Why the ecocity needs to be a just city



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Why is it easier to imagine a green ecocity than a just city where everyone belongs?
the yes man/flickr, CC BY

Stephen Healy, Western Sydney University

This is one of a series of articles to coincide with the 2017 Ecocity World Summit in Melbourne.


Why is it easier to imagine an ecocity – full of lush green spaces and buildings, footpaths and bike lanes, outdoor goat yoga and dog parks – than a just city where everyone belongs? Why is it difficult to imagine a city where there are no great disparities of income or of access to convivial life because these have been equitably distributed?

The prospects for rebuilding the city along ecological lines is enchanting. But ecocities, like smart cities, frequently devolve into a techno-fetishist fantasy, (un)wittingly abetting gentrification – from the sell-off of public housing in cities like Sydney to violent informal housing eradication in places like Jakarta.

Part of what’s required here is to connect the currents of imagination shaping the ecological future of cities with other conversations that are more focused on the future of employment and industry and the possibilities for greater equity. Thinking these disparate ideas together will take some work. Fortunately, it’s well under way in cities around Australia and the world.

The Centre For Future Work and the Australia Institute organised a summit last month at Parliament House to consider the future of manufacturing in Australia. Much of the day was spent exploring how targeted government procurement practices can help rebuild a sector that could play a vital role in building ecocities alongside new employment opportunities.

Co-operative ways to build community wealth

Non-profit institutions and the private sector can play a similar role. The Evergreen Cooperative Initiative in Cleveland, closing in on its tenth year, used the demand for services from hospitals and universities to start worker co-operatives.

These meet the need for green laundry services, food and energy while creating ownership opportunities for low-income residents. Guaranteed downstream markets increase business viability. This ensures easier access to start-up capital.

Dozens of US cities have developed similar initiatives in the past decade. Among these are union-supported initiatives in Cincinnati, Ohio, municipal initiatives in Richmond, California, and multi-stakeholder co-operatives in Springfield, Massachusetts.

In each instance the guiding principle is that worker co-operatives are tied to place by the people who work in and own them. They distribute profits in ways that benefit worker-owners, other local businesses and the broader community.

In Australia, Earthworker Coo-perative has tirelessly pursued a similar initiative. It aims to connect Australian manufacturing capacity, eco-friendly technologies, unions and the environmental movement as a basis for starting worker co-operatives ready to meet the demand for green technology.

Organisations like the Mercury Co-Operative and the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals are working to support and spread co-operative ownership in Australia.

In September, a second New Economy Conference, open to the public, will consider what sort of legal and social changes are needed to support efforts like Earthworker.

More ambitiously, even the emergent disruptive technologies that are enabling the “gig economy” can be repurposed for co-operation and community wealth creation.

While new platform technologies concentrate wealth in companies like Uber and Airbnb, these could just as easily function on a co-operative basis, sustaining communities in the process. Such ideas are being actively considered in Melbourne and in Sydney at last year’s Vivid festival.

These efforts to encourage social procurement, build co-operatives and develop new forms of sharing work readily combine with the ecocity agenda. In themselves they are not sufficient to ensure that ecocities are also equitable cities. As Labor senator Kim Carr pointed out in last month’s summit, what ideas like this do is fully open the question of what an economy is for.

In Australia, this question is an eminently urban one. Continuing to ask this question, and keeping the answer open, is one way of ensuring that ecocities are not merely oases for the wealthy.


The ConversationYou can read other articles in the series here. The Ecocity World Summit is being hosted by the University of Melbourne, Western Sydney University, the Victorian government and the City of Melbourne in Melbourne from July 12-14.

Stephen Healy, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What ethical business can do to help make ecocities a reality



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Soft Landing recycles the materials of mattresses that otherwise get dumped in landfill.
Alan Stanton/flickr, CC BY-SA

Katherine Gibson, Western Sydney University

This is one of a series of articles to coincide with the 2017 Ecocity World Summit in Melbourne.


