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The Urban Vision : Capture the BIG Picture
Name: Aditi Nargundkar Pathak
Bio: > > Aditi Nargundkar Pathak is an Architect and Urban Designer with over 14 years of experience. She has worked nationally and internationally in field of Architecture and Urban Design . As an independent Urban Researcher , Aditi has presented a paper on her work on Art led small social spaces in Royal Geographic Society, U.K in 2015. As an Head of Ideas Lab and Director in a think-do -tank ‘The Urban Vision’ , Aditi runs the placemaking program and has been responsible in enabling the use of Public Art in Plazas and designing human centric streets and innovative plazas in Mumbai. Aditi is also a Director in SNA Architects and is invited as a expert committee member in IMC for Portlands Redevelopment in Mumbai. > > Aditi is invited regularly as an a guest critique by University of Mumbai for the Master in Urban Design Program and has also been the guest critique for GSAPP, University of Columbia.
Posts by Aditi Nargundkar Pathak:
‘Good urban-scapes influence life’. I got to see it put into practice when I visited University of Waterloo’s School of Architecture, known as ‘Waterloo Architecture, Cambridge’. This institution is located in the City of Cambridge, Ontario and is considered one of the trendsetters for urban regeneration of mid-sized Canadian cities. It demonstrates the effectiveness of a well-reused space and the influence on users.
Originally a defunct Silk Factory; the building was retrofitted to suite the operations of Waterloo Architecture, Cambridge.The school and its new premises have been applauded and recognized for its design excellence, community connection and student initiatives.
During my visit at Cambridge I met Eric Haldenby, the Director of Waterloo Architecture. He narrated an interesting story about the move of the school from its older premises to the new silk factory. While he was writing an application for a research grant he was requested to give a presentation to the city of Waterloo and Kitchener on community university partnerships for regeneration of mid sized Canadian cities. One gentleman from the audiences, who also belonged to the business community of Cambridge, asked – what would it take to bring School of Architecture to Cambridge? At this time Eric was already facing the threat of loosing his faculty members, because of the uncomfortable and non-creative space the school was functioning in, at the main Waterloo campus, so he truthfully answered that ‘we would require a great site and good money’. This worked for Eric as he was then sanctioned a good site and some money for the school to be relocated to Cambridge.
The offered site was an old out–of-use silk mill. This silk mill was modified to suite the needs of the school and the school started functioning at the new address in 2004. Since then, Waterloo Architecture, Cambridge has positively changed the urban fabric surrounding it. The once unsafe backyard of downtown has become a thriving space for student interaction. The exhibition space and coffee house are thriving in the new school and provide a platform for community –university interaction, which is much appreciated by the City of Cambridge. This building has proved that small change can pave way for a big difference.
I came to know during our chat that after this successful move, Eric Haldenby was honored for his tenacious efforts for the betterment of the architectural education. University of Waterloo has recognized his efforts by awarding him ‘Distinguished Teachers Award.’ Along with education, Eric is also interested in Mediterranean archaeology; design and management of historic landscapes /sites; design in mid-size cities; and community/university partnerships.
One of the important and unique interests Eric has is that he has been exploring the relationships between Archeology and Architecture since his earlier professional days. This has influenced a few courses in the school like the Rome Program. The Rome program lets the students experience the nuances of working for and from one of the oldest neighborhoods of Rome.
Eric through such courses and many more innovative ways has inspired a generation of thinkers in Canada. Most of his students are involved in distinguished creative works across North America and some of them are even heading renowned architectural studios around the world.
When I met Eric last June, I realized that it was an interesting opportunity for me to interview Eric and understand the nuances and significance of his work. I have put forth some of the conversations I had with Eric.
Aditi Nargundkar Pathak: There has always been a dialogue active about reusing brownfield site. The campus of University of Waterloo’s School of Architecture, has won seven design awards including the Canadian Urban Institute Brownie Award in 2004 as the outstanding adaptive re-use of a brownfield site. Do you think the project has helped in regeneration of the surrounding urban fabric? If yes how so?
Eric Haldenby: The building has clearly influenced the city. The part of Cambridge City where the school is located was in neglect and process of deterioration for over 40 years. After the move of the school into the Silk mills the area has become more inclusive for its users and its earlier use of abetting prostitution and drug dealings had stopped. The demographics of the users has also changed, they now include students and the local community.
