Hello Copenhagen…? Istanbul speaking!

Written by Sven Eberlein

So there, on the Golden Horn of the Bosphorus Strait where Asia meets Europe and ancient history whispers words of wisdom into civilization’s ears, a community of architects, planners, designers, policy makers, and political leaders will gather to envision the sustainable city of the future.

While I understand and appreciate much of the buzz surrounding the U.N. Climate Conference in Copenhagen, I often get lost in the jungle of numbers that are being tossed around. The U.S. is set to offer a provisional target of 14-20% of greenhouse gas reduction by 2020, China is offering a reduction of 40-45 percent “per unit of GDP,” and the EU has agreed to reduce its emissions by 20 percent on 1990 levels by 2020, moving up to a 30 percent cut if an ambitious agreement is reached in Copenhagen. My head is spinning already!

Don’t get me wrong, I am psyched there finally is a climate conference that everyone is attending, and I know it’s very important and the rock star mother of all climate discussions. However, after everyone returns from Copenhagen, hopefully with a suitcase full of treaties and agreements, we’ll have to get to work on figuring out how to actually meet the targets.

That’s why I’m going to . . . ISTANBUL!

The theme for this year’s 8th International Ecocity Conference to be held December 13-15 at the Cevahir Convention Center in Istanbul is:

Urban Ecological Foundations for Climate Solutions

Get the city right and everything else has a chance. It’s big. It’s basic. If our built environment is well organized and well designed, we can go a long way toward solving transport, energy, biodiversity, agricultural and climate problems. This is a rare insight in today’s economic and environmental debate. It is crucial and this conference is putting it forward at a time of historic necessity.

So there, on the Golden Horn of the Bosphorus Strait where Asia meets Europe and ancient history whispers words of wisdom into civilization’s ears, a community of architects, planners, designers, policy makers, and political leaders will gather to envision the sustainable city of the future.

Why cities?
Cities cover less than 1% of the earth’s surface but are responsible for up to 75% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. With more than 50% of the world’s population living in cities (set to reach 60% by 2030), there is a ripe opportunity for humanity to reconsider the way we approach the built environment.

As you can glean from the title, this is not a competition, but a conversation. The causes of climate change are so complex and diverse that the solutions cannot be found in one place. I look at it as a mosaic, an ecosystem in its own right that needs to be addressed from many different angles and in many different shapes, forms and colors.

Cities are complex, and enacting meaningful change while working with multiple constituencies can be filled with setbacks and frustration. What are the key ingredients for a successful plan that, after months and even years of work, doesn’t end up gathering dust on the shelf or become so watered down that the original vision is lost? What are the basic principles of ecocity design, planning and implementation, and how do they apply to already built out cities as well as new ecocity projects and proposals?

Having the Ecocity Summit held in Istanbul is very apropos, as global warming may redraw Turkey’s coastal map. A report presented to a parliamentary commission by the Electrical Power Resources Survey and Development Administration (EIEI) predicts that by 2030 global warming may have caused an up to 18-centimeter rise in sea levels in Turkey.

The global threat of global warming has already been acknowledged in Ankara, with an action plan jointly prepared by the ministries of environment, agriculture and energy. Now Parliament’s Global Warming Investigation Commission is taking another step taken at an institutional level toward dealing with climate change.

Veysel Eroglu, Turkey’s Minister of Environment and Forests and in charge of Turkey’s plan to address climate change, will be the keynote speaker at Ecocity 2009. He will be going to Copenhagen right after the conference along with other attendees to connect the dots between urban planning and climate change. There will also be live streams from Copenhagen in Istanbul, and I’m still hoping it’ll turn into a conference call.

One of the most exciting sessions in Istanbul will be the Ecocity Challenge, which will be the beginning stage of developing a third-party set of standards to define internationally acceptable principles and metrics against which to evaluate the performance of ecocity projects worldwide. Imagine the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system for buildings on a much larger, urban, global scale. It’s a hugely ambitious undertaking considering the many factors that need to be considered, but it is the nuts and bolts of bringing down cities’ carbon footprint.

Many other intriguing sessions, from Biology and Urban Wildlife to Legacy, Equity and Design to the Ecocity Future of Istanbul – Building the Future at the Crossroads of Civilizations. Being a bike enthusiast, the event I’m probably most excited about is a bicycle tour of Istanbul with this guy, Murat Suyabatmaz, “captain” of the İstanbul Cyclists’ Association:

I will be there reporting from the sessions and about life in Istanbul, so stay tuned for diaries from the Bosphorus. Any suggestions on good places on the web that might appreciate updates, pics and thoughts from Istanbul about ecocities, let me know.

Many thanks to my friend Brett Galimidi for the awesome Istanbul pics, he just got back a few weeks ago and his amazing shots have really been setting the mood for me. The whole series is here, including luscious Israel pics.

see you on the other side — güle güle!


cross-posted at daily kos

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Sven Eberlein

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