Future proofing of cities

India is creating new cities and it is imperative for policymakers and politicians at the helm of affairs to shift their focus to low-carbon development for future proofing our cities from potential hazards emanating from intense urban growth.

How the scale of such growth in cities is managed in the coming future will have significant impact of economic health of the country. All the agendas related to address abject poverty, improving living standards and moreover, liveability in urban centres will also depend on it.

In one its reports, the World Bank stated that “Cities by their nature, and often by design, are however fragile and vulnerable to the vagaries of disasters and major disruptions. We should anticipate that disasters will strengthen and increase in frequency this century.”

Atkins Global and All India Institute of Local Self-Government (AIILSG) has jointly published a handbook titled ‘Planning and Design Handbook for Integrated City Development: A holistic approach to a low carbon and resource efficient future’ in 2013. The researchers have analysed why carbon footprints of cities have gone up drastically in India. The report has underlined the sector where the government could not deliver and the alternatives explored the citizens resulted in higher emission. It explains how lack of uninterrupted power supply in many cities of India, people chose diesel-run power generators. Lack of efficient transport system made people buy cars. After corporations failed to provide adequate water supply in cities, people installed submersible pumps and this in turn had negative impact on water levels. This is true for many cities and towns in many parts of the country even today.

The sprawl model of urban development resulted in more carbon emission. Our cities have begun to face the heat but yet reducing carbon does not feature in the priority list of our cities. Only a couple of our cities can boast of efficient public transport system. Transit Orient Development that has been a natural development phenomenon in our cities has been neglected over the years and many cities adopted zoning style of expansion. The trend is reversed now. Transit Oriented Development (TOD) can help in reducing number of motorised trips and can give a boost to non-motorised transport. This reduces the number and length of trips and enables mode shift towards modes which have a lower energy and carbon impact. Global cities are also going for compact urban forms to make civic services efficient and also bring down per capita infrastructure and service delivery cost.

In addition, public transport networks using low carbon emitting vehicles and non-motorised modes can help in reducing carbon emission. The cities can also come up with idea of declaring congested business areas as Non-Motorised Zones. This is a challenging task and cannot be done without taking locals in confidence and making them aware of its long-term benefits. The failure of such plan in Connaught Place because of protests of businessmen last year is a lesson.

Apart from this, low-carbon development approach should also include provision of building new extensive green infrastructure in cities to neutralize carbon emission. There are major opportunities to improve the efficiency of buildings, energy and waste through the low carbon planning approach. By looking at these together, the climate change risk and vulnerability of the city can be reduced significantly and make them future-proof from climate change induced risks.

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