Richard Register on Ecological City Design (trancript)

MediaRichard Register on Ecological City Design (video)

David Room: This is David Room for Global Public Media interviewing Richard Register founder of Ecocity Builders in Oakland California August 23 2004. What are ecological cities?

Richard Register: Ecological cities are cities that are ecologically healthy and we don't really have any yet, so that's a very big challenge to design and actually build them. An ecologically healthy city would be one that gets along with all the other plant's and animals on the planet, that supports people and their compassionate creative activities in their lives and is healthy in the long term for evolution itself. I think that's the bottom line for cities if they can get along with the planet they live on, then they're ecological cities.

DR: What are some leading examples of ecological city design?

RR: Well there are many many examples of pieces of ecological design that you find in cities all over the world. You find some of the larger pieces in the sense of the layout of the city in Curitiba, Brazil for example, Portland, Oregon and some other cities where there is a very strong connection between the transit system and the structure of the city. The idea usually is to make the city more three dimensional, like living systems are normally three-dimensional and not flat, complex living systems don't take the form of a sheet of paper. Similarly if you spread out cities and make them very flat, like modern suburbs are extraordinarily inefficient and don't work. So a lot of ecological city design is working with density and diversity in close proximity, and if you can accomplish that you're well on your way. In Curitiba, Brazil, for example, there are five long arms that reach out from a pedestrian centre. Along those arms there is high-density development and a dedicated bus line, meaning it is for buses only, and not for automobiles. And so in a context like that you can have very rapid transit for lots of people who actually live along the transit. And then in Curitiba, Brazil they have very low density or no density at all, in other words natural areas, river restorations so on beyond the arms of high-density development. So it's an articulation there of living, working, transit all being held together in a fairly small area. And the result is they save lots of energy, they don't produce a lot of pollution and they have plenty of room for many of the other aspects of an ecologically healthy city, one of them being very very efficient recycling, restoration of natural areas, bicycle and pedestrian paths and a lot of other things. So that's a beginning. Other examples from history include places like Venice, Italy the city that's held together by bridges and waterways and no cars at all. Like that you can begin to explore the whole concept from little pieces and overall general pattern.

DR: What has been the historical pattern of city design?

RR: Well an interesting thing historically speaking is that most cities before the automobile came around were based very largely on pedestrian access and had this logic of access by proximity, as I call it, in their bones you might say. In other words they were designed so that people could walk most places to get what they needed. And so that was the historic pattern until trains came along and cities began moving out to points farther away from the centre. Streetcars and so on, and then with sprawl, the city blew out all over the landscape and so were very difficult to hold together after that.

DR: How did Curitiba evolve?

RR: Curitiba, when it started, was in the tradition of Brazil, built around some plazas, but then it was spreading out in the 1970's when a man named Jaime Lerner came on board as the Mayor. Now he was an architect and he decided that it would be very important to try to avoid the negative pattern that Sao Paulo had gotten into with enormous amounts of chaos and pollution and people spending an enormous amount of time getting from one place to another. So in Curitiba he and his friends at the New Architecture School tried to think of how they would organize the whole city as a group. Now it was about six hundred thousand when they started their work in 1973, 1972 and started changing ordinances and started redesigning the city and what they did was then on they moved out in their development towards these lines of high density, transit orientated development. So in other words from 1972 with about six hundred thousand they moved into a city with close to two million now and that difference is a new design in the basic land use. In Curitiba you don't find very strong delving into certain aspects of ecological city design, like solar oriented buildings, rooftop gardens and a number of other things. But you find many of the pieces there.

DR: How does energy consumption relate to city structure?

RR: Well basically the flatter the city, the more dependent on cars of course, the more energy consumption you're going to have. And not only cars of course but remember trucks are involved in this as well. And so virtually everything once you establish a flat city becomes very very energy consuming just to hold the activities of the city together. So the structure of the city has everything to do with the amount of energy that is required. Probably the lowest energy city would have the highest diversity and be the most compact and you can imagine holding the whole thing together by foot power and elevators and maybe recourse to some people movers, you know the conveyor belts you have at airports. So that would be the super most dense pedestrian orientated city and probably would be the least energy consuming and certainly the most conserving in terms of land. So the compact city goes a long long way towards solving a lot of those problems, without even putting any effort into it other than just the logic of the proximity making some kind of sense. New York runs on about half the average per capita energy use of cities around the United States. It's very compact. People get around by transit there and there's a lot of mixed use close together. So those are dynamics you can work with. Now they've been neglected and where energy has gone into thinking through the built infrastructure, mostly its around buildings and making buildings more energy efficient with insulation, maybe building solar greenhouses, natural day lighting and some places in the world such as in Germany there's a lot of interest in rooftop gardening and greening of the roofs. So all these things count for a lot. But to actually look at the basic structure of the city is the Holy Grail if you're going to have a healthy civilization in the future, how you're actually going to build that civilization, it will come down to solving the problem of how to build the cities. And of course that's very deeply involved in the amount of energy that flows through. I maintain that if we are to build ecologically healthy cities we could run the whole civilization on maybe ten percent of the energy that we use now.

