The course to sustainability
2014-03-26 | Text: Ekaterina Hvorova | Photo ©: fotolia.com | 4644

 

An ordinary urban environment unable to maintain citizens’ health, with a terrible environment, huge traffic jams, and inconvenient layout of residential areas and business centers, do not meet the modern requirements anymore. Meanwhile, a level of the technology development today allows to pass to an absolutely different model of urban development. It is not strange that  today an issue of «sustainable cities» where all want to live is being discussed around the world.

Sustainable cities, or eco-cities represent a new style of life, a life in the future. It is an autonomous system independently producing energy from alternative sources, with farmlands providing required products, with no emissions of heat, carbon dioxide and other harmful substances. Eco-cities do not affect the environment.

One of the main characteristics of eco-cities is a rational location of business, industrial and residential areas, allowing more efficient use of space, reduction of the transportation time and costs. Only public transport with zero emission is used only in cities.

The city uses the most advanced waste-free technologies, and one fifth of the total area is covered by ​​water and green areas. The energy from the nature, rain water, waste water, domestic and industrial wastes - all is used as efficiently as possible.

A sustainable city represents also a special life style and thinking of local people. Thinking is based on the person’s responsibility to other people and future generations.

Full cycle construction projects for large eco-city are usually not implemented. This is explained by various reasons, in Europe there are almost no place for construction of mega-cities and possibilities to rebuild existing cities. Some countries have no funds for construction of new cities. Others are not even ready to think of the construction. Therefore, an «eco-city» means often districts within the city, differing by its widespread use of environmentally friendly technologies. But experience in creating a sustainable city is more interesting, it is already observed in the world.

The most interesting example of the current projects of eco-city construction is Masdar. This project is implemented in the UAE, Abu Dhabi, designed by British architect Norman Foster. The project is initiated the Abu Dhabi government, General Contractor - Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, a subsidiary of state-owned Mubadala Development Company. Masdar City is located 17 km to the south-east of the capital, not far from the Abu Dhabi International airport.

Construction of the city began five years ago, and currently the first phase is being implemented, associated with the construction of Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (joint project with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and a 10 MW solar power plant. The built residential campus blocks, laboratory and center of knowledge have facades providing nearby buildings and pedestrian streets with maximum shade for sun protection.

The buildings are equipped with 1 MW photoelectricity generators installed on the roof. Solar panels on the roofs and on the ground produce over 1,500 MW per year, allowing protection against peak loads at Masdar Institute. Energy surplus produced by solar power plant is transmitted to the Abu Dhabi Unified Energy System.

A wastewater treatment plant – a membrane bioreactor of 1500m ³ of wastewater treatment per day – is situated in the city. All recycled water is used for irrigation of the city. The drinking water is supplied to Masdar by Abu Dhabi municipality. Compared to national water consumption, local drinking water saving makes about 45%.

C3 energy management technology is used in Masdar to monitor and optimize energy and water consumption, as well as for waste transportation and handling. Intelligent system of energy accounting and monitoring, building control system, Smart Grid technology will be used in the city power system, which will provide information for activities to reduce the energy and water consumption. An agreement is executed between the city and Siemens on partnership in energy-saving solutions, including «smart» network technology and «smart» home. Masdar residential buildings consume electricity by 56% less than standards require (ASHRAE 90.1-2004 - standard, providing minimum power consumption, regulating big buildings projects), and by 70% lower than an average residential building in Abu Dhabi.

 

The first hundred people have already lived in the city. It’s Masdar Institute of Science and Technology students. The Institute consumes energy and water by 70% less than any other similar-scale structure, environmentally friendly transport runs at the territory, controlled by modern navigation systems.

Initially, the first construction phase was planned to be completed by 2014. However, this deadline was moved to 2018. By this point, the city planned to accommodate 7,000 residents and in the suburbs - 15,000 residents. Upon completion in 2025-30 Masdar will house 40,000 residents and 50,000 residents in the suburbs. The project assumes to build a high wall around the city in order to protect from hot desert wind.

Road transport will be prohibited in the city and all public transport services will be organized by general and personal automatic transport systems. Key junctions with the transport road and railway networks will be placed outside of the city. 10 automatic taxis are planned to run from the Masdar borders to the campus.

Later Masdar is seen as an eco-city with zero emissions and a favorable environment, which will be the scientific and research center for new environmental technologies and materials.

If Masdar relies on a technological factor, the Todmorden, a small town with a population of 15,000 people in the north of England between Leeds and Manchester, demonstrates an absolutely different approach to eco-cities creation. Its residents themselves, with their ideas and hands turned Todmorden into gardening paradise in the growing fruits, vegetables and herbs. Vegetable beds are located everywhere - at office buildings (train station, police, health center), and in the alleys between the houses. Any resident or visitor of the city can walk along an «edible path» to the embankment. Even the cemetery is planted with green garden beds. The city got own kind of activity associated with tourism – people from other cities and even countries come to dig at local gardens.

The «vegetable revolution» with the motto «if you eat, then you participate» was started by a group of activists presented their plan at a public city meeting and offered to the townspeople to create something useful with their own hands, like a veg bed or an orchard. The idea was to teach people to re-evaluate the natural environment and resources, and thus to encourage them to change their style of life. The result exceeded all expectations – the people wanted to participate in beneficent activity. First they just exchanged with seeds, later they refined the land along the main road. Later they made beds near the train station free for anyone to use, and planted fruit trees, shrubs, herbs and vegetables around the new Health Centre.

