Tuesday, June 23, 2015

MUSINGS FROM PRIYADARSHINI KARVE: Is Sustainable Urbanisation Realistic?

In the last week's MUSING I raised several questions regarding urbanisation. A similar brainstorming a couple of years ago got me thinking about sustainable urbanisation, and I started reading up on the same, and discussing some half baked ideas with other people. This in turn lead me to be part of an initiative - participatory environmental audit of an eduational campus. 

For any system to be sustainable, it should meet two conditions:

1. All the input resources required to keep  the system up and running should be either renewable/recyclable, or inexhaustible.
2. The lifecycle of any resource inputting into the system should be highly efficient and produce minimal ‘waste’ and pollution. 

An urban ecosystem in turn is a complex of several sub-systems. Think about your own urban neighbourhood, if you live in a city, or any urban neighbourhood that you may have visited. There are:
- houses (from high rise buildings and mansions to slums and shanties), shops (from malls to general stores to roadside vendors), 
- schools and colleges, health care centers (from individual doctor's consulting rooms to hospitals), 
- service industries (restaurants, hotels, ticketing agents, couriers, car mechanics, electronics and electric repair shops, barbers, tailors, etc.), 
some manufacturing units (metal fabricators, furniture makers, food processors like bakeries, etc.), 
- public service providers like post offices, banks, bus depots, local train stations, fire stations, municipal ward offices, etc., 
- features like gardens, open plots, natural wilderness, lakes, sections of river, hills, etc., 
- infrastructure also includes roads, footpaths, cycle tracks, train tracks, bridges, traffic intersections, gardens, water supply systems, electric supply systems, phone lines, ehternet cables, sewage system, waste collection/management system, etc. 

Each of these can be viewed as a subsystem and we can examine it through the lens of the above two conditions. If we can make each subsystem sustainable to the best extent possible, and then also establish the logical linkages between the subsystems, the urban system, which is the complex of all of these, can become environmentally sustainable.  

So where do we start? The logical place to start is educational institutes in urban areas. There are several advantages of this starting point. 

* Today's students are tomorrow's drivers of economy. It is to be hoped that if they get a first hand understanding of environmental sustainability, they may embrace the basic principles as a way of life at homes and work places. 

* An educational campus is a miniature version of the city itself, but at a much smaller and manageable scale. 

* Since environmental education is part of the curricula in all streams of education, any activity carried out to assess and improve environmental 
sustainability of the campus can be carried out as a curricular or co-curricular activity. 

* The managements of educational campuses should be receptive to the idea because in the long run, minimising material and energy use translates into monetary savings. 

So how do we improve the environmental sustainability of an educational campus? The first step in the process is to do an environmental audit. If we want people to take ownership of a process, then it is important to involve them in the process. So we need a methodology for a participatory environmental audit. 

The thinking evolved along these lines, and in the process I also interacted with several other likeminded people. The concept is still evolving, but we have come up with a methodology and have already carried out the process for a couple of educational campuses. The outcomes have been enriching both for the institutions and for the teams that have been involved in the process. The team at each location has included some of us as experts/consultants, as well as the teachers and students of the institutions. 

From my personal perspective, being part of this process has given me a better insight into how an urban ecosystem can be pushed towards maximum possible sustainability within practical constrains. The exercise has also given me the belief that sustainable urbanisation is realistically possible. There are however some challenges... but more about this, next week!  

Priyadarshini Karve
Samuchit Enviro Tech


    Samuchit Enviro Tech.     samuchit@samuchit.com     www.samuchit.com

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