DR: What other ways does city structure affect energy consumption?

RR: Well the transportation is a big part of it. If you have a flat city scattered over vast distances, you need an awful lot of energy to pull the parts together. To move the people, to move the goods, to move the energy itself in some cases, if its, say, carting in liquids like gasoline to run your cars or so on. So there has to be the gasoline trucks as well as everything else, plus the highways, plus the asphalt etcetera. Other uses of energy though, such as for heating and cooling buildings. If you have buildings that are compact, larger structures that share walls between the various units, say apartments side by side, instead of losing the heat and cooling energy after one use you can share it in the building. I lived in a building, for example, with ninety-one units for two years. I never turned the heat on at all. All the separate units tended to warm one another from the waste heat of our bodies and cooking and taking showers and so on and so forth. I ran the computers and lights' on, so heating energy is a large part of it and cooling energy, and if you scatter the city you are going to use a lot more of it. There are a lot of other aspects to. A lot of people say well you know it's only a quarter to a third of the energy that we use that actually goes into the transportation so is that actually that profound when you're talking about reshaping the cities. Well you have to add to that the climate conditioning of the spaces you actually live in. But then you have to understand also that much of what we manufacture is the cars, the highways, the cracking plants, the ships that go across the ocean and crash occasionally spilling oil all over the place, to build all that stuff, to launch that into our world. In addition, in other words a lot of the energy that goes into industry is for building a city in a very bad way. Now you need plenty of energy to build a city in a good way too. But then once established it would take up much less energy. And of course if you consider the size of a sprawling suburb with lots of small houses and you consider the links of all the pipes and the wires and everything to hold it together, not just the cars gasoline and the infrastructure of all those literally millions and millions of cars on the planet, you begin to see that if it is more compact all those lines are shortened. You actually use much less physical material in the compact city than you do in the scattered city. So over and over and over, from many different ways of looking at it, the city that is an ecologically healthy city, a compact city, a city that doesn't cover much landscape, that is much more three dimensional than two. That is a gigantic chunk of solving the problem of how we build our civilization.

DR: Do you agree with "The End Of Suburbia's' premise?

RR: Yes. That film is powerful in that regard. What I think needs to be done is for people to take very seriously what this energy deficit will mean and by energy deficit I mean it's not just that we're starting to have less energy available as we go over peak oil and down the other side. But that the demand is going to continue going up for some time. And that difference is something that we haven't really experienced before in any major degree, but it's going to get very substantial very rapidly. So the difference between the energy demand and the energy supply is something very very new and how we respond to this is anyone's guess. If anything I thought the film maybe didn't give anybody a real hint of the chaos that could result. I mean, when you can't get everything you need because you've put everything so far apart, you're liable to have economic collapses, unprecedented and you might even start taking about or thinking about a real Dark Age and the sort of thing where all the pieces fall apart. I mean everyone in the United States is well armed from the blue-collar workers who live in the country and go shooting on the weekends to the ghettos. I live here in Oakland and there are over a hundred people shot every year by guns in the city and when you have a well-armed group of people who are going to start getting hungry, you have a very testy dangerous situation. So the idea of simply and this is where I think the film is a little bit weak, and of course it's a wakeup call which is absolutely needed and it can't do everything. But where the film is weak and needs a lot more thinking, is facing something that dire, it's not going to be enough to start growing food in your front yard in the suburbs, you're going to have to start reshaping the entire city. It's not enough just to conserve a little bit and to ride your bicycle more. If the world was still dependent upon vehicles that have to carry you everywhere you need to go. You have to change that. And so as we Powerdown as Richard talks about, Richard Heinberg, if we Powerdown, we have to take into consideration how to do that in a way that is actually uplifting. That ultimately we really can live on a lot less energy, a lot fewer cars and if we're actually going to do that we're going to have to do some serious thinking about reshaping the cities we live in.

DR: How can we roll back sprawl?

