Smart, healthy and sustainable cities: PEER learnings from US, China & India

A high-level workshop was recently organized by ICLEI South Asia and University of Minnesota where experts, policy makers and city representatives of three countries exchanged their learnings on infrastructural transitions towards sustainability. The two-day event was organized on January 11 and 12 in New Delhi, in collaboration with Yale University, Georgia Institute of Technology and Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur.

Titled “Developing Smart, Healthy and Sustainable Cities: Learnings from US, China & India”, the workshop proved to be a vibrant platform for people from industry, governments, think tanks and academia to share knowledge on smart and sustainable urban development in cities of the US, China and India. While two cities each from the US and China participated in the event, mayors of 10 Indian cities were present. The deliberations included sectors ranging from energy, transportation / transit and industrial development to water and waste management. While one day was devoted to knowing more about problems and experiences, the second day was about solutions.

The event was a part of a project funded by National Science Foundation, PEER (The Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research), supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS), USA as a part of the larger initiative PIRE (Partnerships for International Research and Education).

Click here to view the presentations from speakers at the conference

Full report: Developing Smart, Healthy and Sustainable Cities: Learnings from US, China & India 

The workshop was kicked off with a welcome note by Emani Kumar, Executive Director, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability South Asia. Thereafter, in a special address, Hansa Patel, Chairperson, ICLEI South Asia, emphasized that peer to peer learning was among the most concrete benefits of cities’ association with ICLEI.
Talking about the idea of smart cities, Kathryn Stevens, Deputy Director, USAID, suggested that such cites could save the world about US $22 trillion. She assured that the US would continue to provide support to India’s Smart City Mission.

Dr. Anu Ramaswami, Denny Chair & Professor of Science Technology & Environmental Policy, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University Of Minnesota, shared the learnings from PIRE Projects, insights from PIRE, and also elaborated on the core ideas for developing smart, sustainable and healthy cities.

Later, speakers from India and China deliberated on the crucial issue of challenges posed to cities by urban boom and population explosion. A few cases from the US and China also brought to fore their vision for developing smart, sustainable and happy cities. While experts from China shared strategies and challenges over solid waste treatment in terms of landfill capacity, facility upgradation, collection and transportation market, and wisdom sanitation, Melissa Hortman from House of Representatives in Minnesota, US applauded legislations like the 2013 Energy Omnibus Bill, passed in the country, as measures towards sustainability. 

Stephanie Zawistowski from the Office of Mayor Betsy Hodges in City of Minneapolis, US shared the history of city’s waste and recycling and its vision to achieve zero waste.

Measuring progress of sustainability programmes was another agenda for discussion. An example of carbon footprint assessment of BRT system in Xiamen, China that was launched to satisfy a demand of 240,000 passengers in a day was presented as a success and learning. Then, the cases of London fog incident of 1952 and discolouration of the Taj Mahal due to deposition of particulate carbon were presented to emphasize the deadly linkage between air pollution and public health and to stress upon the need for effective solutions. For India, the experts also flagged off multiplicity of roles and involvement of too many agencies as a danger to Indian cities dream to be sustainable.

Talking about China’s transportation system, Zhirong Jerry Zhao of Humphrey School of Public Affairs shared that financial sustainability was still a challenge for many initiatives aimed at sustainability. Later, mayor representatives from different cities in India also shared the problems pertaining to their cities, the solutions to which could be discussed the following day.

For solutions, many experts agreed that industrial symbiosis that can add economic value to sectors like waste or a symbiosis between two countries like India and China that share sustainable development as the iron principle can be a way forward. Here, a case of waste exchanging management in Tianjin city of northeastern China was presented.

For energy sector, K Smith of District Energy, St. Paul, USA, presented use of local wood waste as biofuel in combined heat and power plant, along with system integration, as a solution. Solar energy systems at IIT Roorkee to connect a cluster of villages in remote locations were also showcased. In mobility, increased risk to pedestrians and cyclists, declining use of non-motorized transport and increasing energy consumption were major concerns. Dr Geetam Tiwari, chair professor at IIT Delhi, insisted on integration of hawkers, pedestrians and others in India’s transport planning system. She also suggested that India could learn a lot from the US and China.

In his closing note, Emani Kumar stressed upon the need for practical solutions that could fulfill the aspirations of the cities and help develop smart, healthy and sustainable urban places. Need for public consultations and monitoring was also highlighted.

Click here to view the presentations from speakers at the conference.



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