POST-COVID SHORT AND MEDIUM TERM MEASURES
World over, numerous discussions are ongoing on the density of cities, whether it is a boon or a bane in the post-COVID scenario. Many laud the scattered settlement patterns in the State of Kerala in India, which performed extremely well, to tackle COVID-19 till now. My research emanated as early as 1988 on the peculiar and unique settlement pattern of the State of Kerala, where high human development levels are achieved with low per capita income. There is also literature available on ‘Limits to Kerala model’. Often known as ‘gods own country’ Kerala State settlement pattern at a glance is very attractive. While inclusiveness, women empowerment and educational achievements are contributing factors to the sustainability of the state, lesser domestic income generation, lesser domestic food production, depleting density of forest ecosystems, depleting groundwater levels and silted up water bodies are deterring factors leading to less prosperity and happiness in the settlement systems.
An analysis based on the theory of Environmental Efficiency, to attain sustainable cities where wellness, skillfulness, inclusiveness, profitability and fewer emissions are the main determining factors, it is seen that urban density is a boon and it is to be achieved thoughtfully. The urban sprawl phenomenon prevalent in Kerala State is a deterring factor as far as all dimensions of sustainability are considered and it is to be contained by adopting measures to better the performance of the State.
The urban density trend of Kerala State from the year 1961 to 2011 is tabulated based on the figures of Census of India from 1961 to 2011. From the graphical representation, it is seen that urban areas are increasing in such a manner that urban density has a diminishing trend. It has reduced by 53.7% from 1961 to 2011. A similar, but not so aggravating, a situation is prevalent for the Kochi Urban Agglomeration also, the biggest million-plus UA of the State. This trend is paradoxical to what is happening in other urban agglomerations in the nation where population concentration due to migration is happening tremendously.
Centre for Environmental Efficiency puts forward the following recommendations to deal with the post-COVID scenario as short to medium term measures to balance life and livelihood, as both are required and they compliment each other.
Encourage and facilitate Work/Study from home. Also, facilitate COVID-proof decentralised workspaces (co-workspace) so that people having fewer facilities at home can access the work/study facility near their home. Popularising, facilitating and promoting the commutation by walk or cycles to the said co-workspace with quality footpaths and cycle tracks are promising steps. Non-motorised transport (NMT) reduces fuel consumption while ensuring more health.
Mass transit has a multiplying effect on the sustainability of cities indicated by Environmental Efficiency (EE) and it positively contributes to the numerator and negatively contributes to the denominator in the Environmental Efficiency calculations. Mass transit increases the accessibility to human development centres in seeking health, education and income while emissions are reduced. Mass transit is the crux of sustainable cities without which no city can sustain. But in the post-COVID scenario, if the office, shop and educational institutions are facilitated with staggered-timings, one can ensure distributed commuters with less crowding.
Accommodation of the blue-collar working community in safe and decent locations shall be taken as a corporate social responsibility. Now, most of our Indian cities are deprived of blue-collar workers as many have returned to their native places after the occurrence of COVID 19. No city can function without labour support and it is essential to stop the exodus and bring them back to COVID-proof economy.
Decently accommodating the blue-collar community shall be considered as a public interest at par with the parks and open spaces inside the cities. Accommodation reservations are to be incorporated for the blue-collar communities in the master plans of metropolitan cities and regions while tax exemptions are to be introduced to encourage such investments. Similarly, facilitation of co-working spaces also shall be encouraged with tax incentives and floor area incentives. Necessary amendments are to be incorporated on war footing to the existing rules and laws to make it effective at the grass-root level.
Nations and States shall adopt a need-based approach where luxuries are eliminated. When human development achievements are optimised with the ecological footprint they are necessities. If it is non-optimised, it shall be considered as a luxury. Governments can control the present situation with prudent taxation measures to minimise luxury in this post-COVID scenario.
Once these short and medium-term measures are applied, nations start to take off towards sustainability and prosperity as the emissions will be contained and spare capacities are utilised. This will result in more output in terms of wellness, skillfulness and profitability. Once these human development profiles of the city improve, investments get attracted to the city and job opportunities are generated in tier II and tier III cities. This, in turn, reduces the overcrowding in megacities which is an essential requirement for a Sustainable India.
Creation of COVID proof co-working spaces is a business opportunity in this post-COVID world, where one can work in any company and from any part of the world. This improves the sustainability of the state and the nation. The unplanned-settlement-trend is to be discouraged. Planned development with the transfer of development rights (TDR) from the nearby agricultural zones that are at threat, can arrest urban sprawl. This inculcates more carrying capacity (CC) due to the integrity of agricultural ecosystems. This again contributes to more Environmental Efficiency (EE) of settlements due to health and monetary achievements with fresh fruits and vegetables from nearby places. The post-COVID situation is indeed an opportunity to retrofit the cities and metropolitan regions of the world to a sustainable trajectory.
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Dr May Mathew
Centre for Environmental Efficiency
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