RR: Well I've been thinking about these things for thirty years. I've been working on ecological city design and planning and there are plenty of tools out there by which to do things, to change this. And there's a lot of fear, there's a lot of political cowardice out there, a lot of people who don't want to face the results of what they're doing. Now in 1970 no body got particularly worried when Pogo the cartoon character on the occasion of Earth Day said "we have met the enemy and he is us." Nobody said that is horrible and don't talk to me about that. They said instead what do you suggest? Let's try something new. Maybe it'll be interesting. And so people thought about going back to the land or studying Zen Buddhism or raising their own vegetables or recycling for real and getting into Earth Day big time and so on. And career changes were big. I remember people were really thinking through their career changes. People didn't feel guilty or on the defensive or bad about this notion that hey we're responsible for this problem, lets deal with it. Nowadays if you say lets deal with it among people that are neighborhood conservatives, and they claim to be liberals in cities that I come from like Berkeley and Oakland. When they say that we can't change the neighborhood, don't talk about it. We're not causing sprawl, we live in a nice cozy little city. Not true. If you're unwilling to build housing close to where the jobs are being built, you are causing sprawl. You should actually face up to that and actually deal with it. We have the tools out there. We can deal with them. We can use them. We can change the city structure, but we have to get beyond this attitude that says hey I'm not responsible for anything, I'm a good guy. In fact we're responsible for a whole lot. And we still might be good guys but we can't go around ignoring it any longer. We have to actually do something about it. And so to do something about it there are tools such as transfer of development rights. That gives the developer the opportunity to buy up land that's in the wrong place, buildings that are in the wrong place and remove those uses. And then the developer gets a bonus. He gets to build more than he or she normally would and in exactly the right place in the city. Well where's exactly the right place? That happens to be where transit works really well and where it can work even better in the future. Where you can create pedestrian areas that are very low energy in their basic functioning. Transfer development rights exists. I've done a map called an Ecocity zoning map that is an overlay. You can drop it down on top of any other map for city zoning or just the map you're familiar with, the street map for your city and you can use that tool to say to yourself "well if we're going to start shifting in an ecologically healthy direction, where do we put the development and where do we remove the development. Because after all most of what we have built in the United States is very very thinly scattered, so you need to actually remove a lot of development. I have one here. I can show it to you. Basically, the idea is you find the centres that are active right now and you reinforce the development. On this map the warmer colored towns, the pinks and the purples are areas where you want to have more development. And the green areas are out here where it's just one and two story housing where everybody is not going to be going anywhere unless they use their automobiles. So if you use something like this, a map like this, you begin to get the sense for where you need to be shifting the development patterns in your city. And then you can use transfer development rights or simple zoning. You can say "hey from now on we're going to have center oriented zoning in our city and we're actually going to allow the developers to build taller buildings downtown." Now another very important tool is that when you do build big buildings, you don't make enemies among people who hate them. There have been a lot of large buildings that are very insensitive to the people, that loom up over the people and look oppressive, that have only been done only to maximize the investment and so on. But they could be beautiful buildings. You could have rooftop gardens, terraces that go up a step at a time so that there are environments created in this larger building that are wonderful environments in their own right with beautiful views around your bio region. And if we don't get it right with a larger building then people aren't going to want to build towards the centers and you're going to have to have people wanting it. So another tool is simply the books and videotapes and organizations that actually bring forth the concepts and the visual imagery that put it out there so people can see what the alternatives really are. Plenty of tools out there.

DR: What are thoughts on smart growth and new urbanism?

