Friday, May 30, 2014

The Perspective of Densification of the Urban Spaces

There are many concepts related with the process of densification of the urban spaces in order to make them occupy an extra hand in terms of the population it was previously serving. With the rising number of dense settlements i.e. the cities, the authorities in the absence of the knowledge especially in the countries which are called as developing and also due to the political will generally are left with the solution of densification of them. The theory of densification could be well implemented in cities/towns which are comparatively at their younger age or are to be developed and planned from the scratch, but it seem pretty indigestible to implement such thing in the cities which don’t have enough places to build the social infrastructure, the number of open spaces, etc, an addition of the population in turn may imbalance the efficiency of the entire urban ecosystem.

For instance, the national capital of Delhi is one of the densest megacities across the Globe and it has not been left with many spaces for further development besides the peripheral boundaries of adjacent urban agglomerations. Master Plan of Delhi was restructured in 2001 with a perspective of the city up to the year 2021. The approach followed by the concerned authorities seem to have fallen short of the wider aspects of city planning and development which surprisingly raised the F.A.R. (Floor Area Ratio) just around 10 years after it was revised in 2001. The premise behind setting this example is – by raising the number of floors they have allowed the population to be added in areas which already lack in terms of social infrastructure, market places, green areas and a further addition without the provision of the basic requirements of a human being may introduce a set of new kinds of urban issues.  A city can’t be planned like a building is designed for a lifespan of 50-100 years. The vital impacts and effects it will generate in the future should be studied prior such steps are implemented. The carrying capacity of the ecosystem of a city also can't be ignored while developing to build sustainable future of the human settlements.

The densification process needs to get merged with other factors like their long-term impact, construction of an efficient and productive society, etc. The complexity has risen to an all-time high for the human settlements which is set to increase over the period of time with the advancements in different disciplines being made at an accelerated pace. The densification of the city spaces can be looked as short-term advancements which will have their economic and social cost in the following time period if it is implemented like it is generally being seen in many of the cities around the world.

There are advantages with the concept of compact cities – reducing the travel time, cost, carbon footprint, but they can’t be implemented in some of the comparatively mature cities like Delhi, as the densification of the urban spaces will have a direct impact on the city’s developmental story. The general advantage discussed with the theory is that it reduces the ecological footprint by reducing the mobility per person, but there’s no use of reducing it when it is not inter-related with the city’s ecosystem as a whole and basic human living values in general. It may seem to increase the productivity of the citizens but the productivity factor also holds co-relation with the quality of life of the inhabitants which is just not related with the mobility aspect in general. Also, densification will bring in some changes in the cultural transformation section as well and it should also be studied while implementing such concept.

Density Planning may prove far more beneficial and is quite significant to deal with the complexity, the urban spaces are experiencing in current times. Planning in accordance with the number of dwelling units per acre could deal the things from the wider window and help significantly in the development of sustainable cities of tomorrow. Density planning may prove one of the most significant tool especially for the developing countries which still have a major share of spaces to get converted in to urban spaces. By strategically increasing the number of dwelling units per acre, cities not only may lead towards meeting their sustainability objectives, but also will be competitive, resilient, and great places to live. 

Densification is a tool for the planners and the authorities which they should use more efficiently and with multi-disciplinary vision to plan and create efficient, better and sustainable urban settlements of the future.

Image from mw2

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Dhaka : The most densely inhabited megacity

Dhaka was a small rural settlement until the end of 16th century on relatively high and flat land surrounded by flood affected swampy land. The next 400 years – the settlement experienced different rulers of different cultures with a wide range of governance structures, administration, natural calamities, poverty, etc, which eventually transformed the settlement to its present state. Mughals established their capital with a viewpoint to accelerate in trade activities in 1610 –the control went in the hands of The British East India Company in 1757. After India got its independence in 1947, Dhaka was made the capital of the bifurcated province of East Pakistan. With the formation of Bangladesh in 1971, Dhaka underwent drastic changes in its urban structure, serving as the mainstay for the country’s economy.

In 1975, around 10% of the country’s population lived in urban areas which increased to 25% in 2003 and as suggested by The United Nations Report, it will surpass 40% by 2030. Dhaka holds around 38% of the nation’s total urban population.

