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Urban Regeneration


The movement to create a regenerative culture is rapidly expanding. A crucial goal of the movement is to create regenerative cities.

 The content below is adapted from the Wikipedia entry for Regenerative city

A regenerative city is an urban development built on an environmentally enhancing, restorative relationship with the natural systems from which the city draws resources for its sustenance. A regenerative city maintains a symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship with its surrounding hinterland not only by minimizing its environmental impact but by actively improving and regenerating the productive capacity of the ecosystems from which it depends.

At the core of the regenerative city concept lies the understanding that it is essential to go beyond a restrictive definition of sustainability and embrace a broader model of urban development that puts the emphasis on the need for cities not only to sustain but to actively regenerate the natural resources they need and absorb.

While the original definition of sustainable development states that “sustainable development is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”, regenerative urban development recognizes that considering the speed and scale of current resource consumption, the ability of future generations to meet their own needs is many times already compromised.

Therefore, in light of the problems related to resource consumption and overshoot, regenerative cities strive not only to stop consuming natural resources at a rate which is faster than ecosystems can recover but reverse the trend by actively improving the regenerative capacity of ecosystems they rely on.

Currently most cities are heavily dependent on resources which are consumed and wasted with little consideration to their origin or their final destination. Input resources such as water, food, energy and goods are imported from well beyond the cities´ boundaries to be consumed by city dwellers and discarded in the form of waste and pollution to air, water and land. In order to meet the increasingly high level of energy demand, cities import and burn fossil fuels whose output pollutes the air and increases the level of greenhouse gases which cause climate change.

regen cities

Downtown Reno on Wednesday morning Jan. 16, 2019. (Photo: Andy Barron/RGJ)

Raw materials are continuously extracted to meet an ever-increasing consumer demand and very often exit the consumption chain in the form of waste to landfill that cannot be reabsorbed by nature. Nutrients and carbon are removed from farmland as food is harvested, processed and eaten and the resulting waste is discharged into rivers and coastal waters downstream from population centers and usually not returned to farmland. Rivers and oceans become increasingly contaminated by sewage, toxic effluents and mineral run-offs. This deleterious relationship in which cities are unable to interact in a mutually beneficial way with the ecosystems on which they depend is putting at risk the long-term viability of urbanization.

Regenerative urban development is based on the understanding that if urban areas are to continue to offer individuals around the world the prospect of an improved quality of life and ability to realize their potential and aspirations, they must embrace their role in ensuring that the earth’s life support systems remain healthy and sound.

Regenerative urban development seeks to mimic the circular metabolic systems found in nature where all waste becomes organic nutrients for new growth. In regenerative cities priority is given to closing the urban resource cycle which means finding value in outputs that are conventionally regarded as waste and using them as resource inputs in local and regional production systems.

The next step is to actively work to regenerate the materials and resources the city uses, making the regenerative city a node of production. This can be aided by developing ecosystem service infrastructure within the urban area which improves the self-sufficiency of cities and their ability to meet their own demand for energy, food, water and goods from resource within the city’s boundaries or from the surrounding areas.

Subsidiarity is a principle of social organization that holds that social and political issues should be dealt with at the most immediate (or local) level that is consistent with their resolution. While many cities may not be able to meet all their needs within their own borders, they can employ the concept of subsidiarity: to seek opportunities to optimize urban production and production within the rural-urban transition zone as much as possible before relying on the surrounding region, only after which they would look further afield. This renewed, enhanced relationship between cities and their hinterland and between urban and rural areas is a key aspect of regenerative cities.

Beyond ensuring the long-term environmental sustainability of urbanization, implementing the regenerative city also means creating opportunities for local economic growth, enhanced livability and well-being, better public spaces, improved social equality and cohesion, greater democratic participation, and stronger urban resilience.


Photo of the Tessera Tourism Improvement District in downtown Reno, between Fifth Street and I-80.

(Photo: Handout)

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