RR: Well I think smart growth is a very sticky term and I wish they hadn't come up with that, because people take it to mean when they say growth is something that is growth in an absolute term. We're going to grow. Okay everybody understands that, getting bigger, bigger, bigger. And that's fine. A tree can get bigger and bigger and you get bigger to a certain point as a living human being and then you hit a maturity point and you don't grow and finally you accept that death and recycling of materials is part of the life cycle on the whole planet earth. And so the notion when people say growth they imagine that phase which is the getting bigger bigger bigger. And I think that's the way it should be. That's the way the word is used and so when you say the word smart growth in a world where we have grown far too large in terms of population, spreading out of the cities, consumption of energy, assailing of the biological soil for all of the other plants and animals. In other words by decimating the species count on the planet, which removes food plants and animals from other living things. When we do these sorts of things we have this enormous negative impact. Basically the notion of smart growth just doesn't seem so smart. I think that you have to say that what is smart is to contemplate shrink. So I have a little slogan that is shrink for prosperity. And some people understand that when they say hey we're going to make our little computer smaller, smaller, smaller and yet we're still going to have an income. Well we can make our cities smaller, smaller, smaller in the way that I describe three-dimensional cities actually taking up much less material energy and space and come up with a society that is far far healthier in the environment. And we should think about shrinking the population, get very serious about that. Our impacts are far too high. So when you get to thinking also about the new urbanism. The new urbanism started off being a celebration of traditional ways of building which are probably far better than sprawl. In other words, somewhat compact. The new urbanist promotes town centers, transit centers of certain scale that gets up to about four stories and beyond that they don't want to appear to be too threatening. The new urbanist also has a manifesto that says we have to be in the contemporary city providing for automobiles, but in a way that doesn't afflict the pedestrian environment. Well why do they say that? It doesn't make any sense to me. Some of the most loved environments on the whole planet are the pedestrians. Americans flock to pedestrian environments in Europe every summer. A hundred times as many people go to Europe as go to Africa and largely they're going to these pedestrian environments. We have places like Pier thirty-nine in San Francisco that are teeming with people. People love pedestrian environments. Why on earth would they say you have to design for automobiles? They come up with some very strange notions. For example you have to have cars parked on a street and you have to have streets with cars going down them or Americans won't feel comfortable. So you have to have this barrier of parked cars to make you secure from the cars that are moving. So you have to not only commit yourself to the channels through which the motion of all these automobiles consuming all this energy travel, but you also have to create a buffer of parking to make the people feel comfortable. So you have two contradictory things going on psychologically. One is you want to have them sense the activity of the street and yet be protected from the activity of the street and the cars by another row of automobiles. I find this kind of thinking to be really confused. When we could in fact say let's build pedestrian environments. Their four-story height limit is, I think, just destructive. Now the idea of making the city more dense in very cautious kinds of ways to start off with is a good idea. So they have started with a process that's pretty good. But when you get to this point of saying we cannot build anything other than four stories, you're ignoring almost all the major cities in the world and how they function very efficiently. And not only that but from my point of view as someone who really likes beautiful buildings, why cut them off at four stories when you have so much more potential for exciting design? Why not look at larger buildings as places where you can have terracing. So I redesigned a building in downtown Berkeley. Talking with the developer I convinced him that to have a flat top and just a straight building like that wouldn't be as interesting a having terracing, rooftop accessibility, trellises, vines, plants up there. There's a beautiful view from the tops of buildings in Berkeley California. So he was convinced it looked like it might fly and it was solar oriented as I'd redesigned it so it would look like it had a better chance of going through the city council because solar is popular in Berkeley. People would like to pursue that. So when all things were said and done we managed to get the building redesigned and now the aesthetic is quite striking. Is it negative that's it's a building that's taller than four stories? Not in the slightest. It's across the street from the University of California on one side. It's half a block from the BART station, Bay Area Rapid Transit, so you can get anywhere in the whole area in a matter of minutes. It has two hundred and fifty people living there. They can live there with very low energy impact. There are only thirty cars represented by the people who live there and so it's a pretty good building. Why is it that a lot of people would say that we have to have human scaled and human scaled is only up to four stories when you can create pockets in larger buildings that have wonderful views, that become mini parks in their own sense? When you have this new aesthetic that rises up into the sky with windscreens and trellises and vines adding life to the top of a building. I just don't understand why people have to limit their ideas before they even trial the full range of ideas for making high-density cities more beautiful.

DR: What is the importance of aesthetics in ecological city design?

