The 13th edition of the Ecocity World Summit was held in Vancouver, October 7-11. By all accounts it was a great success with participation from 1,063 people from 59 countries. The overarching theme was building a bridge to socially just and ecologically sustainable cities. Sub-themes addressed climate action, circular economy, and informal solutions for sustainable development. The program explored these themes through questions asking:
- What is an ecocity?
- What are cities around the world doing?
- What is Vancouver doing?
- How are we training the next generation of ecocity practitioners?
The program also used the International Ecocity Standards as a framework to organize the concurrent tracks and sessions for each day of the Summit. The tracks followed the four pillars of: i) urban design, bio-geophysical conditions, iii) socio-cultural features, and iv) ecological imperatives. Within each track, the relevant standards, of which there are 18 in total, framed the session content, informed by the Summit themes.
Paul Hawken, the featured keynote speaker for the opening of the main Summit program observed that:
“The Ecocity World Summit is the most insightful and comprehensive urban initiative I have seen in terms of addressing the issues civilization is facing. The roster of speakers is world class, extraordinary people who have devoted their life to creating just and vibrant habitats for all people.”
“The world is a complex system, and the Summit nails the important issues that underpin human life and well-being.”
An international program committee brought perspectives from around the world to ensure that the Summit was a meeting place of people from varied geographic, socio-cultural, and economic backgrounds. An intentional mix of academic, public and private sector, as well as civil-society leadership kept the discussion lively and representative of who lives in ecocities. A youth caucus that ran through the entire Summit also enabled young people to share and build on ideas and insights about the utility of the Ecocity Standards.
Key take away messages from the Summit were shared by a panel of rapporteurs in the final closing plenary. These comprised reflections on the value of the ecocity model as one that can deliver the radical reductions in energy and material demands needed to live within ecological carrying capacity and stabilize climate at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The necessity to rethink economic models that prioritize growth through consumption instead of a focus on advancing well-being for everyone. The very important message that belonging is part of becoming. Sustainability must follow a pathway of social justice. This is the way we reconcile the truth about ecological limits and ensure that our humanity stays intact as we consider reparations between the benefit-takers and cost-bearers in society and around the world. To this end, the voices of youth, women, and under-privileged members of society must be sought out and included in decision-making along with indigenous peoples, people of colour, and people of different gender or sexual orientation. It is also important to change the lens through which we seek solutions. For example, informal settlements in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro achieve higher sustainability outcomes than iconic “sustainable” neighbourhoods in North America. What can we learn from these communities to help us leap-frog to sustainability by letting go of the “west-is-best” mentality that keeps many people stuck in a high-consumption and low-satisfaction lifestyle?
Clearly there are many questions to ponder and this edition of the Ecocity World Summit has delivered both insights and opportunities to explore further in the transform cities to ecocities in the ecozoic era. In order to continue advancing this transformation of cities to ecocities, BCIT announced the formation of a new Ecocity Centre of Excellence as a legacy of the Summit. The Centre will undertake applied research, education, and training that continues to advance the Ecocity Standards, supports local government efforts towards sustainable cities and lifestyles, and builds BCIT’s capacity to train the next generation of ecocity practitioners.