A new eco-city, Dongtan, is being built off the coast of Shanghai. It will house half a million people and be located on an island of shifting sand and mud in the delta of the Yangtze River. As described in ”How to Build a Green City,” residents will walk, take bicycles, and, in a pinch, use electric cars. Dongtan will feed itself with crops grown in its own organic farms. The city’s recycling program will be exquisitely thorough, reusing wastewater and solid—even human—wastes. Power will come from renewable sources like wind and solar energy. Large areas of moist land and marshes are already reserved for the millions of birds that have established migratory vacations or permanent residence there. The density of development will support bicycles, pedestrian thoroughfares, and even canals as waterways. In other words, its master plan, as designed by London-based Arup Group, calls for housing, jobs, commerce, education, food, and nature itself to be close together and integrated, making the city energy-efficient and self-sufficient. As innovative as Dongtan will be, urban designer Richard Register asks, can we go even further?

Dongtan, China’s planned eco-city, is the best news in years. Though we’ve been doing a better job of recycling, cleaning up power plants, putting smog devices on cars, and restoring the landscapes on which endangered species depend, somehow things have gone from bad to worse. The very climate that warms, feeds, and cheers us up is spiraling out of control.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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