RR: Well there are two ranges and let me see if I can keep these ideas kind of separate because I think they're both important. One is I think that aesthetics is a distant early warning system. It's like a Paul Revere warning us that someone is about to attack us. I grew up in New Mexico, a very beautiful place, when I was a child and I could see an absolutely clear sky to the horizon. It was surrealistically open and beautiful and you could see the stars setting on the western horizon every night. And when a star would hit the horizon it was so clear there that it would blink out like that. The star would then just disappear. You don't see that anymore. The stars fade, fade, fade and then disappear well before they ever get to the horizon. The aesthetic, the beauty of that, the sort of stunning clarity of the clarity of the natural air and the landscape in New Mexico that time, my children can't experience. It's gone. There's too much air pollution throughout the entire country now to ever see that. It's just not going to happen in the foreseeable future. You have to change our transportation systems, the way we build cities, everything. The aesthetics, the loss of something in aesthetics like that warns us that something is really way off. For example as you're speaking we have the aesthetic out there in the window of a humming bird coming to visit some flowers right now. If you work your aesthetic in this other sense of what the aesthetic can do to make life wonderful, to make life beautiful, to bring nature back into it, like the humming bird that's still there, behind your camera, sipping away at the flowers. You can build from this. You can put the window boxes in. You can restore creeks in you city. You can bring nature into your city. So I am not talking now about a really abstract art for arts sake or aesthetics for aesthetics sake, to explore the purity of balance, color and form and things like that. Though I do those are important and giving people a sense they're fulfilling their creative urges in life. But to actually bring back into aesthetics the living environment to build in a way that welcomes nature back into your life is extremely important. And it serves the other function to of waking us up to the fact that things are way way out of balance. You know you can actually design a city to increase bio diversity. Here's an interesting point. Mostly what environmentalists do is to try to stop the damage. And here we have a world that is highly damaged already. People keep damaging it with things like too much coal burning, getting into nuclear waste disposal. How do you do that? The cities sprawled over agricultural land and natural landscapes. All those things are really negative and most environmentalists say we can slow that down, lets, slow it down, lets slow it down. Let's fight against this, fight against that. The environmentalist should also look at the potential of rolling back sprawl development, of opening up landscapes, of shifting off of all of that damaged territory, reducing radically the amount of energy that we use by the designs that we come up for the we build, the way we live. If the environmentalist does that then they are doing something extremely positive. We are making a world in which the aesthetic can back in from nature to enrich our lives. I think that's one of the most important things that can be done. And so you can actually build cities, I believe, that start enhancing bio diversity, that start not actually just stopping the destruction and protecting what we have left. But actually consciously enriching the bio diversity of the world in which we live. We can do that simply by planting for example window boxes with native plants on it to reattract a lot of the birds that have been driven out of our environment.

DR: How does aesthetics and beauty in the city effect people?

RR: Well I think to bring more beauty back into the city, to make it a richer more wonderful aesthetic experience has a couple of different dimensions. You can have an aesthetic experience probably, life is full of rich diversity, without, necessarily, having it tied in with your conscience very much, without having it tied in necessarily with biology very much or health and biology. You can as I said earlier be dealing with the sense of what color does for your consciousness, the sense of light or flashing does to wake you up or maybe to put you to sleep or to put you into a trance. Aesthetics are extremely complex and a lot of people have a real aesthetic around great wine and food and they buy art and they stuff art into their expensive houses and they do horrible things with their investment and they divide themselves from the people that are starving. That's where a lot of art goes, to very wealthy people who are not helping the world very much in the way they spend their money or the way they invest, the things they do in their lives. So aesthetics is a potentiality. To provide the beauty of a city that is ecologically healthy is potentiality. It requires more though. It requires the conscience to go along with change of a city in a positive direction, in a direction that's affirmative to evolution. So it is a very complex set of ideas that we're dealing with when we're dealing with an ecologically healthy city. But we are always creating an environment in which we have much more choice in the potential at least of a much more healthy environment.

DR: What lessons does the Gaia Building offer us for car free housing?

Well you hear in this country many people say that Americans love their cars. There's no way you can get away from that. You have to always plan for people loving their cars, which is largely false. There are millions of people who don't love their cars. Millions of people who don't even own cars. It's a disenfranchised very large number of people. It may not be a majority in the United States by any means, but it still amounts to tens of millions of people. And so build it and they will come. Well they built two hundred and twenty places for people to live. Beds with walls around them essentially in downtown Berkeley and most of them came without their cars. Well they're people who didn't have cars, didn't want cars. Somebody built something for them and they came. And because there were thirty car places left over those guys came too. What I'm leading into here is we could have car free by contract housing. We should have car free by contract housing. Which means the developer isn't forced to build housing with parking places but is encouraged to build housing without parking places and find the people, recruit the people, let them know through advertising or whatever other means that they have a place for them. And if you can do that then you don't have to waste an enormous amount of money in the order of twenty to thirty five thousand dollars per interior parking place, for every parking place in the city, you can have places that are restaurants or storage spaces or more room for housing and any number of things - shops, where the cars are now located. And the cars not being there, they also wouldn't be out on the streets causing accidents, injuries and death and polluting the place and using up all the fuel. So car free housing is the lesson of places like the Gaia Building where you say to yourself' "not many people have cars here." Well why should there be any people that have cars here. There are still millions of people out there that would like to live that way. Let's build for them.

DR: Can you describe the car sharing system in the Gaia Building.

