How can we develop urban zones through sustainability?

Since centuries, civilizations have thrived besides nature, symbiotically, where development was a holistic function taking into account the surrounding environment and natural habitat. The settlements encouraged interaction of humans with biodiversity and it never became a point of conflict for anyone be it humans, animals or plants. However, the callous development took precedence over societal and humane norms and then preferential allotment to space, funds, and sensitivity was given up by urban gigantic corporations. What they didn’t realised that these buildings meant for human occupation need to establish a bond with its surroundings, as human life cannot be contained in those containers called as buildings. Thus the development today has a constricted approach wherein environment is not considered.

The present development has not been able to sustain the expedient practice of survival and living from the past. Thus, urban planning should take into account that the infringement is happening in the name of metropolitan expansion at the cost of natural regression and biodiversity degradation. It should be perceived that the land prior to human intrusion is host to a number of species and has a unique biodiversity of its own. There is a dire need of an urban design which takes into account the importance of biodiversity.

Moreover, simple interventions such as having water pot for birds at homes, dedicated cattle sheds in clusters, vibrant landscape including native trees and shrubs should be an inherent characteristic of designs. Urban planning should include green spaces which could be in the form of mini-forests within the city fabric which will lead to a holistic urban environment having a rich urban matrix comprising of varied biodiversity. Interventions such as public spaces like bus stops having solar panels over roof for decentralised energy production reducing the grid loads and thus reducing pollution in a manner should become general practice. The natural slopes and gradients should be retained for drainage and thus enhanced water flow which won’t impact the catchment of local flora and fauna. Waste management should be integrated in the design to minimize the impact over environment, as plastic and metal in toxic and noxious for environment.

The existing natural heritage in the form of old trees, native herbs and shrubs, vivacious rocks and natural structures should be preserved and urban development should happen while coexisting with it. Prior to the development inventories should be prepared to record the species of animals, birds, trees etc. present in the area and it should be mandatory to preserve all of them while developing. There zone to definite zones demarcated for the existing natural residents where no negative impact should be allowed. Human with their minds should bring happiness for other organism when they start living with them instead of snatching their habitat from them. Urban development cannot happen at the cost of nature degradation and has to be transformed into all-inclusive conscious environment regeneration. Architects, Ecologists and Biodiversity scientists have this responsibility and unique opportunity of converting this decade into the decade of urban biodiversity development.

While setting up new development, a minimum of the following few points should be mandatorily considered:

  • Built environment and urban green spaces

While building, the importance and relevance of figure ground pattern is often missed, this leads to morphed space arrangement. The breathing spaces are lacking which affects the natural ecosystem which used to exist at the location earlier. Hence prior to any urban development and design, careful study, analysis and assessment of the existing conditions (flora, fauna, temperature, RH, wind direction etc.) should be made.

The design should be then done considering these conditions so as to avoid any interference with the existing ecological infrastructure. The documented conditions should be cross reference post occupancy and any change (if not an improvement) should be rectified and corrected on immediate basis. The stress should be laid on using native species for landscaping.

  • Urban forest

Cities, Townships and Urban design besides inculcating the importance of functional landscape should also ensure that urban forests are incorporated within, since it is a mandatory requirement now, for survival of human race. They not only provide an appropriate home to the biodiversity but also ensure the preservation of oxygen levels and ecological conditions. Cities like Bangalore and Pune have survived the population explosion solely because of the thrust on dense tree network within the populated zones of the city. This has also helped in maintaining pleasing weather conditions in spite of dense traffic conditions.

There should be small pockets within the city with dense forestation and minimal mechanical interference. These zones will help the areas combat the population explosion, traffic and interference in climatic patterns. Moreover, they will also support in maintaining the required biodiversity proportion.

  • Regular air and water quality monitoring

Human activities and inconsiderate arrogance of development impact the air and water quality in the places. In fact, at a number of locations this progress and made the land, air and water toxic for survival of any species; such areas can be found in any locality/city in the forms of landfills, industrial zones, CBDs etc. This affect happens owing to uncontrolled and careless discharge of garbage, affluent and pollution.

Therefore, in order to control this negligence, frequent monitoring of air and water (including Particulate matter, Nitrous oxides, halides etc.) should happen in different zones and results should be displayed at prominent locations.

  • Public Transport

Commuting is biggest contributor to the emission of Green house and polluting gases in the inhabited area. Therefore innovative public transport systems based on clean energy should be explored, for eg. In New Zealand, the scientists have developed public bus which runs on excreta and in Sweden, they have developed the public tram which uses energy generated by the waste of the city.

Public transport systems should be integrated within the urban design fabric so as to boost their usage by having accessible and user friendly stops which can be the nodes in the settlement carrying interesting and desirable activities.

  • Waste disposal system

Waste handling and management has emerged as the biggest challenge for the settlements. Effective waste management strategies should be explored and imbibed since the design phase as otherwise they come out as standalone feature which at times is seen as an eyesore. Hence landscape, building and interior design at their own scales and levels should include design of dustbins and they should become a part of furniture. Moreover, segregation at source should be the principle governing the waste management strategy. Duly colour coded dustbins should be installed at appropriate locations blending with the setting; the segregated waste becomes a resource which has the harnessing potential.

The sewerage should be scientifically treated either through STP or DEWATS system and compost pits/bins/systems should be installed at the community/cluster levels.

  • Renewable energy and Smart metering

The urban design should include the design for the renewable and clean energy systems. A few suggestions on the same are following:

  • The solar water heaters should be installed on rooftops.
  • Decentralized Grid connected solar energy systems should be installed on available surfaces (rooftops/parking stops/bus stops etc.)
  • Shaded terraces should be landscaped for horticulture, agriculture, medicinal plants etc.
  • Community bio-gas/vermi-compost plants should be installed
  • Energy efficient fixtures like LED lights and superfans should be used
  • Smart meters should be installed which have effective tariffing and help in allowing customers make informed decisions by providing highly detailed information and also helps the environment by making users lower their electric demand
  • Subsequent to feasibility analysis, micro-wind turbines should be installed for sectoral/community usage.
  • Walls should be adequately insulated to avoid surplus cooling/heating.
  • District cooling centre

The air-conditioning has risen from a luxury to a necessity lately. The individual air-conditioning units uses high energy and still release environmentally hazardous materials. However, this can be met with effective centralised air conditioning systems which can be further improved with district cooling centres. There are centrally managed and pipelines can be developed with the allied infrastructure. The not only reduce the energy consumption per capita vis-à-vis individual air conditioning units but also in comparison are environment friendly, wherein city level water reservoirs/waste etc. can be used to drive the system making it superior and more energy efficient.

These points if considered can lead us to better designed, adaptable and effective urban spaces where biodiversity can co-exist and sustainability becomes an imbibed system.

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