Cities have always been eco(nomic)cities but rarely eco(logical)cities. Today, growing inequality and environmental degradation undermine the very conditions of life as we have known it. Continuing business and urbanisation as usual will make this problem worse.

Economic growth must become synonymous with ecological and social sustainability. If we forget this we are doomed. Cities, where more than half of the world’s people live, must lead the way.

Many city dwellers are heeding the call to change ways of being and reshape livelihoods. They are modifying their behaviours as much as they can to reduce, reuse and recycle.

They are becoming renewable energy producers in the face of a political system that as yet, in Australia at least, refuses to help very much. They are reducing car use and are interested in sourcing food more locally.

But citizens can only so do much. One hope for our cities, identified in my research, is that more and more businesses put ecological and social sustainability at the core of their performance model.

Companies that lead the way

Companies like commercial carpet tile manufacturer Interface Carpets did this a generation ago when it abandoned the linear “take-make-waste” model of production. Instead, it embraced a commitment to eliminating any negative impact on the environment.

With the input of an “eco dream team” made up of pragmatic philosophers and biomimicry experts, the company adopted a visionary plan, “Mission Zero”.

Carpet takes over 50 years to break down in landfill.
WasteZero

The Interface business was redesigned along circular economy lines to eliminate oil from the production of synthetic carpet tiles. This achievement will be largely completed by Interface’s target year 2020. At the same time, the business has eliminated waste, is powered by 100% renewable energy and uses efficient transportation.

But environmental wellbeing is not all Interface is committed to. Social equity is also a company goal.

Interface’s Netherlands plant is pioneering collaboration with a social enterprise that employs people at a distance from the labour market. This enterprise is organising the cleaning and reuse of carpet tiles, large proportions of which are replaced before their product expiry date.

Interface’s Minto plant, on the outskirts of Sydney, has taken the corporate lead internationally to refashion the “factory as a forest” as part of the new Climate Take Back strategy.

The goal is not only to reduce the negative impact on the environment but to have a positive impact through restorative action. How this will be done is still to be determined, but it is objectives like Mission Zero that have driven innovation in the past.

The Australian social enterprise Soft Landing first established just north of Wollongong provides jobs for people experiencing disadvantage. They disassemble and recycle the materials of mattresses that otherwise get dumped in landfill.

Just like Interface, Soft Landing is exploring new interdependencies between for-profit firms with a commitment to environmental sustainability and for-purpose social enterprise.

Having worked with key industry partners over many years, Soft Landing is co-ordinating a product stewardship scheme that enrols firms in voluntarily adopting sustainability protocols for mattress making and unmaking.

Mattresses are a problem waste stream, and this initiative will help roll out Soft Landing’s innovative “waste to wages” model, significantly reducing landfill while also creating jobs.

A carpet manufacturer and mattress recycler are showing the way toward repairing and restoring the social and environmental fabric, and pushing policy along as they do so. This is jobs and growth in a new register. If they can do it, so can others.

Now for the construction sector…

Now we need the urban building sector to take notice and attend to the context in which carpet and mattresses are housed.

Rather than catering to demand for the cheapest housing that conforms to the most basic of BASIX, we need to see some leadership with housing that truly contributes to environmental and social restoration and repair.

Housing developers could race to the top by experimenting with:

Interface and Soft Landing are successful businesses that show what can happen when commitments to building a better world become central to their brand. If we can’t rely on our politicians to listen to the warnings of the Anthropocene, we can at least turn to ethically attuned business to help make ecological cities a reality.

Working with a reparative ecological approach and a commitment to socio-economic inclusion, everyone can be part of a solution. Overcoming inequality and environmental degradation is key to ensuring that ecocities are not another excuse for business as usual in a new guise.


The ConversationYou can read other articles in the series here. The Ecocity World Summit is being hosted by the University of Melbourne, Western Sydney University, the Victorian government and the City of Melbourne in Melbourne from July 12-14.

Katherine Gibson, Professor of Economic Geography, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.