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Sustainable Cities – Why town planning is important.

17 Nov

A recent article on the Times of India read -” Now New Delhi has its first sky-scraper“. Because it is an extremely important subject I would like to discuss this matter with all its pro & cons especially form an Indian context, however the points I would like to raise perhaps would have at least a south-east Asia resonance, if not Pan Developing Nations.

As a practicing Sustainable Architect and Climate enthusiast the first thing I would like to put out to the “common man” is – know your built space! By that I mean to say that its time each one of us who live in this Planet must get some rudimentary knowledge about Sustainable living. Not having any knowledge can not be an excuse any-more especially for the literate mass. It is just like living in a Country and not knowing the Law of the land.

I mean, would one expect to be excused by the legal system, should one commit an offense, by simply putting forth an argument that s/he was not aware of the law? Is it not the duty of the Citizen to know the law of the land, or if going to a foreign country familiarize oneself with the law of that land? It can be as mundane as the driving rules to as complex as work-place code of conduct.

Similarly, if you buy a flat built by an unscrupulous builder, who has broken every rule in the book, seeking redress from courts under the pretext that one was unaware will not wash any more. As is the case in point of “Aadarsh Housing Society” in Mumbai, India.

If one is wondering why I am talking of Law etc, whereas the topic heading is “Sustainable Cities”; and what it has to do with sustainable living? let me explain in the following paragraphs.

Skyscrapers are extremely complex to build. It is in the realm of advanced engineering and therefore for the layman it would not be possible to look for and point out defects / flaws in the construction , leave aside the even more complex calculations of FAR/FSI ( floor area ratio / floor space index ) which are required by the local building laws of the land.

So it is very easy for an unscrupulous builder/developer to build projects which flout norms that may put the end-user at grave risks down the line both legal & physical. All these are more possible in building Skyscrapers than lets say Bungalows or Row Houses; as the end-user by default has a degree of control over all the built space within the plot and it is also easy for them to understand the building by-laws.

One would wonder why we have building codes? ( given some of them are down right stupid, made by even more unscrupulous politician & bureaucrats to harass honest builders and get bribe, but that’s a different topic )

The graphical scheme of the Detailed urban pla...Well to answer that, we need to understand town planning.

Given the Geography of a place, town planners calculate how much density of population would that Town/City be able to sustain without overloading.

First, the Master Architect appointed looks into the direction of wind flow, the source and quantity of water supply and other climatic conditions such as soil condition, temperature, humidity and rainfall.

Based on them a broad-based building code is decided. Here is what a code does –

1. Availability of Clean Water & Air: When a town is designed with parks and open spaces, (by open spaces I mean unpaved areas, like a garden patch within a residential or commercial complex) the ambient temperature of the town remains more or less normal. Just as rocks heat up more than earth, large expanse of concrete ( read-rock ) heat up more than the surrounding earth or water.

Therefore the architect decides that the development should emulate as far as possible the natural geographical state. In doing so the air remains ambient and flows freely from one end of the City to another, blowing in its wake the various man-made air pollution away from the City. Further rain-fall is able to percolate through  the open spaces and keeps the ground water level steady. This helps in sustainable growth of trees and plants and this makes the City look serene and beautiful.

2. Ease of access: A town is planned within a certain grid. The grid can be rectangular, circular or a combination of both. It does not happen by ad-hoc. A balanced and equitable building function type is taken into account. It means that a residential block would be designed close to a school plot, play-ground, a place of worship, Fire-station, Police out-post. Then a little further down say a mile, one would find the Gas station, Mall, Cinema and Hotels & Restaurants. Adjoining this but away from the residential space, the commercial district plots are envisaged. The Bank, Post office, Office complexes etc.

This type of planning is done to avoid a few basic things like, Noise pollution, Vehicular congestion and general ease of access to each and every modern facilities without compromising on the quality of life.

3. Health & Safety: The town-planner also decides the width of the main roads and the by-lanes,with full knowledge of what would be the growth of the city over time. It decides on the offset the building must leave from the edge of the road it faces and the other 3 sides ( this in turn decides the floor space index). This is done with the understanding that when the building would be built within the plot, it would require space to keep its building materials, post construction the very same can be a soothing garden patch. The back and the sides allow for sunshine and proper ventilation to the internal space.

But most important of all it takes into account hazards like fire and Earthquake. No town planner with an iota of sense would want that the fire from one building lights up the one adjoining it, neither s/he would want debris falling from it hit the main-road and block it. Which can cause further damages and more harm with life-saving vehicles like ambulances & fire-brigades not able to reach disaster struck sites.

4.Population Control: They take into account the increase in population over time and that to help in deciding the height of the buildings. Skyscrapers can house more than 300-500 families. Multiply each 4 times, as a cluster family would generally contain parents & two children. Add to that the support staff and then look at the amount of resource each skyscraper would require in terms of water and electricity. Now by restricting the height of buildings or allowing only a limited number of building type in each district of a city, a town-planner tries to keep the city sustainable in terms of water & energy demand.

They also thus encourage new towns and cities to develop in a more uniform manner thus allowing for the overall development of the Country. So a good town-planning brings about all the Sustainable practices which Green Building exponents like LEED / GRIHA / BREEAM etc preach, which is also endorsed by UNEP-SBCI.

But all this is, just as of now – fiction!

Cities like Mumbai, New Delhi and others are doing exactly the opposite of all that I have written. Even  the new upcoming Tier -II & III have no proper plan in place.

Why is this happening ? The reasons are predominantly – Ignorance of the layman; Systemic corruption and lack of Leadership from Policy makers.

In India, as perhaps in the rest of the world; policy makers are more often than not, politicians. Now, in India its most easy to brush aside the lack of leadership from the politicians by painting them as Corrupt; it need not always be the case.

In general an Indian politician, in my opinion ( I may be very wrong ) usually have the background of education ( if any) in Law, Commerce or other fields of Arts. Rarely if any would come from a Science stream.

Thus by default they have their training in inane arguments just to prove themselves right; look at everything purely on the basis of profit & loss in commercial terms; or have poetic ideas of how they can uplift the masses from their sufferings.

But, Architecture is Engineering and a Scientific bent of mind is needed to understand and then make the Citizen of India understand the perils of unplanned Vertical Cities.

 

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