Monthly Archives: April 2016

Becoming nature-friendly, voluntarily

We should not wait for rules and regulations to save the earth from depredation.

Banning plastics in Bengaluru is an opportunity not merely to reduce waste; but equally to inspect our own hypocrisy and inactions.

The hugely delayed, yet to be strictly enforced ban will hopefully become a success and the government will surely take credit for all the reduced garbage, unless the plastic manufacturers’ lobby, claiming how 70,000 or more people will become jobless while the indirect economy generated by plastics will be lost, succeeds in forcing the government to reverse its decision.

With political considerations over-ruling ecological concerns, we need to wait with our fingers crossed.

Incidentally, the need to ban is not a recent talk. Even ten or definitely five years ago, if we were to have a public referendum, the majority would have voted to reduce or even ban plastics. Of course there were people who believe banning is not a solution, an argument which ironically offers no other solution.

If people believed in banning, they must have realised the dangers ahead. If so, why did people not try to reduce its usage? Now that there is a ban, we are carrying cloth shopping bags, non-woven bags and often the old plastic bag itself for reuse. Why did we not do this in the past, while being fully aware ecological disasters?

We appear to be poor in voluntary compliance, despite all of our education, exposure, travels abroad and intellectual talk in gatherings.

How else one can explain the sudden turnaround in our actions, from plastics to cloth bags, just when the ban is imposed? Of course we could have done this in the past, but we did not, as if we were waiting for some kind of law enforcement, without which we are not supposed to live an eco-friendly life.

Casual approach

 Awareness without action is as meaningless as fruit without sap. At one end it may prove our hollow passion simply to talk, but at the other end, it displays our casual approach to environmental crisis. Possibly, majority of us are not worried about ecology, as long as our personal short- and long-term objectives are met with. It’s our immediate aspiration that matters, not the implication of our action on Mother Earth.

There is more to learn from the plastics ban than merely the law. If not for our own failure in turning our awareness into action, this law would not have been needed.

If we are a generation of hypocrites only shedding crocodile tears for nature, how are we going to implement thousands of imperatives and actions necessary to save the earth and the human race?

Are we going to wait for thousands of rules and regulations that will stop us by force from harming nature?

It is time we realise; we need not and should not wait for a printed legislation to make us eco-friendly. We should become friends of nature right away, such that no law will ever be needed.

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Saving on time, money

Experts feel pre-cast technology could solve housing problems for the economically weaker sections, despite limitations in additions, alterations and repairs.

23bgp-greensens_23_2824966eHow green are pre-cast buildings? Not an easy question to answer considering the specific advantages of conventional and pre-casting techniques. In sites difficult for normal approach, pre-casting even appears to be a better solution!

Putting up a factory for pre-casting with moulds, mixers, slab spreader, wall casting chambers and such others is capital intensive, which adds to the embodied energy of the product as well. Nearly all the elements except foundation can be produced in factories including wall, column, beam, stair, floor, roof and sunshades.

Ease of transportation for on-site erection and buffer space to work within the site is important, demanding consideration during feasibility study. Instead of all pre-cast components, judicious mix of on-site work and masonry construction where needed can save both money and time. The foundation, anyhow, has to be done completely at site. Taller the building, more the project cost due to the increased expenses towards lift and lead. Also to consider are provision of services, pre-planning them within the structure.

Constraints

Fixing the components at heights can be dangerous despite advanced hoisting equipment and personal safety measures. Attractive multi-dimensional shapes and forms are better avoided considering the difficulties in casting and erecting. Certain forms like long cantilevers are nearly ruled out.

Building plans have to respect specific modules, alignments and load points, preferably based on the available sizes and moulds at the factory.

Among the advantages of pre-casting, project time is a major saving, besides optimising the elements with reduced wastage. With the controlled environment for production, precision, quality and strength can be achieved as intended.

The smoother pre-finish may eliminate plastering, saving money or varieties of surface finishes can be achieved.

Structurally, load bearing walls can replace frame construction, where possible, saving additional money. For large span structures, pre-casting is better with the options of pre-stressing to save on materials.

