by Swathi Vajjhala Marthi, Advocate
The vast drought lands and heatwaves in western parts of Northern America floods in West Europe, and record wildfires in Australia during its summer have strengthened voices against the globally established regime. The change towards so-called “renewables” has accelerated, and more and more factories are retrofitted to build electric cars. According to Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI), the above countries have taken no measures to control changes in climatic conditions and hence are worst affected. India stands at tenth position with high measures taken.
Globally there is a greenification of the problem, and green is the new black in the market. Electric cars are promoted as a silver bullet.
Do policymakers and leading thought leaders believe that the shift towards electric vehicles neutralizes the carbon footprint that has piled up over the past century?
This article drills down to the bottom of the problem and identifies the changes needed, be it socioeconomic or technological.
The history of humanity has taught us that simple solutions to persistent problems have further complicated the problems. That is precisely what electric cars for personal transportation will do. Indeed, electric cars have lesser greenhouse gas emissions than their counterparts, such as gas power or diesel power motor vehicles, but they carry forward the same legacy and mindset.
The penetration of cars into human society has ingested road users with a ‘me first’ mindset. The bigger the car, the loud the horn apparently has the first right of way. In short, it is a bullying mindset. This behaviour puts pedestrians, cyclists, and other vulnerable road users at risk. If the system continues prioritizing car users since they clog up the roads more often, then pedestrians will disappear sooner. All we will see are cars lined up in the city, inside the city, in front of homes, and inside the housing complex.
However, there is a solution that is simple in thought but challenging to implement because it requires a mindset change and has diverse stakeholders. It needs to give up greed and other vices.
The wide adoption of the Euclidean zone divided towns into districts based on permitted uses, and in doing so, creates specific zones where certain land uses are permitted or prohibited. This was helpful in the past when industrial pollution was so common, and workspaces are primarily based in factories. The separation of industrial land uses from residential land uses protected the residents against pollution risks. However, we live in a different world now, not many of us work in factories, there is no harm in having an IT park near a residential space. This brought up the thought of 15-minute-cities. The 15-min city is essentially a minicity, it contains all aspects of a city but in small proportions, this is opposite to Zoned city which has nothing located near and everything is far off and connected via automobile, since everything is separated and need to serve the whole city population, each of them is mega-sized. It means vast malls, big cinemas, big schools, and large playfields. Such far-off distances need cars for commute and unsafe for children to cycle or walk.
A minicity like the one developed in Paris is a good start. There are also good examples in India, like Magarpatta city in Pune and Vashi in Navi Mumbai. These are minicities, meaning a city within a city. The idea behind building a minicity is to reduce the need for cars.
Housing, workspace, restaurants, coffee shops, schools, and shops are within walking distance, connected with well-laid pavements fit for use in all weather conditions with an excellent pre-covered on either side of the roads to make walking less stressful on a sunny day. None of the facilities like pool or park needs to be mega-size since it only caters to the public in minicity, thus smaller block size. That will eventually lead to less concretization with more pre-covered parks, urban forests, lakes, and sustainable cooling solutions, which will have an enormous influence over the microclimate of the cities.
Every city planner can take many cues from cities like Amsterdam and Utrecht. Children and others can only shift to cycling or walking when it is safe, secure, and purposeful. Safety can be achieved by repurposing the streets and roads, and security is a law enforcement subject. For instance, driving a motorcycle in a pedestrian walkway needs to be strictly punished. All incidents that can put pedestrians and bicyclists at risk must be continuously monitored until risks are minimized to zero.
The city/region can become sustainable and remain sustainable if it is equipped with multi transit-oriented infrastructure. Its citizens are mature enough to avoid temptations to drive for pleasure but prefer walking and cycling for purpose or pleasure. The respective governments need to take up the responsibility of facilitating minicities with mixed zoning so that walking can suit the daily commuting needs. Walkways have to be comfortable with no waterlogging on a rainy day with full tree cover to avoid sunburn during summers.
The minicity concept is not just for bigger cities like Mumbai or Delhi. It can also be easily integrated into our ongoing national RURBAN mission (Shyama Prasad Mukherji RURBAN Mission). This puts our country on the frontline in fighting climate change.
Mobility is a necessity for all those in living cities and towns. Thus, it has to be equitable. As Marco Bizzarri famously said, “Diversity and inclusion, which are the real grounds for creativity, must remain at the center of what we do.”
Swathi Vajjhala Marthi, Advocate
Swathi is a legal professional and has extensive experience in dealing with banking and corporate litigation. Her interests are in the areas of International Arbitration and Investment Laws.