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Earlier this week, the US-China Green Energy Council convened an impressive seminar on “Smart Eco-City Development Progress: Connecting People in Unique, Innovative and Regenerative Communities.”

Participants came to the discussion from many angles — infrastructure, engineering, architecture, urban design, planning, technology development, energy, to name just a few. That diversity of perspective certainly added a layer of richness to the debate, especially when skeptical voices worried about the longer-term  impacts of the global recession. Clearly, there was a lot of ground to discover in one short event.

Three panelists, including myself, shared our background, experience,  and views,  and  the floor was opened for what turned out to be a vigorous discussion. Our moderator was James T. Caldwell Ph.D., Director of UCGEC and the Chair of UCGEC’s Green Building and Ecocities Task Force. He also serves as a consultant to Heller Manus Architects, based in San Francisco, which is undertaking massive projects in China for their clients.

I laid out the story behind Cisco’s ‘Smart+Connected Communities’ initiative, which is improving the delivery of urban services while strengthening economic development in cities of varying sizes and types. I also explained some of S+CC’s current areas of focus, and presented some of the work now underway in Asia, Europe and North America. For more about IBSG’s perspective on this work be sure to take a look at the blog post, “Innovation in the 21st Century,” written by Nicola Villa, global director of IBSG’s Urban Innovations team.  And for a deeper dive, you may want to review Nic’s white paper, “Connecting Cities: Achieving Sustainability Through Innovation,” which he  co- authored with Shane Mitchell, IBSG Public Sector.

Joining me was Eric Lundquist, an architect, and Managing Director of Heller Manus Architects. Eric’s firm has clients with a total of 7,500 acres of development in California, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Russia, Mexico, and China, and he said that “we must recognize that each project has a unique geography, culture and its own strategic imperatives for sustainable, healthy and attractive communities.” Eric described “how diverse goals and ecological imperatives are integrated through architectural planning in partnership with key stakeholders.”

Ed Cazalet, Ph.D., and  President and CEO of TeMix, Inc., also weighed in. With  forty years of electric industry experience as a founder and CEO of several companies and as a Board member of the California ISO, Dr. Cazalet described TeMix’s “Smart Transactive Energy Services” as “useful for eco-city smart grids.”  He explained that his company’s technology will “optimally coordinate renewable energy production, storage, grid demand, and traffic among all components and players on the grid.” He included in his presentation a review of renewable energy micro-grids, including one proposed by OSISoft for Hainan Island in China.

As we wrapped up for the day, I found myself reflecting on the initial statement the organizers released about the seminar’s focus:  “The key to human survival and healthy fulfillment is strengthening economic, intellectual and social growth in ways that maintain healthy, resilient eco-systems (global, regional and local). Since all these variables change, we survive and thrive by designing, measuring, connecting and managing our built environments interactively. We adapt, innovate and change in full view of the unique and charming qualities of each city and ecosystem. In smart eco-city development, we connect its diverse natural environments, diverse communities and creative people with flexible, connected built environments. We interactively encourage, preserve and balance the special qualities and contributions of each city, species, community, individual and ecosystem. We cannot measure and manage every variable. This approach optimizes self-management, creative innovation and it minimizes unforeseen consequences.”

A spirited and robust conversation has begun; I look forward to its continuation.

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