The Ecopolis: The Future of City-Living

Progress Namibia - The Ecopolis: The Future of City-Living
16 January 2017

Have you ever critically thought about Windhoek (or any other city or town you live in), and if you are happy the way it has been planned, built, and lived in? Where do you get your food from? How do you move around? Do you feel supported and do you support others? Do you feel safe? Do you trust strangers? Do you feel a sense of community? What levels of pollution are there (for those of us in Windhoek - remember - dust is pollution too, especially from heavy construction during drought)?

The Ecopolis, or 'regenerative city', is (hopefully) going to be the new way of urban planning that moves beyond the practice of sustainable development to the realm of regenerative development. The concept is basically about living in harmony and looking after the place we live in. In an Ecopolis, you implement comprehensive strategies for an enhancing, restorative relationship between an urbanising humanity and the ecosystems in which they draw their sustenance, achieved by transforming the metabolism of the city from a linear throughput of resources to a circulating system, where resources are recycled, renewables are maximized, and consumption and pollution are greatly reduced.

At the moment, 50% of the global population live in cities, and there is a continuing mass exodus from rural areas to urban areas. In Namibia, we are no stranger to this, with rapid urbanisation taking place in most of our big towns. In fact, in Windhoek it seems to be ballooning out of control. We need to rethink how we develop and operate in our cities. Everything from how we move around (think of how much space one car takes, and the fact that we are driving singly to work and back, and then complaining about traffic - never mind the pollution, carbon emissions, petrol costs, and more) to how we treat eachother. We import more than 95% of our food, but then virtually all our organic waste goes to landfill. How much other stuff that could be re-used goes to landfill? How are we really making use of our water, and is it sustainable?

The Ecopolis relies primarily on local and regional food supplies. It is powered, heated, cooled and driven by renewable energy. It re-uses resources and restores degraded ecosystems. There is already a lot of work being done towards creating regenerative cities all over the world. The most prominent example is Adelaide. Its anti-waste policy enabled the production of 180,000 tons of compost per year made from city organic waste. This was used to improve fertility and soil structure of 20,000 ha of land near the city that produces most of the fruit and vegetables that the populous consumes; the land is irrigated with reclaimed waste water. The city has been retrofitted and much of it is now powered by solar or wind (in fact, the city bus service is entirely solar). The positive spin off of this has also been the emergence of thousands of new long-term jobs.

We need not, and should not, copy and paste into Windhoek, the way they do things in Adeleide, but we can certainly learn a lot from cities like Adeleide. In fact, while we might not have the water capacity to grow large scale food, we could definitely improve our food waste management, as well as the way we manage water generally. As far as energy goes, we have much more potential to capture solar than most places, and we are in a good space to improve public transport, rather than create new freeways and roads. How is it, in a city where we do not have enough land for housing, we have more than three homes each for our individual cars (think of how many 'houses' and spaces your car has in Windhoek, in terms of its daily use). We need to think about the systems we are currently copy and pasting (the big malls, more freeways and traffic, more solitary, isolated housing, more closed off rooms with air conditioning, less outdoor activity and more sitting in front of computers, television, phones, less real-time interaction, more pollution, less health) and question if that is really what we want.

What is important to note, is that an Ecopolis, fundamentally, is built on supportive social structures and trust, something which we hardly have any of in Windhoek. The more we alienate ourselves from our life support systems (the ecosystems around us) and each other, the worse our situation will get, whether we talk about drought, dust pollution affecting our health, or crime. Escalations of such pressures can also lead to hate and increased violence. The bottom line: we need to re-design our cities and their systems of resource use in order to survive, and ultimately to thrive. This can only be done if we move from linear to circular flows, and if we all start pulling together as a community.

(Image Credit: Biggers, J. 2017. Ecopolis Iowa City: Envisioning a Regenerative City in the Heartland. Solutions 8(1):12-20.)