Are Eco-towns a good idea?

An eco-town is exactly what it sounds like: a town built to provide housing for people while meeting rigorous criteria for green living. The concept of eco-towns currently used in the UK, and in 2007 a competition to build 10 eco-towns was sponsored by Department of Communities and Local Government [1].  The largest of these towns will provide affordable housing for approximately 20,000 people [1]. In order to be classified as an eco-town, the following criteria must be met:

  • Affordable housing: a minimum of 30% affordable housing in each eco-town
  • Zero-carbon: eco-towns must be zero-carbon over the course of a year (not including transport emissions)
  • Green space: a minimum of 40% of eco-towns must be comprised of greenspace
  • Waste and recycling: eco-towns must have higher recycling rates and make use of waste in new ways
  • Homes: homes must reach Code for Sustainable Homes level 4 or higher (surprisingly not the highest standard available, casting doubt on the credibility of these requirements)
  • Employment: at least one job opportunity per house accessible by public transport, walking or cycling (although the standards are silent on how housing developers might guarantee this and it is largely discredited in the current economic crisis)
  • Services: there must be shops and a primary school within easy walk of every single home, and all the services expected from a town of up to 20,000 homes
  • Transition/construction: facilities should be in place before and during construction
  • Public transport: real-time public transport information in every home, a public transport link within ten minutes walk of every home
  • Community: there must be a mixture of housing types and densities, and residents must have a say in how their town is run, by governance in new and innovative ways.

[Criteria taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eco-towns_(UK)]

However, while eco-towns initially were met with positive feedback, over the last couple of years there has been an increase in complaints and issues with how the UK’s government has been handling the regulation of the eco-towns. The number one complaint from environmentalist and skeptics is a lack of public transportation options for the towns [2]. The properties that will be used to build the eco-towns are located far from any neighboring cities and would require many of the residents to make long commutes to travel between cities. If the government doesn’t provide the appropriate public transportation, then the affect of building an eco-town is lost when the residents continually drive between towns and offset the benefit of living in an eco-town in the first place [2].

Another concern with eco-towns is that politicians and contractors are simply giving the title to a new town they are building in order to bypass normal regulations put on normal housing. [3] The land used for the eco-towns are large and open and normally would be hard to get permission from the city to build property on. However, if a contractor decides to make the town an eco-town, then the city will be more willing to allow production of new structures on the property [3]. An alternate option for land has been proposed to use brown fields, or fields that have been used for industry purposes that could be used instead of destroying greener property [3].

Eco-towns seem like a great idea, but only if executed correctly. However, the idea of a community that is completely green is the first stepping stone to making the entire planet a much greener place to life. Many skeptics claim that the idea of completely green community is too good to be true, and that while an eco-town might be possible on paper, the concept can never really come into reality. However, I feel that struggling to make an eco-town will only benefit people, whether or not the town succeeds or fails.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eco-towns_(UK)

[2] DCLG – Eco-town proposals find little support, ENDS Report (LexisNexis)

[3] Should plans for eco-towns be scrapped?, The Times (LexisNexis)

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1 Comment

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One response to “Are Eco-towns a good idea?

  1. bhgully

    First off, I was surprised at the quality (in my view) of the requirements for a city to be considered an eco-town; they really seem to have covered everything I would have. Also interesting as a comparison to US programs (LEED, specifically) which seem to be drastically less well scoped. However, I am not sure as to why you chose to specifically identify transportation as an issue when the requirement for “a public transport link within ten minutes walk of every home” seems to address that exactly? I think the answer may be in your second reference, but I couldn’t get it to come up anywhere…

    It also reminds of the fact that I wish we had the data to analyze regarding energy costs of building new facilities/communities/structures, such as machine running time, electricity use, required materials, manpower, etc. Following with the concepts of EROI, I’m interested in how much energy actually goes in to building new infrastructures such as these versus retrofitting – particularly as a comparison to the operational/variable energy savings that result.

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