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Tag Archives: New York City

Climate Change and Urban Resilience – The Role of Green Building Councils


NEW YORK, 24 June 2013UNISDR Chief Margareta Wahlström today welcomed a proposal that “resilient cities” should be one of ten top global priorities in the post-2015 development agenda.

Ms. Wahlström said: “UNISDR has been running the Making Cities Resilient Campaign for three years now and our experience of working closely with both capital cities and small municipalities tells us that urban resilience needs to be at the top of the global development agenda. Many Mayors and local governments around the world are leading the way in reducing risk.” The UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UNSDSN), led by the eminent economist and adviser to the UN Secretary-General, Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, has set out ten goals in an Action Agenda for Sustainable Development in the form of recommendations for Sustainable Development Goals. One of the ten goals — Goal 7 — is to “empower inclusive, productive and resilient cities”. Under this goal, one suggested target (Target 7c) is to ensure the integration of “climate and disaster resilience into investments and standards”.

The world’s governments agreed last year at the historic Rio+20 Summit to adopt universally applicable Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in 2015. To support this agreement, the SDSN has mobilized global technical expertise to identify ten “priority challenges” or potential goals, each accompanied by a set of targets, which can guide global efforts to achieve sustainable development during the period 2015-2030.

A stand-alone goal on cities will serve to “mobilize and bring together the efforts of multiple actors and stakeholders such as local authorities, national governments, businesses, knowledge institutions and civil society across a range of urban issues such as disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation”, according to the Report. “It is essential that the world rallies around a post-2015 global goal to advance urban resilience and minimize creating new disaster risks and adding to the economic losses caused by increased exposure to natural hazards.” From 2011 to 2020 alone, investments in urban development are projected to increase by 67 per cent globally. Much of this new urbanization will unfold in hazard-exposed regions threatening global resilience and sustainability unless governments and businesses start incorporating disaster risks into decision-making. The recently released report by the Secretary-General’s High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the post-2015 agenda also echoes the SDSN report’s emphasis on addressing urban challenges. In no uncertain terms, it proclaims: “Cities are where the battle for sustainable development will be won or lost. “The recommendations of the SDSN and the High Level Panel reports are expected to serve as critical inputs to the deliberations that governments are undertaking to decide on a development roadmap that will go into effect in 2015.

This monsoon season when Uttarakhand was devastated by the mighty land-slide that followed a cloud burst; our Political leaders were quick to lay the blame on the opposition and patting their own back as how they have only let a few thousand die,( about 5000+ & about the same numbers missing) while saving 110,000.

5600 dead. Montserrat island which is a British Overseas Territory has a population of 6000. That would leave a population of 400 – the population of Vatican is 500. (read least populated countries of the World )

The Falkland Islands  archipelago located in the South Atlantic Ocean has a population of 4000. An entire foreign Nation’s population + 1500 and yet our Political masters have the guts to argue and make the matters petty as was seen in several TV News channel. Disregarding the gravity, refusing to learn nothing from it. And none even mentioned Climate Change.

This monsoon season while our Political leaders, mull over grave impacts on Law and Order situations which they claim to have averted, by sacking an Honest and Upright officer who took on the mighty sand mafia…

Similar mud slinging, but the most sinister part observed by the common man was not a single Political stalwart made a comment…

For they know not that the officer was not only doing her immediate duty but was by her act saving the Nation from a calamity which is waiting to happen.

Whenever there would be unregulated exploitation of Mother Nature, her vengeance – terrible and devastating would befall on all of us!

While righteous anger and angst is understandable, before we the “common men & women” spite the politician-mafia nexus must look deep within ourselves.

Will the need of that much of extra sand diminish if we agree not to do the “interior decoration” of our homes every 5 years just to show that we have arrived ? Tearing down the fine polished Italian marble floor which just 5 years ago one was swooning and fawning over while giving that house-warming party?

Will the need for that much of extra sand diminish if we agree not to by that second home ( actually the 3rd or 5th ) which we will hardly ever occupy just because it is – oh! so far away from the madding crowd…in the lush green vale full of fresh air……which the bulldozer of the promoter would destroy and we too with our smoke belching SUV’s.

Just as we all are directly or indirectly involved in the devastation of forests. Our ever more demand for fine wooden furniture, carved wood main-door and that perfect wooden flooring makes us partner to the crime.

How difficult is it to understand a situation like the Jamuma river angry and uncontrollable thundering down from the Himalayas to wipe out a large swat of New Delhi, the so called city of the Rich and the Powerful ?

It is not for no reason our ancestors revered Nature as Mother Goddess. Just as a mother would, she nurtures..she admonishes again and again…her intensity of punishment increase in direct proportion to the level of unruliness. Uttarakhand was a warning, just as Hurricane Sandy was. If we keep on ripping her belly and banks, we will pay for it.

The UNISDR – Making Cities Resilient cannot happen without understanding who the stake-holders are. And the most important stakeholders do not live in the cities. But in the far-flung country side between rivers and mountains from where the bounty of Nature is pillaged to feed the Cities. 

The problem is that without development the modern human civilization would wallow in decadence and perish. Creating chaos far greater than what is now. This fact can’t be denied or ignored. But solutions which are there must be presented in a proper way.

This is where the role of the Green Building Councils comes to play. They are a consortium of Business organization who wishes to make a difference. Who can make a difference.

The approach, in my understanding has to be two pronged. The first is to abate the destruction and the second is to mitigate it.

To abate the situation of people wanting to build more just because they can afford to must be stopped. Now legally no one can do that, but socially it is possible. By engaging thought leaders and socially popular personalities the Green Building Council must show and rightly so..that the Taj Mahal, the Czars Palace, the Vatican and many more would not have retained the “wow!”  Factor had the owners of these amazing buildings changed the interior décore every 5th year.