Originally we intended to build a new campus altogether but the local community suggested rehabilitating silk mills which already had a landmark status, as it was one of the largest buildings of riverside Cambridge. We readily agreed to this as we could move in sooner than expected and also at a lower cost.
The decision of placing the Waterloo Cambridge Architecture in riverside Cambridge has also brought some positive changes in the community perception. Recently the city moved into new city hall and with the help of school they built the first LEED gold building in the community. The housing market around the school improved as well. Initially there were 1000 units in the area, which are now 2650 units. This is a solid indication that there was a whole new population moving into the city. Ramifications of this regeneration were also seen in other secondary midsized cities like Sudbury and Saskatoon.
I think that municipality of Cambridge was a key stimulator in this decision. I think that such collaborations between municipalities and midsized cities with population of 250,000 are needed to the overall improvement of the urban language.
Aditi Nargundkar Pathak: Do you think the success of the building has also influenced the students in anyway? I am asking this because as architects we are always trying to study and sometimes also define the emotional, physical and performance based impact, a well-designed building will have.
Eric Haldenby: It is a very astute question. Influence on education has been huge .We have Co- op education system in school, which means our students do 4 months of professional work 4 months of study in campus. Up until 2004, 50% students worked in Toronto, 25% worked else where in Canada and 25% worked outside the country. When the school moved the Cambridge the distribution changed, about 25% worked in Toronto, 25% worked elsewhere in Canada and 50% outside Canada. We are speculating that this distribution changed because the students became more autonomous, confident and independent.
After moving here, I have seen many examples of students being autonomous. Our Graduate students pushed themselves and built a 14-bed student resident. The city raised money for the project and worked together with our students.
Real indicator of our success was the’ applicant numbers ‘, before we got 10 applicants for every seat at Waterloo Architecture, and now we get 40 applicants per seat. This happens because when students come to visit during our open house they want to be a part of our family. Our buildings design stresses that the students are extremely important for e.g. all the students face the river and our faculty and staff offices face the town. Students get the light and the view, which I feel, changes the spirit and output of the school.
Aditi Nargundkar Pathak: Moving on to the next part – you are also the principal investigator of Community/University Research Alliance (CURA) (involving Architecture, Planning, Geography and Environment and Resource Studies and partners representing the Cities of Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge and the Region of Waterloo), What do you think are the main factors to be considered while designing urban area in mid – sized Canadian cities?
Eric Haldenby: The challenge for the midsized Canadian cities is that when they were first built, heavy manufacturing industries like automotive, textiles etc. were the economic centers and thus the life revolved around them. Today the situation is as Richard Florida’s theory puts it that high bohemians, or high creative class i.e. technology workers, artists, musicians etc. constitute the main users of urban cores. Therefore for a city to thrive it has to evolve to suite the needs of these high bohemians. The old mills and factories have to be retrofitted.
In CURA our research focus has been on tourism and post-secondary school project as community changers. With CURA we worked on 49 published monographs, they varied in the content based on different aspects of urban life e.g. safety, pedestrian access, social service distribution etc. But I firmly believe research universities will become directly involved in renewal of urban areas and theirdeterioration will be minor compared to others. Partnerships between municipalities, businesses and post secondary schools can work as community changers.
Aditi Nargundkar Pathak: What according to you is an ideal urban environment for the mid – sized Canadian cities?
Eric Haldenby: Ideally every city should use its own cultural mix to create its own ‘ideal environment’. But the direction in which the cities are now evolving seem promising to me. Today the demographics of the cities are changing ‘the generation Y does not want to move to suburbs anymore. Baby boomers don’t retire in suburbs either and there is return to the urban core for want of better design and cultural activity. The urban areas are becoming a more attractive option to live in. It is becoming increasingly essential for urban public spaces to be of higher quality and multifunctional. The very general way in which public spaces present themselves are that in urban areas there are open spaces and amenities that keep changing in function, while in suburbs we find more of open roads and parking lots. The private properties in suburbs have high quality of space but the public plazas are very few or absent. In urban areas on the other hand where population is much closer to each other, we can’t waste public space and hence higher quality of space is required.
So my vision for an ideal urban space is like this – it should be conducive for innovation, creative open-endedness and invention. Ideally cores have to be vibrant high quality plazas, ignored spaces must have clear imperative. With denser cities becoming the reality, quality of public spaces is becoming increasingly important for the well educated.
