During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have witnessed the global significance of constructing people-centric sustainable infrastructure – for example, the problems caused by the unavailability of hospital infrastructure needed to treat COVID-19 patients. This is not just in developing countries but also in the developed world, where there has been no real-time process to assess “ecohuman-centric” sustainability indicators – something which should now be reviewed.
In the last few decades, nations around the world have created policies to attract more businesses to invest in their respective countries. While there have been numerous conditions placed on this investment from an environmental perspective – the creation of special economic zones, green building certification, etc. – the inhabitants residing in the areas surrounding these investments often aren’t afforded the same such considerations.
Combining economy and environment in more efficient ways
According to World Bank statistics, over the past 30 years India has achieved unprecedented growth, with an increase of 23%. This can be put down to the technology revolution, the increasing availability of skills and the economic opportunities opening up in newly formed cities. With too little time to establish an industry in a city with at least the minimum of infrastructure, it becomes difficult to match the demand versus supply quotient.
While city administrations and the private sector have catered to this with high rise buildings and transport infrastructure, they have tended to turn a blind eye towards other facilities, namely water treatment, water harvesting pits, hospital amenities, air quality, health and safety, and much more. For example, when a new industry is set up, the infrastructure around the facility begins to attract and connect with numerous small businesses and quickly becomes overloaded.
This starts to be reflected in the quality of life found around such industries, be that amenities such as quality of air, water, availability of required hospitals and transport infrastructure. While one of the reasons for this can be put down to loosely implemented administrative policies, importantly, it is also due to the dataset used to determine the base for such policies.
With a heavy emphasis now being placed on how to rebuild the global economy in the Great Reset, there is a huge opportunity for nations to develop a mechanism that can combine the economy and environment in more efficient ways. Yet the economic problems from the biophysical and ecological repercussions owing to policy inaction are, time and again, simply not being measured.
Data-led decision-making platform
What is needed at this time is a technology platform that empowers the city/town planning team to be able to adequately define the amenities, scope for infrastructure and threshold of growth. How will a large city know that it is already choking and there is no more scope to accommodate people or new businesses? How will we know that a city is well equipped with all the necessary infrastructure when you have new inhabitants arriving every hour? All of this is impossible if we don’t have real-time data or information that can equip the administration with the necessary tools.
Future cities should have a data-led decision-making platform that can indicate whether it is ready for further growth. Today, countries have been actively working to digitise their population information by creating digitised identities. India has been at the forefront of this, with its digital outreach often referred to as a benchmark by numerous global bodies. For example, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in its digital initiative One ID programme is looking at the Aadhaar programme, a sophisticated ID programme considered to be the largest and most successful digital initiative today.
But will people-only data be enough to create a sustainable ecosystem? While X-Rays/MRI Scans are used to analyse a human body, a biophysical-led framework that is ecology- and human-centric must be powered by geo-spatial technology which can scan a city using various parameters, such as trees, black water, clean water, ground water, air quality, carbon emissions, solid waste, building perimeter, water harvesting, amenities for a population in an area, legal and illegal occupation, and many more.
In the UK, Building Information Modelling (BIM) has been made a mandatory requirement for constructing a facility, which gives the council authorities enough data to illustrate the compliance of the building before, during and after construction.
What is required to understand the growth in data and to keep the data up to date with little manual intervention is through the leveraging of satellite image-sensing technology. This can act as a base not only to check information on existing irregularities, but also to freeze certain zones from further exploitation.
This spatial scan not only helps mitigate over-exploitation of the environment, but will also lay the foundations for discreet/sustainable growth that is economic friendly. In densely populated areas such as slums, LiDAR technology cameras must be leveraged to capture point cloud data periodically. The scanned data, integrated with analytical tools, can offer in-depth insights, such as hygiene, types of habitants, quality of air, emissions, energy consumption and plenty of information from each street. From a regulation perspective, this would provide sufficient data to the government or privately managed entities to understand whether the selected area complies with the necessary regulations.