eco-cities and mega-regions

Note: It's been a little tough around here, so again my apologies for not giving timely responses to your comments. We were terribly affected by the loss of Jack. Top that off with losing my eldest brother the month before, and Ana X a few months earlier. So it's been quite a year.

I had started several posts -all of them are stuck in some half complete form that I will hopefully get around to posting. (Q: How many half-completed posts are in your "draft posts" queue? I've got 38.)

There were several interesting articles last week that I wanted share and comment on but with the work grind still at maximum, I'll have to stick to short comments.


Pictured above is Arup's EcoBlock, a carbon-neutral take on China's SuperBlock model of urban development. SuperBlocks are key units in the 400x400 sq.m. development scales used in PROC's urban planning models - usually gated, always hi-rise.
"We knew that Chinese gated superblocks comprise the largest part of China’s overall development efforts, which are among the most ambitious construction in the history of the world. The Chinese are building 10 to 15 gated superblocks every day, equal to 10 million to 12 million housing units per year (10 times the US average). " (Unforbidden Cities)
So says Harrison Frakker Jr. (Dean of UC Berkeley's College of Environmental Design). Berkeley CED's Urban Sustainability Initiative worked with Arup (the top engineering firm the world) to develop the alternative model for China's cities. Enter the EcoBlock:

Designed to be replicable to the masses, a concept that in reality puts minimal pressure on off-site infrastructure and the natural environment...Largely self sufficient in terms of energy and water use, EcoBlocks are carbon-neutral developments. Their layouts encourage walking, cycling and use of public transport.
All wastewater is recycled on-site; energy generation is on-site and any energy generated on-site from waste, sun, and wind is used to treat rainwater and gray water and provide residents with high quality potable drinking water. Even food waste and landscaping waste will be converted into energy to power residents' homes.

Constructed wetlands and swales collect and treat water for reuse, serving the dual purpose of enhancing the aesthetic value of each neighborhood and creating green waste that can be transformed into energy within an on-site anaerobic digester. And EcoBlocks are designed to use 40 percent less energy than a standard development of its size.
And the potential impact of the EcoBlock model?
...if 18,333 600-unit EcoBlocks were built, it would keep 34 landfills, 42 power plants, 54 water treatment plants, and 51 wastewater treatment plants from being built, at a total cost savings of $38,737,185,000 ... (Arup) estimates that the Chinese government alone would save 1.3 percent of its GDP from not having to build additional infrastructure to meet demands for energy, clean water, sanitation and waste disposal - and that's not counting the savings from costs currently associated with treating environmental pollution associated health problems, which currently claims about 10 percent of the country's GDP.
Could we use a similar model in redeveloping Metro Manila? (To give you an idea of the scale of a 400x400 meter project (16 hectares), here's how it measures against Glorietta:


Meanwhile, Richard Florida, proponent of the Creative Class and their role in making cities competitive, published a list of the top 40 mega-regions in the world. (All of them, urban corridors). Florida and his team compiled the top mega-regions (via CEOsforCities):

They use a new measure they call Light-based Regional Product to rank the world's top 40 mega-regions. They also include rankings by population, patents and frequently-cited scientists.

Greater Tokyo is the world's top mega-region. Boston-Washington and Chicago-Pittsburgh rank second and third.

Greater Toyko has 55.1 million people, LRP of $2.5 trillion, 91,280 patents, 11 highly-cited scientific authors. (All numbers are 2000-2001.)

Boston-Washington has 54.3 million people, LRP of $2.2 trillion, 21307 patents, and 293 authors.

Chicago-Pittsburgh has 46 million people, LRP of $1.6 trillion, 17,686 patents and 67 authors.
Rounding out the top 10 are:

Southern California (LA-San Diego-Tijuana)
In an article addressed to Torontonians (via Google's cache), he writes:

According to our definition, mega-regions are made up of two or more contiguous cities and their surrounding suburbs, and generate more than $100-billion in annual economic output.

...mega-regions are the real economic engines of the global economy. The 10 largest account for 43 per cent of the planet's economic activity and more than half of its patented innovations and star scientists who generate pioneering breakthroughs, while housing only 6.5 per cent of its population. The top 40 produce 66 per cent of the world's economic activity and more than eight in 10 of its patented innovations and most-cited scientists, while being home to just 18 per cent of the world's population.