Aditi Nargundkar Pathak: Another interesting subject you work in linking archeology, architectural history and architecture. You have been working on mapping the urban topography of Roman Carthage and a study and reconstruction of the Villa at S. Giovanni di Ruoti. How important do you find studying these maps is when you are designing the future urban environments?
Eric Haldenby: It’s a biographical question. When I got out of architecture and was setting up my practice, during one of the down times, I got an offer to teach at Waterloo. I decided to take it up and got into teaching. At school I ran into a student who had cycled from Greece to Norway, at that time I decided to may be do something different, so I cycled from Athens to London. Once I came back, I was impressed with the classical architecture and started the Rome program, which is still running and successful. We send our fourth year students every year to our schools Traverse studio in Rome to experience the heritage of western architecture and be influenced by it.
There I was invited by a classical archeologist to interpret few of his findings, I already had interest in history and was fascinated by deep and profound relationship existing in archeology and architecture. I took this opportunity and helped in spatial visualization of a space.
As far as the importance of studying these maps goes, until the beginning of the 20th century there was a very thin line between architecture and archeology. During the modernist era it was dis-owned, but again the designers realized that history can only help us and so now naturally designers gravitate to building up sensitivity to history. I personally think that studying classical architecture deepens consciousness of a designer.
Aditi Nargundkar Pathak: Would you agree that there is a strong presence of form based building regulations in Roman cities? Do you think these studies can be used to evolve form based building codes for newer small and mid sized cities in Canada or world?
Eric Haldenby: Roman buildings surely had Roman codes. The traditional forms were governed by traditions and nurtured innovation. There was a – clear dialectic in the Mediterranean of residential and official architecture. – Examples can be seen not only in Rome but also in Turkey, Italy and Spain.
These ancient cities were mainly courtyard cities, the forms of buildings was the basis here – the archetype. Public spaces had a specific function for eg in Islamic cities mosque absorbs the public space.
William MacDonald in his book ‘The Architecture of Roman Empire has studied the Roman Armature in detail. The Roman manifestation of armature is heroic and ennobling –In cities like Andalusia, Pompeii policy in urban armature is used as primary source for city design. The classical cities had panorama of ideas for urban armature. The soil geology governed the forms and deigns of the cities. The modernists on the other hand did not even consider ground. The peaks, bushes, swamps, sand dunes etc. all were part of the city. Archeology gave me the opportunity to see this happening and this experience in architecture makes you see things differently.
Aditi Nargundkar Pathak: What areas of collaborative research in architecture and Architecture do you think can be explored?
Eric Haldenby: William MacDonald has written well on urban armature organized on the top of the hill in Roman Carthage. During one of our excavations in Roman Carthage, we found water channels .In a podium we found huge cisterns, there was water distribution system in place. Romans were hydrological geniuses; they built on hills collected and stored water and distributed the water in the city. There is a tendency to study history of great buildings but whole underground ground is unexplored. Integrated systems -thinking approach was prevalent in Rome and this way they used their resources better and in multiple ways. I think we can learn a lot more from these old cities. Study of urban services can be major area of research, which has not been analyzed fully.
As an Architect and an Urban Designer myself, I always find that numerous variables/ factors influence my design decisions. I am sure my peers would agree with that. We try to take in to account the site conditions, the climate, the local culture and local adaptability and space use trends, the form, the function, our own belief system, the theories and manifestos that we relate to etc. before arriving at any design solutions. After talking to Eric and after visiting Waterloo I have realized that one very major influence, which is quite underrated, is that of our teachers. Their experiences act as our extended senses.
At Waterloo Architecture, Eric Haldenby has been one of the most influential contributors to the thought processes of his students. His innovativeness and open-ended creativity has compelled his students to push their own capacities. Eric through his own experiences in Archeology, Architecture and CURA has been running a successful Rome and Architecture program. In way he has been part of changing Canadian cities. After my small talk with Eric, I have formed an opinion that innovative teachers of Architecture have the tools to bring about a positive urban morphosis.
The awareness about effects of green-house gases and carbon footprints, which are prominent by-products of modern living, have given the essential push towards developing technologies that will not only reduce the strain our buildings put on the environmental resources but will also help put our ecosystem closer to its original state. Cities like Portland, Abu Dhabi, Shanghai etc. are promoting construction of architectural solutions which use renewable energy and harvest/ treat water to design buildings with low or zero carbon footprint. There are some excellent prototypes of high efficiency buildings that can co-exist in their environment without impairing it, while providing better quality of life for their residents.
