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Future Ready Cities; Doing more with less

In the next 15 years, some 250 million new urban dwellers are expected in India alone with another 300 million likely in China. 380 million more will move to cities in Africa. By the year 2050, about two-thirds of the world population will live in cities

The urban deluge is caused by people wanting to avail of the superior opportunities cities offer. Cities are where 80 percent of all wealth is created and this will likely continue. Here one can access better services, whether health-care, education, or leisure. Cities need to prepare to meet the needs of this ever-growing number of city-dwellers which will continue to grow putting pressure on cities’ ability to meet demands. Of specific concern are city services such as energy, water and other utilities as also public transport, healthcare, education and the environment.

World Economic Forum has published on its website an article in collaboration with Business Insider quoting a study done by EasyPark Group in late 2017 to assess which cities are most prepared for the future. The Study assessed about 500 cities on various factors which contribute to sustainability-public transportation, waste management, clean energy, environment protection, traffic, number of Wi-Fi hotspots, online access to citizen services and community participation, among others.

This Study ranked the top ten cities

-Copenhagen, Singapore, Stockholm, Zurich, Boston, Tokyo, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Geneva and Melbourne – in that order. Each of these cities has superior metrics for particular aspects of a sustainable city. For example, Copenhagen is ranked high on a healthy startup ecosystem, a large number of Wi-Fi hotspots, and low traffic congestion. The city also plans to be 100 per-cent carbon neutral by 2025.

Singapore is found to have the most cost-effective public transport system based on a 2014 Siemens Study and Tokyo is noted for its effective rail transport system which reportedly handles 14 billion passengers each year.

As cities strive to become Future Ready, they will have to meet the increasing needs and aspirations of the rapidly growing population of city dwellers. And they will have to do this in a sustainable manner with great care for the environment.

Doing more with less

Better preparedness will call for large doses of ‘smartness’ to be injected in cities. One way of doing this could include the principle of ‘doing more with less’ by leveraging technology. As we all strive towards a more sustainable planet, this principle could become a central pillar in the lives of citizens of ‘smart cities’. This principle can enable cities to achieve higher levels of sustainability in several dimensions.

Energy consumption

The International Energy Agency notes that energy production and use is the most important source of air pollution coming from human activity. While energy availability and use is a crucial input driving economic growth and social transformation by lifting millions out of poverty, it leaves behind a trail of deadly poisonous gases which causes millions of deaths the world over. The use of energy and release of pollutants includes that from obvious sources such as thermal power plants and automobiles, and not so obvious ones such as cooking with biogas, wood and kerosene. While use of clean energy (wind, solar, etc.) is obviously the way forward there is still some time for this to become a significant contributor in the global energy basket. In the meanwhile, we need to mitigate the ill-effects of energy induced emissions by using less energy. Newer energy efficient lights and appliances not only reduce our power bills but reduce emissions too without cutting down on benefits. Energy efficient building design which involves using natural light and ventilation among others is being embraced in a big way.

Water Conservation

Water conservation outcomes are believed to be dependent on behavioral aspects of the citizen. While awareness building should continue for securing better performance on this count, technological tools can be deployed too.

For example, efficient toilet cisterns, showers and faucets smartly designed to optimize water use can save tens of litres in every household each day. Widespread use of drip and micro-irrigation in the farm sector has the potential to save huge quantities of water and nutrients while improving productivity and yields and reducing farmers’ vulnerability. Leakage in distribution systems in cities can result in big losses while damaging valuable infrastructure like roads. Advanced leak detection systems including acoustic ones need to be deployed to detect and repair leaks early. Several new technologies are emerging for water recycling and reuse. The opportunities will increase manyfold in the future.

Water is a key determinant of livability in cities and we need to find many ways of doing more with less water.

Better preparedness will call for large doses of ‘smartness’ to be injected in cities. One way of doing this could include the principle of ‘doing more with less’ which entails use of technology. As we all strive towards a more sustainable planet, this principle could become a central pillar in the lives of citizens of ‘smart cities’.

Urban mobility

Urban mobility affects everyone in the city. Safe and efficient transportation enables millions in the city to ac-cess optimal livelihood options, educational facilities and others such as healthcare and recreation. However, mobility in our cities is characterised by the rapid growth in personal trans-port options such as two-wheelers and cars causing excessive growth not only in emissions but also congestion while compromising safety. We need rapid transformation towards more benign options, meaning public transport options which can mitigate emissions, congestion and enhance safety. Large investments are being directed to-wards metro and BRTS in our major cities. We need to focus on affordability and efficient last-mile connectivity for these to succeed. Alongside, new technologies such as elevated pods and the like are reportedly being considered. Till these can contribute significantly, we need to find more ways to promote cycling, walking and non-motorised transport. This will call for wider walk-ways, reserved roads, more greenery and pedestrian safety systems, all lead-ing to push up the green environment quotient of our cities.

Waste

Waste Management is right up on the top of the agenda of Indian cities. Delhi, which generates over 10,000 tonnes of solid waste each day, is just drowning under this growing mountain of waste. While our cities focus on ‘managing’ the waste, long-lasting sustainable solutions could possibly come from ‘generating less waste’ in the first place. For example, use of reusable plates, glasses and spoons by eateries in place of throwaway paper and plastic ones will itself save our cities of many tonnes of stubborn, non-recyclable waste each day. Use of reusable/ recyclable metal and glass containers (as was the practice some years ago) in place of plastic and paper ones will prevent environment degradation.

Further, manufacturers could make arrangements for collection and safe disposal (recycling) of the packaging of their products. An effective recycling ecosystem needs to be encouraged by incentivising the participants including rag-pickers, and incubation of technologies. All these need to be mandated and citizens be made aware of the implications of their choices while purchasing products.

These and several other dimensions call for conscious, concerted and consistent efforts to ensure that our cities can meet the needs of all, now and in the future -by doing more with less. In our efforts we can find encouragement in the words of Paul Hawken, the American environmentalist and entrepreneur. He said ‘The future belongs to those who understand that doing more with less is compassionate, prosperous and enduring, and thus more intelligent, even competitive.’

 

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