UK collaborative effort to change face of a suburb in Kerala

UK collaborative effort to change face of a suburb in Kerala

The idea of future-proofing urban spaces has been gaining credence ever since unchecked urbanisation and climate change emerged as major threats to sustainable living across the world.

 In India urban planners have, since the 1990s, made promising start with satellite towns designed to complement development in cramped metropolises. But as development and subsequent disorder are replicated, in alarming proportions, in many of these suburbs and satellite towns, the time calls for master plans that also integrate measures to tackle the perils of climate change and solutions for unseen challenges of the future.

Aluva, a Kochi suburb on the banks of the river Periyar, is one of the quintessential modern Indian urban spaces that grapple with their own frenetic pace. Kochi is growing and its suburbs are caught unawares; Aluva, a town that comes with rich spiritual – it’s home to a historic Shiva Temple – and industrial reference points has for long been dealing with this spillway-mode development. An India-UK collaborative technical assistance programme could power the town’s first major step towards a future with minimal climate impact risks. 

As a part of the programme backed by the British High Commission, a two-day workshop was organised last week by WS Atkins International, a UK-based engineering and design consultancy and the International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture and Urbanism (INTBAU) when a road map on the initiative was discussed. The programme that facilitates the first integrated analysis of Aluva’s future needs is commissioned by the British High Commission’s Prosperity Fund. 

The Aluva Project is designed to combine local knowledge with global expertise in a series of projects aimed at reducing energy intensity and improving living conditions. The projects proposed as a part of the collaboration will complement the town’s master plan for 2031, according to Roger Savage, Director, WS Atkins. “This will provide a solid basis for the development of detailed proposals, acknowledging the context of Aluva and the climate risks and development pressures it faces,” he said.

The governments of the UK and Kerala had commenced discussions in 2013, through the Environmental Committee of the Kerala Assembly. Earlier this year, a UK delegation had shared experiences of low-carbon master planning and future-proofing initiatives in other Indian cities, including Mysuru and Madurai.

The Aluva Municipality is spread over seven sq km and comprises 26 wards with a population of over 22,000. Vidya Soundarrajan, Senior Regional Advisor to the British Government, said the town was chosen primarily for three reasons: it’s small and “handleable”; its master plan is still being developed; it is uniquely positioned with critical impact points that define its rapid development. With its busy freight movement and proximity to the air and sea ports, the town is a key growth driver in the emerging Greater Kochi.

 Aluva is also a major station in the first phase of Kochi Metro that’s scheduled for a late 2015 opening. The realty cheer of Kochi that has spilled over to its suburbs has also led to infrastructure bottlenecks in towns like Aluva that are largely unprepared for such unchecked growth. 

“We are providing short-term projects, medium-term advice and long-term recommendations to the Aluva Municipal Council that will be equal partners in the initiative. Capacity-building drives that include training of town planners in familiarising international concepts will be part of the collaboration,” Soundarrajan told Deccan Herald. The British High Commission will assist the municipality in identifying and utilising financial pathways to implement the projects. The partnership in Aluva will have “wider lessons” for Kerala and work initiated on  smart cities in other parts of the country, according to Bharat Joshi, British Deputy High Commission, Chennai.

Through the Aluva Project, its promo­ters hope to complement the town’s master plan with expertise in addressing long-term impacts of climate change while tackling immediate threats of unplanned development. Soundarrajan said the focus was on preparing cities for potentially dramatic climate change. Master plans are typically devised to cater to needs spread over a couple of decades. The idea here is to bolster these plans with available knowledge on potential climate change and use it while designing civic projects for the future. 

The programme will have officials from police, Kochi Metro, Kerala State Electricity Board, the water resources department, town planners and municipal engineers work along with experts from the UK. Pollution, waste management, inadequate water drainage systems and safety for women and children in public places were discussed during the workshop. Preservation of local heritage and the Periyar River will be key components of the action plan.

Experts who steer the projects as a part of the collaboration will also interact with the key stakeholders – the people of Aluva – as they prepare a framework to preserve the town’s aesthetics. The residents of Aluva take pride in the old town architecture, its green spaces, the Periyar and the Manappuram, the sand bank that hosts the town’s annual Shivarathri congregation. “Our aim is to ensure that in the process of development, Aluva maintains its strong sense of community, distinct local identity, character and important public places,” Alireza Sagharchi, Trustee, INTBAU UK, said. 

Promoters of the initiative also propose to replicate work in Aluva as a model in other Indian metros and peri-urban municipalities.

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