Ecological cities

Ecological cities enable their residents to live a good quality of life while using minimal natural resources. They do so by:

  • Using local materials, and local energy, air and water flows (sunlight, wind and rain) to best advantage.
  • Incorporating natural ecosystems into urban areas, to host local wildlife, and to enhance the experience of urban public spaces.
  • Using vegetation to control urban microclimates – to stabilise temperature and humidity.
  • Enhancing the life of the community and relationships between people, by creating convivial social environments.
  • Supporting an innovative culture which enables people to flourish and develop their creative potential, and use new technologies to improve liveability.

Urban form

In Richard Register’s vision of ecological cities, sprawling, low density cities are transformed into networks of high and medium density urban settlements of limited size separated by greenspace, with most people living within walking or cycling distance of their workplace.


Ecocities are threaded with natural habitat corridors, to foster biodiversity and to give residents access to nature for recreation.


An ecocity’s food and other goods are mostly sourced from within its borders or from nearby areas, in order to cut down on transport costs.

The majority of its residents live within walking or cycling distance of their workplace, to minimise the need for motorised transport.

Frequent public transport connects local centres for people who need to travel further.

Local car sharing allows people to use a car only when needed.


The goods an ecocity produces are designed for reuse, remanufacture, and recycling.

The industrial processes its uses involve reuse of by-products, and minimise the movement of goods.


An ecological city has a labour-intensive rather than a material, energy and water intensive economy, to maintain full employment and minimise material throughput.

Ecopolis principles
Ecopolis principles – as developed in 1993.

Ecopolis Development Principles

by Paul F Downton


The Ecopolis Development Principles seek to:

  • Minimise Ecological Footprints (biophysical) and
  • Maximise Human Potential (human ecology). in order to:
  • Repair, replenish and support the processes that maintain life.


Initially drafted in association with Chérie Hoyle and Emilis Prelgauskas, the Ecopolis Development Principles (EDP) were intended to provide a clear set of precepts for developing human settlement that restored, rather than destroyed, ecological health.

In its first incarnation there were 12 principles. The revised version here has 10 principles divided into ‘biophysical’ and ‘biosocial’ groups – one being about minimising ecological footprints, the other being about maximising human potential.

Ten Principles

1. Restore Degraded Land

Use urban development to restore the health and vitality of the land.

Rehabilitate and maximise the ecological health and potential of land as a consequence of the development of human settlement.

  • Clean-up contaminated land
  • Heal degraded rural areas
  • Re-establish native vegetation
  • Encourage farming practices which sustain ecological health
  • Introduce green corridors of native vegetation in rural and urban area

‘It is only possible to make healthy places for humans by maintaining the health of non-human habitats.’ (Hough 1995)

2. Fit the Bioregion

Create human settlements which work with the natural cycles of the region.

Conform to the parameters of the bioregion, fit the landscape with the patterns of development which follow the inherent form and limitations of the land, understood in socio-biophysical terms.

  • Maintain the natural cycles of water and nutrients in the landscape
  • Create buildings and urban form that fit the landscape and respond to the climate
  • Conserve water and recycle effluent
  • Use locally produced building materials as much as possible
  • Respond to the culture of the region – ‘re-habitation’

‘…to become dwellers in the land…the crucial and perhaps only all-encompassing task is to understand place, the immediate specific place where we live…’ we need to appreciate ‘the cultures of the people, of the populations native to the land and of those who have grown up with it, the human social and economic arrangements shaped by and adapted to the geomorphic ones, in both urban and rural settings…’ (Sale 1991 p.42)

3. Balance Development

Balance development with the ‘carrying capacity’ of the land.

Balance the intensity of development against the ecological carrying capacity of the land whilst protecting all viable existing ecological features. Develop and enhance links between urban and rural areas of an integrated city-region approach.

  • Reduce the impact of the city on the land beyond its boundaries (the ‘ecological footprint’)
  • Encourage the diversity of land-use: residential, commercial, recreational, educational, etc
  • Develop urban food producing gardens
  • Recognise the place of all living organisms in the environment – urban design for non-human species

4. Create Compact Cities

Reverse sprawl and stop ad-hoc development from consuming the landscape. 
Develop human habitation at relatively high density within inviolable green belts of natural or restored ecologically viable landscape with the overall development density constrained by ecological limits.

