Building for survival
The coming decades will be dominated by a number of environmental issues. The approach to how our cities are designed, managed and used, is likely to shift substantially, based on demands created by two powerful trends. One involves a growing awareness of threats to the sustainability of the Earth’s natural environment while the second is the rapid rise in the number of people moving into cities. Both these trends call for massive development of new buildings and infrastructure, along with new social and cultural institutions, to accommodate the vast number of city dwellers without irreparably harming the natural environment.
Based on the concept of resilient infrastructure, the declaration of the World Ecocity Summit described an ecocity as an ecologically healthy city. In future, the cities in which we live must enable people to thrive in harmony with nature and achieve sustainable development. People-oriented ecocity development requires a comprehensive understanding of complex interactions between environmental, economic, political and socio-cultural factors based on ecological principles. Cities, towns and villages should be designed to enhance the health and quality of life of their inhabitants and maintain the ecosystems on which they depend.
This will bring forward four factors that will significantly contribute to such measures as carbon emission reduction, resource efficiency targets, economic development goals and unique city designs.
Economists criticize the lobbying power of industries that resist acknowledgement of climate change. In the race to profit from big oil and big coal, there prevails a climate misinformation. But parallel to it, the action plan is equally being taken care of, as evident by the 2nd World Congress on Cities and Adaptation to Climate Change this year. As part of the theme of ‘Resilient Cities’, representatives of about a 100 cities met in Bonn, Germany.
There are several ecocity projects that have been initiated to build a resilient infrastructure and provide replicable models to developing cities for adaptation. One of them is the Dongtan City of China, a renewably powered, car-free, waterrecycling city which could serve as a sustainable city model for the world, housing 500,000 people by 2050. The broader idea of the project is to skip traditional industrialization in favour of ecological modernism. Along with infrastructure, other complex issues are being equally stressed upon, including who would live in Dongtan, what sort of jobs would be created, how to make the city commercially viable and how to make it replicable.
Similarly, the Masdar City of Abu Dhabi describes itself as a commercially driven enterprise that operates to reach the broad boundaries of the renewable energy and sustainable technologies industry. It seeks to become a leader in making renewable energy a real, viable business and turn Abu Dhabi into a global centre of excellence in the renewable energy and clean technology category.
Masdar City and Siemens are working on an innovative power grid and advanced building technologies development agreement, General Electric ( GE) is working on reducing peak power demand in the city through the use of GE smart home appliances that automatically respond to pricing signals from the utility. They reduce wattage of high-consumption tasks until lower-cost and off-peak periods. Al Falah Ready Mix is manufacturing low carbon concrete required for the city’s first phase.
The complexity of a resilient infrastructure in a developing country necessitates cooperation among multiple entities, including companies of varying sizes and types, and government entities at the city, regional and national levels. In most ecocity projects, the success is due to public-private partnerships initiated by governments. The potential partners are companies ranging from real estate developers, architects, technology experts, financial institutions and other service providers.
In the context of Pakistan, infrastructural adaptation is a crucial need of the time but for creating a thorough strategy multiple aspects are important, that how will the residents respond to living in heavily planned communities? What governance structures and financing schemes will lead to success of eco-friendly structures? And which business models are most replicable in this regard? With the help of extensive research, practical solutions can be found to build a resilient infrastructure against natural and man-made threats to human welfare. Daniel Sarewitz, a professor of Science and Society at Arizona State University, says, “ Not to adapt is to consign millions of people to death and disruption.”