In conversation with Nagendran Nagarajan, Project Officer at ICLEI South Asia based in Coimbatore, who shares his journey with the organization as a GIS Expert. Edited excerpts:
ICLEI has carried out many projects with the Coimbatore Municipal Corporation over the years. What are the projects that you have been involved in and how has the journey been beneficial for you?
I have been involved in a number of projects connected with the Coimbatore Corporation during my seven years at ICLEI. In the Energy sector I worked on Promoting Low Emission Urban Development Strategies in Emerging Economy Countries (Urban LEDS), the Earth Hour City Challenge, development of a Solar City Master Plan for Coimbatore, REEP – Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership, Assessing Potential for District Energy Systems (DES) in Coimbatore. AsianCitiesAdapt, ACCESSanitation, SUNYA – Towards Zero Waste Management, ACCCRN, Capacity Building Project on Low Carbon and Climate Resilient City Development in India (CapaCITIES) are some the projects under Climate Adaptation that I have contributed to. In the Urban mobility sector I have been a part of the SOLUTIONS project, an assessment of the status of Non-Motorised Transport in Coimbatore, and in the project where we helped develop a framework for Tamil Nadu State Urban Transport Policy where I helped with information collection and carrying out frequency occupancy surveys, to understand the gaps and requirements of transport solutions.
I have learned a lot during this time spent at ICLEI, more specifically in capacity building and skill development in the field of Urban Planning. I was able to hone my technical skills in the projects that I had handled, and get a nuanced understanding of the functioning of city government, essentials of the government system and people management skills.
How do you think your area of work and skills especially in Urban Environmental Planning have helped ICLEI in its goal of achieving better, sustainable cities?
Having a background in Urban Environmental Planning has been very advantageous for me and finds a lot of applicability in my work at ICLEI. My GIS background helps me with a clearer understanding of urban issues therefore enabling a better design of sustainable solutions for the city. In the projects that I have worked on, for eg; ACCCRN and AsianCitiesAdapt, using GIS platforms allowed the project team and the city to visualize information, like the level of vulnerability certain parts of the city are facing both in terms of climate change and in terms of urban delivery of services. This helped with a more direct and structured list of solutions for the city to execute to build their resilience. In our project on developing Solar Cities, we were able to help the municipality plan where and in which direction their 2MW solar plant should be established for better efficiency which is something AutoCAD software does not help with. We have been able to design more effective solid waste management plans by optimizing vehicle routes thereby improving services and the same goes for the non-motorised transport sector.
The Coimbatore municipality does not have the capacity or the technical expertise to use GIS, and so they use a lot of static maps which don’t provide the entire picture. Using the maps developed by us, which are geo-referenced, they are able to have a proper understanding of an area and how to go about developing tailored plans for this area. They have been very appreciative of the work that we do with them and intend on collaborating on a long term basis with ICLEI.
Tell us about how Geographical Information Systems can be used in the planning of cities and land use assessments.
Urban planning is one of the major applications of GIS. It can be used as a database to store, manage, manipulate large quantities of spatial information or can act as an analysis or modeling tool. This helps planners with visualizing and creating a number of planning scenarios which feeds into decision making. In most cases it provides a visual representation of information which can help with developing or monitoring service facilities, urban systems, development of industries and so on. At ICLEI, in one of our projects (ACCCRN), we have been able to identify and visualize vulnerability to climate risks by simply mapping information from stakeholders.