Building Sustainable Frameworks to Make Cities Prosper

January 7, 2017
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‘With the growth of a city, the country prospers.’ Today, India is on the trajectory of redesigning its cities to make them citizen-friendly and sustainable. The Government of India has launched ‘Smart Cities Mission’, an urban renewal and retrofitting programme, to develop 100 cities across the country. As the Ministry of Urban Development in India works towards shaping the identity of its cities, Palava Times spoke with Senior Urban Planner for the World Bank, Washington DC and former Mayor for Madrid’s Central District, Pedro Ortiz for his insights on the essentials to design a ‘livable’ city and best practices for its successful growth.

How would you define ‘livability’ in a city?
The concept of livability is culture-related. Every culture will look for different items as the goals for quality of life. If you focus on ‘comfort’, which is most sought after by us, I would say five key essentials that define livability are housing, job opportunities, environmental quality, recreational opportunities and GDP. Housing facilities ensure ‘zero’ annual housing deficit, therefore, eliminates any slum percentage. Job opportunities ensure restriction of the unemployment rate. An ideal rate of unemployment should not be more than 3%. Environmental quality is a crucial aspect of every city as it impacts health and well-being. A city should aim to have its citizens enjoy a life expectancy of 79 years for men and 85 years for women. Most importantly, cities should offer recreational opportunities where citizens can pursue their hobbies while managing their professional commitments. ‘Walk to work’ should be emphasized upon by every planner. An ideal time to commute between work and home should be not more than 30 minutes every day. Lastly, a city’s wealth is a global indicator of livability. If a city’s GDP per capita is in the range of 30,000 USD, it is said to be a good performer.

Which global cities, according to you, have etched a mark for their livability quotient and why?
The most livable cities in the world are the ones in Northern Europe. According to me, the most sought after ones would be Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo. They have attained equilibrium between efficiency and equity within a sustainable framework. While some may critique them to be monotonous and lacking culture, they are very efficient and rationale. I mentioned earlier that livability is related to culture, therefore, you see the Italians or the Colombians or the Rwandans prefer to live in their own cities. I strongly recommend that while building cities, we should concentrate on personalizing their infrastructure to make them livable and not simply replicate solutions of others as that may probably not work for us. In simple words, I believe one should be inspired, but should not blindly replicate.

Is the growth of a city and its citizens directly proportional to its livability quotient?
Cities or metropolises grow because they offer hope. Citizens can expect more from one city over the other. People move from rural to urban (350,000 every day in India) because they are looking for a better life with work opportunities and housing options. One changes his or her existing culture and location in the hope that their children will lead a better life in the new place. I believe cities grow because of their ‘expectations’ quotient, not because of their livability.

If not, what is most essential for the growth of a city?
A city with a strong framework and sustainable facilities will always grow. The responsibility of the city managers is to make cities livable and to build them within a sustainable framework. Once things are set right, cities will organically attract people and grow. For the growth of any city, its managers, which means its politicians and civil servants should primarily grow a sound economy that will produce jobs and wealth, provide decent housing that is affordable, well-located and equipped with all the social facilities and ensure fair distribution of city wealth.

How has urban planning evolved?
In the 70s the trend was computational analysis, in the 80s it was community action, the 90s saw conservation of environment, the last decade witnessed bottom-up participation and presently it lies with climate and technology. Today, those concerned with social equity are focusing on sustainability, resilience to food risks and climate change. Those aiming to enhance economic efficiency are focusing on smart cities. I personally feel rather than focusing on a different aspect every decade, we should integrate and focus on them together as that will be more impactful for the citizens.

What is your opinion on cities in India? Do you have any suggestions for them?
India is a remarkable country; its cities are beautiful as they reflect the incredible Indian culture. Indian culture is among the top six cultures of the world today. But Indian cities are under enormous strain due to the explosion of growth in the country. To ease the strain, cities must harness the growth. They need to plan better by focusing on city statistics such as the annual need of housing land services and availability of mass public infrastructure to sustain its population growth. It should strengthen its public administration efficiency and finance capacity. India’s political leadership and collective intelligence of the society can help better cities by putting their priorities right.

