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The Urban Vision : Capture the BIG Picture
Name: Anjuli Pandit
Bio: Anjuli Pandit is a consulting Editor with Urban Vision’s with a focus on environment, sustainability and climate change. Anjuli is part of the core team which set up The Climate Project India which was founded by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Al Gore and enjoys the patronship of Dr. R K Pachauri in India. Anjuli has developed several awareness programs and has also taken the message on global warming issues to several countries including USA, Kazakhstan, Czech Republic and India. She has been recruited as a member of Al Gore’s “Green Team” and was trained by Mr. Gore in Nashville, TN to give the Inconvenient Truth Slide Show Presentation on his behalf. She holds a Bachelors of Science in Education and International Studies from University of Miami.
Posts by Anjuli Pandit:
The challenge of fast urbanization is opening the way for the development of highly “smarter” cities, as more and more of its services rely on emerging technologies. The differentiating factor that can make cities “smart” is the integrated usage of information and communication technologies (ICT) in optimizing the flow of information between seven critical city infrastructure services: administration, education, healthcare, public safety, real estate, transportation, and utilities. By implementing initiatives based on this information to enhance efficiency and performance of these services to the citizen you create cities that are “smarter.”
From the administration point of view a smart city will have a reliable system to reach the citizens effectively, to receive feedback, to collect data, to generate statistics and to properly communicate political decisions in a transparent manner. This will support decisions makers with the necessary knowledge required to make acute and quick decisions on city planning and maintenance.
Use of ICT in education services will improve the quality and experience while reducing costs. In developing countries, providing internet access to the educational resources will increase attendance, especially when targeting rural populations surrounding the city or individuals who cannot participate to daily courses. Usage of digital content and collaboration technologies will reduce costs while providing a higher quality and improved experience.
Smart healthcare systems can provide faster and more reliable services. Using scalable storage systems and wide communication platform, patient records con be stored and shared with any medical unit which requires them. Also the communication platform can be used to improve response time in case of emergency services. This is key during a time where epidemics are spreading across cities and information of patient diagnosis is pivotal to diagnosing and treating new patients.
Public safety can make use of communication technologies to reduce deployment time of the emergency response units. In the same time the communication network could be use to relay real-time information between dispatchers and filed units. While dispatchers have access to information via desktop computers, field units can access the network via handheld devices. Public safety services can also make use of closed-circuit television (CCTV) combined with video analytics and global positioning services in order to optimize deployment time. All of these allow for effective, immediate transition of data so that disturbances can be identified and controlled in an aggressive manner.
In real estate ICT can help reduce operating costs by using management systems to automate heating, cooling and illumination. Through motion, temperature, and weight censoring, lighting and cooling units can be controlled to operate at the most efficient levels. From inception, computer modeling will help in building design and identifying appropriate materials, architectural design as well adherence and reporting to relative green building certifications such as LEED.
Transportation can benefit from reduced traffic congestion and more efficient public transport by implementing smart computing technologies like congestion pricing. By passing through electronically controlled tolls, drivers pay more to use more congested roads in rush hours. Not only it reduces traffic congestion, but reduces the environmental impact of the transportation service while raising funds for the public transport.
Utilities can make use of smart grids to optimize water, gas and electricity consumption. Smart grids help identify water leaks and electricity losses. Also, transparency in the measurements towards the consumers can help in responsible usage behaviors and improve demand side management. Replacement of the carbon-intensive fuels with renewable energy can also contribute to “smarter” utilities by ensuring they are tapping into endless resources.
For the success of a smart city project ICT must be at the core of city planning and design. You cannot manage what you cannot measure, and you cannot accurately measure in real time without effective ICT tapping into all aspects of your city and aggregating the data.
Shedding a little Light onto the Current Environment
As recently as ten months ago, “In light of the recent environment” used to be a term coined mostly by environmentalists to push for cut backs in consumption and production in order to curb carbon emissions. It used to be followed by phrases such as:
“In light of the recent environment…”
“…UNEP is calling on governments to push for stricter carbon emission standards at the upcoming G8 summit.”
“…NGOs are asking people to refrain from buying Christmas trees this year to discourage further felling of our already depleted forests.”
“…the Dutch Government is developing a plan to place solar panels on Amsterdam’s roofs as a way to reduce the city’s carbon footprint.”
Before, the “recent environment” referred to a planet plagued by climate change due to human induced degradation of our atmosphere and ecosystems. Today, it is a term used mostly by economists to refer to the economic recession (which is ironically resulting in cutbacks in consumption and production and curbing carbon emissions). Now, newspapers and publications are covered with statements such as:
“In light of the recent environment ….”
“…132 companies canceled their conferences and incentive trips to the Island of Hawaii.”
“…private jets are being viewed as objects of shame and extravagance, and are now confined to airport hangers as owners are unable to afford fuel costs.”
“…British holiday makers who once favoured resorts in Greece and Spain, are choosing to vacation in small inns around the UK.”
“…starting salaries for 2009 computer science graduates are down from an average of $70,000 to $60,000 a year.”
“…real estate development in tier II Indian cities has stopped as finished projects are going unsold. “
“…European no frills airlines are forced to cut the number of flights in previously popular connections.”
“…sales at American fine dining restaurants are falling by 12-15% as families choose to eat food cooked at home.”