Organizations like IGBC (Indian Green building Council) LEED Rating Systems and TERI”s GRIHA are aimed towards driving making green of buildings. IGBC’s Green SEZ Rating System which is in addition to IGBC Green Homes and IGBC Factory Building are steps in right direction for the sustainable futures of India’s large scale built environment. The development authorities in India like MCGM (Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai) are taking some steps towards their sustainable futures. Their initiative –‘Eco-housing’ is developed to promote environmentally conscious developments in the city.
These initiatives promote green technologies like use of solar power, wind power, green roofs, passive design strategies, energy efficient materials and efficient building systems and studies suggest they have been effectively reducing the carbon footprints of the buildings. The interest in such technologies around the world has led to a lot of research and out of the box design ideas which we must call attention to and may be use according their applicability.
Some of the best known solutions in this area are in solar energy which could be easily used to become part of our daily life. New solar cells are developed which are thin, colored, translucent and flexible have been developed by institutes like ‘Ecole Polytechnique fédéral de Lausanne’. These solar cells are used to make prototypes for innovative functions like solar walls, solar refrigerators and even solar public furniture which can glow at night. Ample availability of sunlight in India and the shortages in our power infrastructure, especially in distribution, make solar energy an attractive option in making our buildings more livable and self-reliant.
“Biomimetic” or “Regenerative” architecture, though at nascent stages, is another very promising idea which essentially aims at making buildings function like ecosystems. Biomimetic Architecture applies insights from nature to the built environment which sometimes translates into mimicking specific functions of organisms or their habitats. In other cases some buildings are conceived as closed-loop ecosystems that, like a forest, draw their energy from the elements and produce zero net waste. Institutes like International Living Building Institute are doing a notable job in this field. Biomimetic Architecture is seen as a significant force that may change the way we see our built environment. The aim of this methodology is to ultimately have a built environment that works not as a foil for nature, but be as seamlessly integrated with it as possible.
The next concept creating waves in green building design is ‘urban farming’, i.e. utilizing unused land in urban areas to grow herb fruits and vegetables for local consumption. Some designers have taken this one step further by using vertical and horizontal surfaces of buildings for urban farming. They are also developing green roofs into urban farms thus reducing heat island effect and also alleviating the food shortage.
Though many of these new concepts are at an experimental stage, they are all products of painstaking research by institutes from around the world. Combined together they do provide a platter full of options for the designers and planners of modern Indian cities. As we proceed to build these structures, many of whom could be our legacy for the centuries to come, we hope we can do so while keeping our societies debt-free from their ecosystem.
Not so long ago New York City was the home for some of the tallest skyscrapers in the world but in the past few years that monopoly has ceased to exist; Middle East, Asia, and South East Asia have taken the lead boasting of taller and more efficient tall structures accommodating myriad amenities. Tall buildings have always projected being efficient mega structures with their iconic reputation and now they seem to be coming up in every part of the world. India too is picking up on this trend and is building a few tall structures of her own. In cities like Mumbai or Delhi which attract a high rate of migration tall structures seem inevitable as they offer high density and smaller building footprints.
That said, one cannot help but question the viability of such tall structures in Indian cities. There is an ongoing debate about the design and efficiency of the tall structures world over and especially in Mumbai.
How does having a tall structure help an Indian city like Mumbai? There are some obvious answers to this question like smaller building foot print, high density, augmented use of the urban resources and a possibility of use of height for producing alternative energy like wind, solar etc (though the idea is at an experimental stage). The arguments against tall structures are that they are known to be energy hoggers. High energy requirement for mechanical ventilation and conveyance required by tall structures seem difficult to meet when Indian cities are prone to power outages. Also the urban infrastructure in India needs to undergo a major revamp to support high densities and high floor space indices. With such opinions and some more I had the opportunity to have an open discussion with an Indian born Architect in New York. Mr. Sudhir Jambhekar, FAIA, RIBA, LEED AP, is a Senior Partner in FXFOWLE Architects, an International firm based in New York City, with additional offices in Washington, DC, and Dubai.
