Q&A with Kirstin Miller, Chief Executive, Ecocity Builders

Tuesday 18 January 2022

Q&A with Kirstin Miller, Chief Executive, Ecocity Builders

Can you tell me a bit about the history of the Ecocity World Summits?
Absolutely. Ecocity World Summit has the distinction of being the longest-running conference series on sustainable cities and ecological urbanism. Launched under the auspices of the early Ecocity Builders’ organization, it was first convened in 1990 by the City of Berkeley, California USA. Since then, it has grown into a regular global gathering that has convened on every continent except Antarctica.  

What was it that appealed to you about London’s bid for the 2023 summit?
We love that the London edition will prioritize reaching out and making connections across communities. The Ecocity approach is about embracing complexity and reaching across silos and sectors. This bid hit that nail on the head so to speak. 

Over the years, what impact have you seen past summits have?
It’s been fascinating to see the variety of outcomes achieved, correlated to the priorities and ambitions of the hosts. Some examples: in Istanbul, the conference validated the importance of the profession of city planning and green building, which at the time was not prioritized by developers; in Abu Dhabi, we were able to spotlight the importance and merits of a new regional transit-oriented development plan to combat sprawl and excessive consumption; in Vancouver, a new Ecocity Centre was established at the British Colombia Institute of Technology to steward Canadian cities and professions in ecocity building and sustainable lifestyles. 

Past Ecocity Summits have been underpinned by the Ecocity Standards; can you tell me a bit more about this tool?
Ecocity Standards provide an innovative vision for an ecologically restorative human civilization as well as a practical methodology for assessing and guiding progress towards the goal. The 18 conditions for healthy cities and a civilization in balance with Earth systems are organized under 4 pillars of an ecocity (urban designbio-geo-physical conditionsecological imperatives and socio-cultural conditions) addressing the full expression of a healthy human civilization operating within Earth’s biocapacity.

A lot of the issues you’ve been addressing since the 1990’s, have seen a lot more attention in recent years, what opportunity (or responsibility) does this offer us for 2023?   
In the 1990s when I first joined Ecocity Builders, the idea of building cities in balance with nature and culture was often dismissed as ‘utopian’. And to be honest, we had in our group some utopian thinkers, like Richard Register (“Ecocity Berkeley” 1987) and Ernest Callenbach (“Ecotopia” 1975). But fast-forward to the last few years, and we have people like Al Gore and people on the IPCC committees thanking us for holding fast to these basic principles that stand the test of time. Today we can and must build ecocities if we want to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Accords, the Green New Deal, Build Back Better, and so on. Ecological urbanism may have seemed utopian in 1990, but it’s now understood to be a necessary and practical approach to ensuring our success as a human community in the face of climate change. 

What are your ambitions for the London Summit?
In London, we want to learn from your experience and share ours with you. We want to continue broadening the ecocity network, in part through a virtual component, because the pandemic has challenged our thinking to embrace both in-person and virtual learning. I also am excited about the prospect for a physical legacy outcome that would be supported via the Summit engagement process and involve some design charrettes and workshops. And, last-but-not-least, we always want to learn by exploring. So, I am hoping for as many field trips as possible! 

Finally, what are you most proud to have seen come out of this programme? 
For me, the best initiative to come out of this conference is the emergence of the Ecocity Standards as a framework and guide to building ecocities and promoting eco-citizenship. It’s becoming a reality in different ways throughout the world – from environmental policies in Peru, to city greening and sustainable mobility in Nepal, education and training in Canada, and new city planning and development in Morocco, to name a few.

Ecocity World Summits are an initiative by Ecocity Builders. Delivery of the London 2023 Ecocity World Summit is being led by NLA, in partnership with London & Partners and event delivery partner MCI.

Ecocity World Summit 2023, c/o MCI | The Hop Exchange, Suite 7-9, 24 Southwark St, London SE1 1TY

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