By Katherine Nabuzale
Today the pursuit for development has led to rapid acceleration of urban growth on such a large scale that there is need to slow down and rethink urban infrastructure for the benefit of inclusive use and sustainability.
It is evident that in the near future, a larger percentage of Uganda's population will be urban. And with this development, there will be immense demand for more space and amenities in towns and cities. However, that required additional infrastructure is lacking, creating an arguably important opportunity to integrate sustainability while rethinking urban infrastructure.
Below are some points to consider while rethinking sustainable urban development for collective use.
First and foremost, the components of urban infrastructure are quite broad namly; energy, buildings, transportation, roads, water, bridges, aqueducts, sewer pipes, sanitation and public spaces.
Looking at cities from a large perspective: Cities are bigger than their boundaries, while analysing the concept of cities one realises that key goods critical to infrastructure like electricity and food come from outside municipal borderlines. Take the case of electricity in Uganda, until recently, all of the needed electricity came from Jinja. This illustrates the notion of in city after city where substantial resources come from elsewhere. Therefore, in rethinking urban infrastructure, consideration of environmental impact should start right from the out skirts leading into the cities. The point is missed if analysis is only focused within the cities' boundaries.
Consideration of the interconnectedness of resources: Thinking bigger than single sectors and city boundaries is the notion that different natural and human resources are connected with each other, necessitating that this interplay is kept in mind when planning and rethinking urban infrastructure. For example, water is often needed to make energy and energy is an indispensable input for the water system. These interactions can affect ecosystem services which in turn impact human health and a range of other factors.
The fact that inequality remains a barrier: In urban areas especially in the slums, poorer people are often shut out from access to some crucial services like proper housing and sanitation as well as other elements of basic infrastructure. To ensure urban living that is both sustainable and accessible, cities have to identify opportunities to widen and improve access to services while sustaining ecosystem services relied on by all residents.
Improvement of infrastructure efficiency: Rethinking urban infrastructure calls for sustainability but that can't be achieved without steadfast improvements in infrastructure efficiency. To be sustainable, cities need to think about systematic and smart innovations as well as improvements in infrastructure efficiency.
For instance, using landscape design to help manage the flow of run off water, sometimes referred to as “green infrastructure,” can add to a city’s appeal in addition to helping remove pollution. The vast paved area of most urban areas needs to be rethought, perhaps by designing pavements that reduce overhead temperatures and are permeable to allow rainwater to reach the ground table beneath. Proper engineering approaches can achieve multiple goals, such as better storm drainage and cleaner water, while also enhancing the appearance of the landscape, improving the habitat for wildlife, and offering recreational spaces for people.
In addition, engineering integrated transportation systems that can facilitate mass transit, bicycling and walking all as easy and efficient as possible.
A similar integrated approach combing energy, water and wastes both liquid and solid into “neighbourhood” systems should be considered in certain urban areas especially in new development areas springing up. This approach is likely to increase sustainability while relieving pressure to meet all dwellers' needs through city-scaled infrastructure.
While such services can help support growing urban populations, they must be accompanied by affordable and pleasant places for people to live. Engineers must be engaged in the architectural issues involved in providing environmentally friendly, energy-efficient buildings both for housing and business.
Ecological and public spaces, The World Bank describes public spaces as not a “nice to have” but a basic need for cities , breaking down their benefits into economic, social and environmental values. Public spaces therefore, comprise a crucial element of accessible cities and should be considered a basic service alongside transport, water and sanitation.
Similarly, parks, recreation grounds, gardens, green roofs and in general ‘green infrastructure’ provide a range of ecosystem services and could also be thought of as contributors to the mitigation of floods, droughts, air pollution and Urban Heat Island (UHI) effects, improvement of biodiversity, amenity values and human health.
With the rapid acceleration of urban growth and its associated challenges, exacerbated by global environmental and climate change, rethinking sustainable urban development has become an increasingly inevitable necessity. (Bulkeley and Betsill 2005, Yigitcanlar et al 2007) These challenges call for a more effective, resilient planning and development perspective linked with and enhanced through natural environment.
Also various policies and political barriers must be addressed and overcome for change to happen and to regulate it for better adoption and inclusive use by the masses. A marker of the increasing importance of urban issues is how they have risen up the international agenda.
For instance, making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable is now among the 17 sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)adopted by the UN at the 2015 Gerneral Assembly.