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The Eco-Village Concept Could Be The Future Of Cities

The Eco-Village concept could be the next evolution to creating a smart city
Photo via My Modern Met by Vincent Callebaut

What type of phone did you have 15 years ago' A Nokia' A Motorola?

Whatever it was, you used it to make and receive calls. Maybe if you had the time and patience you could bang out a short text.

The game changed with the introduction of the iPhone. Touch screens, pinch and zoom capabilities, the world of apps, the internet, all in the palm of your hand. It’s to the point where my wife chides me for actually using my phone to *gasp* call people.

Our cities in the year 2019 are much like our phones before iPhones. They’re acceptable entities that perform utilitarian functions — people enter them, utilize them, then leave them behind for use the next day. They require a huge amount of resources, in terms of energy consumption, and don’t return much to the end user.

Slowly but surely, however, we may be seeing glimpses of what the future may hold for urban areas. What if instead of creating eco-friendly, LEED-Platinum buildings, we tried to create entire eco-friendly neighborhoods that would eventually become an eco-friendly city?

An area in Brussels, Belgium, a functional city that I visited in 2014, is attempting to become an eco-village on the site of a former industrial area. The Tours & Taxis area was once a hub of industrial activity, but has been an underutilized brownfield. Now Brussels and the Belgian government are looking to create a futuristic eco-village that utilizes natural power sources such as solar and wind, coupled with geothermal for heating and cooling.

Setting aside aesthetics for now, let’s imagine how this could apply to Pittsburgh, without naming any specific neighborhoods or sites. Once any residents were moved to compatibly-priced housing and the site/buildings were demolished, there would be a clean template. The eco-village would have the following criteria:

  • Be completely independent in terms of energy consumption
  • Use of eco-friendly building materials such as timber-laminated construction
  • No stormwater runoff up to a 100-year level storm would exit the site
  • Create enough jobs on-site so that residents could work, live, and shop without needing to leave
  • Be car-free on the interior of the site, with parking limited to the periphery

Create Jobs On-Site

Architects, computer technology companies, engineering firms, law firms. This is just a sampling of the types of companies that would be good fits for this type of site. The open spaces and ample sunlight in low-slung buildings would be ideal.

Energy Production & Usage

Solar and wind are the obvious choices here. And yes, Pittsburgh gets enough sunlight to warrant solar energy. Heating and cooling can be achieved through the use of geothermal wells that bring the earth’s energy to the surface.

By designing work spaces like this, energy usage could be cut down with smart technologies that would turn lights off during bright daytimes and allow louvers to open for pass through breezes.

Construction Materials

Timber construction, in general, is on the upswing. It’s not relegated to low-rise housing structures, either. Tall timber skyscrapers are being erected throughout Europe and Asia. They’re more sustainable, easier to work with as a building material, and are a renewable resource.

Stormwater Controls

By using infiltration trenches and on-site lagoons and ponds, it would be possible to create enough microtopography so that no rainfall/snow melt would leave the site. This means that no runoff would also enter into sewer systems, thus relieving a burden on the end-product wastewater treatment plant and/or the rivers.

With parking relocated to the periphery, only sidewalks would be needed on the interior of the site. Using green roofs and gardens, much of the runoff could be absorbed within plant structures before even hitting the surface. Buildings that did have runoff controlled through downspouts could re-direct the runoff into cisterns that would use it for irrigation purposes or into bioswales adjacent to the properties.

Embrace A Car-Free Site

Americans love cars. It’s engrained in our DNA. The European model of having walkable cities or robust mass transit is what the United States (and Pittsburgh, specifically) need to strive to move towards.

By at least shunting parking areas to the periphery of the eco-village, the vehicle-pedestrian conflict can be eliminated. The eco-village would need to be on a main bus route or T stop in order to facilitate movement by residents when they need to leave the site and don’t want to use their vehicles.


Pittsburgh boasts of being at the forefront of the green building movement. Now, instead of a single building, Pittsburgh could position itself as a leader for an entire neighborhood.

Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.

5 Comments on The Eco-Village Concept Could Be The Future Of Cities

  1. Interesting work, and I think you wisely highlight the importance of mass transit, an area which is vital to our future as a whole, and where we need to catch up to our friends in Europe.

  2. you should be a landscape architect.

  3. you should be a landscape architect.

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