At the recent Global City conference in Abu Dhabi it was it was Professor Herbert Girardet (co-founder of the World Future Council) who particularly caught my attention with his measured, logical and forceful argument as to why we need to redefine our concept of the sustainable city as the “Regenerative City”.
In reminding us of our ecological footprint, i.e. that cities consume vast amounts of resources from their hinterland and even way beyond it (London needs 125 times its surface area to service it), the Professor argued that we need to take into account the regenerative capacity of our natural capital. If we are not, in turn, replenishing the lands from which the city is taking resources then sustainability will never be upheld in the face of the degradation of these same lands that feed it. A key element is growing the capacity of these landscapes to absorb more carbon emissions.
If cities are an active part of the ecosystem, then they must take responsibility for their part in managing it. The implications for real estate could be profound; urban regeneration would remould itself as eco-regeneration with an automatic acknowledgment of a far wider geographical footprint than merely the plot upon which the project is being built. Planning permission may come with an automatic mandate to actively create a restorative balance in the landscapes capacity to for CO2 absorption ( tree planting etc) in a different geography maybe many miles from the project. .
But it goes deeper than that, at individual asset level, talk of responsibility for creating resources in situ – solar energy, roof top farming, water and waste recycling – is not new, but neither is it widely adopted. The economics of solar energy is already persuasive and whether through legislation, social responsibility or merely the good sense of it, I have no doubt other individual or even building cluster based regenerative solutions will emerge over the next 5 years. The concept of “thinking outside the city” now has another “regenerative” dimension to consider.