How would you design a ‘city’ in India?
I would design with intelligence instead of smartness. I would ensure the fundamental concepts are got right before thinking which technology would be the best to achieve the intelligent goals. It is important to first ensure the basic amenities are provided and then turn focus on using technological smart instruments to further enhance the design of the city.

Which has been your most memorable urban planning projects and why?
From 1996 to 2016, I was given the responsibility to create the Metropolitan Planning of Madrid. It addressed the needs for housing land and public transport for the Madrilenian and it worked very well. I hope the Mumbaikar’s will benefit from the same results out of the recently approved regional plan announced by the Indian Government.

Pedro Ortiz has previously served as Deputy Director of the Council of Architects of Madrid and Director of the Institute for Urban Renewal, a joint venture between the public and private sectors in Madrid. He was also the Founder and Director of the Masters Program of Town Planning of the University King Juan Carlos of Madrid. He is also a member of the Madrid’s City Council (1987-1995) where he was responsible for Urban Prospective (1993- 1995) and for Culture (1991-1993). He served as Director of the “Strategic Plan for Madrid” (1991-1994) and as Director General for Town and Regional Planning for the Government of Madrid Region. He has authored two books, “Regional Development Plan of Madrid of 1996” and the “Land Planning Law of 1997.”

Read more on this work at www.pedrobortiz.com/

Is Palava the Smart City That India Today Needs?

December 26, 2016
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Consider these scenarios: A completely Wi-Fi enabled city where citizens can connect to work while resting under a tree in their neighbourhood park. A universal ID card that can be used for cashless transactions and also acts as a key to enter your building with advanced security systems. A dedicated mobile app that can be used in a crisis to summon an emergency response team in less than 10 minutes. Sounds like a Hollywood movie with a plot set in the future?

These features may appear to be somewhat futuristic but are already a reality at Palava, a greenfield first-of-its-kind smart city project coming up rapidly on the outskirts of Mumbai. The project’s uniqueness lies in the fact that a real estate developer is developing it, rather than any nodal agency in Urban Planning. With over 25,000 homes sold in 6 years since its inception, the city is planned to be a home to 4 lac families and have 3.5 lac jobs in its business district by 2025.

For Palava, the city developer Lodha Group has a franchise agreement with Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Co. Ltd for near-uninterrupted electricity supply and solar panels power its street lights. It has a tie-up with General Electric Co. (GE) for 100% flush water recycling, and automated water metering and billing to ensure transparency and zero water loss. The city has also tied up with IBM to incorporate its smarter cities technology using advanced, data-driven systems to integrate information from all city operations into a single system, to improve efficiency and deliver an enhanced quality of life for the residents.

Information technology accounts for only 5% of the total project cost, says Shaishav Dharia, Regional CEO (Palava) at Lodha Group, adding: “The Lodha Group has also set up Palava City Management Association with urban experts and citizens as members to deal with day-to-day issues, as well as a 311 grievance helpline number and 911 emergency helpline number for citizens, and a mobile app. Palava’s smart technology also extends to 500 surveillance cameras that capture real-time data and in future will support facial recognition for entry and have panic alarms every 200 meters. A smart card given to all Palava citizens will allow cashless transactions at retail centres, access to bus service, public Wi-Fi within Palava’s premises, building, and commercial points entry, and information access from the Palava command centre.”

Two operational schools, the Lodha World School and Pawar Public School offer an all established Indian and international syllabi. Shri Ram Universal School (from the stable of “Shri Ram Schools” widely acknowledged as the holy grail of schooling in India) is set to open shortly. “My children and I love to cycle, and we do it just for leisure around the riverside promenade or even to catch the latest movie at PVR at the neighbourhood Xperia Mall! Everything is just a 5-minute ride from my home, therefore, one doesn’t have to rush all the time,” says Tasneem Pithawala, a resident of South Mumbai who bought a golf-course facing villa at Palava in 2013.

