Throughout history, most humans have lived rural lives. As late as 1950, just 30 percent of humankind lived in cities, but huge changes were already looming. By 2000, 47 percent of us were urban dwellers. And by 2030, 60 percent of a still-growing world population will live in metropolitan areas. The opportunities and challenges posed by this dramatic demographic transition are stunning. With the number of people who live in cities expected to double over the next 20 years, the world has begun searching hard for models of urban sustainability.
In the resource-constrained world of the future, communities that are built and managed on ecological principles will have important advantages over traditional cities constructed around cheap fossil fuels.
Cheap energy can hide many unsustainable traits. Cars and roads dominate the landscape. Urban architecture creates heat islands, obstructs sunlight, and affects the way rainwater is received and transported. Garbage dumps and sewage plants centralize waste products, generally with too little recycling or composting. Food and other products are shipped around the world.
Today, no cities are built around ecological principles. In nature, the more efficient an organism is in its use of energy and materials, the more likely it is to survive and succeed. Among Homo sapiens, on the other hand, waste is often a badge of success.
Engaging urban dwellers will be critical to the success of this program. Many residents consume without understanding or caring where their products come from. Their activities directly affect the way urban ecosystems function, and they influence the health of distant ecosystems that provide the natural resources they consume.
The urban ecology program will expand upon the existing leadership that several Northwest cities have displayed in such fields as transit-oriented development, smart growth, green architecture & urban design, recycling & composting, organic farming & neighborhood gardens, permeable surfaces, and climate neutrality strategies.
Program priorities include:
- Promote progressive planning and smart growth.
- Require green architecture and ecologically sensitive urban design.
- Build efficient and reliable transportation systems.
- Prioritize water conservation and efficiency.
- Substitute information and efficiency for resources.
- Promote organic regional agriculture.
- Encourage environmentally friendly infrastructure and waste management.
- Eliminate, to the extent possible, human exposure to toxic and biologically-active substances.