For crowded areas

Pre-cast technology is best suited for crowded areas, where conventional construction would pose major problems.

Presently, it is a costlier option due to minimal and centralised production, but in case of widespread popularity, the costs may reduce. Slowly, apartments, schools and commercial structures have started opting for pre-casting to save time, which in turn saves money.

Expertise matters

Pre-casted buildings cannot be customised for every owner’s need; as such it is better suited for mass housing and public buildings where individual aspirations play no role. At present, the technology is so dependent on expertise; the idea will take time to settle down with masses. Many experts feel that it could solve housing problems for the economically weaker sections, despite its limitations in additions, alterations and repairs.

Pre-casting is a harbinger of hope, though not very green in its concept. By scaling up the operations, it has the potential to be an eco-friendly option in some given contexts.

City of the future has a past too

In the process of relentless urban growth, we should ensure that Bengaluru’s local heritage does not get wiped out.

16bgp-lead-vara_16_2815942eIt is important to have lofty ideas like World Heritage Day which can evoke awe and pride about our forefathers, leading to an urge to continue their cultural contributions, preserve their physical constructions, and safeguard their artistic achievements. The idea of heritage which belongs to humanity beyond the narrow borders of nationality can be a matter of excitement for all of us. Accordingly, April 18 of every year is celebrated as World Heritage Day.

While we celebrate this unique day, people in India in general and Bengaluru specifically, seem to ignore the heritage in and around us. We tend to forget that there can be no world heritage if all the local heritage gets wiped out. Whatever local heritage is left in our times continues to be further ignored, despite our lip service to the cause.

Nothing that equals Hampi temples, Mysore paintings, Bijapur Gol Gumbaz, Bidar bidriware or Mysuru city quality is in Bengaluru, yet this city is a great attraction to locals and visitors alike. Bengaluru would complete 500 years in another 21 years, a major milestone by any urban standards. Given this, how are we treating the city heritage?

The past

Every city has a past, an invisible foundation upon which it is growing. If flying over Basavanagudi means avoiding the neighbourhood; if widening the road leads to chopping off the face of Ulsoor; and if hosting Global Investors Meet is to ignore local informal sectors – then something is missing in our approach to change. If we delete the physical city of yesterday, the city of future will be on shaky grounds, with the foundation of the city partly cut off.

London and Paris have become great cities, expanding into new areas, without erasing the old areas. Past and present live together. Tradition and modernity co-exist. We can cut trees, fill up tanks and demolish old buildings, but can we delete memories, forget experiences and negate the need for familiarity?

Image of the city

Kevin Lynch gave us a great phrase called Image of the City. From the days of being garden city, Bangalore has gained more than half-a-dozen names, latest being ‘garbage city’. In the process, it no more has a singular image now, adapting to the expectations of people. It has distinct city parts where Cox Town differs from Gandhi Bazaar, Lalbagh appears like heaven compared to Avenue Road and the new gated communities appear as if they are not in Bengaluru. Urban culture in the city is a curious synthesis of the local, national and global identities. We need to believe that ethnic mix and community diversity is the strength of our city and should let them continue. Whitefield and Chamrajpet cannot have same bye-laws. Losing the multiculturalism is a way of irreversibly losing our past traditions.

How are we ensuring the continuity of local identities? Are we realising the urban heritage in our city parts, attending to their traditional characteristics or will modern infrastructure projects wipe them out, creating a new city character?

Beauty of the city

Bengaluru, with no major crafts, forts or monuments, has been an attraction for visitors. M.G. Road and D.V.G. Road became popular not only because one could shop there, they are more than roads in the city map. The more we explore, the deeper we can beauty here. No wonder, T.P. Issar chose to call his book as ‘City Beautiful’.

The innate visual attraction does not happen casually. Holistic development, balanced city parts, sensible buildings, gardens and trees together with appealing streetscapes lead to a notable urban aesthetics. What have we done with Bengaluru today? If another author were to write a book on our city today, would it be titled ‘City Beautiful’?

Growth of the city

Bengaluru, despite all its problems, has great potential, as such needs to evolve further to cater to people, places, culture and economics. How should the future of this great city evolve and should the past be taken forward?

