Archive for E-Magazine Issue 18

Urbanscape: New Challenges, Newer Solutions

Dear Reader,

Cities are complex, organic things, each one with its own energy, identity, character even.  That is partly because since early civilization, the diverse populations of cities have made them hubs of industry, commerce and innovation.

But as they have proliferated, so have the challenges in ensuring a decent quality of life for urban residents. Today, rapid urbanization has created a host of problems that need urgent and innovative solutions that will provide all denizens the proverbial trifecta of urban need: roti, kapd aur makaan (food, clothing and shelter).

But the solutions no longer rest with a single entity, such as the government, the private sector or civil society. Increasingly a coalition of innovators, researchers and executors are collaborating to address myriad urban issues. » Continue reading “Urbanscape: New Challenges, Newer Solutions”

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Image of the Fortnight: May 19 – June 1

“Unity” by Mohammad Rakibul Hasan
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The Future of Food

This story originally appeared in our May 19th, 2011 e-magazine. Click here to subscribe.

With bursting populations and high food prices, the food security of urban dwellers is approaching a crossroads. Beyond Profit looks at two different solutions addressing the future of food.

As developing countries enter periods of high growth – particularly China and India – they are increasingly faced with a dilemma: how to maintain high growth rates while keeping inflation low? Indeed, rising food prices is one of the most serious issues facing Indian politicians and policymakers, especially given the large number of poor.

Globally, food prices have nearly doubled between 2004 and 2008, and have remained high since. The most significant price increase was in the price of cereals – the price of wheat doubled in the 2005-2008 period, while the price of rice and maize tripled in that period. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) index, real global food prices increased to 232 points in April 2011 from 170 points in April 2010. » Continue reading “The Future of Food”

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Ambitious Ideas in Urban Transport

This story originally appeared in our May 19th, 2011 e-magazine. Click here to subscribe

We take a look at five inventive – if less than practical – urban transport concepts.

1. Solar-Powered Pods

Dave Owsen designed these pods to resemble plant cells: autonomous and powered by the sun. The small pods can hold two adults and luggage or one adult and two small children. Passengers can select their destination and route from within the pod. Researchers at MIT even designed an organic dye that concentrates light at the edge of the window where solar cells are waiting to convert it to electricity. Businesses can also use the system to ship packages.

2. The Straddling Bus

What happens when buses can no longer drive on the roads because of too many cars? Drive over them, of course. A Chinese company has actually designed an enormous bus that will do just that. While the bus doesn’t require elevated tracks or tunneling, it does make it easier for people to drive private vehicles—something most urban planners want to discourage. See the bus in action here. The estimated cost is $7.4mn (INR 330mn) for each bus and 25 miles (40.2 kms) of track—one-tenth the cost of building a subway over the same distance.

3. Perpetual Motion

Because a lot of energy and time is wasted when trains stop and start at stations, Taiwanese inventor Peng Yu-lun has designed a train that doesn’t stop. How do passengers board a non-stopping train? Pods – which travel on the roofs of the high-speed trains – would essentially latch onto the train at the station and allow passengers to board and exit the train. One pod is dropped off and another picked up at each station. Certainly the pod presents engineering challenges, but the logic that stopping slows you down is impossible to argue with. See the concept in action here.

4. High-Flying Cables

Martin Angelov, a Bulgarian architect, has created two projects based on moving transportation above the car traffic. Kolelinia looks like a tightrope for bikes but is actually a system of towers and steel cables with a U-shaped rim—essentially to keep the bike tires from slipping out. Kolelinio uses the wire system but has people strapping on battery-powered packs that allow them to zip to popular destinations in the city. The idea wowed crowds at the TEDx conference in Thessaloniki. See the idea in action here.

5. Bicycle Monorail

What was originally an “adventure ride” has become an urban transport idea. Australian Geoffrey Barnett’s bicycle-powered monorail won Google’s Project 10100 in the “Drive Innovation in Public Transport” category last year. While this personal rapid transit (PRT) system – called Shweeb – looks fun and eco-friendly, the infrastructure required seems to outmatch the actual benefit. One kilometer of track costs $1mn (INR 45mn) compared to $2.4mn (INR 107mn) for 1 km of a two-lane urban road. Watch a prototype in action here.

Photo credits: Dave Owsen, Shenzhen Huashi Future Car-Parking Equipment, Peng Yu-lun, Kolelinia and Shweeb

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The Built Climate

This story originally appeared in our May 19th, 2011 e-magazine. Click here to subscribe

The way we construct our urban environments can have serious implications on the weather conditions in cities. Radhika Khosla talks about the implications of this on temperature, energy use and health.