RR: With the Gaia Building we do have car share, in the city car share program, and it's better than owning a whole car all to yourself obviously. But the real profound question here is are moving away from automobiles or are we moving towards them, insofar as city car share and other programs that share cars are actually getting people out of their privately owned cars and into sharing cars? That's good, insofar as they are taking some people who don't have cars into the new possibilities of car sharing, it's not necessarily so good. I've known several people who have gone from having no cars to actually joining a car sharing club. Where they're going to go next I don't know. Maybe they'll go back to not owning a car. So in my mind it's right in the middle. It's a fifty fifty thing. It's part of the car culture. It's part of trying to deal with the car culture, but it's not much. What is much and what we need much is to have car free housing, car free by contract, car free anyway you can get it. But if you have it by contract then you're assured that the people who sign that contract, if they violate that contract, then it's very likely that they're not going to have a place to live anymore. But that's okay because there are plenty of people out there who would be happy with that contract. So the lesson from the Gaia Building and the car share, I think. Is what about those two hundred and twenty people who don't have cars at all and aren't on the car share program. Those are the people we should be really supporting as best as we can. So it depends what's going on. Like many things in life you have to look at things fairly carefully to see if it's really a good idea. What is really a good idea is to build the housing without any parking at all. To have a contract and to go for the people who want that housing. Empower the people who want to live that way without their cars. Don't constantly be giving the advantage to the person who has the car. And I'll branch out into another thought here which is what about the expense of building an ecological building that has solar on the roof top, it has solar green houses on the side, it has wonderful artistic details in it. The building becomes beautiful and loveable. You have spaces on the rooftop with shops and restaurants and the buildings linked to another building with bridges so you can move around. There's latticework in the city, like you're in an adult playground or something with fantastic views and it's all pedestrian. How can you do that? It's expensive. I don't believe the people who tell us the ecological city and building green is really cheap. Well in some cases where it's a tried and true way of putting say more insulation in your house. Okay it can be cheap fairly soon. But a lot of the stuff I think is very expensive. Well what else is expensive? One of those things that is very expensive is building freeway interchanges. Billions of dollars each in some cases. Gargantuan works given to people so that they can conveniently drive around in their cars consuming lots of gasoline. If we can shift the subsidies over to supporting the buildings that have these fine tuned details, that are ecological buildings in pedestrian areas, then we're really going to get somewhere. I've even had the idea that hey the federal government should give concrete and steel, just plain give concrete and steel to developers who are going to do ecologically healthy buildings by various design parameters in the pedestrian parts of downtown. Give it to them in the same way they give the car drivers the freeway interchanges and all the steel and concrete that go into that. We'd have a far healthier world. We should start get used to shifting the investment. Don't call it a subsidy when it goes to transit and call it we're building a freeway and not saying it's a subsidy when it goes into the freeway. You should say in both cases hey we're investing in the squandering of oil when we build the freeways and the overchanges. We're investing in an ecological city when we build the infrastructure for that city. And if the government pays for all the concrete and steel for a healthy infrastructure, hey that's cool. Right now it's investing all that money in concrete and steel to support the oil society.

DR: What do you think of hybrid cars, hydrogen and other new car technologies?

RR: Well first of all the better car will make the bigger suburb, will cause the bigger problem. Unless you understand whole systems you might not understand that something that works really well in the small scale, may be very damaging to the whole organism. In the whole system, which in this case is the city, the car functions as a unit with them. You want to make the car really effective, look at the human body. You have a cancer cell in this body. You know it's creating some damage. You want to make it really effective. You want to make it healthier, it's going to attack the body worse. You have healthier cancer cells, you have a less healthy body. You have tumors that are growing, growing, growing in your body, that's a problem. They're healthy, Imean as far as they are concerned. You have a better car as far as it's concerned. It saves gasoline. It gives the services to the people who are running around town faster, with less money. It's cheaper because it doesn't burn up as much gasoline. Then you're able to drive farther out and live farther from the centre. And that's actually exactly what happened in the 1970's when cars got much more efficient in the United States. That was the fastest rate of growth of suburbia in history. Price went way down. Everybody said hey now I get to live farther out and pay less money too. And of course the land prices are cheaper out there, so they're building houses cheaper. The whole thing, the whole pattern was that because you could now travel farther for less, in other words you have quote the better, the more energy efficient car, well sprawl got a lot worse. And now you have a situation where of course you have many more cars required to do that in the total of the amount of energy needed to run the whole system is way up. So you can a better piece of a whole infrastructure making the whole infrastructure much worse. Then when you get down to refinements about that. Well should it be a Prius? Should it be hydrogen? Should it be something else? You just have to say wait a minute we have to redesign so you don't need these things. Some things in your society you just don't need the cancers, tumors in your body. Skip it. Design a body without these tumors and get on with living a healthy life.

DR: How is China's relationship to the private auto changing?