Mr Jambhekar heads the International studio at FXFOWLE and has been responsible for design and execution of quite a few tall structures around the world. His experience includes working with I.M.Pei, a partnership in Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF) and co-founding practise, Jambhekar Strauss, which later merged with FXFOWLE. Mr. Jambhekar has also been honoured as a Fellow by the American Institute of Architects, and as a Fellow of the Urban Design Institute of America.
The discussion that followed was a very intriguing one. I wanted to discuss and revisit some of the basics of tall building design and Mr. Jambhekar, with his experience of designing tall structures around the world, was the right person to have a conversation with. He had graciously agreed to meet with me and I will share a part of the discussion ‘as is’ with the readers.
Aditi: FXFOWLE has been working on tall structures in India, China and Middle East. You have been part of a few of them. How do you anticipate the effect of tall structures on urbanization of India? The urban infrastructure in India is already stressed; do you think the addition of tall structure to the urban fabric of city like Mumbai is feasible or there can be other solutions that we are not considering?
Jambhekar: I believe in density. Human beings are social animals and it is unnatural for them to be living out of the cities-in isolated areas. Also, when we promote living outside the city there is pressure on the land, urban resources and the environment. We must optimize the already existing urban infrastructure for more sustainable futures for us. In a Mumbai the tall buildings or the high density living is going to be the way forward. The relation between demand and supply in Mumbai’s real estate market is such that the city will have to think about accommodating high number of people on a smaller land mass. People are negatively opinionated on the viability of tall structures and the reason often given is that the infrastructure in Mumbai is not efficient enough to sustain them. It is a compelling logic to a certain extent but improvement in the infrastructure of Mumbai for it to become a prominent and successful city is inevitable. The world cities like London, New York and Beijing have one thing in common and that is efficient and workable infrastructure and more importantly excellent public transport system. Their systems efficiently transport large number of commuters from point A to point B without many delays, glitches or overcrowding. This allows dense cities to confidently grow further through high rise structures. Mumbai needs this type of confidence to address its need of space. Another concept that I think will help in developing and utilizing density to our advantage is high Floor Space Index (FSI). Today on an average Mumbai has an FSI of 1 to 2, where as if we look at Manhattan the Average FSI is 18 and with bonuses this FSI can go up to 21. If the FSI can be increased and higher average can be achieved in Mumbai, hopefully habitation requirements of Mumbai can be eased.
Aditi: If we talk about tall Mumbai, we cannot ignore that Floor Space Index (FSI) does form a very important design parameter .In my experience it promotes skewed thinking in designers as every developer wants to maximize the FSI. From an experienced designers perspective do you think there can be creative alternatives for FSI?
Jambhekar: I don’t think FSI is controlling factor in design. All it does it limits the building bulk, in terms of square footage. Other zoning regulations like set back lines or sky planes become more constrictive. For example, what is happening in Mumbai is that the authorities relentlessly demand that each building has to have setbacks on all sides, it does not matter how tall the proposed building is. Therefore each site becomes a box having an object within itself. Now if we compare the sites in Mumbai to sites in New York City, there is no such regulation in Manhattan and as the result the buildings are lined along the roads .They are connected and we have continuous retail store fronts like at Madison Avenue. Under present regulations there cannot be a Madison Avenue in Mumbai. For the liveability of a city we need public spaces where people can walk comfortably. These spaces create an environment of amenities, stores, colleges, and museums etc., which in turn contribute to the quality of life. Regulations like setbacks prohibit such public spaces. These regulations create building dots in the cityscape which are not connected and thus create spaces in between those building dots which are inhabitable. I am not saying every city should be like New York but you can borrow tried and tested ideas and design spaces adaptable to Mumbai. Around the world, like in London, New York, Shanghai etc. cities are pleasurable when they are walkable. In Mumbai itself the British designed walkable streets like D.N road and Ballard Pier but sadly these notions of urbanism have not been carried out in the newer parts of the city.
Aditi: The trendy modern tall structures we design have a contextual significance. As architects designing tall structures we try to create landmarks for commercial success of a building. In a city like Mumbai, high density is seen as the possible way to solve its rapid urbanization. In such a scenario, if all buildings become tall and iconic in Mumbai, how do you think we can control the aesthetics, do you think the iconic designs will matter then?
