What is the similarity between Boston, Dubai, and Jakarta? All three of these cities are perhaps the best examples of unsustainable cities. For many of you, this fact may be surprising and even unbelievable. This is because the skyscrapers and hustle and bustle of these business centers masks the questions around sustainability or sustainable urban planning.
The conversation around thoughtful urban planning is significant because more than 50% of the present global population resides in cities. By 2050, this number will rise to 68%. These facts highlight the need for a plan to accommodate more population in the cities, while at the same time maintaining the ecological balance.
Sustainable Urban Development – The Need of the Hour
When it comes to developing cities for the future, the one word which pops up is that of “smart cities”. Especially in emerging economies like India, the focus of the government is on building infrastructure which integrates technology and strategizes on smart use of resources. Many countries in the west have already reached this stage. While the concept of a smart city is highly impressive, what many urban planners (both in developed and developing countries) miss out on is that any plan which is not sustainable cannot be a smart plan.
What is sustainable urban development?
Sustainable urban development or sustainable urban planning believes that there is no “one-size fits all” solution. It focuses on development strategies which despite having a global vision are quite regional in scale. The prime aim of a sustainable urban plan is to build cities that will improve the long-term health of the planet. This will include development strategies like open-land development, redevelopment of suburban areas, designing better transport systems – most of all preserving and restoring the biological diversity of that particular region.
Contrary to what many might think, cities are not just economic hubs alone. They are living entities, which if not planned out well will turn into a health and environmental hazard. Most of all cities have to be inclusive in nature. I came across the need to build inclusive cities, while I was researching on COVID19. Pandemics like COVID19 unmask the structural inequalities in a city. While on the one hand there are areas with trimmed lawns and clean sewage, and on the other hand, there are shanties with close to zero access to public health amenities.
The imbalance in the city structure is blatantly accepted as “normal”. It takes pandemics to showcase the systematic failures in urban planning and the class-based hierarchies in metro cities. This is also a result of unplanned urbanization and policy failure on equal growth distribution.
Sustainable urban development, thus, is not just about designing integrated urban places. It is also about being futuristic and implementing a holistic approach to urban development.
Sustainable Urban Planning and SDGs
The problem with most of our plans – be it urban planning, economic planning, or ecological planning – is that we have a very ‘isolated’ perspective on each one of these. This is the reason why attaining the SDGs looks like an elusive task. The moment we change our planning perspective and synergize the various goals into a common plan – meeting the SDGs will become an organic process.
For instance, if we look at SDG 6 of clean water and sanitation and SDG 3 of good health and wellbeing in isolation – the SDG 11 of sustainable cities and communities cannot be achieved, and vice versa. This explains why urban planning needs an inter-disciplinary perspective, especially in the case of developing countries where one aspect of sustainable development is compromised for the other.
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