Housing and Sustainability

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Housing is a crucial parameter in any sustainable development watch as construction is the biggest resource consumer and carbon dioxide emitter in 21st century development after vehicular modes of transport. Moreover, it has long-term impact and a large ecological footprint. Housing touches crucial points of quality of life and has implications beyond itself, affecting transport, health and employment. For, more, see Housing

Modern or Traditional?

While housing is an essential today, especially in developing countries like India, most nations are turning their backs to sustainable and inclusive housing modules as had been practised through generations in their countries. The earlier practices had shown enormous adaptive reuse capabilities and were in tune with socio-cultural, climatic and environmental requirements of a particular country. The fallout has been manifold:

  • Shifting of building technology from local materials and techniques to universalised factory-made materials and skills, resulting in slow extinguishing of age-old crafts-based professions and locally contextual building materials and techniques in favour of high energy consuming and mechanised ways of construction.
  • Universalised planning and design concepts that give birth to environmentally unsuited building units reinforcing the need for artificial environment control.
  • A generation of segregated use neighbourhoods that prioritise vehicular movements creating unsafe, people unfriendly roads where safety is perceived as physical deterrents like grills, high walls and security guards.
  • Segregated land use also generates vehicle dependence for the simplest activities of daily life, creating more reasons for private vehicle generation, unhealthy car-dependant lifestyles, low interaction levels within communities that generate further levels of lack of safety, community feelings and diminishing health of a neighbourhood.

A major effort needs to be undertaken to effect a total mindset change, one which places sustainability at the centre stage. Sustainability objectives will be achieved only if they are taken into account at all stages — from design through construction to long-term use and eventual disposal and recycling. Raising awareness is important for all involved. Housing Document

Neighbourhood Essentials

It is being slowly recognised that the erstwhile methods of neighbourhood generation, usually around pedestrian public spaces, with close proximity to amenities of daily needs is the key to creating healthy, sustainable neighbourhoods. While the actual definitions of these public spaces and housing will vary hugely, depending upon the socio-cultural and environmental contexts they generate from, certain universal broad definitions are resolutely emerging as guidelines for such development, recognised by town planners and urban designers worldwide. Some of them are:

  • A dependence on local and contextual building materials and techniques, and a recognition and adaptation of traditionally practised environment sensitive planning and design concepts, which minimise the needs for artificial environment control mechanisms.
  • Priority being returned to the pedestrian within the neighbourhood, which are streets for people and not for cars. This further generates the following:
  • Healthier streets with more pedestrian movement that automatically ensures a higher level of social interaction.
  • Lesser dependence on private motorised transport for daily activities.
  • A safer community based on higher levels of interaction and, hence, greater knowledge and sense of responsibility towards neighbours.
  • A close-knit community also enforces vehicle owners and drivers to respect pedestrian movement and be responsible drivers.

Making towns and cities sustainable not only from the environmental dimension but also from the social aspects of sustainability in terms of cohesive communities is the key to creating healthy and successful communities and a responsible and secure population. The shift towards green buildings and sustainable architecture should be encouraged.

References

  • Active Living by Design
  • Walkable
  • Context Sensitive Solutions