthy environment.

Jacqueline Cramer argues that urban areas are uniquely positioned to lead the greening of the global economy through improvements in areas such as transport, energy, buildings, technology, water and waste management systems as well as to produce a wide range of economic and social benefits. Cramer cites a number of examples in the Netherlands that are making the transition towards sustainable cities. For example, there is the “Circle City” in Rotterdam where various parties like the social housing corporation, a demolition firm, a cement producer and the municipal cleaning department joined forces and were able to close the loop of building materials. After the old houses were demolished the building materials were reused in the construction of new buildings. Not only did this process benefit the environment but also led to the employment of people who were previously jobless. Cramer also stressed the importance of active involvement of the local community. While she acknowledges that the local community may initially be reluctant to take the lead,


Patrick Rüppel


Singapore, March 6, 2014