In this case, the cultivation of food products is not the most important in the development of the city. The main thing is that people can create whatever they want creating a green paradise: someone designs the garden, someone explains how to grow plants, someone sells harvest. Even children are actively involved into the process: in cooperation with secondary school an aquaponic farm is created for fish breeding and vegetables growing at the garden with an apiary. Students will learn agriculture at the farm.

Some other original solutions have been accepted to promote the domestic agricultural products at the local market. So, thanks to the city stylized map showing owners of laying chickens, where always eggs can be bought, people ask local eggs at the shops. As a result, farmers have increased a number of laying chickens.

In spite of poor financial resources for tree and shrub planting and, at first sight irrelevant measures, the result is significant. In addition to significant changes in the city appearance, many local farmers expanded amount and range of products, increasing their profits.

Now local authorities contribute to the development of ​​»Surprisingly Edible» idea – administration officials were asked to help volunteers at their gardens. A vacant land registry is designed to be provided to «Food Fund» for free use by the residents. Volunteers advise: «Create goals reflecting importance of the environment, local food production and soil.»

Now dozens of towns in England, America and Japan launched similar projects. 

 

Todmorden experience is used even far away in New Zealand at the gardening development in the city of Christchurch.

Christchurch is a large city with a population of about 400 thousand people, known under its unofficial name - City of Gardens. Parklands are occupied one third of the total city area, over 3,000 acres! For good ecology the city business center was significantly reduced in the floor number. Houses here should not exceed 7 floors. A huge number of trees, parks, play lawns, natural and artificial reservoirs pleasing locals and visitors year-round are considered a national treasure.

Talking about modern trends in the urban engineering, China should be mentioned as well. Although we still associate this state with dirty technologies, this view is no longer well-grounded by many positions. China is not only a leader in the production of many types of clean energy (including wind energy), but also an initiator of implementation of several projects on eco-cities construction. The Chinese government plans to bring the country into a world leader in this field. Cities are preferred where people live in close to natural environment with a good ecology, with no emissions, and energy consumption is ensured only by alternative sources.

In 2005, China and the UK planned to build the first eco-city in the world Dongtan at a large island in China at the Yangtze River mouth near Shanghai. In 2010, it’s supposed to be presented at the World Expo in Shanghai as a city housed 10,000 people, and where no carbon dioxide is produced. Dongtan would encourage people to walk or ride a bike, so the need in public transport would be minimal. To ensure transportation vehicles with clean technologies would be used. However, because Lian Yu Chen, a former head of the Shanghai Communist Party and the main project initiator  was accused of corruption and arrested, the construction period was postponed.

Another modern project of the Chinese eco-city is Tianjin with a population of 350,000 people. This project is unique not only because it is one of the largest in area (30 square kilometers), but also some social theories are planned to apply for creation new harmonious society, free of typical stress of modern cities. The construction site was specially selected at highly contaminated area near the industrial port of Binhai without access to fresh water. For water supply, the systems are provided for rainwater collection and purification, sea water desalination and sewage water treatment for reuse. About 60% of household wastes will be recycled.

Tianjin eco-city will be built up with typical energy-efficient houses, social facilities and business centers, separated by wide roads and green areas to ensure high air quality. According to the developers (Surbana Urban Planning Group), the eco-city will be divided into six districts, differ in architecture and functional purpose – from the center with high-rise buildings to the residential district areas with one-storey houses. Energy needs will be provided by geothermal, solar, wind and hydroelectric power plants. Transport infrastructure will be provided by the light rail. Private transportation should also be environmentally friendly – bicycles, other non-motorized vehicles or hybrid vehicles.

The construction of Tianjin eco-city started in 2008, and was scheduled to be completed in 2020. Beijing authorities support it financially (Tianjin is located 150 kilometers to the east), Singapore agreed to participate in the project. To date, the city housed about 60 families – they are participating in an experiment on improvement of the eco- and user-friendly technologies, on creation of urban infrastructure. The government plans to encourage people to settle in the Eco-city, for example, by providing apartments under beneficent conditions.

One of the main tasks of the project authors is to build not just a comfortable city, but a kind of architectural and ecological «oasis».

New construction projects for «sustainable cities» (Rizhao, Nanjing, Huan Bay, etc.) are being considered in China – developers want to get profit on the tide of Green Movement, and government authorities hope to attract foreign investors into their regions. In addition, measures on improvement of the ecologic situation in the existing Chinese cities have been taken.

Also construction of eco-cities is financially supported in developed countries. However, the projects assume, mainly, not a new city, but an area within the existing settlement. Thus, in France 750 million euros were planned to allocate for construction of 13 eco-cities, or rather, special green areas in cities such as Bordeaux, Marseille, Grenoble and Nice.

Tourism, spa centers keep up with the trends. Eco-hotels often seem to be more attractive to visit. Thus, the Portuguese coastal eco resort Monte Velho offers accommodation at a hotel that does not harm the environment. Energy is provided entirely by own wind and solar units. In addition, the resort is located near the organic farm and not far from protected eucalyptus and pine forests, the ocean and the mountains.

An interesting project was launched in the United States. Eco-city Sandbox is planned to be built (in the desert in New Mexico), thus with no inhabitants. The newest eco-city of ​​over five square kilometers will be the center of tests, innovation and analysis of green technologies. The project costs about 200 million dollars. The new eco-city will serve to simulate a real city, where the transport system and buildings will be built into different eras layers. Upon technology worked out, eco-city Sandbox can be easily replicated in other parts of the country, with population.

These are just few examples of the urban green engineering projects. Similar initiatives are now being implemented in more than 20 countries in Europe, Asia, America and even Africa. Moreover, some countries fulfill several projects. If ever similar project can be implemented in Russia, and what city will initiate these changes?

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