“Sustainable Development is the development that meets demands of present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” - Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future (The Brundtland Report), United Nations, 1987
The concept of Good Growth has been brought back to the limelight with the draft release of the new ‘London Plan’.
The conflict between urbanisation and our effects on natural systems (which have the potential to be devastating) was and continues to be a dilemma that troubles policy makers, urban planners and design professionals. A resolution to this conflict was pioneered by Ian L.Mc Harg in the 1960s in his book ‘Design with Nature’, which devised techniques for planners to consider not just the finished product of human development, but its complex interaction with various environmental variables that could be represented as simply as a layer on a map.
As a student witnessing first-hand the consequences of uncontrolled and unplanned growth in Gurgaon, one of the nearest ring towns around Delhi, the capital of India, I embarked on a year-long study based on McHarg’s approach. The basis of this study was to draw out a resolution for a vast urban development that was evidently unsustainable and struggling with a fast depleting groundwater table, destruction of arable land and enormous pressure on forests. Hand drawn maps from various environmental agencies were painstakingly gathered and digitised for the geology, physiography, agricultural potential, vegetation cover and ground and surface water, to derive a sensitivity analysis to various land use categories to lead the discussion into ‘good growth’ alternatives. The application of this approach was one of the first to be applied to a major city in the Indian context and the outcomes have been illustrated in the figure below.
Fast forward to today….
As a resident of London and a sustainability consultant at WSP in the UK, it is evident that the city faces increasing pressure on housing, infrastructure, services and the environment with climate change anticipated to exacerbate these existing pressures and challenges. The challenge is not only to make London’s people, infrastructure and social services more resilient and adaptable to climate change, increased temperatures and extreme heat events, but also to remind ourselves of the concept of ‘Good Growth’.
Fortunately, what has changed today is that Geographic Information Systems (GIS) tools, coupled with the vast array of open source mapping data, allows consultants to make McHarg’s vision and technique a reality through a remarkable streamlining of the data gathering, mapping, sensitivity analysis and planning process.
McHarg’s fundamental concepts and GIS tools are being applied by WSP today on multi-disciplinary projects, including an innovative application for London which layers extreme hot weather, poor air quality events and noise exposure to assess risk and lead the way into making the Mayor’s ambition of ‘Good Growth’ a reality.
Watch this space for more!
This blog was written by Snigdha Jain, Principal Consultant within the Sustainable Places