At the 9th South Asia Economics Students' Meet on Green Growth, participants shared their vision about South Asian cities of the future. These are their innovative ideas.
The creation and expansion of urban centers has been a hallmark of the development process. As per capita incomes in South Asia have increased, urbanization has expanded from 18% in the early 1970’s to 30% in 2010. This will continue to expand as people are drawn to cities for the opportunities to realize their aspirations.
These large urban communities, however, provide significant challenges, such as a high density, pollution and traffic congestion, all of which reduces the quality of life for its residents. By designing cities with the environment in mind, we will be able to reduce energy use and limit waste. Green growth in the cities of the future will minimize the ecological footprint and improve living standards
What will it take to make this dream a reality?
The agenda for creating green cities begins with the creation of a public transportation system that is integrated, diverse and fuel-efficient. Sustainable transportation attempts to reduce a city’s reliance and use of greenhouse emitting gases by utilizing eco-friendly urban planning, low environmental impact vehicles, and residential density to create an urban center that is more healthy, productive and equitable. Efficient and accessible public transportation will ameliorate employment opportunities, and in turn reduce unemployment and a number of social problems that are associated with unemployment.
A second policy challenge is urban waste management. South Asian cities produce less waste per capita than Europe and America, but waste collection is less effective. This problem is compounded by the fact that in many cities in South Asia, solid waste is an important and flexible source of income for a large part of urban population. Creating sustainable systems for waste management, beginning at the household level, and including the segregation, transport, and disposal of waste, are necessary to improve public health, sanitation and environmental sustainability.
A third aspect of creating sustainable cities is the re-orientation of city planning and design in favor of green building techniques. Some popular design features include green roofs that are aesthetically appealing, as well as improve air quality and help reduce the Urban Heat Island Effect. Individual buildings can adopt sustainable designs by emphasizing on water efficiency, use of appropriate non-toxic building materials, installation of energy-efficient appliances, and innovation in design so as to take advantage of the natural sunlight, heat and ventilation. Sustainable urban drainage systems reduce the damage associated with flooding and contamination of groundwater that occur due to the impermeable concrete used in city design.
How can we implement these ideas?
Implementing these steps and bringing about a re-orientation in city planning towards green growth requires a coordinated approach by all stakeholders, decentralized decision making and a long-term vision that aims to meet the goal of sustainability.
Firstly, implementation involves individuals, communities, and governments. It requires necessary skill development of architects and urban planners at the planning stage, coordination of civic and municipal bodies at the regulation stage, and involvement of Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) and urban communities who actually reside in these areas at the implementation stage. Coordinating the roles and duties of each stakeholder will go a long way in setting the base for sustainable change.
Secondly, an important part of creating, and encouraging the creation of sustainable cities is decentralization. Devolution of finances, power and planning capabilities to local authorities, rather than centralized authorities, will make this process more efficient and more sustainable in the long run, as it will allow changes at the local level to be tailored according to local needs, desires, opportunities and constraints. It will also reduce transaction costs, and remove corruption that may exist within delivery channels.
Lastly, the sustainable aspect of green growth is intrinsically linked with its resilience in the long run. It is important to make changes that can stand the test of time. To make systems of sustainable cities more robust, it is necessary to put in place a system that regulates the way things happen - from the process of tendering, down to the ownership and contributions of various stakeholders to management as well as finances. Taking these steps will go a long way in creating and sustaining green growth and improving the quality of life of people across the region.