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Why Ecological Cities are also Economic Cities

Launched in 2009 by the World Bank, the Eco2 Cities Initiative seeks to establish a new paradigm of economic development for cities in developing countries. It couples economic development and sustainability as interdependent; making sustainable economic development necessary to the future success of cities.

 The initiative is defined by four principals (World Bank, 2011):

  1. "A City Based Approach." Development is lead locally and considers ecology and economy.
  2. "An Expanded Platform for Collaborative Design and Decision Making." Stakeholders coordinate efforts collaboratively across sectors.
  3. "A One System Approach." Aggregation and integration of planning, design, and management.
  4. "An Investment Framework that Values Sustainability and Resiliency." Integration of the life cycle environmental impact, financial value, and human equity issues equally in risk assessment of planning and development.

The above principals are based on the experiences of six different cities' recent attempts to sustainably tackle the effects of climate change while fostering economic growth. The six case study cities – Curitiba, Brazil; Stockholm, Sweden; Singapore; Yokohoma, Japan; Brisbane, Australia; and Auckland, New Zealand – are summarized below. Unless otherwise noted, all information is from the World Bank publication Eco2 Cities: Ecological Cities as Economic Cities by Suzuki, Dastur, Moffatt, Yabuki, & Maruyama (2010).


Eco2 Case Study 1: Curitiba, Brazil
Curitiba, Brazil, a metropolitan area of 3.26 million people, sought a cost effective and highly integrated approach to sustainable economic development. The city formed the Institute for Research and Urban Planning of Curitiba (IPPUC) as an independent public authority responsible for project research, planning, implementation, and management. Its efforts reflect a regionally based sustainable strategic vision that exists outside of any one mayor's political agenda. The IPPUC coordinates efforts between government agencies, local organizations, and businesses to ensure consistency and "[path] dependency … in terms of [the] spatial, institutional, and cultural [aspects] (p. 169)" of any and all projects. New development is permitted only in areas accessible by the city's innovative Bus Rapid Transportation (BRT) system and/or along predefined "axes" that together is an urban growth boundary to curb unplanned sprawl.

According to Friberg (2000), Curitiba's BRT system cost (US) $8 to $12 million per kilometer to construct, while a typical subway costs (US) $50 to $100 million/kilometer (p. 154). The system pays for itself due to its high (45%) ridership rate; a result of its five minute service frequency, flat rate, and ubiquity (p. 174). Automobile traffic is regulated to single lanes, each separated by on street parking, buildings, BRT, and pedestrian sidewalks. A consequence of its highly integrated public transportation and land use, Curitiba's fuel usage is 30% less than other major cities in Brazil (p. 173).

The city made its slums an official land use category; going as far as to purchase land for slum settlement. The city provides simple water and electricity connections to slum dwellers free of charge to reduce the costly and dangerous injuries that result when people attempt to access either by their own means. City services for the poor have been decentralized to make them more accessible and minimize long trips downtown.

Transfer of development rights1 are used to increase green areas around rivers and throughout the city as a flood control measure. Vaz Del Bello and Vaz (2007) report that the "cost of buildings parks and relocated favela (slum) dwellers has been estimated at five times less than cost of building concrete canals (p. 175)." Grass is controlled and fertilized using Sheep, resulting in an 80% savings over lawnmowers (p. 175). High end housing built around parks further subsidizes park development and cost. Taxes are lowered for tree planting; slum dwellers and the poor are given bus tickets and food in exchange for removing trash (Curitiba, n.d.). Recycling is supported through city and school education and awareness programs and children are even given "school supplies, chocolate, toys, and show tickets (p. 177)" when they collect recyclables.

Rather than building an expensive subway system, Curitiba saved money and time building its cheaper and more expansive BRT system, which saves its citizens (let alone the city itself) millions per year in transportation costs and taxes. Friberg (2000) writes that the BRT system covers more area and transports more people for less money (than rail transit) as well as reducing air pollution and lowering health costs. The city incentivizes trash removal and tree planting. The increased tree canopy decreases the so called heat island effect, which lowers air conditioning costs in the summer and reduces carbon output all year. Curitiba's increased green space, wetlands, and better managed rivers prevent floods.

