Ecocity (Theory and Practice)


By Michael J. Lynch, University of South Florida, FL


An ecocity is an urban space planned to promote ecological sustainability through the wise use of local resources, integrated urban planning that minimizes the use of automobiles, and sustainable local farming practices that include urban farming. In doing so, ecocity designs endeavor to enhance the ecological sustainability of urban areas while at the same time improving the conditions for human life. This is achieved by integrating social justice issues into the development of urban environments. Ecocities include both the theory of how ecocities should be built, and the practice of building ecocities. There are current (2014) somewhere around 100 ecocities worldwide (Joss, 2009).

The idea behind ecocities can be traced to the work of Richard Register (1987, 2006) and his effort to transform Berkeley, California into an ecocity. Roseland (1997) noted that ecocities are based on what are called “appropriate design strategies.” Appropriate design consists of eight elements:

(1) reduce energy use and promote renewable energy;
(2) increase the density and proximity of urban resources and minimize urban land development;
(3) enhance urban travel through the use of diversified transportation options;
(4) encourage the wise use of local resources;
(5) employ urban design features that maximize local biodiversity;
(6) integrate urban architecture with local ecological patterns;
(7) endeavor to create zero waste communities; and
(8) engage in other urban design options to integrate urban and natural spaces to diminish human environmental impacts and enhance the quality of human life in urban areas. (See also Lehmann, 2010a, 2010b, who suggests that there are 15 core ecocity principles).

Roseland (1997) argues that certain techniques fit the effort to promote sustainable, self-reliant urban areas or ecocities. Ecocities should, for example, include appropriate technology (AT). AT enhances local sustainability through the use of renewable resources and recycling technology, and the inclusion of local, small-scale production and consumption (e.g., small batch production; urban farming). AT approaches can be enhanced through the use of community economic development (CED) practices, or the production of unique, local responses to long-term economic development that benefits local residents over other populations (global corporations and distant consumers) while preserving the ecological quality of the ecocity region. CED strategies include land preservation programs, the wise use of natural resources, recycling, the acceleration of renewable energy sources, local economic independence, and local job creation programs consistent with sustainable environmental goals. A third design element stems from bioregionalism or creating “right sized” human communities that operate within the biocapacity limits of the local ecosystem. Taken together, these strategies reduce the need for the import of commodities including foods.

The goal of ecocity designs is to reduce the ecological footprint of urban areas and their residents. Doing so requires creating access to ecological resources such as parks and wildlife areas to enhance the quality of life for urban residents and to protect the ecosystem. Such cities are designed to enhance ecological reproduction instead of using natural spaces such as waterways as waste stream endpoints.

Ecocities must be well-integrated, facilitating proximity to mass transportation, work and food sources. Integration within the ecocity includes class and race integration as well to promote social justice and equal access to urban resources. In the ecocity, preference is given to local production for local use and avoids mass production for export. In this way sustainable economies and stable ecosystems can be integrated. Part of creating the sustainable ecocity is generating local, sustainable urban farming practices integrated into the city’s structure.

Ecocity designs have also been linked to the priciples of green urbanism (Beatley, 2000, 2007). For its part, green urbanism stresses the need to address climate change, renewable energy, zero carbon emission and zero waste goals for urban areas.

As noted, the ecocity model includes both a theoretical orientation to urban life and its integration with nature, and practical applications of these ideas to the design of real cities. In this sense, ecocities approaches are capable of linking theory and action, and provide a useful policy platform for instituting ideas such as sustainable development (see entry in this dictionary).

Green criminologists have not widely referred to ecocity theory and practices, and the relevance of this idea to green criminology awaits further development (see, Lynch, 2013).

Further Reading


Beatley, Timothy. (2007). Envisioning solar cities: urban futures powered by sustainable energy. Journal of Urban Technology 14, 2: 31-46.

Beatley, T. (2000). Green Urbanism: Learning from European Cities. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.

Joss, S. (2009). Eco-Cities: A Global Survey. In C. A. Brebbia, S. Hernandez and E. Tiezzi (eds), The Sustainable City, VI: Urban Regeneration and Sustainability. Ashurst, UK: WIT Books.

Joss, Simon, and Arthur P. Molella. (2013). The eco-city as urban technology: perspectives on Caofeidian International Eco-City (China). Journal of Urban Technology 20, 1: 115-137.

Lehmann, S. (2010a). The Principles of Green Urbanism: Transforming the City for Sustainability. London: Earthscan.

Lehmann, Steffen. (2010b). Green Urbanism: Formulating a Series of Holistic Principles.” SAPI ENS: Surveys and Perspectives Integrating Environment and Society 3, 2. Online: LINK.

Lynch, Michael J. 2013. “Reflecting on Green Criminology and its Boundaries: Comparing Environmental and Criminal Victimization and Considering Crime from an Eco-city Perspective.” In Nigel South and Avi Brisman’s (ed) The Routledge International Handbook of Green Criminology. London: Routledge.

Register, Richard. (2006). Eco-cities: Building Cities in Balance with Nature. New Society Publishers.

Register, Richard. (1987). Ecocity Berkley: Building Cities for a Healthy Future . North Atlantic Books.

Roseland, Mark. (1997). “Dimensions of the Future: An Eco-City Overview.” PP. 1-12 in M. Roseland’s (ed), Eco-City Dimensions: Healthy Communities, Healthy Planet. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.

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