RR: Well China of course is going headlong into building for automobiles right now. I've been there three times and I'm going back in October for a fourth trip. And General Motors just proudly announced in June of 2004 that it's going to be building three billion dollars worth of new General Motor's automobile manufacturing plants in the next three years. They already have a gigantic plant there. Other auto companies are rushing in. The World Bank is loaning money so they can build highways like crazy and so on. It is going in exactly the wrong direction. Can't be real self riotous about the United States. I mean we're buying gigantic SUV's and guzzling fuel like crazy. Our government is paying no attention to Kyoto and global climate change. It's conquering countries so it can have all the oil it wants as we head towards an era of oil scarcity. They know it's going to get scarce. They want the last of the commodity. As it gets scarcer and scarcer they are going to be making more money per gallon. And they're going to think in terms of switching without changing the infrastructure very much over to some other energy sources, probably nuclear. So what we're seeing in China is, more dramatically than anything else I think, the worlds largest commitment to increasing demand for oil. While I was there last, last November, that's 2003, the man who is in charge of oil exploration for the country made an unusual statement. And he said that we're going to have to change our policies. That we cannot continue promoting the private family automobile, but have to promote instead transit. Now he didn't mention better building of cities but some people there are interested in better building of cities and I go to quite a few conferences in China, believe it or not. And so there is this minority strain of people that are thinking about hey oils a problem. And in China they say it's a problem largely because right now they get half their oil from foreign countries, excuse me one third of their oil, but in about ten years they are going to have to be getting at least half. So they're getting very worried about the oil supply. And I think that what's gone on in the last couple of years with the United States conquering Iraq and putting in a sort of puppet government over there, that they know that other countries out there are quickly grabbing up the last of the supply. And that they themselves aren't able to play that game on the international front and so they're getting very worried about it. And yet there's an extreme psychological demand that I've seen in China where everybody thinks that hey you guys have the cars now we want them. That you can't turn around and be hypocritical and come to us and say look we made a mistake, you shouldn't be doing this. You say wait a minute you did that. It's a very difficult thing to deal with.

DR: Is the cancer metaphor applicable to cars in China?

RR: Oh definitely. I was in the worst traffic jam I've ever been in in China. I had arrived in Shanghai and then I was going to go to a place called Ningbo in three and a half-hours. It took nine hours. There were two times when the car was completely stopped on a four-lane freeway, which they're busily trying to expand to six lanes by the way. And you can see all the buildings being torn down along the side of the four-lane freeway as they're quickly expanding it for the expansion. For one hour twice, for one hour each, the car was totally stopped. I've never been in traffic jam that bad anywhere in the world and I've been in a lot of them in India and Turkey and South America and all over the United States and this is the worst one I ever saw.

DR: What needs to happen to accelerate the adoption of ecological city design?

