ecoHackMTL: Totally Awesome!

Almost 100 participants,  12 projects, 4 specially proposed challenges, 6 newly released data sets and lots of happy faces at the end of the day. 

A huge thank-you to everyone who came out for the inaugural ecoHack in Montréal last weekend!

écoHackMTL set out to bring together programmers, community activists, and urban environmentalists to design digital tools that allow for deeper citizen engagement with urban spaces and urban sustainability.

It grew out of the fact that the amazing energy of the hackathon and opendata scenes had yet to be effectively applied to building greener cities.  (Not just in Montreal, but anywhere.)


Crowdsource Climate Solutions: Last Week to Vote on MIT Climate CoLab!

All this year I've been working on MIT's Climate CoLab, which is crowdsourcing responses to some of climate change's toughest challenges. We received submissions from all over the world on everything from Geoengineering to urban adaptation strategies.  (The contest that I am overseeing has to do with how civil-society groups can help us adapt to the impacts of climate change. )

The shortlists of submissions were selected by expert judges earlier this summer.  Since then just over 2500 people have voted for their favourites so far.   

VOTING ENDS THIS WEEKEND!  Anyone can vote.  Just click here to get started.    You can also test your luck, and see if you can predict which project will win the Judges' Choice award and/or the Grand Prize. 

Urban Studies, 50 years + A New Publication

Urban Studies just marked 50 years as one of the top journals in the field.  To celebrate they've launched a new blog along with a free digital issue compiling their top articles from the last half century.

As it happens, the inaugural post on the blog is by Mark Whitehead, a colleague from the University of Aberystwyth.  It's a nice meditation on (paradoxically) the insights he gained while looking at an advertisement for petrochemical giant Total (see image).  

His post also serves as an introduction for a special issue on "Cities, Urbanisation and Climate Change" that he edited along with Aidan While.  It's a great collection of work.

I contributed an article titled "The Socio-institutional Dynamics of Urban Climate Governance: A Comparative Analysis of Innovation and Change in Durban  and Portland."  It was a real milestone for me.  For the past five years I have been publishing about climate governance in both cities -- but always separately.  This article is the first time I have had the chance to dig into a good comparative analysis of what has been happening in both municipalities.  

Want to take a look?  You can find the full text on ResearchGate or here. Read more...

écoHackMTL: An excellent launch

We had an excellent turnout for the écoHackMTL launch.  A big thank-you to everyone who helped me put it together!  If you missed the action you can see a few photos over on our facebook page.

With close to 75 people in the room the energy was phenomenal, and we had a good mix of developers, community activists and NGOs, and representatives from the city.  Those were exactly the connections that we were trying to make possible.

Now the questions is how much of that momentum we can translate into concrete projects between now and the hack itself in October.

Stay tuned.  And for more info check out

écoHackMTL Launches today!

It's been a long time in the works, but my latest project: écoHackMTL has its official launch today!  

Cities are getting smarter, greener, and more open. But the challenges of this urban century are huge: climate change, rapid urbanization, resource constraints, food security. We all know the list.

But cities are also home to an amazing diversity of skilled, creative, and dedicated people.  There are community activists, NGOs, hackers, developers, and city officials all committed to making our cities better places.  écoHackMTL is an experiment into what happens when you put all those people together and help them collaborate on finding solutions to some of our most pressing urban problems.  Stay tuned to find out more. 

And if you are in Montreal today:  Come on out!

For more on the project and the amazing group of organizations that have help put it together you can also see Read more...

Urban Agriculture is "Gangsta": Ron Finley on Growing Abundance in a Food Desert

Ron Finley, presenting @TED, has come up with possibly the best talk I've seen on urban agriculture. Taking urban agriculture seriously has been a favourite theme of mine here for a while. There is something deeply powerful about bringing agricultural production back into public urban spaces, and identifying and transforming plots of land that would otherwise be abandoned or underused.

It heals the rift that cities create between people and the agricultural systems that support them. Beyond that, it draws attention to larger issues of food security, social marginalization, and wellbeing that are crucial for building healthy sustainable cities. 

Finley hits on all of those issues. And, most importantly, he shows how urban agriculture can be re-imagined to be relevant to communities where white middle-class enviro-geekery doesn't carry much weight.

Watch the talk.  It really is excellent.


MIT Seminar: Keystone Cities kicks off

[Update: Thanks to all the participants in this year's seminar.  It was great to get to test out some new ideas and approaches to designing green cities with you!]

All this week, as part of MIT's IAP period, I'll be teaching an intensive seminar on integrated approaches to urban sustainability.  Things kicked off this morning with a great group of students. I'm really excited to see the end result of our work.

I've structured the seminar as a collaborative exploration of some recent trends in how leading cities are shifting their approach to climate and sustainability policy. Rather than pursuing narrowly defined "emission reduction plans" there are signs that cities are adopting more complex and holistic policies that tie together multiple environmental, social, and economic goals.  Counter-intuitively, it may be that by embracing complexity in this way actually makes more ambitious and effective local environmental action easier to plan and implement.

The seminar is titled "Keystone Cities: Networked Approaches to Urban Sustainability."  If you are curious you can see more, including the work of some of the students, on the class website. Read more...

Aaron Swartz, Open Access Information, and Sustainability

The death of Aaron Swartz, internet innovator and open data activist, has sent waves through political, hi-tech, and academic communities. 

Swartz - whose many accomplishments included writing the code that powers the RSS feeds for all your favourite news sites - was facing a possible 30 year jail term for having downloaded thousands of academic articles from the on-line repository JSTOR which houses most academic publications.

JSTOR is a pay-per-use service. Swartz's intent, allegedly, was to provide free on-line access to that vast store of knowledge. Hounded by U.S. federal prosecutors, Swartz took his own life at the end of last week.

His death, among other things, is prompting a renewed discussion around the ethics of the current academic publishing model.



This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.

You can expect occasional updates, but not with the same frequency as in the past.

You can also find my writing on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada, The Mark, Sustainable Cities Canada, WorldChanging, and other more specialized academic publications.

Info on my consulting work, c.v. and current research focus is all here.

Browse Older Posts