Jambhekar: A tough question; Girgaon area developed in the 19th century as trader settlements. Here future redevelopment is inevitable since the land value sky rocketed. It will be a great idea to create an overall vision for the area having some research based contextual constraints. Then the development for the whole or part of the area could be undertaken according to this vision. I wish this had been done for past redevelopments as well. In city planning if the designers and developers think about these visions, the developments can be more connected to the surroundings. I believe that any project, if has successfully merged with the fabric of the city, everyone involved in its design has succeeded. The owners succeeded because they have contributed to the city, the users succeeded because they can enjoy the development and the surroundings and society succeeded because their quality of life has improved. Ideally that’s what needs, to happen. In our office we quote a famous saying ‘If you think of a chair, think of the room , if you think of the room ,think of the house , if you think of the house think of the neighbourhood and if you think of the neighbourhood , think of the city’. This big picture thinking is needed for a Mumbai. On the note of aesthetics, I remember, in one of the lectures Mr. Balkrishna Doshi, upon showing a slide of slum asked the audience ‘who are we to judge if this is right or wrong?’ So point being made was that aesthetics can be very subjective and as designers and planners we have to allow for that.
Aditi: Have you designed buildings that are creating and using alternative energy and has height of tall structures been of any advantage for that?
Jambhekar: I don’t know if height helps in creating/ using alternative energy or not but we have certainly used these alternatives in our designs. LEED has these X- numbers of categories and the two most important categories are energy conservation and indoor air quality. When you deal with tall buildings most of them essentially need mechanical systems to regulate ventilation as opposed to the naturally ventilated buildings. So, by nature they demand more energy. In India if you are doing a housing project, there is no need for centrally conditioning the air. Depending upon where you are in the country, one can chose to use air conditioning in residences. It is different in the office buildings, there you need mechanical ventilation and so there you need to think of alternative ways of looking at either conserving or producing energy. At FXFOWLE we have done it in many ways like geo thermal, solar, wind etc. We also try to efficiently manage water like in Riyadh we have designed buildings for water conservation but in Mumbai rain water harvesting is important and we designed to address that .
Aditi: Growing up in Mumbai and living in New York, I have noticed that there is a distinct difference in tropical living and temperate living. Tropical living that is how we live in India; is more outward looking. We like to take a stroll in the evening all year long, know our neighbours and most of us live in some sort of community. We celebrate festivals like Ganpati, Navratri, Durga Pooja, and Diwali on our streets which transform them into public spaces. The temperate living on the other hand is more inward looking. In New York because of the harsh and extreme climate people don’t go out as much. After work, on weekdays people stay at home with their families and plan their outings only on weekends. The high rise designs typologies that are emerging work very well in temperate conditions. Don’t you think high rises will have a huge cultural impact on the way we live in India? Can you think of design solutions which can accommodate these cultural habits or nuances?
Jambhekar: There is surely a distinct difference in how we live in India as compared to elsewhere. I don’t think the cultural habits can change so easily though. Today the vertical transit systems are such that the travel time is not much. The new elevators can travel about 160 – 170 foot per second. The total time frame of travel even in tallest buildings is negligible, so people talking stroll will still go out as per their routine, but there is another way of dealing with these nuances. There is a trend of cluster development that is emerging. Steven Hall has recently designed high rise structure in China called Linked Hybrid. It plays on similar ideas and has created urban links in sky. Even with our work at FXFOWLE we have created common spaces within the tall buildings to deal with social isolation.
My take away from the discussion was that whichever stand we take, tall structures in high growth cities of India are rapidly becoming a reality. Though there are very rational and compelling reasons for us to build tall structures, we need to customize their designs according to our Indian sensibilities. To promote a tall structure or not is soon becoming just an academic dialogue while Indian cities are leaping forward with an ambition of becoming the next Shanghai. As designers developing proposals for this metamorphosis of our cities we have to make sure that we equip our tall structures for a sustainable future.
The Urban Vision in partnership with Columbia Business School’s Energy club, Social enterprise club and Green Business club hosted a forum on sustainable transportation in Columbia University, New York City as part of The Urban Vision’s “Climate Month” celebration between September 15 – October 15 2009 leading up to the historic Copenhagen Summit scheduled for December 2009. The “Climate Month” featured a series of Forums and Symposiums with major thought leaders of our times to evaluate solutions to moving our planet into a sustainable path.
This Sustainable Transportation forum highlighted several projects and innovative processes that would benefit us in climate change mitigation while improving the overall quality of life.
