Event ReportsPublished on Jun 16, 2017
Building a smart Coimbatore: Eco-sensitive planning and design very important

Creation of opportunities for pro-active participation of citizens in city designing and management, and adoption of an ecologically sensitive planning and design approach can help in developing smart and sustainable cities.

Coimbatore is one of the “lighthouse cities” in the smart cities mission and its smart city proposal was ranked 13th among the 100 cities chosen under the mission. The city and its proposals focussed on the ecological restoration of its lakes that are its raison d’etre. The other feature of the smart city proposal was its resounding citizen participation programme. Coimbatore is expected to receive technical support from the German government for designing smart infrastructure projects.

The case of Coimbatore was discussed in a workshop on smart cities organised on 6 and 7 June 2017 under the umbrella of the German House for Research and Innovation (DWIH) by the Heidelberg Centre South Asia (HCSA) and Observer Research Foundation (ORF). Other partners included Friedrich Naumann Foundation, the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), the Indian Institute of Architects (IIA Coimbatore Chapter) and the Bavarian-Indian Centre (BayIND). This workshop, second in the series, was held in collaboration with local institutions PSG College of Technology and Kumaraguru College of Technology (KCT-BS). The first one was organised in Shimla on 19 and 20 May 2017.

In his opening address, Dr. K. Vijayakarthikeyan, the Municipal Commissioner of Coimbatore Corporation and Managing Director, Smart Cities Mission, mentioned that the smart cities mission is a collective dream that can be fulfilled only by taking the nature along and providing basic services in an efficient and sustainable manner.

Three thematic sessions were conducted as part of the workshop with focus on inclusive cities, resource management, and infrastructure and mobility. An interactive session for the benefit of the students was also held to enhance understanding of the various issues related to smart and sustainable city development.

The significance of participation exercise in inclusive planning was highlighted by Mr. C.R. Swaminathan, President, Residents Awareness Association of Coimbatore, during his keynote address. It was mentioned that Coimbatore is a very progressive city and open to ideas for city development. The inaugural session also offered an overview of the urban policy progression in India and the smart cities mission. The challenges faced in smart city proposal implementation were particularly highlighted, including key aspects such as capacity building of the Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV), financial sustainability of the ULBs, PPP modelling, structuring and ring fencing of projects following a consortium approach that ensures end to end tying up of projects to ensure their financial sustainability (Manvendra Deswal).

The session on inclusive cities brought out the need for careful evaluation of city plans and proposals with respect to city needs and the need to strengthen the democratically elected local government that offers a responsible governance structure (D. Dhanuraj). Capacity building of ULB officials as also the elected representatives was particularly highlighted (N. Muthuswamy). Concern was also expressed over the delay in the conduct of municipal elections in Coimbatore that adversely impacts democratic governance and stalls the city development efforts (Rumi Aijaz). The session also brought out city redesign ideas through appropriate density planning and redevelopment of old areas (abandoned industrial areas). Emphasis was given on planning land use based on work-living relationships and creation of open breathing lung spaces within the city core (Nirmal S.J. Britto).

The next session focussed on resource management. Efficient waste management by segregation and composting and at the same time transitioning to a circular economy (integration of rag pickers and financial sustainability) was given emphasis (Chitra Mukherjee). The gender concerns and aspect of equity was specifically discussed with respect to urban water systems. The need for understanding exclusion factors was pointed out to be important (Dipesh Suvarna).

Several methods of eco-friendly treatment of wastewater at various levels, including river, lakes, wetland and household wastewater, were discussed. Some of the methods described included vetiver technology; reed bed system for landfills and effective microorganisms activated solution (EMAS) (Selvakumar). The need for reducing urban energy consumption was particularly stressed upon to achieve energy efficiency and contribute to sustainable environment. It was suggested that small measures including terrace gardens, sky rise greeneries, basement car parking and green spaces in setback areas within the high rise residential apartments can go a long way in reducing urban heat emissions (Bhuvanasundar).

Smart resource management is also about smart integration of services that can significantly lower the operations cost and achieve efficient maintenance. For this, the need for connected infrastructure and information networks was pointed out (Siddharth Ravikumar). A video on Coimbatore’s journey towards resuscitating its water bodies was shown by “Siruthuli” — an NGO based in Coimbatore. The importance of people’s participation in increasing urban green growth, waste management and recharge of water bodies was highlighted. The need for synergising innovative solutions and people’s participation to bring out smart and sustainable urban development was particularly emphasised (Vanitha Mohan).

The final session on smart infrastructure and mobility brought out aspects related to smart transportation and power infrastructure with specific reference to Coimbatore. Emphasis was laid on smart power grid management that focussed on information centralisation, energy supervision, correct cost assignment and preventive maintenance planning through smart transformers and programmable devices for quality monitoring (M. Sundaram).

An overview of urban development of Coimbatore was given with particular emphasis on its regional interactions with other cities such as Tiruppur, Madurai and Palakkad. The need for establishment of an urban development authority was emphasised for planned development of Coimbatore. Key routes for improving intercity and intra city transportation were discussed (Arun Prasad). Further, the urban built environment of Coimbatore was discussed with reference to its lakes and water tanks. The initiative within the smart city proposal to establish green connectors (non-motorised transport corridors and pedestrian skywalks) around the lakes as a mechanism to remove/prevent encroachments on natural water channels and contribute towards smart mobility was discussed (Sarfaraz Syed Yaseen).

Previously in his welcome remarks, Mr. Radu Carciumaru, Resident Representative, Heidelberg Centre South Asia, emphasised the need to undertake collaborative research in the area of sustainable urban development. Rumi Aijaz, Senior Fellow, ORF mentioned that this workshop seeks to serve as an interactive platform and the lessons learned will be documented for use of policy makers.

Over 20 speakers presented their work and ideas. They represented institutions such as Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR), Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Resident Awareness Association of Coimbatore, Siruthuli, Tamil Nadu Institute of Urban Studies (TNUIS), Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), and private firms such as Design Consortium, Kalycito, and Urban Design Collaborative. The workshop was attended by nearly 80 participants including planners, architects and students.

This report is prepared by Anuradha Yagya. Ms. Yagya is an independent development consultant.

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