RR: I have no idea. I mean I'm going to be really really honest with you. I've been working on it for thirty years and I don't know what will make a difference. You get down to a situation where there's a political impasse and I don't know if it's psychological or if it's a lack of people having a vision or if no one can see any fun in the future that looks like it's ecologically healthy. All you have to do is win a few elections and change a few zoning rules. Maybe the most interesting example that encapsulates the problem is Marin solar village in about 1979 or 1980, I forget exactly when it was. But there were a group of people in Marin County, California who wanted to take an old airforce base called Hamilton Field and turn it into an ecologically oriented solar town. Compact development. People who'd live there, most of the people would be hired in solar or fabrication industries like solar hot water and so on. Much of which was becoming popular at the time. They also had Jerry Brown in as the Governor and the state architect van der Ryn had built a number of solar houses already. We had a lot of friends in power. And the election that would have turned the whole story over lost by two percent. The airforce base was sold for a dollar to the County of Novato, Marin I mean the base is in Novato, near Novato. So the county actually owned the land and was able to do with it what it wanted. And by only two percentage points the project did not go through and then the energy was lost and it went away. Now if we had people enough somewhere to actually vote ecological zoning into place. If we empowered the kind of Ecocity zoning map overlay system that I've described to you, if we simply wrote ordinances for transfer of development rights, if we simply allowed car free housing or even encouraged it. Any of these things. If we did several of those things at once we would have ecological cities blooming forth rapidly and there'd be steady change in the right direction. And we can't get over those hurdles. I think the biggest enemy of all is neighborhood conservatism. I was asked this question once up in Oregon in Portland where they had this wonderful weekend called the village convergence where people come together and they talk about ecologically healthy things to do in the city and in the neighborhood and a lot of places. And Portland is something of an exception because it is building it's downtown in many of the ways that I describe and it is moving in the way of pedestrian centers and so on. But there is this wonderful thing called city repair up there where people who love building take these four corners of intersections in the suburban neighborhoods and turn them into these wonderful little corner gazebos and sitting places made out of (****[39.14]) material, which is mud like adobe. And sometimes even have little plastic roofs that are curved into interesting shapes. And they have wonderful woodwork and there's just this outpouring of love of building on the corners. But they're not changing in these particular corners the land use pattern. Now I'm not saying that Portland is worse this way or actually I think it's much better than most places in terms of moving density around a little bit. But what you find there is that none of those projects are actually increasing in density or diversity right there where this project is happening which would really be the breakthrough. Most other cities like Berkeley California, where I come from, has neighborhood associations that resist any kind of change whatsoever. In Berkeley they have allowed sixteen thousand new work places to be created in a period of time when the neighborhood association, the architectural conservatives, the people who say no buildings more than four stories high put a clampdown on new housing. And other than Beverly Hills it was the only city in the entire state of California that actually shrunk in population from 1970 to the year 2000. Because the people who were adamant against any kind of building, even ecologically healthy building held sway. I don't know how to solve the problem of getting beyond in a democratic situation that fifty percent where people actually empower and then get on board for changing cities towards ecologically healthy cities. Many people say until we have an absolutely dire crisis, catastrophe everywhere, we're not going to actually wake up. But we're at that point. We've been at that point for years. If you look at what's happening on the planet we have lost hundreds and hundreds of species. Climate is changing. We are there. We've been there for sometime and it's getting worse. So there's this matter of how do we wake up, what's psychologically the problem, why are people so afraid? I mean here we have a beautiful world to create and everyone's acting like they're afraid. Earlier I said that Pogo said we have met the enemy and he is us and people didn't worry about it in 1970. They said hey let's try something. What do you suggest? And they tried things. Some worked and some didn't and time went by. But nowadays you can't even get to the point beyond denial where people will say hey, I living in Berkeley am actually responsible for sprawl. We are. It happens to be the truth. Well don't obsess about it. Don't feel guilty. Get active. Start changing the city so that you create models as a healthy way of living.

DR: Does oil and gas peak change the game?

RR: Well if people are conscious of this problem and they actually do something about it, it's good. It's a wakeup call. Which is what the video "The End of Suburbia" is all about. It's a wakeup call. It's an opportunity. It's saying we can't go on like this. And what I maintain is that the ecological city redesigned, as I've been describing it, the ecological city is a city that can run on one tenth the energy. Now how else can you get there? You want to have renewables. Renewables I think are intrinsically more expensive per calorie delivered. You have to gather the stuff up. You have a solar collector, you put it out there. You're bringing energy in from the sun, you have technologies and so on to concentrate this energy and then you turn it into something like electricity or use it as hot water, but you need to actually gather it. What happens at the crust of the earth for one hundred and fifty million years is busy gathering solar energy and laying it down in the form of coal, oil and natural gas. And that stuff is pretty easy to grab onto compared to gathering all the energy in the first place and putting all that technology together. The crust of the earth did it for us in the case of the fossil fuels. But now we have to exert a lot of energy to get there. So I maintain that energy is going to be expensive from now on. But if you're only using one tenth as much of it, great then we can design for that. And so the ecologically healthy city is the city of energy conservation of the future. Not only the city but of course the town and the village too. In America the village is scattered out all over the place just like the city. So it's just as energy wasteful as the city basically. But in any case I think that there is this perfect coincidence between the need for conserving energy and the structure of the city.

DR: What is the urgency for rebuilding our cities now?

RR: Well there could be nothing more important than reorganizing the infrastructure we have now and creating these renewable energy systems. You have to do two things at once. It's a really big problem. I once heard from one of the solar energy people I was interviewing that we have to use a lot of energy to get there in the first place. We should be dedicating energy to be melting glass, to be making solar collectors right now with some of those fossil fuels. We need to invest an enormous amount of the energy we're now spending just to reshape the built infrastructure and put these new energy systems in place.

DR: How can ecological city design support relocalization?

RR: Well so much of relocalization or bioregional development has to do with removing sprawl development so that you now have access to the land again. Because we have covered such vast areas with the city and the infrastructure the city requires. So if you're looking at relocalization and the fine tune restructuring of agriculture and bringing back native species, you simply have to get the city off it's sprawled format. You have to reshape it around smaller structures and then the biology and the richness of the biology come back and with it, I think, also a lot of the human history diversity that has gone down at any particular place because it was originally anchored in the biology.

MediaRichard Register on Ecological City Design (video)