Tuesday, October 30, 2018

My City My Responsibility - Experiences from Smart cities of Tamil Nadu

Mandatory pics with Sheila and Ajita
Mandatory pics with Myron and Ajita

Dear All, 

Last week I attended two workshops in Tamil Nadu - one on People's agenda for Smart Salem and another on People's agenda for Smart Madurai, organized by SCINDeA, INECC and LAYA Resource Centre. SCINDeA stands for South Central India Network for Development Alternatives and is a network of voluntary organisations that promotes sustainable development through people's participation. Their work areas are parts of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. SCINDeA was crucially involved in arranging these workshops for the people of Salem and Madurai, through active inputs from INECC and LAYA.

Since I am working on developing a roadmap for Sustainably Smart Pune by 2030, I had the opportunity to present our study to the citizens of both the cities. Dr. Priyadarshini Karve who is spearheading this study believes that the outcomes of our study may or may not help Pune to develop as a Sustainably Smart city, though it will definitely be instrumental in making other cities coming behind us develop in a Sustainably Smart manner. This opportunity actually created a platform for the same. 

Dr. Sheila B, VC Dr. Kolandaivel and Mr Kamraj
addressing the group
The first workshop was held in Salem city, the crowd represented academicians, NGO representatives, bureaucrats, trade association members and citizens of Salem. The city executive engineer Mr. Kamraj presented the smart city plan for Salem. The plan stressed on developing physical infrastructure in the form of flyovers, parking provisions, road development and ICT like setting up E-toilets and kiosks etc. According to a SWOT analysis of the city, this city faces threats like congestion, poor urban services and heavily polluted river similar to what we are facing in Pune. However their smart city plan did not really focus on improving these services. It rather seemed to be focused on creating additional inefficient and fancy structures which will eventually widen the socioeconomic inequity in the city. The plan was immediately objected by the citizens and members of various city-based associations. The critics pointed to the inconsiderate approach towards weaker sections of the society. I presented our study where we look at development through three lenses i.e socio economic inequity, local environmental impacts and climate change aspects like carbon footprint and climate vulnerability. The approach was appreciated by all the people sitting in the hall, however the sad part was that the city engineer had left by then. Nevertheless, we wanted to inform the citizens on sustainable urban development approaches and that was very well achieved. It is now hoped that the citizens will take up the issue at the municipal level, armed with all the knowledge inputs gained from the meeting!  

Smart Salem Group Photo
Dr. G.Balaji addressing the citizens
The second workshop was held in Madurai. It was a pleasant surprise to know that a city conservation architect Dr. G. Balaji was working in collaboration with the city engineer to develop the smart city plan. His ideas very well resonated with our approach on Sustainably Smart planning. Though the smart city plan of Madurai focused on improving physical infrastructure around famous heritage structure Meenakshi Amman Temple and suburbs, the core issues in the city like waste management and insufficient water supply still seemed to be neglected. However, Dr. G.Balaji pointed out that the scope of the smart city mission lies in developing physical infrastructure only. With the overemphasis on infrastructure, critical aspects like climate change vulnerability, local environmental impacts and socioeconomic inequity are being gravely ignored. On presenting our study (though Dr. G. Balaji had left by then), active members of the society, academicians, students, consultants, bureaucrats and members from various different organizations appreciated our work and agreed with our approach and the possibilities of using this approach to address shortcomings in the smart city plan. How much will it really impact is an open question, but we have certainly ignited the spirit of sustainability in the minds of the people and I am really glad about it. 

Smart Madurai Group Photo

Citizens raising their voice for the city
Meanwhile, Myron Mendes from INECC who stressed upon INECC's slogan People's Voices in Policy Choices conducted an activity where he distributed hand shaped cards to the audience where each person had to write about 'what they as the citizens of the city would do to make their city Sustainably smart'. They had to put these hand prints on the wall sized poster that showcased the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with focus on SDG 11 i.e. making cities Sustainable.  

Ajita Tiwari who is the national facilitator for INECC summed up the learnings from both the workshops as to how people's perspective is important in any development in the city. 

I would like to thank and congratulate Dr. Sheila Benjamin from SCINDeA and her efficient team for organizing these workshops successfully. We now hope that the conversations triggered off by the events will continue in the two cities, and impact their individual development trajectories in a positive way. 

Pournima Agarkar. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

My City My Responsibility - Analysis of Green Cover of Pune

Dear All, 

JM road Pune
In continuation with my last blog regarding the studies on the local environmental concerns in Pune under the Sustainably Smart Pune 2030 project, I will share some findings from the analysis of green cover in Pune based on landuse classification. 

According to the 2007 landuse classification, green areas are integrated under various land use categories and so it is difficult to get actual numbers on green cover from the landuse classification table. For instance, gardens and playgrounds both are clubbed under the category of recreational spaces. The problem is gardens have major vegetated areas also called as softscape area, while playgrounds consists majorly of non vegetated areas also called as hardscape areas, sometimes there is just exposed ground or some playgrounds have paved areas or structures as well. 

