Photo by Jesse Fox.
With the world's attention focused on climate change talks in Copenhagen, where world leaders may or may not reach an agreement by the end of the week, a parallel gathering in Istanbul is exploring practical solutions to the climate challenge. At the Ecocity World Summit, the answer to climate change and other environmental, social and even economic problems lies in how we design, build and live in our cities. "Cities are important as solutions to the climate change challenge," said Janet Larsen of the Earth Policy Institute. Larsen, who just flew in from Copenhagen, described the negotiations at COP 15 as "a process where every country comes to the table trying to concede as little as possible. We will not solve the problem this way," she added.
In contrast, city designers (whether they be professional planners, policy-makers or citizen activists) are already addressing the challenge, she said, by changing the way cities function. As examples, she noted a plan to make new homes in EU countries carbon neutral by 2020, and the Complete Streets movement in the US.
Representing the United States, Parris Glendening of the Smart Growth Leadership Institute exhorted attendees not to "imitate or duplicate what we have done in the US over the past fifty years," which he described as half a century of subsidized sprawl. Suggesting that gas prices in the US would spike once again once the minute the worldwide recession ends, Glendening described American suburban communities as place where "residents could literally not survive without their cars."
Glendening estimated that, by designing for greater density and walkability in world cities, up to a third of the world's carbon emissions could potentially be eliminated.
Several of the Turkish speakers noted the enormous challenges facing Istanbul, including internal migration trends that add some half a million new residents to the city every year. And despite ambitious plans, laid out enthusiastically by Dr. Veysel Eroglu, Turkey's Minister of Environment and Forestry, many of the local speakers expressed their frustrations about the pace of change in the country, pointing out, for example, that green building certification has only been attained thus far by five buildings in Turkey.
More from the Ecocity World Summit over the next couple of days...