Dhaka is located in the central region of the flat deltaic plain of the three large rivers, the Padma (the Ganges), the Bramhaputra and the Meghna. The elevation of Dhaka is up to 13 meters above mean sea level. Much of Dhaka and its surrounding areas are prone to yearly floods. Flood prone areas have 2 to 4 meters of flooding for 3 to 4 months. That extends to the edge of the city thus forming a real urban boundary. The area of expansion of Dhaka has been governed by the physical configuration of the landscape in and around the city, particularly the river system and the height of land in relation to flood levels.

Dhaka with a population of above 14 million is the world’s most densely populated megacity with a density of around 115,000 persons/sq. mile which is much higher if compared with its counterparts. Mumbai with its closest rival has the density of around 82,000 persons/sq mile with cities like Delhi, Seoul, Mexico, Tehran has less than 1/3rd of Dhaka’s density. With the population set to rise – conditions may be even more drastic. For those in favour of densification of cities and urban spaces should see through another window – from the window of carrying capacity of the environment. The carrying capacity has to be studied properly before applying any such densification policies in any region of the world. Moreover, the basic living human values may tend to get lost with an increase in the density of an area – the surplus population also require their share of social space, open spaces, market spaces which are generally overlooked especially in the developing countries. Dhaka has to look wisely through population density planning not via just physical planning providing infrastructures and other things. The main reason behind Dhaka emerging as one of the fastest growing megacities of Asia is the unequal urbanization of the country.

Another major urban issue of Dhaka city developments lies with the administration, authorities and various departments. Multiplicity of organizations and overlapping nature of jurisdictions causes different hindrances due to lack of coordination among them. According to a research, 42 institutions are involved in Dhaka Metropolitan Area with different facets of urban development activities. This is a key issue especially in the South Asian countries and this should be looked by the respected governments and policy makers at the earliest looking at the accelerated phase of urbanization process that is yet to happen in these countries. The coordination and inter-related functions of various authorities should be understood and limitations of isolation planning should be wisely studied at a broad level. 

The problems like transportation system, annual floods, lack of awareness, education and poverty which are a set of inter-related factors are also crucial to impart the city of Dhaka with a sustainable future. The satellite towns may be one such provision which may decrease the pressure on the city – releasing pressure from the city in terms of increasing number of migrants and population should be one of the main goals of the urban development strategy of Bangladesh. The government has to understand the significance of cities in the rising complexities of economic development activities and they should come up with some innovative and sustainable design so as to also help attracting global investments besides providing a socially healthy existence to its citizens. 

Images from daily-sun and allianz

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Community Participation : An Essential for Dense Settlements

A city acts as a carrier of various communities living collectively as a part of urban ecosystem which gives rise to new dimensions to the ‘cultural’ being concept forming a sub-culture which can be stated as a mix of various cultural and social attitudes of the set of communities inhabiting. Communities are a source for the efficient development of any urban settlement. From the communities in which the nomad's used to live to the communities of advanced human beings of present time– they have served as the guiding lamp for all the developments made by the race of humanity.

In the complex structure of modern urban settlements, communities will play a much larger role if various inclusive development schemes, policies and concepts are to be applied effectively and wisely.

The ever increasing rate of conversion of rural spaces into complex urban spaces, especially in developing nations should be governed by involving rural communities in the whole developmental process – isolation of whom may degrade the overall community and social life. In the gentrified Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi – the village gives one a feeling of something related with urban fantasies, but the ignorance of the villagers and lack of encouragement schemes towards community participation programs has resulted in creating a social gap among the two set communities, which may create a sense of being inferior among the villagers who are living there for over decades.

Social diffusion and its process inter-relating it with the local prevailing conditions should be studied while performing any city planning exercise. Social diffusion refers to the process of ideational and behavioural change fostered by social interactions.

For instance, an Architect plan and design a residence to the upmost use of resources and making it functionally viable and flexible. The success of the functioning output however will be directed by its inhabitants – their ignorance and lack of maintenance may result in the depletion of the structure in terms of several things related. The same concept if applied to the city planning, development and growth process, it may be concluded that how the citizens and communities are a part of – which can be said to their bigger living space/house i.e. the urban ecosystem and their responsible behavior may change the entire course of development pattern of the city they are living in helping in the process of Global Development at large.