In order to just get an rough estimate of the green cover in the city based on the landuse classification I summed up all the areas under the following landuse categories i.e recreational spaces, hills, agriculture and water bodies, and assumed hardscape areas to be about forty percent. The net green cover was found to be 15% of the total land area of the city. This figure is 5% less than the green cover required for the city as per the National Forest policy i.e. 20% at the city level and 33% at the country level. In a way, we can say that the green cover in  our city is inadequate.

According to the tree census data in Pune we have around 38,60,055 trees. Considering the 2011 population data, we seem to have one tree per person. In order to have better quality of life, we require seven to eight trees per person, so the tree cover in the city is also found to be inadequate. 

Further to this study, according to a compilation on habitat type and change in landuse by a local NGO RANWA it is seen that in the span of 50 years from 1950 to 2000, we have converted original landscapes like forests, riparian areas and wetlands completely to either agriculture or human habitation. See the below chart for reference. 
Source: Ranwa website

We need to preserve vegetation in our city not only for living a healthy lifestyle but also because vegetation plays an important role in moderating the microclimate in the city by acting as carbon sink, enables ground water recharge, provides shade, and conserves biodiversity. However just planting some random trees is not the solution. The strategy should be focused on plantation of predominantly native tree species, shrubs and ground cover so as to maintain or restore the integrity of the local ecosystem with its original biodiversity. 

More on the biodiversity part in the next blog!

Pournima Agarkar. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

My City My Responsibility - Study on Landuse of Pune

Dear All, 

Back in January 2017, I did a quick study on the local environmental concerns in Pune with reference to urbanization, under our Sustainably Smart Pune 2030 project. Now that I am in the process of compiling all the information into a super report I would like to share my findings with you all.

While I was looking for information on the environmental aspects like landuse, biodiversity, green cover, ambient air quality etc, Dr Priyadarshini Karve suggested me to quantify the aspects since it is true that whatever can be measured, is easy to manage. Hence we wanted to quantify the impacts, however at that time all I could find was some numbers and graphs which did represent magnitude of the impact urbanization is having on our environment. Starting with this blog, over the next few weeks, I want to share the journey of exploration and discovery that is leading us to developing an approach to quantification of environmental impacts of urbanisation in Pune. Needless to say, everyone's suggestions, comments, inputs are most welcome! 

So, firstly I looked at land use of Pune, while reviewing various documents. I came across a study done by Prof. Nitin Munde from Pune University, who is a geographer, and used Geoinformatics (GIS) and developed land use land cover (LULC) maps of Pune right from 1973 to 2014. These maps help us to understand the spatial extent of urban growth that occurred in Pune. 
You can see the images of the maps posted for reference. These colour coded maps show category of land under various uses like built up, vegetation agriculture etc...Each land use is depicted by a color and here built up is assigned red colour, land under vegetation is assigned green colour and so on. You can see the spread of red color covering the entire area. This shows the extent of urban growth due to the incoming population in the city either for work or education.   

There is also a graph showing the changes in LULC in percentage for each category. The graph below clearly shows that more and more land is being consumed for built up to provide housing, infrastructure and other basic services due to urbanization.  Whereas the other categories of land which are the providing factors or resources are drastically reducing. Especially the scrub land which has reduced from 49% to 5 % in the span of 40 years, followed by fallow land, then land under rivers and lakes. You can see an increase in land under vegetation and agricultural land, but this is because in 2000, surrounding villages got merged into the Pune city increasing the limits of the city. This can be seen in the maps as well. 

Graph showing the percentage of LULC
In my earlier blogs I mentioned about ecological footprint and how we are experiencing the ecological deficit at the global level. Though its quite tedious to calculate the ecological footprint at a city level, through this study it is quite evident that the rate at which we are consuming our resources leaving no or very less room for regeneration, we are going to remain in debt to our future generations. Just think about it … and stay tuned for more in coming weeks!

Pournima Agarkar. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

My City My Responsibility - Alternate riverfront development approach continued

Expert group discussion
Dear All, 

In continuation with my earlier blog on developing an alternate riverfront development approach as part of our Sustainably Smart Pune 2030 project, I would like to share some more insights. 

As mentioned earlier, the river stretch near Omkareshwar temple consists of a Dhobi Ghat and two public gardens Nana Nani Park and Vartak Garden, and a few religious and heritage spaces. Our idea was that the riverfront development should compliment these existing spaces while focusing on improving the health of riverbed areas. For the same we thought of having discussions with the concerned experts. 

Firstly we decided to meet Ketaki Ghate and Manasi Karandikar from Oikos for guiding us on plantation along the riverbed. Both Ketaki and Manasi are experts in restoration works and our riverbed areas require sound restoration strategy instead of planting some random tree species or having landscaped lawns. 

Dhobi Ghat near Omkareshwar Stretch
According to Ketaki, preference should be given to indigenous trees, that have both aesthetic and ecological attributes. It is important to note that exotic tree species are not bad but they should be selected carefully otherwise they can cause weeding and dominate over the native species hampering the local ecosystems. Tiered structure of plantation should be followed, where we have the trees then shrubs and then ground covers. There should be a good diversity in selecting tree species instead of monoculture. Hardscape areas can be negligible or if required should use local stone tiles like those seen in nature trails. Water requirements for this restoration works can be supplied through treatment plant set up for treating the wastewater from Dhobi Ghat as well as the one's set up for treating city's sewage. Tree species that can absorb additional impurities in the treated water can be used. 

