THE URBAN THEORIST
PLACE OF BIRTH: El Paso, TX
CURRENT LOCATION: Oakland, CA
Richard Register’s entire career is a product of what he learned at Arcosanti.
Following that rainy and memorable first day of construction, the California-based author and urban theorist became a supporter of the project and dedicated his life to promoting the development of sustainable cities worldwide.
“One of the frustrating things for me are the people who treat Arcosanti like an alumni club and who don’t promote the basic ideas for making better cities,” he says. “I’m trying to keep the principles and strategies going as best I can.”
Register coined the now-popular term ecocity (or ecological city) in 1979, and 13 years later, founded the non-profit organization Ecocity Builders in Oakland, California. The group — consisting of architects, urban planners, environmental scientists, researchers and urban theorists — educates individuals on concepts related to healthy city design.
“I am most interested in the different ways that we can transform cities to be healthier, because they’re gigantic,” he says. “They’re the largest things human beings have built. And if you build them wrong, it’s bound to be pretty bad.”
Register recognizes that it can be difficult to construct entire ecocities from scratch, so he suggests green solutions that can improve existing urban environments. Solar panels, greenhouses and the integration of bicycle lanes to reduce car dependence are all solutions that he promotes.
In 1990, he established a conference series to discuss and develop these design ideas with like-minded individuals. The Ecocity World Summit occurs every two years in different cities worldwide. “There are other people in the world who are involved in sustainable city planning, so I’m not alone by any means,” he says.
The most recent conference was held in October 2015 in Abu Dhabi and will reconvene in Australia in 2017.
Sustainability in the Middle East
While in Abu Dhabi last year, Register visited Masdar City — a large sustainable community focused on high-tech solutions to the global crisis. Designed by the British architecture firm Foster and Partners in 2008, the city promotes itself as an arcology, revealing the international reach of Soleri’s ideas.
When complete, Masdar will house approximately 50,000 residents and 1,500 businesses. Like Arcosanti, residents and workers will be required to park their cars along the perimeter and navigate the city on bicycle or foot. Masdar will also include a transport system of hybrid vehicles.
“Masdar is off to a good start, but something that it lacks that Paolo would have suggested is an interconnected set of buildings,” says Register. “In other words, a three-dimensional, organized system. That would exhibit better ecocity or arcology design.”
“But really, once you’ve spent billion dollars on something, it isn’t sustainable anymore,” adds Jeff Stein, referring to Masdar’s extravagant construction costs. Development currently sits between US$18.7 and $19.8 billion.
Register points to Arcosanti’s basic principles as suitable ideas for change. “If you’re thinking of learning from Arcosanti, if you can dig into the ideas, you’ll begin to see linkages into a future where cities can be redesigned based on the principles that Paolo was very early in exploring,” says Register.
“The ideas are profound in terms of creating a better future.”