Prathima Manohar from The Urban Vision set the tone of the meeting by reminding the audience of some facts like climate change being greatest challenges faced by our planet and cities being at the heart of this problem. About 80% of carbon emissions can be attributed to the cities, and automobiles contribute to the half of carbon emission. Prathima added that while other sectors like industry have been able to reduce carbon emissions; the transport sector has steadily increased their carbon emissions.
Earl Jackson, Associate Director at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) showcased the projects and design ideology of SOM. Earl focused on two main projects: – Tyson’s corner in Fairfax County, Virginia and Maytas forest Hills, Hyderabad. SOM was involved in developing a master plan with a focus on transit for Tyson’s Corner. The plan was to introduce four new metro stations on the site to reduce the automobile dependency and increase pedestrian traffic. The concept of this design was to develop a pedestrian friendly neighbourhood for community living while including the infrastructure associated with these metro rail stations.
The design programme for Maytas Forest hills included a special economic zone and only two site accesses. The integration of this project to the Hyderabad city depended on the local /regional buses, which would enter the site through these main access points. A major road loop where local /regional buses would run was created with the accesses and a smaller internal loop was designed to intersect the major loop where the energy efficient buses serviced the internal site area. The proposal had highest density around the special economic zone to facilitate residences for people to live where they work. The plan also included watersheds to harvest rainwater, preserved existing orchards and used locally available material to reduce the community’s carbon footprint.
Fred Kent the Founder and President for People for Public Places (PPS discussed concepts of place-making which involved using the community to develop public spaces. PPS works on ideas like the comfort, place-making, power of 10, zealousness of public, and acknowledging community is an expert to develop places in cities. Power of 10 concept advocates that each community needs to have 10 places with things to do, 10 destinations to go to and 10 such communities would make a region interesting. Fred discussed the case study of downtown New Hampshire where PPS was successful in creating a people friendly place with their approach of involving the community. Fred introduced some experiments in the presentation which defied the general notion of traffic functioning. These changes in road design by PPS have proved to reduce crashes according to the data collected. Fred also went on to explain the sustainability of traditional markets, shop fronts and suggested using green design as a integrated concept as compared to the specialised type of design.
Dan Collins, IBM, USA showcased how technology can be used in shaping sustainable future of transportation. An average person today experiences increased commute time to work which is a non-productive time for the commuter. To address this concern IBM is working on tools for congestion management which would reduce commute time. Dan explained infrastructure solutions like cordoned pricing or dynamic pricing for High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) Lanes. Solutions to predict traffic jams based on traffic motion are also being implemented which would predict a jam up to 90 minutes before traffic actually stops. This system is being used in Singapore and gives commuters an opportunity to choose the best available route during congestion. The case study of downtown Stockholm traffic involving IBM technology of dynamic pricing mechanism reduced carbon emissions, traffic congestion and increased the use of public transit. The city of Atlanta is also in the process of implementing cordoned pricing on its highway I-85 which is notorious for traffic jams.
Aaron Naparstek, the editor- in –chief of Streetsblog talked about the challenges of sustainable transportation in New York City (NYC). Average New Yorker emits 1/3 of the green house gasses as compared to average American because of the well connected transit systems. Aaron suggested some alternative sustainable transport solutions to reduce the green house gas emissions further. Bike infrastructure for American cities was an idea suggested in presentation which showed very successful examples from Germany and Paris and NYC. Bus rapid transit system was another successful idea which was used in Bogota and later in cities like Sao Paulo, Auckland and Paris. This type of mass transit system was said to be more sustainable than the way buses are managed at present. Some other ideas Aaron covered were parking management by pricing and availability, traffic congestion pricing on urban roads and making streets more liveable. Aaron went on to explain the significance of having liveable streets and gave some examples of efforts taken around the world for the cause like Parisian Summer gridlock on the Pompidou expressway, Williamsburg walks in NYC, Sumer street event in NYC and public space reclamation in Times Square.
The last contributor of the evening was a medical practitioner from NYC, Dr. Joseph Habboushe who was also working on a new tryp of mass transit idea to solve the crisis of transit in sprawled cities. Joe presented a proposal for perpetual express train to address the sprawl city of Los Angeles, which he and his colleagues designed. An interesting feature of this design was allowing the passengers would be able to transfer between trains via while trains are in motion, eliminating the need to transfer at the station. This idea, if implemented will divided the city of L.A into well connected pedestrian friendly neighbourhoods of 10 min radius each having a stop for perpetual express train system.