“…plastic toy factories in China are scaling down and decreasing their production as export opportunities reduce.”
“…companies are asking employees to print back to front and reduce air-conditioning temperatures by up to 3 degrees to reduce energy bills.”
There is a funny irony in the phrase “in light of the recent environment” is being coined by economists for what could possibly be the worst time for our market, but one of the best for our planet. The amount of flights, manufacturing plants, and exporting that has been stopped or cancelled has notably reduced the amount of carbon dioxide that is going into the air.
Now more than ever we are truly seeing consumerism in terms of carbon. Each dollar less I spend, is that much less carbon I have pumped into the atmosphere. This is what environmentalists have been saying for decades. We will not survive (in the stock markets or on our planet) if we believe that our resources are inexhaustible and so are the limits on our credit card.
Now, whether Americans and Europeans like it or not, the current environment is forcing them to cut down their consumption patterns. They are downgrading to smaller more fuel efficient vehicles to save on gas. They are choosing to buy locally grown produce instead of imported options. They are opting out of distant holiday destinations to save on flight costs. All in all doing their part to save the environment, but the driving factor is their pocket books.
The question we should now be asking is: how can we take advantage of this shift in preferences? How can we make it something sustainable that will continue beyond the economic recession?
By establishing an eco conscious consumer society today. We can change the recession blues into proud greens, as people see their curb in consumption not as a limiting factor, but as a conscious reduction of their carbon footprint.
For the most part, when people are looking to purchase, they take into account several factors:
1. Will it be useful and satisfy need requirements?
2. Is it the preferred option?
3. Is the cost appropriate to my financial situation?
What if we ask them to consider a fourth factor? :
4. Is it made in an environmentally sustainable manner or will it become a pollutant once I discard it?
This means that every time they make a decision to buy something, they are looking at the item’s footprint on the Earth. Since it becomes a part of the decision process, no matter how little weight is put onto the answer, carbon footprints will be lowered. Eventually one will choose the eco option more often than they would have had they not considered this factor.
The most impactful part of this change is that manufacturers will have to calculate point number four into their production process. THIS is where the real change comes since an efficient system requires the manufactures to tailor to consumer interests. As “going green” becomes more hip and popular, more affordable eco options and investments will be introduced to the market.
A new psyche comes into the market at both the consumption and production level. The new market equilibrium will help restore the one we lost in the carbon cycle. There could be a beautiful (perhaps sourced from solar?) light at the end of the current environment’s tunnel.
There was no gas in Mumbai a couple of weeks ago . If you passed petrol pumps at Breach Candy you would find angered residents screaming at indifferent employees who couldn’t even offer a little bit of black juice with a bribe. Trains were extra crowded, and some people who had not graced the Western Line since their college years were left shocked at the state of degradation that has occurred since. Buses were almost impossible to board, and those who typically were driven to work were found asking their bai at the bus stop which number would take them to Nariman Point. When it got really bad in the afternoon, people just walked. They jumped over homeless children and stray poop, and skirted around layers of red spit that has permanently stained our sidewalks. For the first time in a long while, even the upper classes were required to resort to public transport or their own two feet. To borrow from Thomas Friedman’s favourite line- this was the day that Mumbai became flat.
When Freedman said this he was referring to the fact that certain technological advancements and elements of globalisation have allowed most people of the world to get relatively similar access to information, thereby changing the dynamics of socioeconomic inequalities. I, on the other hand, am using this phrase to explain what the absence of oil can do.
In Mumbai that day everyone became equal. Equally inconvenienced by elbows jabbing into them on the bus. Equally aware of the delay of winter season as they walked through the heat. Equally as relieved at the lack of honking on the roads around them. Equally reminded what daily life is like on the streets of Mumbai. Equally Mumbaikers. Maybe for a fleeting second, even a bit more connected to each other than after the terror attacks that had bonded them just over a month back.
The Oil Business is often blamed for creating social and environmental inequalities. Once oil is found in a nation, communal disharmony, corruption, environmental destruction, and stark gaps between rich and poor, are quick to follow. Sometimes these consequences are chronological and other times they descend upon the citizens almost overnight, turning a relatively stable country into utter chaos in a matter of a year. Having grown up as an expat child in some of the most oil-rich nations, I have seen firsthand what the discovery of oil can do to. However, it is not very often that you get to see what will happen if one day it is just stripped away.
In a city of innumerable social injustices, could the absence of dependency on petrol be the answer to creating equality in Mumbai? On Friday we saw a population that relied on public transportation to reach its destination; a population that was not afraid to take to the streets. We may have seen the Mumbai of the future- if we choose to improve our city’s infrastructure and transit systems. That same day I had to catch three buses and walk over a kilometer to make it to my interview with the CEO of a successful Indian company. Since the interview was about his thoughts on sustainable practices in cities, I asked him when the last time he took public transport in Mumbai was. After admitting it had been too many years to count, he added “but in London I always take the tube.” Imagine, the CEO of a successful company worth over $ US 5 billion sitting on the Central Line between a young graduate making Rs. 20,000 at an NGO and a Dharavi slum dweller selling hair pins. Now that is flat.
It is very possible to give Mumbai a future like this. It just requires the ingenuity of the best urban planners and the belief of every one of us that the world is a bit better if we flatten it.