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Eco-city, Johannesburg

21 September 2012, AfriCAN Climate

Eco-Cities are places where people can live healthier and economically productive lives while reducing their impact on the environment. They work to harmonize existing policies, regional realities,economic and business markets with their natural resources and environmental assets. Eco-Cities strive to engage all citizens in collaborative and transparent decision making.The Eco City initiative is based on the principles of poverty eradication through self reliance, capacity building, public participation and green transformation.

In response to worldwide encouragement for city councils to adopt Local Agenda 21 (a key output of the Rio Summit) the Johannesburg Eco City initiative was born. Eco City is active in lobbying for green laws and policies. Eco City wanted to physically demonstrate an environmentally and socially sustainable alternative development path. Since poverty was a major root cause of the problems, this had to be tackled first. Job creation through ‘ecological’ industries such as recycling, organic farming, green energy technologies and other means was seen as an important start.

At the same time, with housing, sanitation and other services (such as energy) being required, this presented an ideal opportunity to set up human habitats that are sustainable, rather than polluting and resource-greedy. And so, the concept of a demonstration urban Eco-village was born, to serve as a living example of how housing and services can be provided.

So, whilst some of the major environmental issues of the city may not have been entirely eradicated, and Johannesburg may still be a city divided, small scale examples of what can be achieved gives hope to the future ambitions of the EcoCity initiative on a city wide scale. Addressing issues such as climate change and poverty need not require full scale revolution; even evolution on a grass roots level will take the city one step closer to its vision.

It tackles poverty by promoting green ways of making and saving money (through growing organic food, recycling, repairing bicycles, selling green energy aids and appliances, building ecological homes and starting Eco tourism enterprises). Eco City has mobilised the disadvantaged and unemployed people of Ivory Park (part of the city of Johannesburg) to form co-operatives to grow and buy food, to recycle, to repair bicycles, to build homes, to use and promote green energy solutions, to become Eco-tourism guides and more than 300 jobs have been created. Eco City work is also breaking new ground in terms of promoting ‘eco banking’ which gives poor people access to money in novel ways; for example by trading in ‘sweat equity’ (a party's contribution to a project in the form of effort), and by encouraging loans for ‘geological home improvements’ (safer buildings) . All participants receive extensive training in their core skills, finance and environmental awareness. Eco City has run numerous workshops, especially empowering the unemployed, women and youth. It has produced newsletters, brochures and educational posters.

Houses are made of alternative environmentally-friendly building materials, energy is conserved, water is recycled, human waste is composted, organic produce is grown in situ and people live in a cohesive village atmosphere. The demonstration urban eco-village harvests rainwater off roofs recycles all grey water and minimises water wastage. Human waste is composted and grey water is recycled for gardening .Organic waste is used for growing. Alternative sanitation is promoted in the urban eco-village such as compost toilets. Appropriate energy sources are used, solar power is the energy of choice, followed by biomass (in low smoke braziers). Ceilings and other insulation and correct alignment of homes contributes to energy efficiency, bicycles are promoted for transport. Organic vegetables are grown by community members and sold to non-growers. Recyclables are collected and taken to the buyback centre where they are either sold to glass, paper and metals companies or made into useful items. Jobs in Eco City are ecologically sustainable

The approaches adopted include: participation, labour-intensive technologies, environmentally-appropriate solutions and cost-effective practices (such as the notion of barter and exchange of services).The use of co-operatives as the institution of choice has proven to be an important factor in the success of the projects. The local people feel that they have control over their decisions and it has deepened democracy. Building, growing food, recycling and other methodologies represent a mixture of high tech and low tech solutions.

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