The Community based Health Planning and Services (CHPS) was launched in Ghana in response to the need for improved primary health care which consisted of a phased schedule of various researches which eventually led a shift in the system from a clinical facility – focused approach to a community based approach.

For governments and authorities – they should focus on launching various citizen awareness initiatives besides running behind and focusing on infrastructural and economic development which too are pretty essential, encouraging the participation of the citizens and communities with schemes such as – ‘Traffic Rules, Knowledge and Safety’, lack of which is the main reason for the rising problem of traffic congestion; ‘Social Awareness Schemes’ imparting significance of higher gradient of social diffusion which will eventually increase the safety and security issues ; ‘Moral Value Schemes’ which will help in various key issues of rising waste consumption in dense settlements ; ‘plantation of trees and plants especially which are native to the region’ which will help in reducing the carbon footprints to some extent and also increase the level of the quality of life of the citizens ; ‘Aquifer and Hydrology Awareness Schemes’ which will help in the optimization and conservation of resources and also will help in the preservation of aquatic life through a larger view. These are some of the options noted down which may help in  encouraging community participation and eventually may help in increasing the efficiency of the urban ecosystem of which the communities are part of.  These are important especially for the developing world – else the whole process of first investing in the urbanization process and then finding solutions to make it sustainable will take comparatively much more time. Moreover, there’s also no point in repeating the mistakes committed by various human settlements in the past – and that too in an era where both density of population and economic investment are relatively higher than ever before.

Its also important for the citizens and communities to get involved in the developmental activities, feedback planning, optimization of resources in the run in making the cities provide the life based on the basic living human values and work as an efficient and sustainable system.

From Despotism to the age of complex Democracy – ways of governance has changed depending on the information available and advancements made in the field of science, technology and other disciplines which has from time to time has increased the overall complexity of human settlements. The complexity of the dense settlements that the global development is experiencing with the rise of various megacities do need to encourage the participation of the citizens, utilizing the manpower available for improvement in the quality of life to the maximum and optimizing the usage of the resource by creating awareness and involving its communities.

Images from tandusmicameerbach and livewellwithmel

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Pragmatic Planning for a Sustainable Transportation System

Transportation has historically been a technology intensive industry. The invention of the fast moving rail engine forever changed the pattern of human settlements, with cities expanding beyond previous limits and the activities of trade and commerce also flourishing. Transportation, it seems, has always decided the hierarchy of settlements.
An inefficient urban transport system impedes the growth of the urban economy. Transportation is a part of a complex set of systems which are inter-related and inter-dependent for their efficient functioning; transport, land use, economic development, ecological cycle, formation of a healthy society and infrastructural development are all inter-dependant processes. 
The ongoing problem of traffic congestion in cities can’t be solved by looking at the components of transport systems in isolation. The diagnosis of urban issues should be done after analysing their causes and impacts.
In Vienna, an urban motorway was built and opened in 1978 to relieve the crowded inner urban streets from the north-south traffic crossing the Danube River. The number of accidents in Vienna continuously declined during the 70s. But when the motorway was opened, the trend reversed, peaking in 1994. After the opening of the motorway, traffic speeds went up, leading to about 15,000 collisions.

This example is significant, especially in the developing nations which are on an accelerated phase of transportation development. The effects of building flyovers, expressways and other means of transportation may be very complex. The whole concept of transportation planning can be best understood by system analysis, which can be reproduced today by computer modelling and other techniques using real human and structural behaviour of the cities.

At the neighbourhood level, transport planning can encourage people to walk and use cycles as a means of transportation, and there are various methods proposed to promote public transport. Providing parking within a reasonable walking distance can encourage private automobile use, but if the distance between private parking and key areas is equal to the distance to public transport, a more balanced transport mix can be encouraged. There is also potential in mixed land use, helping revitalise community life & attract pedestrians back to the street. It can also provide a more diverse & sizeable population, supporting public transit. Car use is much higher in cities that have strict zoning & very little mixing of business areas with residential areas.
Enforcing minimum occupancy of vehicles is a controversial but potentially powerful tool for creating a functioning urban ecosystem. The number of annual vehicle registrations could also be kept under the control of local authorities, which is once again a controversial option. However, there is no point over-burdening a city, especially where sustainable development is concerned.
Another aspect which could prove beneficial in the long run is the education of a city’s youth based on factors related to the planning, formation, development and functioning of the city. For an urban settlement to work efficiently, the participation of the community is quite crucial, which is something that is lacking in the developing world.

