Did you know that over 60% of the infrastructure the world will see in place by 2030 is yet to be built (World Bank)? A large part of it will be built in Asian cities, and that is because over 60% of the increase in the world’s urban population by 2030 will occur in Asia. By then, Asia’s total urban population will exceed 2,6 billion. This is 4,3 times the increase that will happen in Latin America (604 million) and 3,4 times the increase in Africa (766 million).
What do we conclude from this? Well, the coming 10 years will basically determine how Asian cities will feel and look like for decades. We are making this choice today, and this choice lies between, on one side, the path of sustainability, climate resilience, economic competitiveness, and social inclusiveness and, on the other side, uniform concrete, glass and steel jungles that grew disregarding local conditions and imperatives.
This choice is about whether or not we build in line with the local context. What does building in line with the local context mean? It means that we preserve and revive critical water bodies and green areas in cities instead of encroaching upon them. It means that we use local materials when we can avoid bringing from far standardized and high in embodied energy materials such as steel or glass. It means that we build in line with the local climate, get inspired from vernacular design techniques and opt for human scale when we are a small or a medium size city. It means that we involve local artisans and craftsmen so that our buildings have a personal touch and generate local jobs. And, finally, it means that we constantly look at creative ways of bringing together the newest technological findings and learnings from our local past. Such an approach is bound to create a unique, vibrant, attractive, competitive and sustainable city.
What can we do to make this shift a reality? First, we need to acknowledge that we as citizens, as urban practitioners, as decision-makers have a say in how our cities feel and look like. We intuitively know what is best for us, and we need to voice it out. And then, we can take those actions that lie at the reach of our hand. A flower pot or a lantern on our balcony, a tiny abandoned corner of the street revived with plants, a repainted façade – that much can transform the way we feel when walking on a street.
Here is a story that makes us believe change is possible. In 2016, Vaa Nanba NGO in Madurai (India) picked up brooms and brushes to clean and paint the walls near the once shabby Nelpettai junction. Not only it transformed the neighborhood, but it also created a spillover effect. Madurai Commissioner, Sandeep Nanduri, was impressed with the outcomes and launched a scaled up social intervention project. Paintings portraying the history, culture and rich ancient character of Madurai now adorn pillars of flyovers, railway bridges and public buildings of the city. Altogether, the Vaa Nanba intervention showed that mobilizing citizens and decision-makers for a transformational change is absolutely possible.
The TEDxFMS talk on Building Unique Cities gives more insights. See you there!
By Olga Chepelianskaia, Founder of UNICITI