Can we have self-organising, steady state cities?

An interesting article by Vikram Soni of Jamia Millia Islamia and Arvind Virmani (ex-chief economic adviser, Government of India.)

They write about this this really fancy idea of building natural cities which are self regulating and sustaining. Such cities are built in such a way that they generate enough basic services for all its residents without creating negative spillovers as it is done today.

They start showing the acute water crisis faced by our top cities (focusing on Delhi) and the way it generates water to serve its citizens. They point to a new source of water the river flood plain. Because of million years of flooding Yamuna river has deposited sand acquifiers which have 40% volume as water. Out of this around 12% of water can be extracted and as per authors we need a 5-km river bed to serve one million citizens. Moreover, the science of these sand acquifiers leads to much lesser diminishment and ut can be recharged as well. Though there are certain limits and one has toi be careful of overdrawing but this is much better than dams etc we create for water purposes.

This takes authors back to the really old idea of formation of new cities – around the river! I mean this is how most cities came about but somehow we seemed to have forgotten the lessons as we figured ways to transport water to far-off lands from the rivers etc. They talk about building a city like a chess board along a river bed. The white squares are the ones which are used for houses, schools etc. The black/green ones for growing veggies, fruits and parks as well. The idea is to build a self-sustaining city. They also talk about other things like sewage system, keeping in-house temperatues low using building materials, energy generation using solar panels, for transport use bicycles and electric trams etc. Such a city will also have a more diverse mix of jobs with self-sustaining agriculture built in the city system.

The authors even suggest to try such natural cities in places like Agra and Allahabad which are along a river. These new cities will relieve the old ones of the urbanisation pressures. They also suggest most cities are around one side of the river. Both sides could be tried depending on the nature of the river flood-plains.

The kind of paper one reads as an ideal one in a fantasy land. More than a natural city it reads like a fantasy city. But yes, the points are well taken. It will be really interesting to look at this idea of water extraction from sand aquifiers particularly. The ignorance about water systems is really high and one does not know how water is drawn out to serve each city. We need more education on these things so there is some basic understanding of how the basic needs are met in a city.


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