Resident Annoyance

By Galen Laserson

“My idea of a perfect school…is one that has no children in it at all.  One of these days I shall start up a school like that.  I think it will be very successful.”

– Headmistress Agatha Trunchbull (from Roald Dahl’s Matilda)

Building sustainable cities would be easier without the presence of a confounding factor:  the people who live in them. Living PlanIT illustrates some challenges of building and attracting people to a green field “city.” For the most part, sustainability efforts focus on making infrastructure improvements to existing cities teeming with residents who are accustomed to or aggravated by the status quo (or both). Thus, managing change is integral to urban redevelopment.

Residents are the gatecrashers poised to overrun the public-private partnership party.  In the Dharavi case, the interests of the area residents, which should arguably be a central priority of any city plan, were expressed as an afterthought.  Though Dharavi offers a pointed example, the complexities that residents surface through their behaviors and desires are omnipresent and powerful – from the dueling interests of groups of citizens in Bogota to the conflicts between citizens and water bandits in Mexico City.

People generally do not like change, especially when it involves accepting short-term pain to achieve a long-term goal (ask anyone who lives on Second Avenue about Manhattan’s new subway). How, then, do entities responsible for championing infrastructure improvements or urban development engage effectively in change management? Continue reading

Individual Behavior and Collective Sustainability

By Rami Sarafa

How individuals respond to large-scale projects is a core consideration for developers. Real estate, infrastructure and transit projects aimed at creating greater efficiency and savings can seem ideal as blueprints, but necessarily in practice.  It’s essential for the curators of a given project to incent and educate constituents in order to shape behaviors or a new style of living; this approach is especially essential in pursuing large-scale projects that strive to provision for future generations. The Dharavi case study is an example of how developers must consider particular needs/desires, while hopefully incenting individuals to live differently than how they’re accustomed.

sponsorship dubai metro

A particularly salient example is the potential development (or redevelopment) of a country’s transit system. Such projects are only as successful as its potential beneficiaries allow it to be. One case example I’ve personally witnessed is the construction of the metro in the emirate of Dubai. In theory, the project’s massive cost should be offset by time, environmental and financial savings given the state’s busy highways and streets. However, the system has primarily attracted tourists and joyriders rather than actually serving as a transit alternative for Dubai’s motorists. Individuals still prefer to expend resources (i.e. petrol money, time) fo  the convenience of driving. Individuals have also smirked at the prospect of being in crowded trains with strangers (especially cross-gender) given the state’s Arab-Islamic identity.

Dubai metro station

Dubai has pursued some policies that have been effective and others that are unsuccessful. One retroactive measure the government has pursued is installing automated tolls on the city’s major highways to disincentive drivers and promote public transport. However, this measure has had little impact on motorists who live in one of the wealthiest states in the world. The project designer’s integration of different cabins by class (premium vs. economy) and gender-segregation has been more successful. For instance, work commuters can use Wi-Fi in the premium class, which takes into account their specific needs/wants. Since the metro line is still limited in terms of breadth, shuttles connect metro stations to other parts of the cities. But because these shuttles were the same design as public-city buses (which traditionally only blue collar workers utilized), wealthier individuals did not want to take them. Distinctly designed, metro shuttles now connect the stations, which has helped encourage use. Such lessons are now being applied to the second and third phases of the project, which are aimed at provisioning for future decades.

Dubai metro is an example of how understanding and alignment (or lack thereof) can be a principal determinant of whether a project is successful or not. It is not enough to simply rely on factors of convenience or cost to encourage behavior. Policymakers should seek to understand the unique needs of individuals before committing to major projects. Allowing stakeholders to be part of the decision-making process can be a potential solution. Also,  continuous learning and a flexible approach to a project help provision for unanticipated requirements.

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To Make a Smart City, Start with its People

By Anonymous

Our discussions in class about sustainable cities have ranged from
optimizing the built environment’s use of natural and financial resources to raising standards of living for inhabitants so they may thrive in a global
market, all in light of climate change and the private sector. However
important technology, buildings, infrastructure, and transit are to shaping
cities, their inhabitants are often overlooked. The density of people, their
relationships, and behavior determine in large part whether or not cities
are sustainable.

In a given location, striking a balance between the number of people
and the available infrastructure is important in achieving a sustainable
city. On the one hand, as we saw in the TransMilenio case, overburdening the transit system leads to inefficiencies and i nadequacies. On the other hand, encouraging settlements in areas far from economic centers and disconnected from city centers, as the Living PlanIT case demonstrated, is also inefficient because they require infrastructure, transit, and buildings that do not serve a large enough populace. Thus, an optimal level of density exists such that resources are used efficiently and people may lead productive lives.

A recent New Yorker article highlighted the importance of interpersonal
relationships to mitigating the impacts of climate change.1 The author
cited a study comparing fatalities in two similar Chicago suburbs during
last summer’s heat wave. Conditions that proved deadly elsewhere were
endured in one town because of the support and assistance neighbors
provided one another. Thus, community resilience to climate change not
only helps people survive extreme weather conditions, but also
exemplifies attributes of a competitive, resilient city.

Furthermore, personal behaviors affect a city’s sustainability. Sustainably designed buildings, transit, and infrastructure will only achieve the desired efficiencies if they are used in the same manner for which they were intended. For instance, while a building may incorporate energy- and resource-efficient fixtures, renewable energy sources, or efficient
envelope construction, user behavior ultimately determines whether or
not the building actually consumes fewer resources. Inhabitants who
open the windows during extreme temperatures, use excessive hot water, or adjust the heating and cooling system beyond designed seasonal temperatures will undermine a building’s potential efficiency. Therefore, people’s choices and behaviors are key determinants in enabling a city to realize its maximum possible level of sustainability.
In order to create and maintain a competitive, sustainable city,
inhabitants need to maximize resources through sufficient density, work
together to be resilient to changing environmental conditions, and align
behaviors with sustainability goals. While upgrades to infrastructure,
building systems and design, and transit may be concrete and tangible
steps the private sector may take to improve our urban environments and the planet as a whole, individual end users will ultimately determine
whether or not these places are sustainable. To achieve lasting
sustainability, the private sector may instead want to focus its efforts on
ongoing operations beyond the initial conceptualization of sustainable
practices to encourage smart growth, community development, and
consumer education.

1 Eric Klinenberg. “How can cities be ‘climate-proofed’?” The New Yorker 7 January 2013:
32-37. Print.