LOUISIANA SMART GROWTH SUMMIT
With thinkers and planners, dreamers and visionaries rooting for a ‘smarter’ world, with smart phones and smarter cities being planned across the length and breadth of the globe, there are erudite discussions happening all over. There is a little to take away from each; despite huge differences in climate, culture, topography, and socio-economic parameters. However, it always helps to hear the views of master planners and thinkers. And from the land of Louisiana – TFOD Contributor Ar. Priyanka Malik reports on the Louisiana Smart Growth Summit; which saw speakers discuss a variety of issues related to better planning and management of cities. Planning for heathier communities, Urbanism in the age of climate change and Blue to Green: water management and sustainable infrastructure – were some of the topics discussed at the summit.
The Louisiana Smart Growth Summit held on 3rd and 4th November 2015 was predominantly an event targeted towards creating a platform for discussion to generate awareness for conception and establishment of communities which are healthy, economically vibrant and safer to live. Speakers from different walks of life were invited to present varied methodologies leading to similar goals for healthier settlements.
PLANNING FOR HEATHIER COMMUNITIES
The talk, "Planning for healthier communities," by Peter Calthrope, an architect-urban planner and Elizabeth Baca, Health Advisor, revolved around use of technology in making policies for a better living environment. Calthrope emphasized that the idea of smart growth where cities are walk-able healthier, sustainable, economically rich; all current ideas of planning, is only possible through cohesion of people and ideas from various fields. The speaker cited the example, of Honolulu, where the environmentalists protested in building Transit system but did not realise that building freeways would cost doubt the money, keeping in mind that development is imperative in today's growing world. Such people are shown presentations / interactive web portals of "this v/s that " scenarios and "benefit analysis" to convince to take the "smartest” way.
The co-speaker, Elizabeth Baca, drew interesting connections, between data collected through fields such as Health services and utilising it for better planning. For example, data collection over years has revealed that spending time in car is an unhealthy option healthy v/s walk -ability, a healthier option. She adds, that technology has the ability to develop pattern for creation of infrastructure related to health benefits like discovering movement patterns to draw walk-able and bicycle-able spaces.
Overall the speakers left us to reflect on the benefits of technology in churning out data to make people rethink their choice of living. Technology as we see today, can be creation of the problem and part of the solution. A good example that Peter cited was Google cars, a great idea which is being directed in the direction of addition to sprawl a system; current enemy of the planners; however if the same can be directed in organised automated rapid transit system, ("ART"), it can add in the planning of healthier communities. Extending the idea of inter disciplinary interactions, to create awareness & design solutions for the issues being faced by planning of cities is a must to produce better design for city planning.
URBANISM IN THE AGE OF CLIMATE CHANGE
The speaker of talk, Peter Calthrope, built the narrative around connection between planning strategies and climate change, globally. In the age of climate change, designers often ignore the impact and do not question the roots of carbon produced. He pointed out that in California, 60% of carbon emission comes from transportation. Globally it is noted that wealthier nations produce more carbon emission than others and most of these nations are considered technologically advanced. However, at different scales, the world is facing similar planning issues which are contributing to climate change. He defined 3 types of sprawl across the globe - Low Density sprawl (example USA), High Density sprawl (example China) and Low Income sprawl (example Mexico). And the solution, as Peter suggested, revolves around denser walk-able and bicycle- able streets, mixed use and transit developments for connecting communities. For a common man, issues created by climate change are of zero priority over trying to full-fill needs of family and job. As planners and designers we need to see that sprawling cities only add to the deterioration of health and climate change. But building of communities, with proximity between work - home - recreation is a better planning methodology. Not everything should be dedicated for and around cars, since the street network of a city is fundamental, it is essential to rethink the layout. This is achievable, Peter said, giving the example of LA, where the government is currently spending money on building transit developments.
In the all optimistic talk of planning to handle climate change, the speaker only discussed the character of street network in reducing carbon emission. We all know that landscape helps in climate change mitigation, however it seemed that its role was limited to only Green streets. The point is highlighted in a slide where he showed a dense high rise dense development in China, with markets on the ground floor, however, the structure around the market remained all grey: an indicator of high heat absorption. Never the less, the talk did invoke ideas to rethink planning strategies in the context of climate change.
BLUE TO GREEN : WATER MANAGEMENT AND SUSTAINABLE INFRASTRUCTURE
Ramiro Diaz and Virginia Roch were the speakers of the talk Blue to Green: Water Management and Sustainable Infrastructure. The former speaker spoke about the city of New Orleans and its water management plan at the city scale. Ramiro emphasized the importance of Water as a Natural Resource. It not only, provides drinking water supply but also adds value to a place. Water as a resource should be celebrated where as in few cities like New Orleans it is not. The plan discussed that in New Orleans, millions of dollars are spent on hiding water through means of Grey infrastructure where as it would be less expensive to manage water at various scales like balancing ground water through blue - green strategies or building storm water parks, recreating wetlands and so on.
The second speaker Virginia spoke about water management in New York where little bit of rain causes the combined sewers to over flow. Roch showcased the sustainable methods of creating Blue - Green streets by building Rain garden and Bio-swales and materials like porous paving allow water to infiltrate into the soil.
The talk was a good example of acknowledging the fact that cities are part of Nature. Respecting limitations of Nature and trying to see development and landscape in unison is essential.