The lessons from the past should act as the guiding lights for future developments. In the past, the share of public transport has been destroyed, not simply by an increasing number of cars but by the stages before that: organizing transport facilities and parking in an inefficient manner. Transportation planning isn’t a theory; it’s a collective implication of the practicality of the urban ecosystem. Countries with a low degree of motorization have the opportunity to avoid making the same mistakes in their transport systems.

This article was first published on 10th March on thisbigcity written by the author of this blog.
Images from wikimedia and therealsingapore

Friday, May 9, 2014

Jakarta : A Low-Lying Megacity

Globalization as a concept has changed its premise with historic transitions made by the race of humanity and development of various port cities is associated with the process meant for encouraging trade activities among different regions/countries. The set of these coastal cities are now facing various problems of land subsidence, submergence into the sea which apparently is the outcome of various human interference in critical natural processes overburdening the entire system eventually creating an overall imbalance.

The megacity of Jabodetabek – the word has its roots in the initial letters of the administrative units of Jakarta, Bogor, Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi, has an estimated population of 28 million in 2010 making it one of the most populous urban agglomerations of the world. Jakarta has been the capital of Indonesia since the Dutch colonial era with population increasing from 409,475 in 1930 to about 11.91 million in 1980.

The region though experiences various urban issues but the most significant and critical among all of them is its geographical location – it is located in a lowland area with 13 rivers and 43 lakes. Mean Sea Level (MSL) of Central Jakarta was 3.42 meters in 1993 which dropped by 102 cm in 2005. North Jakarta experienced a fall from 2.03m in 1993 to 1.46 meters in 2005. The other districts have also experienced the trend.

In the last few decades, industrial estates, large-scale subdivisions and new town shave proliferated in the peripheries of Jakarta; many of them converted water catchment areas, green areas and wetlands. The land conversions have eventually acted as one of the significant factors for the process of land subsidence. The infrastructural developments have decreased the water catchment areas – the catalyst being the limited water supply to the increasing population, which made water to get extracted at a rapid pace decreasing the ground water potential and its level. The region will also get affected in terms of fresh water supply with salt water intrusion through the underground links. The concentration of population in a comparatively smaller area has overburdened the entire natural system and increased the risk of various disasters. 

The Jakarta Mining Agency data revealed that around 80% of the region’s land subsidence is caused by various infrastructural developments in naturally-sensitive zones, especially high-rise towers, groundwater exploitation contributes around 17 % while natural factors just contributing to around 3%. City planning and developments generally are done in isolation based on land use developments with the prime focus on the transportation networks and economy generation. The wider aspects and multi-disciplinary vision including geography as one of the important disciplines has to be developed especially in the case of coastal cities which contribute a major share in the total number of million plus cities across the Globe.

The driving force to the haphazard development of Jakarta region has been the case of poverty to a larger extent. People migrated at rapid pace especially in the last few decades in search of employment opportunities and to raise their living standards. A study revealed that Jakarta is sinking at a rate of 10 cm per year. The study also suggested that about 5100 hectares of land in North Jakarta would be submerged in 2020 and the trend is set to become intense. The land subsiding and submerging will have their economic costs which may shake away the economic conditions of the entire nation like Indonesia whose economic activities are focused on Jakarta region to a major extent.

The main push to guide the developmental process of the region in the right direction may not be to increase the services and facilities at large – though it may seem relevant for short-term growth, but the focus of the authorities should be on developing and planning city options with employment opportunities and increased quality of life to release the pressure on the region whose geographical location makes it highly vulnerable for dense developments, to help in the efficient development of the fourth largest populous nation of the world. The adaptations have to be made at the earliest. New Economic centres should be identified and planning should be done efficiently likewise to provide the population with an option for their healthy survival. There’s no point hyping a specific region for short-term developments and economic growth. Planners and authorities have to work and look through multi-disciplines so as to raise the nation’s status and create such urban spaces which are based on basic human living values linking it with the natural processes and eyeing on the economic development for providing the citizens a set of opportunities to explore, discover and maximize the resource utilization. 