The simple though of antique is good must be made popular and fashionable at the same time. It can and will save a lot of environmental damage. While the manufacturing industry may suffer a slowdown initially, the service industry especially operation & maintenance would get a boost. We must argue the fact that their can never be “sunshine” everywhere at the same time. Inflation in currency or depression both give equal opportunity to growth.

What is opportunity for some can be misfortune for another. Capitalism however smart, still in some way follows the laws of Nature. The Carrot – The Rabbit – The Snake – The Mongoose each have a different perspective on opportunity and misfortune.  But if the rabbit lets even a little of the carrot uneaten the plant can regenerate back to life.  It is called Sustainability.

That is the art Business must adopt.

This brings us to the next solution – to create a conducive environment where waste plastic and other discarded material or composites can be used (10 Cutting-edge, Energy-efficient Building Materials). The business industry has already come up with some ideas,  what is required is to make them popular and indigenize them where ever possible. Some ideas are very futuristic(10 Building Materials from the Future), but if the Green Building council along with the CIICESD or the WBSCD come together, even these products may get created from recycled products or waste.

The infrastructure industry must make mandatory use of Composite materials and the implementation of cutting-edge technologies, such as nanotechnology,(read more). This is perhaps the only way we can limit the dependency on traditional building materials.

Moreover, there must be a legislation that industry use composite materials made of waste plastic to build their factories and warehouses. And slowly but surely try to reduce the size of the garbage island using (How the oceans can clean themselves: Boyan Slat at TEDxDelft). Once the idea is understood by all and sundry that money can be made business will surely boost the concept the clean technology propogators have been trying to introduce. (Green Business Ideas : Tall Buildings made from waste plastic is possible & its LCA is cheap – a builders delight and boon to Environmentalist)

It is one thing to be ruffled by the inconsiderate manner some people try and exploit nature for short term gains. To reverse the trend the mind and heart must think sustainable.  It is only then the world’s governments which agreed last year at the historic Rio+20 Summit to adopt universally applicable Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in 2015 would act.

It is only then – “Many Mayors and local governments around the world are leading the way in reducing risk.” may also become true in India and around Nodia, Uttar Pradesh. (read more)

 

 

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Sustainable Cities – Why town planning is important.


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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Recession is the best time to go Green


Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City and Chair of the C40 Cities
Climate Leadership Group (C40) says- “For the first time in history, half of the world’s people live in cities and together are responsible for more than 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas production. Collectively, the C40 cities account for approximately 21 percent of the global Gross Domestic Product. Roughly 12 percent of the world’s carbon emissions are produced in our metropolitan areas. And nearly one of every 12 people on Earth lives in or near our cities’ limits.Granted there is no single solution for confronting global climate change. Still, the best scientific data tells us that it is long past time to address this challenge, and that cities must lead the way. This report represents a critical first step in our leadership – as individual Mayors and as a collective – towards a common, sustainable future.” C40 cities report city-wide GHG emissions totaling 609.5 million* metric tons CO2-e. This figure is equivalent to the total emissions from a country like Canada.

World over there is a slump in the Realty market. With many a nations almost folding over in Europe and the US yet to recover form the disaster of 2008, there are many who would want to toss the wisdom of Environmental concern for short-term (disastrous) gains, in almost all sectors of business.The conventional “wisdom” prevails over more slower yet saner approach. In this context when the exponents of Green Building try to move their agenda forward, all they get is a patient hearing. And it more often than not, ends there.

As per Nielsen Report on Sustainable Efforts & Environmental Concerns Around the World -“There are many possible reasons for declines in concern about climate change/global warming. Focus on immediate worries such as job security, local school quality, crime and economic well-being have all diminished media attention for climate stories in the past two years. In the face of other pressing concerns, a public “caring capacity” for climate change has been tested,” said Dr. Maxwell T. Boykoff, Senior Visiting Research Associate, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford. “Without continued attention paid to global warming/climate change in the media, such concerns may have faded from the collective public conscience.”

So when consultants who wants to promote as President Barak Obama says – “Better Building Initiative” not many takers are available.This is happening because while Governments all around are good at providing  lip service to Global Warming & Climate change, strong policy decisions are not being taken. Now it is also a well understood fact that should one choose to do an Energy Efficient Building -‘Green’ Building as it is popularly known, up to 20% CAPEX; 20% OPEX & 20% GHG can be reduced. This is something which even the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC), the Green arm of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) and compatriot of LEED – United States Green Building Council;  too agrees.

It is also a well known fact that 40% of GHG emissions and 60% of waste which is detrimental to our Ecosystem comes from Buildings or building related works.So there is clear & present danger. This danger must be addressed by all who understand the Environment Impact in our daily lives.

Now having these above numbers it makes enormous sense that during recession one must adopt the practice of making more Energy Efficient Buildings. Whether they follow the matrix set out in LEED rating system or India’s National rating GRIHA is more a matter of choice. A cheaper building a better living standard would almost always reduce expenditure in areas of   Safety,Health & Environment.

India which strives to be a Global player is as usual set to miss the bus, while Brazil & South Africa have taken the lead in taking the initiative for the C40 Cities for CDP, India has not and is in the same boat as China. For India it would be better to pursue the Environmental policy vigorously because of some fundamental reasons, the most important being that while the world was in turmoil in 2008 India was not greatly affected. This gives it the chance to become a leader in the Renewable Energy space by creating policy both at the power plant level but most importantly at the tail end level of roof-top RE. With the Indian people still woefully short of basic needs like Electricity & Water, having a strong Environmental policy and effective implementation of Green Building measure would keep India in good stead in every sense of security and prosperity a Country requires.

 

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