NEW STUDY: Material and Energy Requirements of Inclusive Development in 10 Indian Cities

March 19, 2018

What are the resource requirements of inclusive development  in cities? Will providing infrastructure services to underserved urban residents dramatically increase community-wide resource demand? These questions are at the heart of new findings from Sustainable Healthy Cities researchers who quantified the material and energy flows needed to upgrade infrastructure and services for residents consuming below median values in 10 Indian cities.

Study results show that more equitable service provision for underserved households will not dramatically alter community-wide resource flows. Instead, it is the highest consuming households, as well as commercial businesses and industry, that have the largest impact on community-wide material and energy use. The full study was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. Access the findings here.

Informal housing along the banks of a waterway in India typical of the types of housing that require upgrading through inclusive development policies.
Informal housing along the banks of a waterway in India . Credit: Dennis Jarvis, wikimedia commons

Among the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are targets to reduce poverty and hunger, advance good health and wellbeing, provide clean water and sanitation, ensure access to clean energy, reduce inequality, and foster sustainable cities and communities. Individual SDGs that are specifically connected to goals of increasing access to infrastructure services and material development are often framed as being pitted against SDGs that have efficiency, conservation, and environmental sustainability as their aim. The thinking goes that rising levels of infrastructure service consumption among the world’s urban poor will put untenable strain on resources.

This study partially debunks that argument by showing that for the most part, inclusive development efforts in the 10 Indian cities studied would not substantially alter community-wide resource flows. The work required first quantifying service provision deficits (relative to median use levels or established benchmarks in various sectors) in each city and then comparing that quantified value to community-wide material and energy flows. The methodology was applied across the sectors of housing, electricity, and household cooking fuels.

Across all 10 cities, results show:

  • To provide basic electricity (25 kWh capita-month) to all will require a 1% to 10% in current community-wide electricity use
  • To provide basic clean liquid petroleum gas (LPG) fuel (1.2 kg capita-month) to all requires an increase of 5% to 40% in current community-wide LPG use

In Delhi and Chandigarh specifically, results show:

  • Providing permanent shelter (implemented over a ten year period) to populations living in non-permanent housing would require a 6% to 14% increase over current annual community-wide cement use
  • To provide permanent housing to all people living in structurally unsound housing andthose living in overcrowded housing (<5 m cap−2) would require 32%–115% of current community-wide cement flows

The study authors note that, “except for the last scenario, these results suggest that social policies that seek to provide basic infrastructure provisioning for all residents would not dramatically increase current community-wide resource flows.”

Moreover, the study’s findings show wealthier households consuming many times more than the lowest consuming households. As a result, the authors note, “the increase to community-wide resource flows that would be needed for socially inclusive development policies as a percentage of overall community-wide resource flow is much less than the percentage of homes that are underserved or that must be upgraded.”

The study offers a methodology than can be replicated in cities globally using location-specific data to understand service provision deficits and the material and energy flows needed to correct those deficits via inclusive development policies.

Lead author Anu Ramaswami is director of the Sustainable Healthy Cities Network and is the Charles M. Denny, Jr., Chair of Science, Technology, and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Co-lead author Ajay Nagpure is an affiliated Sustainable Healthy Cities researcher and a post-doctoral fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Co-author Mark Reiner is a research associate at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.


COMMENTARY: Social Media Analysis for Urban Design, Management and Planning

March 13, 2018

Sustainable Healthy Cities researcher Richard Plunz, of the Urban Design Lab at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, is using social media analysis to understand how people use and engage with infrastructure and public space in cities. The tools his team is experimenting with represent a frontier for using social media analysis to inform urban design, management, and planning.

Twitter density analysis for understanding patterns and flows of people in public spaces, sentiment analysis for understanding connections between infrastructure and subjective wellbeing, and crowdsourced monitoring of storm water infrastructure during heavy rain events are just a few of the applied urban design, management and planning uses of social media that Plunz’s team is exploring.

Read the full story below. This post was originally published by Columbia News, written by Eve Glasberg. Access the original post here

5 Questions: Richard Plunz on Crowdsourcing Urban Design with Twitter

During a storm, several thousand swales (low-lying channels that are shallower than a ditch) across New York City collect rainwater runoff and keep it from flooding the sewers. While working on an app to help monitor this system, Richard Plunz and his colleagues at the Earth Institute’s Urban Design Lab found that community involvement would be just as critical to its success as technology.