We have said goodbye to bye-laws; development is at best ad hoc with few long-term plans; our political masters make mockery of master plans and rules, and inequity rules the land.

In these days of crisis, should culture, traditions, history and heritage be relegated to text-books? Should we belong to Bengaluru or should the dreams of organisations like INTACH and thousands of citizens die down?

Each generation is obliged to build the city, but does it have the right to build by destroying trees, roads, houses or markets?

Are we developing a city of the future or just destroying a city of the past? It is time we realise that we can retain the past while going into the future.

We the citizens and our decision takers need to be more sensitive.

Heart of the city

Cities have often been compared to a living organism; hence Victor Gruen could write the book ‘Heart of the City’. Just like humans have a mind, a city too has a mind. Individually we monitor our heart and minds, but the city is a collective phenomena. Hence monitoring it is a common cause.

Among the many issues, the bygone days too define the heart of a city. Let us remember – every tree, road, house or market in the city has a beginning hence a history, even if every such beginning is not studied as history by historians and archived by chroniclers. It is important to note all such local history.

Today, Bengaluru is in the grip of urban expansion, real estate control, speculation over investments, short-term political benefits and personal gains as the ultimate objective. It is a city not only dominating the State, letting the region languish, but also in a great hurry to emerge as a World City.

On the occasion of World Heritage Day, it is time to take stock of our local heritage and search for its heart and mind. Then, think what we are doing, individually and collectively, to keep this heritage going.

MINIMISING PLASTIC

The majority of us criticise plastic for all the problems it creates, yet continue to use it, ignorant of our own hypocrisy.

02bgp-greensens_02_2798148e.jpgPlastic could be the best example of a double-edged sword in the modern times. How else can one describe a material which results in highly beneficial components in heavy industries, which equally well is a contributor to heaps of trash in every city and village? Without plastic, much of our technological advancement would have been impossible, and so too many of our ecological blunders.

Future in peril

Naturally, the majority of us criticise plastic for all the problems it creates, yet continue to use it, ignorant of our own hypocrisy. Seminars discussing energy conservation and reducing wastage will be held in posh airconditioned hotels with flex banners, reams of printed papers, manufactured gifts, seminar kits wrapped in plastic, packaged snacks, food trays and cups and of course the omnipresent mineral water bottle.

It is as if we know only how to talk, but not how to walk our talk. If we cannot act on our own words, the future of ecology is no doubt in peril.

Amidst all such contradictions, the news that Bengaluru has banned certain plastic products comes both as a relief and a surprise. Relief for known reasons, but surprise because it finally showed that the government has the will power to chart a green future for the State.

Years after the burden of plastic trash has been discussed, administrative shake-ups happened, villages with trash fill sites refused permission, Bengaluru drastically slipped in clean city ratings and just when the majority residents gave up hopes on a better city, this news is a pleasant surprise.

Alternatives

Thousands of city residents have switched over to alternatives to plastic, especially in carry bags, water bottles, and home storage materials. They have conclusively proved that reducing the use of plastic in daily life is possible and some cities have already achieved a ‘no plastic’ policy. However, people are helpless when it comes to buying fruits, vegetables and groceries which in the past came in loose bags, but today everything comes in packs of different weights.

This adds to wastage due to general needs like biscuits and toothpastes which were always pre-packed.

All such individual efforts can ensure only negligible reduction in wastage without government support.

We need to wish for all cities and States in India to restrict usage of plastic, like Bengaluru has done now after much delay.

Crucial questions

Having said this, who is the real culprit in consuming and wasting plastic-based products?

Why are industries producing and shops selling them?

Who demands fashionable newer merchandise every month in the malls?

Why are daily-use products still in usable condition discarded?

What happens to dresses, bags, footwear, stationery and many fancy items hoarded in homes beyond the numbers needed?

For thousands of such questions, there are no answers outside our selves. We are the cause for everything and we are the trash makers. Banning plastic is not the ultimate solution, but we need to ban all our activities which are not eco-friendly and which make no green sense.