Images from aspistrategistbp and scandasia

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Resilient Cities and their Transformation

Cities are the lifelines of society serving as the centers of technology innovation and knowledge. They preserve the living evidence of our cultural heritage. Rapid and accelerated process of Urbanization has however made them vulnerable for risks to various disasters.  

Resilience is rapidly emerging as an appealing concept for urban planners. Using resilience thinking in planning is appropriate in the short term, but fundamental changes in the future such as evolution and adaptation process of different species requires the integration of transformation as well as resilience.  

Transformation substantially differs from resilience, where resilience maintains a current state, and transformation moves to a new one.  The problems facing urban systems are complex and complicated.  Wilkinson viewed cities as complex adaptive systems, similar to ecosystems, because they are constantly self-organizing and respond in varied ways to both internal interactions and the influence of external factors.  This similarity between urban environments and ecosystems is particularly evident when examining social stratification and inequity in urban areas. 

For example, housing developments are built to specific price ranges, creating income homogeneity within neighborhoods that fosters income inequality across metropolitan areas.  As if naturally, these patterns are reinforced or broken down by the dynamics of social composition, with residential neighborhoods becoming gentrified or ghettoized, based on preferential differences among their populations.  Aging neighborhoods go through a type of triage process. In system dynamics, this process known as "success to the successful" whereby certain neighborhoods are either well maintained or gentrified and others are left to deteriorate. Those that lose out tend to do so rapidly.

At first flush, resilience seems a clear lens for addressing the problems of cities, suggesting – unlike "sustainable" or "livable" – a fairly inclusive standard of measurement. Resilience reflects a city's ability to persevere in the face of emergency, to continue its core mission despite daunting challenges, and is as appropriate to discussions about Venice's rising tides as Medellin's corruption, Detroit's unemployment as Budapest's floods.

Urban and policy planners sometimes respond to these observed patterns with deterministic plans and programs.  For example planners typically respond to poverty concentration in cities in one of two ways.  Either planners intentionally distribute low income housing evenly through a city, or promote owner-occupied housing developments in renter-occupied districts.  Both these strategies have met with varied and inconsistent results (Musterd and Anderson 2006; Joseph 2009).

In this example, the actions of planners and policy makers may be overemphasizing the significance of urban form without addressing the deeper socio-cultural and environmental forces that drive the urban system.  These policies take neighborhoods and isolate them from the city and sever them from the ecological environment that hosts it.  This denies the neighborhood its place in a city properly conceived as a complex social-ecological system.

Understanding urban environments as a social-ecological system implies that many of the rules that govern ecological systems play a role in urban systems.  For example, evolution is a governing rule that is present at multiple environmental scales.  As the environment changes, species that can adapt evolve.  As the city changes, neighborhoods that can adapt evolve.  Integrating the “rule” of evolution will require urban planners to approach cities as complex social-ecological systems that change and evolve

The current literature on resilience is mired in diverging definitions.  Some planners utilize definitions of resilience from engineering while others utilize definitions from psychology.

Walker proposed operationalizing resilience with urban design features such as designing the road system to enhance the removal of water from the area in case of flooding, and using trees, parks, ‘green rooftops’, and other vegetation could be introduced to enhance cooling of urban environments.  Each of these strategies is beneficial to the environment, society and may improve the resilience of a city. Many of the strategies that operationalize resilience are worthy of action, and will provide positive impacts in urban environments. Also these actions can support transformability. Many strategies to promote resilience and transformability will overlap.

Resilience, for social-ecological systems, is related to the magnitude of shock that the system can absorb and remain within a given state; the degree to which the system is capable of self-organization; and the degree to which the system can build capacity for learning and adaptation. Management can destroy or build resilience, depending on how the social-ecological system organizes itself in response to management actions and how the city as a system is studied based on inter-disciplinary aspects.

Policies should be formulated to provide incentives that encourage learning and build ecological knowledge into institutional structures in multi-level governance and also providing and strengthening the local bodies especially for the developing countries. Policy should invite participation by resources users and other interest groups and their ecological knowledge to optimize various resource usages. While building and planning for resilient guided development, transformation should be studied at various levels. Transformation is a process undergoing every moment that passes by and hence it can't be ignored to create the better human settlements of tomorrow.

Image from hothd