The potential for smart cities in India is enormous—something that makes Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 100 smart cities goal an achievable one. “India’s urban population will reach 590 million by 2030, living in at least 60 cities with a population of more than one million, requiring an investment of $1.2 trillion by the government for their development,” Dharia says.

The Maharashtra State Government has given its nod to the construction of a 21km flyover starting from Kalyan, the first step towards building the Mumbai-Nagpur super highway. In addition to the same, there is 1.7km road tunnel planned to connect Airoli in Navi Mumbai to Shil-phata. And the most recent announcement is that of the 7.5km JVLR-Khoparkhairane-Ghansoli Bridge, to provide a seamless corridor for travelling to Kalyan, Thane, Dombivali, and provide a direct corridor to the upcoming second international airport.

Sharing the plans for the near future, a Lodha Group spokesperson shared that Palava will soon have an Olympic-standard Sports Complex, a Centre for Arts and Culture, 20 schools and much more. While real estate developers often ride the trend wave on impulse, the structured planning and dynamic execution of Palava seems to define the onset of Smart City development in India. Whether this will define the route for others to follow is definitely worth the watch.

For enquiries around buying a home at Palava, SMS PALAVA to 52424.

Carpool With sRide to Save Trees

December 1, 2016

Palava continues to strengthen its bonhomie with the start-up community and build new partnerships. Its newest hyperlocal partner is ‘sRide’, a service dedicated to carpooling in India. Since its launch in Palava in August, this carpool app has not only helped citizens save time and money on travel to and from Palava but has also saved 1056 Kgs of carbon dioxide, equivalent to planting 50 trees a month. sRide’s COO, Nitin Chadha shares insights on the journey of this transportation startup.

How is sRide changing the way commute is undertaken in the city?

sRide is present across 4 cities, Pune, Hyderabad, Bangalore & Mumbai and the one trend that we have seen in common across all cities is that when we launch in a city, there are early adopters who have been waiting for a service like this for a while and start using it from day one. There are some who get references from their friends or colleagues and start using it 2-3 times in a week. Eventually, a large part of the office going population uses it on a day to day basis to commute to their workplaces, which they do approximately 10 times a week and 44 times a month. While people generally use any another taxi app based services twice or thrice in a month, the possibility of using sRide is about 44 times a month. It is as easy as using some of the other social media applications (WhatsApp, Facebook) that are used on a daily basis. This has given riders (who were earlier using public transport) a comfortable & cost-effective commute facility. The saving is substantial in the case of both riders as well as car-owners. Apart from that, carpooling not only reduces the pressure on roads but also creates a strong social community with people that you are carpooling with. It connects people with others from their community, office, or neighborhood who they have never met earlier. It creates social impact and exchange of interesting stories during the commute. The social networking that people are able to do while carpooling is exclusive to our platform.

Do you see a trend in the commuters becoming more eco-friendly?

Absolutely! This is a very exciting time to be in the transportation industry. Today’s generation is very eco-conscious. People are not only looking for easy to use, eco-friendly transportation but are also looking for a transportation that is impactful, cost-effective and that gives back to society. Carpooling is the only way of commuting that fulfills all these requirements. It helps you reduce traffic & pollution, saves cost, and helps one create a green impact on an individual level by reducing levels of CO2. Our users are very conscious and aware of the number of kilometers they are carpooling and the amount of carbon emissions being reduced.