Curitiba has managed to sustainably control sprawl while improving the economic and personal health of its citizens. According to the World Bank, the IPPUC, and Global Urban Development, none of this has negatively affected the economic freedom of investors, diminished the flow of capital, or weakened large and small businesses ability to generate wealth. A 2004 Global Urban Development Report states that Curitiba's economy is both expanding and healthy; and unlike the rest of Brazil, income inequality is not rising (Fazzano & Weiss, 2004, p. 7). Furthermore, as GDP has grown the growth has been evenly distributed amongst all citizens, meaning that the standard of living has improved for not just the city's wealthier citizens, but everyone (Fazzano & Weiss, 2004, p. 7). In other words, by working to mitigate and reduce the effects of climate change Curitiba has created a stable and predictable economic atmosphere.

Curitiba Government portal:


Eco2 Case Study 2: Stockholm, Sweden
 The city of Stockholm, Sweden is utilizing integrated stakeholder and resource management to be free of fossil fuels by 2050. The city promotes densification by contractually obligating developers to participate in the planning, design standards, and city environmental program elements pertinent to each development (p. 183-191). Working with developers, academia, and local citizen groups, the city developed a carbon neutral development model called the Hammarby Model (also dubbed ecocycling) named for the district within Stockholm where it was developed, Hammarby Sjostad. Graphically, the model resembles an ecosystem rather than a traditional or "linear" urban system wherein an input – be it water, a consumer product, or even heat – is discarded after use.

Within the Hammarby Sjostad district, all energy, water, waste, and sewage, whether residentially or commercially sourced, is recycled, cycled, and/or reused (p. 187). All building materials are sustainably sourced and toxic materials avoided, water and sewage outputs are unconnected; sewage is converted into biogas which is then burnt to generate electricity (2010). Green roofs and green spaces decrease heat island effects, lower carbon, and help to filter water and avoid flooding (Suzuki et al., 2010). Food waste, combustibles, paper waste, and other outputs are all separated into vacuum powered pipes that lead to central collection locations to be composted or recycled; solar energy is used to heat water and solar panels to supplement electricity generation (Suzuki et al., 2010). The city also created a life cycle assessment tool that is used to quantify the total effects of human activity on the environment (p. 189).

The Hammarby Model has resulted in the creation thousands of permanent jobs. The city of Stockholm's infill requirement, like Curitiba's urban growth boundary, supports density and thus guarantees businesses a consumer population. The model streamlined development and integrated city planning, lowering private and public costs. It saves residents, business, and private interests' money in resource use and energy cost. The model is a stable and efficient example for a new economic paradigm that can be both economically and environmentally sustainable. This paradigm makes economic growth dependent upon a healthy environment to recycle consumer and industry output. It also resembles an economic cluster, wherein industries within the same region purchase commodities from one another to support intra-regional sector diversification and inter-regional specialization. The model thus supports regional economic independence, lowering the need for outside resource input.


Eco2 Case Study 3: Singapore
To combat the added pressures on its water resources caused by climate change, the tiny city-state of Singapore (with its 4.8 million people) integrated its water efficiency objectives with other public and private sectors' activities to create a comprehensive water management strategy. To control use, Singapore implemented tariffs based on usage (but subsidized use by the poor). The city-state requires rainwater collection systems for new developments and incentivizes rain catchment installation, desalinization, and waste water recycling on existing buildings (p. 200).

The city-state also integrated its transportation and land use planning with its energy policies. To lower automobile use and emissions, Singaporean drivers pay as they drive, where they drive, and when they drive (p. 197). A vehicle quota system was established that limits newly registered cars to only 3 to 6 percent yearly (p. 197). Finally, to incentivize lower use, electricity is not subsidized.

Due in part to its small land area, Singapore already supports a dense population; however, its island locale also makes it more susceptible to the less subtle effects of climate change (such sea level rise). Therefore, it is in Singapore's best interests to institute water and energy saving programs to be better prepared for the future. Like Stockholm and Curitiba, Singapore successfully integrated its urban planning efforts across municipal departments while including community and business stakeholders in the process to create truly locally supported solutions.


Eco2 Case Study 4: Yokohoma, Japan
 Yokohoma, Japan is running out of space for its garbage. Therefore this city of 3.65 million developed a plan to reduce waste by 30% by 2010 using 2001 data as a baseline (Suzuki et al., 2010). The city began taxing pollution, to effectively "[extend pollution] producer responsibility (p. 206)" to the public, private, and household sectors. A regional recycling campaign focused on waste reduction was begun that ranged from schools to train stations to community seminars to educate the public on what and how to recycle (Suzuki et al., 2010). Despite Yokohoma's continued population growth, the city reached its first waste reduction target five years early, in 2005 (Suzuki et al., 2010).

