The word “Biosphere” in the name Biosphere Eco-City refers to our “Sphere of Life.”
This outer shell of the Earth – land, water, and atmosphere – sustains all life. Urban growth and the activities it causes are having a significant impact on the Biosphere. Sustainability of even one urban-centred regions will help reduce this impact. Collectively, sustainable urban regions around the world can protect the Biosphere.
The term "Eco-City" in the name Biosphere Eco-City (BEC) refers to a broad movement for sustainable cities. The term was coined in 1987 by architect Richard Register, who is still a leader in this field.
Origin of the Biosphere Eco-City (BEC)
Creation of the Biosphere Eco-City Model was stimulated by a UNESCO decision to bring the study of urban issues back into its Man and Biosphere (MAB) Program. This brought a proposal in 2002 that contained the BEC model (under another name). In 2009, a Canada MAB pilot study to test the model created the Ottawa Biosphere Eco-City (OBEC) initiative in that city. The OBEC Council continues to test BEC tools and sends quarterly progress reports to UNESCO, although it is not currently part of the MAB program. Ottawa volunteers would be pleased to help other cities explore the BEC model.
The Man and Biosphere (MAB) Program of UNESCO began in 1971 to reduce human impacts on the Biosphere and to promote the human benefits of living more in harmony with nature. Well over one hundred participating countries have carried out thousands of demonstration projects since then. These projects were cooperative, community based and shared internationally. The MAB approach has been an inspiration for program members and for other international organizations.
Urban studies had been part of MAB for its first decade. Then the program began to focus increasingly on biosphere reserves – large areas that demonstrate conservation and sustainability in major natural ecosystems. Twenty years later, when MAB asked a group of experts to recommend how to bring urban studies back into the program, they proposed designation of “urban biosphere reserves.”
While this was going on, an individual made a proposal to UNESCO in 2002 calling for the return of the former MAB Urban Component (separate from biosphere reserves). This proposal included a model called “MAB Urban Demonstration Areas” (MUDA). Following a meeting in Brazil in 2007, MUDA was renamed Biosphere Eco Cities (BEC). The MUDA/BEC idea was discussed in and around MAB meetings in Rome, Paris, Madrid and Jeju (Korea) from 2002 to 2009.
The Biosphere Eco-City Model
Biosphere Eco-City (BEC) is a model to make an urban centred region sustainable, based on participation and cooperation. It provides benefits for both people and nature.
BEC encourages independent action and sharing of experience to accelerate progress. Grass-roots activities are important in complementing government-led planning for sustainability.
BEC uses elements that are simple, comparable and affordable so that cooperation will support simultaneous advancement of sustainability locally, nationally, and internationally.
Five Objectives guide development of the BEC approach:
- Involve Everyone
- Link Stakeholders
- Share Information
- Encourage Initiative
- Enhance Performance
Seven Tools stimulate action in the Biosphere Eco-City:
- Themes of Sustainability
- Council of Stakeholders
- Database of Sustainability Projects
- International Network
- Sustainability Plans
- Demonstration Projects
- Processes for Sustainability
Free Enterprise Sustainability
This term is used to get across the idea that people, through their own enterprise and initiative, have much to contribute to sustainability. This is because:
a) people and organizations know what they need and
b) with support, people can improve their lives and communities.
While the best known successes in urban sustainability have been top down and directed by experts, such an approach cannot do enough in many parts of the world. More resources are needed to overtake urban problems. The only untapped resource is the energy and initiative of people. The Biosphere Eco-City (BEC) approach applies this latent potential. It does this by encouraging independent projects within a framework of cooperation. When this happens, a much larger area of sustainability is addressed. The enterprise of individual stakeholders provides benefit for everyone.
Biosphere Eco-City and Planning
Government planning for sustainability has many advantages, with full integration of needs and resources, and long-term strategies. Yet this top-down approach cannot do enough in many of the world's cities because it requires a full alignment of political and public support, money, expertise and legal frameworks. The problems of urban growth – for people and nature – are very great. They have already overwhelmed good planning systems in some cities. The Biosphere Eco-City (BEC) supports a grass-roots approach of individual initiative, along with cooperation to integrate all sectors.
National and International Networks
The simple and practical approach of the Biosphere Eco-City (BEC) could support simultaneous development of sustainability in urban-centred regions around the world. As described in the Biosphere Eco-City Model, BEC tools are designed to allow people and organizations to build on each other's experience. Creation of national and international networks would allow urban-centred regions to share information on sustainability. The flow would not be one-way either. Many good ideas would come from poorer cities, where environmental and human problems make them important testing areas. Cities that are already part of international urban programs – there are many – would be useful parts of national or international BEC networks. They could continue to benefit from those programs, while sharing ideas and results through the BEC framework.