The urban landscape of Mumbai is changing at a rate faster than what most of us would have thought impossible to achieve a decade earlier. The speed of this change makes it sometimes hard for us to comprehend the extent of lasting impact we are creating on this megacity’s urban landscape. We hope to make the commute shorter for the hard working Mumbaites, we hope to provide businesses with presentable spaces to compete for the attention of city’s flourishing middle class, and we hope to turn Mumbai into a world’s premier city in impact and appearance. However, in doing so, we are also changing the social fabric of the city, sometimes unintentionally. We will explore two very pressing issues that the designer’s in Mumbai are facing today, social exclusion and spatial practises which are harbouring social exclusion in the city.
The concept of socio-social exclusion is a very ambiguous term. Sociologists around the world find it challenging to give it a clear interpretation due to varying social, cultural and political contexts in cities. In India where the Urban Designers/Architects are constantly designing for different cultural, religious and racial groups; social exclusion becomes an even more important issue to consider in order to ensure that we design integrated environments.
So what is socio-spatial exclusion? It is exclusion of group of residents on biases of race, religion, income or regional origin, from access to everything that the city space has to offer.
Every society functions on a fine balance between the inclusionary and exclusionary socio – spatial processes defined by people responsible for the smooth running of the society. In most of the organized world this responsible body is generally the local or national government. For example, most airports around the world have areas accessible only to passengers and staff. This is an example of necessary exclusion intended to control crimes and terrorist activities. Another example of spatial exclusion is one which many of us have experienced at some point of our life. So many times we find ourselves hesitant in entering an expensive looking shopping centre when we had no resources to participate in the activities hosted there, even though there might be no physical barriers to stop us from entering. All these subtle and sometimes not so subtle cues which restrict access to our surroundings make people feel alien, unwelcome or excluded from our social space: Mumbai city.
One of the unique features of Mumbai is its ability to provide attractive options for people from all socio-economic background. This socio-economic diversity is not only “nice” from an idealistic perspective, but it is also vital for sustenance of a well functioning society. So what happens when the 50 percent population of your city belongs to lower middle class or economically weaker section and feels hesitant to access its new infrastructure like high security shopping malls, gated buildings and parks? This is when the balance of the inclusionary and exclusionary processes of the social fabric in a city is disturbed by its regulated spatial practises.
The billions of rupees of investment in the city’s infrastructure is manifesting itself in the form of shopping malls, gated commercial /residential buildings , gated parks, sea links and even in the iconic statue of Shivaji. Many of these urban spaces in Mumbai are controlled by exclusionary devices like security checks, entrance fees, and high tolls. These kinds of devices are direct result of the urge of the private sector i.e developers and investors to protect their commodity – the urban land. They are not wrong in doing so but these kinds of restrictions have a direct relationship with a general sense of freedom and well being of a people with the choices open for them in their spatial practices. On the other hand if we have a wide range of social options, we would have a wide range of places to go to, places for living, working and entertainment.
As designers, we need to break the trap of socio-spatial exclusion and need to redefine the public private relationship of spaces. It is urgent to institute more inclusionary processes while developing new plans for Mumbai. Professor of Urban design Ali Madanipour in his book ‘Social Exclusion in European cities: Processes, Experiences and Responses’ suggests two approaches for socio – spatial inclusion. The first approach is to ‘decommodify spaces, so that private real estate market plays a less decisive role in spatial planning. This, in my opinion, is a difficult target for Mumbai to achieve considering that the major financial backing for Mumbai redevelopment comes from the private real estate developer-investors. The other approach is ‘deliberate city planning to despatialize social exclusion by building inclusionary housing units for low or moderate income households in neighbourhoods they could otherwise could not afford”. I consider this to be a more feasible solution.. The urban designers/ architects/ developers and government’s SPV’s need to think about coming with subsidised housing options in communities which otherwise would have been developed only for elite or rich citizens of Mumbai.
New design alternatives of city planning need to be developed to cater to and accommodate the entire city and relinquish the century old compartmental approach of designing. The prevailing tendency in town planning and design is to regulate and rationalise spaces by imposing order. It often ends up creating enclaves for the rich and ghettos for the poor. Space planners need to be conscious of this tendency and create new design solutions by rethinking spatial barriers and creating more accessible spaces in planning. This approach will hopefully contribute to promoting social integration and Mumbai will evolve into a more socially sustainable city.