Sustainable Cities

“Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”-Warren Buffet

The world today is home to over 6 billion people and by 2050 it will shelter 9 billion and half of them will live in urban spaces. Today’s population are fed by crops grown on 80% of the total arable land on planet, the world is powered by all sources possible and the fresh water is extracted from the deepest points on the earth and yet we face a shortage of resources (Read more here), and this could lead to a catastrophe if we are to increase the human habitation by 50% by 2050.

Are today’s cities smart? Consider the analogy, your home today is built on a lake bed, you live on the 20th floor of a building and all you see is similar high rise structures around you. Just by building your abode on a lake bed for lack of space you have destroyed the natural ground water system (Read Bangalore’s case here). The city which now has expanded beyond imagination has destroyed the greenery and old farm lands around the town which once fed the people in the town. The food and water for the people is now sourced from a thousand miles away. To move around the big city you drive a vehicle all alone. All this requires energy, and energy today is produced from fossil fuels which is not clean. To compound this misery there is wastage and pollution which results from our activities.

Sustainable development is the way forward for the cities to develop and house more people with less impact on the environment. Energy consumption per person is the parameter to judge this progress. Better housing reduces the energy you require to run your HVAC systems. Buildings certified by LEED and self powered homes are a great idea. Contrary to popular idea of going high we must also develop underground housing which provides more insulation and reduces your energy consumption. Aquifers are the major source of water for cities and they have to be preserved. Urban agriculture is now a popular concept envisaging the thought of planting your food in your backyard. City planning must accommodate this. Reducing your energy consumption in the household and by not sourcing food and water will reduce the energy consumption per person.

Innovation in producing what we need should be followed by efficient waste management. The key to waste management is not generating waste in the first place. The city corporation of the future will have a pivotal role to play. The energy supply to the city should come from renewable sources. City corporations can create micro-grids with solar, wind and bio and power the city. Efficient waste management systems like Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) should replace the land fills and energy should also be derived from the wastes. Urban transport is an important cog in the drive towards sustainable development. Car pooling, electric vehicles and cycles are a good idea from an individual viewpoint but cities with millions will require a public transport system that is driven by clean electricity. Electric buses and metro trains are a good option. Sustainable development is possible if there is a change in the way we build cities and it requires active participation from all stakeholders.

Going back to the thought of leaking boat, it is time we move from the shrinking city and build a smart one.

A contribution to Abu Dhabi sustainability week @

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