When we imagine cities of the future, we can see the many wonderful ways in which technology will transform our lives. But how do we see our environment? Do we see ourselves as living in harmony with Nature and her bounty? Do our highly developed cities promote healthy living? Are our lives powered by sustainable technologies? These are important questions that must be answered for our urban planning to be practical and futuristic. Adopting smart technology, planning for growth and resource efficiency, and reducing carbon emissions will make our cities healthy, liveable places.
1. Planning for growth – India is now the most populous country in the world. Predictably our metro cities and urban tracts are growing in size, often in an unplanned manner. The key to sustainable urban planning is developing suburban communities with green, clean infrastructure and housing facilities to enable more healthy and balanced growth. It is only with the help of such planned growth can the enormous demand for energy and resources be managed and supplied. Navi Mumbai is an excellent example of the planned development of suburban tracts in a smart but sustainable way.
2. Planning for green zones – Green zones, parks, gardens, and avenues are fast vanishing from the face of Indian cities. While, as individuals, our demand for residential projects with green spaces is on the rise, the availability of trees, plants, lawns, and open spaces is a huge challenge. This has caused air quality to plummet in most cities. Local bodies can use data analytics and technological tools to predict pollution levels and plan for green spaces, parks, and construction-free zones in cities. The adoption of technology to make cities liveable and sustainable is now imperative.
3. Planning for technology – Smart cities are based on technological progress. While this is perhaps self-evident in the world as we know it, it is also important to plan for technological integration that can help optimise city resources and reduce waste. For example, installing smart devices in farmers' markets or wholesale markets to pool transport, energy, or other resources can be a technological solution that helps the community become more sustainable. Mobile applications that can help optimise the use of public transport can help save fuel and greatly reduce pollution in cities.
4. Planning for efficiency – Another challenge faced by many cities in India is the growing demand for energy. India is largely dependent on fossil fuels for its energy needs and sources nearly 55% of its energy from coal. Urban planning and installation of renewable energy sources are key to fulfilling the country's commitment to net-zero emissions by 2070. Rooftop installation of solar panels, creating solar farms in suburban tracts, and large-scale usage of biofuels can be ideas that urban planners incorporate into this journey.
5. Planning for waste management – The biggest challenge faced by some of the major cities of India, such as Mumbai and Delhi, are waste management. While many state governments and even local authorities have tried to create awareness about segregation and efficient trash disposal systems, this continues to plague city administrations. The use of mobile applications to help citizens segregate effectively and help recycling efforts can go a long way in managing solid waste management systems. Similarly, using technology to power the waste systems and benchmark service levels can be game changers.
6. Planning for innovation – While 'planning for innovation' may sound like an oxymoron, it is not. This simply means that urban planning departments, civic bodies, and local governments should welcome PPP (private-public partnership) ventures, crowd-sourcing ideas, and leverage the best available technology to make smart, sustainable living possible in some of the most populated metro cities of the country. This can be best understood with an example. Many major cities of the world are adopting urban agriculture. Apart from addressing the issue of food safety in large cities, this also promotes greenery, lowers the need for oil and energy, and provides much-needed employment.
As individuals with great aspirations for ourselves and our families, most of us consider infrastructural development, availability of resources, and a healthy lifestyle to be a matter of right. We demand this from our urban planners, local governments, and civic bodies. These are indeed part of what we deserve. However, it is important to remember that rights always come with responsibilities. Adopting a smart and sustainable lifestyle may come with a slightly higher cost, but the benefits make it worthwhile in the long run. We must choose green housing, use smart technology to optimise energy conservation, segregate and recycle trash, and maintain green spaces in our residential societies. We are the most important link in the success of smart urban planning.
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