“The only practical way to monitor these sites is via social media, allowing people in the neighborhood to report on the status of green infrastructure,” said Plunz, director of the Urban Design Lab and a professor at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.

Now, he and his colleagues are studying how this crowdsourcing approach might apply to the entire field of urban design. Their project combines mapping techniques with Twitter-usage data to gain a real-time understanding of how people occupy public space.

“Social media provides the first tool for gauging how areas with high-density tweets, such as parks, tourist attractions and transit hubs are actually used,” said Plunz, whose team collaborates on a broad range of multidisciplinary research projects, including investigations of new ecological realities facing cities, next-generation economic development and the intensifying effects of climate change. “Over time, we anticipate that social media will help us to produce a new generation of urban design and planning tools that address how to make these spaces more environmentally and socially resilient.”

Plunz, who is known for a wide range of innovative urban research, development and design projects, has a particular expertise in infrastructure. His landmark 1990 book, A History of Housing in New York City, was republished in a revised edition in 2016. In 2017 he published, City Riffs: Urbanism, Ecology, Place, which traces the changing perspectives of urban design by moving between 16 cities, including New York, Rome, New Delhi, Caracas and Seoul.

Q. What have you learned from analyzing Twitter use in public parks?

A. We have been able to confirm the efficacy of real-time geospatial tracking of information, which is already an important breakthrough in terms of urban design. What we did not anticipate was the potential for understanding sentiment regarding urban settings and in response to real-time tracking, and especially in affirming the accuracy of Twitter data relative to specific events and conditions. We have also considered the potential for predictions related to people and events. For example, in our work on the High Line, we can distinguish between New York residents and tourists. We can anticipate hours before an event that it could be oversubscribed and therefore require special precautions relative to security and logistics.

Q. What made you choose Bryant Park, Washington Square Park and the High Line?

A. These particular parks are representative of three differing ways that public space is used. Bryant Park has the most potential for Twitter-based analytics, given its heavy usage, especially on weekday lunchtimes. Washington Square Park has a much greater full-time occupancy, which gives a more expansive view of its use. The High Line’s long trajectory and large percentage of tourists provides yet another reading and perspective on the relationship between a park and its people. We are researching the effectiveness of Twitter in helping to understand these different characteristics in real time and the possibilities for correlating them with many variables, including weather patterns and social events.

Q. What can Twitter tell us that surveys can’t?

A. Twitter data is 24/7 and in continuum, a conscious stream, a collective picture of social responses to particular situations and contexts. It provides a tool for future planning as opposed to a system focused on specific issues at specific times. It is fundamentally cognitive in nature and, therefore, represents a huge advance in our comprehension of how we interact with our environment and vice versa.

Q. What are the practical applications?

A. There is real-time monitoring of public space density-of-use patterns and even usage prediction related to specific public events. It’s also possible to use Twitter density and sentiment as a tool for long-term design considerations. This can include, at different scales, the redesign of public parks—adding more grass and trees, for example, or new activity areas, or figuring out if nearby buildings or construction are having a negative impact on vegetation. Is a park being overused? Or are users dissatisfied and, if so, why? How can a park be more effective and have more social benefits? The next 10 years will be huge in reaching a new understanding of every aspect of our built environment via social media data.

Q. What are the limitations of this approach? Where would you like to see it go?

A. Perhaps the biggest limitation now is the uneven distribution of Twitter usage throughout the city. In our study we ended up focusing on lower Manhattan, in part because there is sufficient Twitter data for these areas. Central Park had to be eliminated because the Twitter-density patterns are so dispersed. We anticipate that this problem will disappear as the use of Twitter-like social media grows. That will be the moment when techniques like ours become everyday practice, opening a new window on to urban cognition. The cognitive mapping of urban environments entails a mental decoding of information. It has been a preoccupation for centuries, but more as a metaphysical construct. There have been iconic studies, from Italian architect Giambattista Nolli’s 1748 plan of Rome to Baudelaire’s 1847 Flâneur—who walks the city in order to experience it—to urban planner Kevin Lynch’s Image of the City analytics of the 1950s. We are moving from urban cognition as a primarily literary and conceptual tool into the realm of its becoming an operational tool for spatial design. This is a new moment for an ages-old preoccupation.

A map of twitter density analysis in Manhattan as an example of social media uses for urban design and planning purposes.
A map of twitter density analysis in Manhattan. Courtesy Urban Design Lab.