While you were at the University of Chicago, you did research on urban climatology. For the uninitiated, can you explain what that is?
Urban climatology is a particular branch of climatology – the study of long-term weather conditions or climate – that examines the interactions, processes and impacts between urban areas and their atmosphere. Urban climates incorporate a wide range of temporal and spatial scales. Time scales extend from fractions of a second, to centuries, as in the long-term climatic changes over a city’s life history. Space scales range from millimeters, to thousands of kilometers, as in the extent of a pollutant plume from a megalopolitan region.

An urban microclimate is a discrete region where values of radiative and meteorological variables differ from their average over larger spatial scales. This can be as small as the footprint area of a single building or as large as 1-2 square kilometers. A single metropolis can thus contain a range of varying microclimates at different locations. The thermal, physical and spatial characteristics within the microclimate alter the energy fluxes that heat and cool the surface, thus influencing the diurnal temperature cycle. An agglomeration of this effect, characterized by a temperature differential between densely built areas and their surroundings, is defined as an urban heat island. Average heat island intensities – or the difference in temperature between urban centers and their rural surroundings ­– lie between 8-10 degrees C. » Continue reading “The Built Climate”

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Why Foresight?

This story originally appeared in our May 19th, 2011 e-magazine. Click here to subscribe

Futures tools are gaining importance in planning for the urban poor. Claudia Juech and Evan Michelson from the Rockefeller Foundation write about the importance of pro-poor foresight.

The effects of events such as the American subprime mortgage crisis leading to a widespread and deep economic recession or the Japanese tsunami disrupting global supply chains tell us that it is becoming more and more difficult to forecast what the future may look like in 10 or 15 years. In our increasingly complex and interdependent world, the high pace of change, trends and discontinuities in demography, lifestyles, technology and economy can rapidly create new opportunities as well as threats.

Corporations and governments have been using forward-looking approaches for decades to inform their strategic decision-making. Given the high stakes and importance of considering the future of issues related to poverty and development, it is necessary to adopt those approaches – that illuminate alternative futures, identify potential solutions and take advantage of new opportunities – for improving people’s lives. Developing such a long-term perspective requires the utilization of a wide range of future-oriented tools, techniques and methodologies – such as scenario planning exercises, simulations and roadmaps – that can expand the mindset of key stakeholders, examine different strategies in a “safe space,” and discover unexpected pathways upfront. » Continue reading “Why Foresight?”

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Partner for the Greater Good

This story originally appeared in our May 19th, 2011 e-magazine. Click here to subscribe.

It’s hard for either the government or the private sector to completely serve poor populations. Oftentimes, the best way is to team up. We look at a private-public partnership providing clean water and sewage services in Pakistan.

Water is an essential ingredient for life, but 1 billion people – or nearly 1 in 6 of the planet’s population  – do not have access to clean water. Many see it as a government imperative to provide its citizens with clean drinking water, but what happens when the government can’t meet that need alone?

In the Union Council 60 area of Lahore, Pakistan, the drinking water was contaminated with sewage causing residents to suffer from cholera, typhoid, diarrhea, dysentery and Hepatitis A. More than half of the residents were unhappy with the quality of the water, but only 5% were aware that boiling the water could improve the quality.

The Government of Punjab wasn’t able to meet the need on its own so it called upon Anjuman Samaji Behbood (ASB), an NGO working on integrated models for water and sanitation in Pakistan, to implement their participatory planning model – where communities are involved in the planning – in the area. » Continue reading “Partner for the Greater Good”

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Socially Inclusive Cities

This story originally appeared in our May 19th, 2011 e-magazine. Click here to subscribe

Although today’s cities face many challenges, they also posses the potential to be socially inclusive, environmentally sustainable and economically thriving.

By Prathima Manohar

The 21st century is the age of cities. Earlier this decade, we reached a historic milestone when over 50% of humanity started living in cities. Urbanization may be at the heart of some of the world’s most pressing problems today from climate change to poverty, but if leveraged appropriately, urbanization can be at the heart of the solutions. Cities can offer a remarkable way to create a socially inclusive, environmentally sustainable and economically thriving society.

In the coming years, policymakers face difficult challenges of balancing environmental concerns, promoting robust economic growth, safeguarding social justice, as well as ensuring good quality of life. Clearly, cities are complex systems and we need to embrace a wide variety of innovative strategies at macro and micro levels to bring alive the visions of the ideal city that is green, equitable, vibrant and pleasant. But the principles of urban planning based on dense, walkable, mass transit driven, mixed use communities integrated with high performance buildings and infrastructure can lead to transformative change. » Continue reading “Socially Inclusive Cities”

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