The city sells also recyclables for profit or incinerates waste to generate electricity (Suzuki et al., 2010). As a result of the waste reduction campaign the city closed two incinerators saving (US) 1.1 billion in capital expenditures, and (US) $6 million in annual costs (p. 208). Therefore, the city also saved countless millions of dollars in healthcare costs due to the reduced pollution. A simple recycling campaign started this process and saved billions.


Eco2 Case Study 5: Brisbane, Australia
With a current population of 1.01 million, Brisbane, Australia is one of the fastest growing cities in the world (p. 213). With electricity and water demand increasing, city officials worry they will be unable to keep up. Despite these challenges, the city committed to reducing its green house gas emissions by half, "reusing all wastewater and restoring 40% of natural habitat by 2026 (p. 213)." The Green Heart CitySmart Program was designed to help residents and businesses decrease emissions with simple and affordable tips and ideas to help decrease energy and water use (p. 214). For example, tax rebates and additional forms of subsidy are offered for rainwater collection, green technology installation, and other building improvements (that reduce carbon footprint). The city has a bus rapid transit system that, according to Currie (as citied in Suzuki et al., p. 217), has increased property values by as much as 20% within six miles of the each station and reduced automobile use. The installation of bus rapid transit has made new areas in Brisbane accessible to larger groups of people and has brought with it new development and economic benefits.

Brisbane's climate and unpredictable rainfall make it particularly susceptible to the effects of climate change (p. 213). A tree planting program has been instituted to shade buildings and limit the city's heat island effect and reduce air conditioning use. The city has integrated its water and land management, planting native species while increasing green space, sponsoring community cleanup efforts, and instituting water use restrictions. The city also works with the development industry to create guidelines that support sustainable practices and discourage the need for air conditioning. By incentivizing CO2 reduction for its citizens, working with developers, and coupling its land and water use, Brisbane has reduced its carbon footprint while increasing its population and strengthening its economy.


Eco2 Case Study 6: Auckland, New Zealand
The region of Auckland, New Zealand is fragmented. Although this area of 1.3 million people has a regional council, each city and district also has its own separate council; each with its own set of priorities. The Auckland Regional Growth Forum (ARGF) was established to combat the uneven and sometimes competing policies of the various councils to develop a centralized strategy to manage growth and its effects (Suzuki et al., 2010). ARGF is also where representatives from the Auckland region's various political entities can meet on equal ground to plan collectively.

ARGF created a regional growth strategy that included a legally mandated urban growth boundary to control sprawl and recognition of the native Maori tribes' right to inclusion in the process (p. 220-1). The ARGF instituted a series of charrette style2 workshops that brought together government, academia, business, and Maori and other community interests to develop a wholly new urban planning framework to address future challenges. What resulted is the Auckland Sustainability Framework (Suzuki et al., 2010). It has a 100 year vision with 8 specific goals that support regional sustainability and requires that all current and future practices conform to the long term goals and is a guide for the development of single regional plan (p. 222). Auckland has begun to better integrate a historically disenfranchised native population and created a community supported and mandated plan to minimize the effects of climate change.

Written by Daniel Brooks with Brett Roeth & Zoe Koven


Curitiba. (n.d.). Our parks are our 'beaches.' Retrieved July 2011 from:

Suzuki, H., Dastur, A., Moffatt, S., Yabuki, N., & Maruyama, H. (2010). Eco2 cities: Ecological cities as economic Cities. Washington, DC: The World Bank.

Fazzano, A., & Weiss, M. A. (2004). Curitiba, Brazil: Metropolitan economic strategy report. Global Urban Development. Retrieved July 2011 from:

Friberg, L. (2000). Innovative Solutions for Public Transport: Curitiba, Brazil. Sustainable Development International, 4, 153–56. Retrieved September 2011 from:

World Bank. (2011). World Bank eco2 cities initiative: Ecological cities as economic cities. Retrieved August 2011 from:,,contentMDK:22643153~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:337178,00.html

  1. Sale of a landowner's right to develop to another landowner in a higher density area. The purchasing landowner then has the right increase density on their parcel. ?
  2. An inclusive and interactive planning process meant to rapidly result in community sponsored change. ?