In order to maintain these areas, local gardeners can be employed since they have the expertise. Technological interventions can include timer based drippers for efficient water supply and use of motion sensor based LED light fixtures wherever required. These are some of the ideas brainstormed. However, in order to make this a reality, budget is needed for each activity and hence in our study we are working out a tentative budget for this stretch as well.

Other experts we met include Sayali Joshi from Shristi Eco Research Institute (SERI) who is currently working for Assi river in Varanasi. She made a striking statement that our river is in an ICU state and hence she should be treated immediately by ensuring there is no access to the river by anybody as a first step. This viewpoint was also supported by Swati Gole from Ecological society who also mentioned that public should not be allowed to access the river for anything until the river is restored. 

I have seen people many a times throwing wastes, nirmalya and even food as part of some rituals in the river. I think its high time to change the way we look at our rivers and realize that they are the only source of potable water for us. Shailaja and team from Jeevitnadi are actively striving for the same through their work on river revival. 

Stay tuned for more on these studies in the next blog!

Pournima Agarkar. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

My City My Responsibility - Linking and networking!

Dear All, 

Seed art created by the tribal farmers

You all must have heard about INECC many a times in my blogs, here I will introduce you to the network, since we at Samuchit and LAYA Resource Centre are members of the Indian Network of Ethics and Climate Change (INECC)

INECC is a network of not-for-profit organizations, businesses and individuals from different parts of India, coming together to link their work on climate change and sustainable development at the grassroots level to the larger policy dialogues and discourses that happen at the Local, State, National and International level. This network aims to highlight those voices from the ground that are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and link them to the various policy dialogues to make their communities sustainable and climate resilient. The network meetings happen once or twice in a year, this year I could attend this meeting and it was in Kabini a serene place near Mysore. I would like to share my experience from this meeting. 

One would wonder why Kabini! Well this is a place where one of the INECC members Siddharta and his team from Pipal Tree are involved in working with the tribal communities around on climate change education and sustainable development.  It was an opportunity for us to see their work as well as have a meetup! 

Prosperous tribal farmer
The tribal communities around Kabini were displaced from their homes and lands due to the construction of a large dam on the Kabini river. They were even denied access to the Nagarhole forest area from where they used to make their living and were forced to migrate for work. Stressed due to the social and political pressures, their survival was at stake. A team from Pipal Tree undertook to work as facilitators with these communities to help them in their rehabilitation. Being an environmental scientist I had learned about the concept of participatory rural appraisal (PRA) technique and I was glad to see its application in a rural setting. Its time we realize that we are no one to teach the villagers living in the wild about food security and sustainability...but all we can do is to observe them, learn from them and intervene only when required for giving information on changing weather patterns since they lack access to the latest news. I am sure with all the indigenous knowledge that they have, they do come up with better adaptation and mitigation strategies as they are "THE experts" quoted by Dominic D'souza one of the members of INECC. There is a need to innovate or use technologies that can enable the farmers to get LIVE weather information so that they can accordingly plan their cropping patterns. I feel such technologies are available but still in experimentation phase. 

Village kitchen garden

On interacting with some of the farmers in this village we found something similar was happening in this village, with the help of Pipal Tree. The farmers here grew only cotton and other cash crops earlier, now they have shifted to growing more of millets (require less water comparatively) and other food crops through Pipal Tree's intervention. They also have their own kitchen gardens where they grow their daily veggies. In a way they are going towards food security and sustainability already. However they are still struggling with other political pressures and lack of irrigation facilities.  

Tribal village school kids

We also got a chance to visit the Children's College another initiative of Pipal Tree a facility where the tribal children from government schools can stay and learn life skills, and also get help as they struggle with school education. The best part of this Children's College is, it is located near the village so that the children don't feel lonely or out of place, they can meet their parents once in a month or so. We met such a group of young girls, the ones who stayed for two years were quite confident and aspired to go for higher studies instead of marriage. Some of them were really good with artistic skills like singing, dancing and making paper quill jewelry etc. We all felt that entrepreneur skills should be promoted among these students as alternative livelihood options, since many of them will not get an opportunity to go for a regular job due to social pressure. These students were fascinated by us and the places we come from and really wanted to know us, unfortunately we were running out of time so couldn't interact much with them. However it was good to meet these budding future generation!

Apart from this, it was good to visit a tribal school and see how the young generation in the villages is being groomed for the future. More needs to be done here in terms of training of the teachers, however this work is in process so it will be good to visit the schools after a year or so.

I would like to conclude saying that this meeting gave all the members good time to interact and know each other's work areas and has definitely opened new avenues for collaboration. Indeed its a great networking initiative and I am grateful for being a part of this network. Credits for overall coordination and efficient management of the workshop goes to Ajita and Myron!

INECC members group photo
Pournima Agarkar.