All of this convinces me that place, not statehood, is the central axis of our time and of our global economy.
Read the pre-publication release of the paper here. (pdf)

Is Metro Manila on the list? Nope. Despite the supersized populations, megacities don't automatically fall into the mega-regions, although Mexico City, the Rio de Janeiro-Sao Paolo corridor, and Delhi-Lahore make it to the list. (So do Singapore and Bangkok.)

Here's their map of the mega-regions in Asia:

Which then makes me think that key to our competitiveness would be to strengthen Metro Manila's connections (transportation and trade) with Hong Kong-Shenzen, Singapore and Taipei.


Peter said...

Interesting posts.

The eco blocks look very interesting though I highly doubt it's applicable here except if very few places. Pocket developers may look at this model though as with distributed energy the initial capital cost hurdles are what is challenging to package in for profit project.

The mega region study should be adjusted on to reflect real gdp not nominal, there will be substantial differences in how regions would be viewed in terms of economic resilience and contribution if they were to track actual output adjusted for distortions in exchange flows in individual country's monetary policy (e.g. does anyone here believe that china would only have 3 mega regions, only with regulated exchange rates).

Also using purely patents (and US Patents at that!!!) as a basis for creative activity can be pretty distorting. Patent activity primarily derived from R&D is heavily influenced by budgets and technical gearing. Other humanistic creative endeavors e.g. arts, literature which would make places like India stand out as well can not be captured by correlations in such technical activity. A good case in point would be Southern Cal which is the home to many huge creative industries but would not reflect in patents.

Urbano dela Cruz said...


Interesting comments. (always!)

I'd love to take the principles of the ecoblocks (self-contained energy ecosystems) and scale them for our purposes (and our smaller cities).

Not that I regard Richard Florida as the sole authority on metropolitan economics, but seeing the global economy from this map is enlightening.

I'm with you on using real GDP preferably -but we know how difficult that can get for statisticians (even they can even agree on a base year).

I'd actually lean towards evaluating the mega regions in terms of PPP -factoring in relative cost of living in these regions.

Maybe pair that up with GINI index to see which regions have the most equitable economies.

I'm neither here nor there on the patents as a measure of creative output since i can't imagine any other way to measure it. (Relative price of artwork vs. per capita income? Number of theatre companies?)

South Cal (the LA-San Diego corridor) is actually home to many non-entertainment related industries. (Aerospace, for one.) Plus the entertainment related tech industries also generate patents (camera design, editing machines, CG, etc.).

And while were on the subject, have we ever bothered to measure the relative creative output of our own cities?


Peter said...

Actually in my other life I was an energy developer and one of the interesting things I learned and advocate for our Republic is Distributed Generation. Without limiting the ecoblock idea to urban settings we actually have a perfect setting for this kind of thinking: our many small islands. The reality is that these places will have difficulty in connecting to the grid and will have to look at solutions that think along these lines in terms of their development. It obviously has to be holistic not only in energy but includes other environmental considerations as well. It's obviously not all applicable but the underlying philosophy is interesting even for places which are detached from the urban fabric.

My point exactly with certain creative endeavors while it is not as easily quantified such as patents it obviously does not mean it's not there. I understand that LA is a huge Aerospace / Energy Manufacturing hub and this is caught in that count but worldwide it's impact is as an American Popular cultural beacon and this is not reflected in such counts.

Perhaps a way to quantify such output would be to do what FAP is doing basically counting how many local movies are out this year! Ths can be done with similar media type outputs such as songs, tv programs,books, ads, etc. Not perfect but it will show on a per capita basis how active these sorts of activities are!

Urbano dela Cruz said...


seems like you've had an interesting career so far.

you're spot on about using ecoblocks -or self contained energy/waste ecosystems on our islands. a bit of McDonough's cradle-to-cradle or Paul Hawken's ecology of commerce principles.

(I think we should do this immediately for Boracay to solve the sewage problem.)

I agree that we need to measure creativity by other means, particularly for our society.

Creativity is something we take so for granted when so many cities are scrambling all over themselves to attract artists and the "creative class."

Would that there were census categories that explicitly measure the size of the manpower involved in our creative industries (of course, you'll still have to define what a creative industry is).

This is anecdotal but I believe nearly every major ad agency in SEA has Filipinos on staff -in the creative departments!

RJ Jacinto was right: creativity is our competitive edge.

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