  • Have clearly identifiable (but not ‘hard’) boundaries for urban areas
  • Provide for most daily needs within the city
  • Create ‘walkable’ cities and promote non-motorised forms of transport
  • Develop integrated transport networks which minimise car use
  • Access by proximity
  • 3-dimensional built form

‘In living nature, the notion of unlimited sprawl seems to be adopted by organisms at the lower levels of evolution.'(Soleri 1987 p.12)

5. Optimise Energy Performance

Generate and use energy efficiently.

Operate at low levels of energy consumption, using renewable energy resources, local energy production and techniques of resource reuse. All ecological development should seek to be energy self-sufficient. The primary energy base for development should come from renewable sources.

  • Minimise energy consumption
  • Use renewable energy of solar and wind power
  • Generate power locally
  • Reduce fossil fuel consumption
  • No nuclear power
  • Design buildings with solar access and natural ventilation
  • Use effective insulation and ‘thermal mass’ in buildings
  • Climate responsive design Materials

6. Contribute to the Economy

Create work opportunities and promote economic activity.

Support and develop ecologically and socially responsible economic activity. Materials and component manufacture should be derived from, or be located in the local bioregion to the maximum practicable extent. Finance for ecological development from ethical sources, exclude financial support derived from exploitative activity. Capital input to ecological development should be local and financial structures should ensure that ownership and control ultimately rests with the users and inhabitants of the development.

  • Develop ecologically responsible industries
  • Develop exportable ‘green technologies’ and services
  • Create appropriate information technologies
  • Provide incentives for innovation and enterprise linked to ecologically responsible  performance

7. Provide Health and Security

Create healthy and safe environments for all people.

Employ appropriate materials and spatial organisation to create safe and healthy places for people to live, work and play in the context of an ecologically resilient environment.

  • Reduce pollution and promote environmental quality
  • Ensure a safe water supply, Recycle effluent, Maintain clean air
  • Provide food security – urban agriculture
  • Provide habitat for animals and birds

‘The evidence we have all points in the same direction: passers-by help in deterring crime. More visible neighbours is better than fewer, good visual relations to the public domain is better than seclusion.’

(Hillier and Shu 1999 p.6)

8. Encourage Community

Cities are for everyone.

Create cities with strong citizen involvement – community participation, not just consultation. The community should govern itself. Community needs must drive ecological development. Ecological development must meet community requirements including the community of life that is the eco-system.

  • Create development as a community driven process
  • Ensure community involvement in public administration and management
  • Provide community facilities

‘…there is room for everybody in the ecocity effort. It is not vicarious but participatory, not to be dictated, but to be created in a million ways
 simultaneously from the grassroots to the highest levels of planning and back down again, with a role for each of us.’ (Register 1987 p.49)

9. Promote Social Justice and Equity

Equal rights and access to services, facilities and information.

Employ economic and management structures which embody principles of social justice and equity. Ensure equal rights and access to essential services, facilities and information. Alleviate poverty and create work opportunities.

  • Involve all levels of the community in development processes
  • Provide affordable housing
  • Public use of public space
  • Direct democracy

‘What is interesting to note in the urban context is that certain integrated land use and public transport policies – assuming no other changes – can have an income and substitution effects on the less well-off; for example, if a household does not require two private motor vehicles to travel to work
 and engage in other everyday activities of modern living, there is more money available for, say, housing.’ (Hundloe & McDonald 1997 p.93)

10. Enrich History and Culture

Respecting the past whilst looking to the future.

Maximise the value of previous worthwhile human endeavour in terms of both heritage and manufactured artefacts.

  • Restore and maintain cherished local monuments and landmarks
  • Identify and celebrate the spirit of place
  • Celebrate and encourage cultural diversity
  • Respect indigenous peoples’ inhabitation of the land
  • Diverse cultural and social groups provide the basis for socially vital cities

Support and promote cultural diversity, incorporating ecological awareness into all aspects of the making and maintenance of human settlement. Art and craft should be integral to both the construction and the operation of ecological development from the individual site to the city and its region.

The whole process of creating ecological development and its subsequent operation requires education and skill development.

  • Develop culture by involving all aspects of the arts including music, electronic media and technology
  • Develop culture by integrating the arts and sciences with both daily life and special events and  occasions
  • Promote ecological awareness as part of cultural development
  • Support community art and craft events, fairs, fetes and functions and develop festivities and  events which relate to the locality
  • Encourage multicultural art and festivities.

‘Spaces should be created for cultural expressions, such as music, amateur theatre, and the arts.’

(Streeten 1997 p.204)