Can you share some highlights of the operation strategy that makes sRide a distinct service?

sRide platform focuses on making its service a way of life. It lays special emphasis on aspects important to users: security, ease of use, online payments, and professional networking. We have partnerships with some of the largest IT companies across these cities (sRide works with 150+ companies across cities) and have helped both organizations, as well as employees, reduce their transportation cost. The platform is very advanced and can support both intra-city carpool and long distance carpooling. It can be used in any part of the world. Currently, in India, we are focusing only on the home-office commute as that forms the bulk of what we like to call as peak hour traffic. This traffic takes place every day, sometimes twice a day and is something everyone wants relief from. A 20% reduction in this issue can bring a huge improvement in employee productivity and health status of people.

How is sRide helping build community engagement?

sRide is helping communities in a huge way. If you take the example of Palava and the IT companies in Navi Mumbai, there are at least 4000-5000 people in each of these companies and a lot of them might be living in Palava or the nearby areas. The chances of a person knowing all the people from his or her organization are remote but on availing sRide, one gets the option to access and connect with them and to network with other professionals. One has the option to carpool with the same person every day or connect with new people on a daily basis. You can connect with all the people who live within 1-2kms from your residence. Who knows one may even find a salsa partner or tennis companion while riding to work!

How are you encouraging commuters to ride with sRide?

Most of our users are self-motivated and see the value in carpooling. Over 50% of our users come from referrals and are encouraged by their friends or family to carpool every day. They realize the value of the impact they have on the food chain and the environment by reducing CO2 emissions and saving trees. Other periodical incentives offered to them are often overshadowed by this achievement. A lot of the people who are genuinely eco-friendly and want to conserve the environment, in reality, have never even planted a tree. You can verify this by asking around. It often never occurs to people that they have never planted a single tree in their lifetime, so when we tell people that by carpooling for 105 km they are reducing CO2 that is equivalent to 1 tree in a year it suddenly makes them beam with pride. Everyone wants to contribute to society and sRide helps one accomplish the same. The motivation drawn from this accomplishment is the biggest encouragement for our commuters. Another encouraging factor is the effective cost saving that is possible by carpooling every day, in the long run, for all users be it riders or car owners. By using sRide commuters have been able to cut down their travel costs by up to 70% per month. That is substantial saving if calculated on a yearly basis.

Is sRide redefining the statistics often shared for transport and commute?

Carpooling is a not a new concept in India. It has been around for decades. Sharing a car or a bike ride with your friend while going to college was nothing but carpooling. But back then, it was unorganized, not trackable and did not give any options to the user if his/her co-rider was not available on a particular day. Today at sRide, we work with the city management about information on the city and its traffic routes. We use technology to access relevant information in an effective way to make transportation easier and carpooling more organized and reliable.

Can you tell us about the partnership of sRide with Palava?

We are very proud to be associated with Palava and grateful to have this opportunity to be a part of a Smart City that encourages sustainable transportation. Citizens of Palava are very eco-friendly and we have seen its impact in the very first month of our launch. The number of trips completed and the number of kilometers carpooled have been very encouraging, considering carpool is a density based solution that takes a while to create a high-density corridor. We expect to make Palava the top Smart City in India with the least amount of carbon footprint from transportation. Our aim is to reduce carbon emission during office commute by 25%.

What are the future plans for your partnership with Palava?

Palava is still developing and in the next 2-3 years, the number of citizens living there will be huge. That’ll also increase the need for better infrastructure and transportation not only within Palava but essentially outside the city, connecting to Mumbai. We have committed our full support to the Palava City Management Association to make sustainable transportation as one of the focus points and increase the density & usage of carpooling in the next one year. We want to set Palava as a benchmark for Smart Cities in terms of sustainable transportation as it has the potential to do so.

What are the future plans of sRide in India?

Currently, sRide is present in Pune, Hyderabad & Bangalore (apart from Palava). We do have a plan to expand to other major cities in India but as of now, we want to focus on what we are doing in the existing cities and make a larger impact there.

Could you share some insights about your team?

sRide has a small team of 15 people and we are very proud of what we have achieved with a very small and agile core. Our CEO and Founder, Lakshan Jha has 18+ years of experience in IT and has worked with companies like Infosys and Cognizant.