The EcoCity World Summit (ECWS) is the longest running conference for ecological city design and development in the world. Started by Mr. Richard Register, who is also the founder of the non-profit organization Ecocity Builders, the conference takes places approximately every two years in a different city. Since its first summit in Berkeley in 1990, ECWS conference has been hosted in cities all over the world and is a platform to help develop action strategies relevant to the region and to the global community, while also empowering citizens to play an active role in shaping urban development.
We attended the last day of the three conference held in ADNEC in Abu Dhabi. Having speakers from different parts of the world as well as prominent figures from the professional field in the region, the conference was a melting pot of experts. The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Eco-cities in Challenging Environments’. The discussions and debates held over three days addressed various topics related to sustainable urban development such as energy consumption, climate change, economics, natural resource scarcity, environmental degradation, urban design and citizens’ perception.
The role of Universities and Institutions in imparting education in ‘sustainable’ living was highlighted. Universities should aim to not only teach principles related to urban sustainability, but also demonstrate such principles in day to day living on their campuses. Efficient waste management and recycling, economic equity for employees, promoting innovation for sustainable practices and increasing collaboration with working professionals should be an integral part of any institution.
The impact of political structure and economic policies on urban development in different parts of the world were discussed. Providing a platform for all stakeholders, including the end users – citizens, should be encouraged. Equity in the decision making process is mandatory.
’People cannot be held accountable if they were never given the responsibility to begin with.’
Mr. Sanjay Sridhar, C40 Regional Director of South and West Asia
Fluctuating economies also play a role in shaping urban development. Sometimes new developments do not reflect the current needs of people leading to a fragmented development pattern. For cities to grow in a sustainable direction, government spending should be focused on infrastructure, in particular public transportation. Looking at the history of urban form and land use in cities can help to map the movement pattern of people and make better decisions for future growth.
Every presentation, debate and discussion had one shared notion – it is time to start ‘doing’ in addition to just ‘talking’. A lot of initiatives discussed future actions and steps for sustainable urban development. Additionally, government initiatives should respond directly to the needs of the local community.
There was an emphasis on contextualizing the meaning of ‘sustainability’ – environmental, social, economic and so on. Many national projects were praised, such as Dubai Sustainable City, which was launched just last week. Slowly but surely there is a trend toward moving in the direction of sustainable growth in the region. Universities and research institutions should take the lead in launching a platform of interaction between academia, professionals, civic organizations and the community. Encouraging interaction is the only way to identify challenges and bridge the gap towards a more sustained future for our society.