According to reports, experience from around the globe suggests that environment is one of the biggest casualties of breakneck urbanisation. India’s rich ecosystem looks vulnerable because the country is in the throes of expanding its urban landscape. Consider this: India’s urbanisation between 2010 and 2030 is expected to raise per-capita carbon dioxide emissions to 3.0-3.5 tonnes from 1.0-1.2 tonnes.
Still, urban planning in India seems to be attuned to this reality. Borrowing a page from the rulebook of China and other countries, India is laying the foundations for building cities that are environment-friendly. A project to develop ways of embedding low-carbon techniques into the planning of Indian cities was launched earlier this month in Delhi. In essence, the so-called low-carbon cities will keep a tight lid on greenhouse gases.
But by delivering energy savings, low-carbon techniques will also deliver economic and social benefits, says Jitesh Brahmkshatriya, head of environmental planning at Atkins. The British engineering and design firm along with the All India Institute of Local Self Governance is working with the urban development and new and renewable energy ministries on the project. AIILSG will be responsible for the city-level coordination of the project while an Atkins team will provide technical expertise. The project is funded by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office under its Prosperity Fund Programme.
Low-carbon urban planning, says Brahmkshatriya, who is the project manager, supports infrastructure systems to reduce CO2. It also measures the CO2 savings that can be made by optimising the density, layout and design of infrastructure schemes. New communities can influence building energy demand, travel patterns and waste generation through location, design and structure. There are also opportunities to utilise renewable energy technologies for which financial incentives are available.
Brahmkshatriya says the expansion of India’s cities can be accommodated through urban extensions and new settlements. Planning – from the beginning before problems arise – is key to this approach. For instance, a mixed use approach to development incorporating services and facilities and recreation opportunities within walking distance provides a healthy and liveable environment and reduces the need to travel.
The approach makes it possible to model the carbon footprint of development at the urban master-plan level and rapidly test a variety of development options.
Congestion and pollution can be avoided. Residents will be able to enjoy better access to facilities and employment, and a cleaner, healthier environment.
Low-carbon cities, says Brahmkshatriya, do not necessarily have to be more expensive than business-asusual approaches. “Well-conceived projects can actually deliver cost savings and create additional value and revenue streams.” The people behind the project are working in Mysore and Madurai to pilot the approach and adapt the lessons to the rest of India. “We will shape a spatial master-planning toolkit that can be used in other cities.”
Mysore and Madurai, he says, were chosen because both are rapidly growing cities. The focus at this stage is on Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. In other countries, it has been demonstrated that creating ‘liveable’ cities improves their competitiveness when attracting investment and talent. The team will identify best practice, what works and how techniques can go mainstream through integration with a Comprehensive Development Plan.
Brahmkshatriya says the project will help put Indian cities at the forefront of low carbon development. “It is the first of its kind in India. Nowhere in India has a programme or tool been developed for masterplanning scale to measure carbon and influence the policies.”