It’s exciting to think about a lush green metropolis catered to urban citizens, but it’s also important to take a good approach, particularly one based on permaculture ethics, decentralization, and appropriate technology. For a city to be truly sustainable, its citizens must be empowered to make decisions about their local community.
Current ecocity concepts tend to rely more on centralized systems for energy distribution and waste management. A new eco-city planned in Portugal plans to use a centralized computer “brain” to control functions like water use, waste processing, and energy consumption. It’s an attempt at urban metabolism, structuring the city as a living organism. However, there’s something eery about a computer-managed city. While it sounds convenient, it ultimately takes power away from the people and doesn’t fit in the with the principles of appropriate technology. The burning question emerges: What happens when the brain becomes self-aware and rebels against us?
All dystopia aside, metabolic pathways exist whether or not they are intentionally designed. Energy and water flow into and out of cities in certain patterns, culminating in urban metabolism. But there must be a way to manage urban metabolism through regenerative, decentralized design.
Ecovillages provide exemplary starting points for considering the design of a larger metropolis. Most ecovillages are situated in rural areas, but some are located in urban environments. Local, decentralized design requires collaboration among community members. Learning to work together across differences is important to this process, and is a core aspect of ecovillage life.
Burning Man is another community that is often referenced when considering organizing large communities. Burning Man is an annual gathering in the Nevada desert, where millions of people from all over the world come to enjoy a temporary city. Burning Man supports sustainability through its community education and policy of leave no trace and sustainable living. Talented scientists and artists bring their projects in renewable energy and sustainable art to contribute to this diverse and thriving culture. With just a few principles to abide by, the community self-organizes. Interestingly, the community often follows the key features of ecovillage life.
We can learn a lot from studying both small-scale city concepts such as community groups, as well as large-scale designs for a green metropolis. If we can combine the best of both worlds, we may be onto something that truly satisfies all of our desires for peace, equality, and sustainability.