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How Urban Planning is being Weaponised against Palestinians

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Jerusalem: evictions show how urban planning is being weaponised against Palestinians

Palestinian residents protest evictions in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Haim Yacobi, Author provided

Haim Yacobi, UCL and Irit Katz, University of Cambridge

One olive in my garden is better than anything material in the whole world.

These sad words were uttered by Mahmoud Salhiya after his home in Sheikh Jarrah was recently demolished by Israeli forces.

Sheikh Jarrah is a Palestinian neighbourhood of 3,000 inhabitants at the eastern part of Road 1 that runs north to south through Jerusalem and separates Israeli and Palestinian sectors. The neighbourhood has two distinctive sections: the north is the part inhabited by wealthier Palestinians while the poorer, southern part is populated by hundreds of Palestinian refugees from 1948.

The Salhiya family house is in Sheikh Jarrah’s southern area on land designated by an old urban scheme authorised in the 1980s for the construction of a public building. But part of the house already existed, along with some other structures, when the plan was being prepared. In fact, the house and the other buildings on the plot are already visible on maps of Jerusalem from the 1930s.

Importantly, according to the Jerusalem Municipality itself, Palestinian houses built in East Jerusalem before 1967 are considered legal and therefore cannot be demolished. But zoning the Salhiya plot for public use – which ignored the fact of the existing residential property already on the site – is indicative of a common practice that has characterised Israeli planning of East Jerusalem since 1967.

The Israeli authorities argued that the Salhiya property had been expropriated to establish a “special needs” school for the benefit of the neighbourhood’s residents. But this “top-down” planning did not include any consultation with the family or the community.

Demolition as a tool of control

The police are reported to have arrived at the property in the early hours of what was one of the coldest nights so far this winter, and forcibly removed 15 members of the Salhiya family before bulldozing the house. They arrested Mahmoud Salhiya and five members of his family, as well as some of their supporters, both Palestinian and Israeli activists.

This traumatic event is part of an ongoing attempt of displacing Palestinians from their homes – not only in Sheikh Jarrah but also in other neighbourhoods such as Silwan, on the outskirts of the Old City, which is the subject of the continuing conflict between Jewish settlers and the local Palestinian community over archaeology, tourism development and housing.

Housing demolitions have become an all-too-regular occurrence. According to a report by B’tselem (the Israeli information centre for human rights in the occupied territories) between 2006 and November 2021, Israeli authorities demolished at least 1,176 Palestinian housing units in East Jerusalem. At least 3,769 people lost their homes – including 1,996 children. Housing demolition serves Israel’s attempt to control the city’s “demographic balance” – keeping a Jewish majority within Jerusalem’s municipal territory back to the 70:30 ratio that has driven Israeli policy since 1967.

Emerging urban geopolitics

The Salhiya family’s case should be understood within a wider context of the political processes taking place in Jerusalem since June 1967 and the declaration of the city as Israel’s unified capital. The expropriation of Palestinian land by the state through legal measures was central to the colonisation of East Jerusalem at this stage.

Planning further contributed to the colonisation of the city and was characterised by the construction of settlements (“satellite neighbourhoods”). Since 1967, Israel has expropriated over one-third of the Palestinian land that was annexed to Jerusalem’s municipality new boundaries – 24.5 square kilometres – most of it privately owned by Palestinians. Some 11 neighbourhoods have been erected for Jewish inhabitants only.

Under international law, the status of these neighbourhoods is the same as the Israeli illegal settlements throughout the West Bank. As a complementary step, a series of masterplans were drawn that have effectively limited the growth of Palestinian neighbourhoods by limiting construction rights and defining most Palestinian land as not eligible for housing construction.

The beginning of the 21st century marked a shift into a more radical policy in Jerusalem with the construction of the separation barrier. This has allowed Israel to de facto annex another 160 square kilometres of the Occupied Territories.

The route of the barrier creates a sharp division between the walled city of Jerusalem and the Palestinian hinterland. The concrete barrier deliberately disrupts the functional integration of Palestinian neighbourhoods and isolates them from their hinterland in the West Bank.

Separation: how the barrier has affected Jerusalem’s Palestinian communities. ir-amin, Author provided

The construction of the separation barrier has placed the vast majority of territory and resources in the Jerusalem metropolitan under Jewish control. Palestinians are confined to disjointed enclaves, without sovereignty, freedom of movement, control over natural resources, or contiguous territory.

Micro colonisation

Recent events in Sheikh Jarrah clearly mark the current phase in colonising Jerusalem. This is a micro-scale appropriation of Palestinian territory accompanied by evictions and displacements of Palestinians who remain in the city. Palestinian homes are demolished or colonised by settlers such as in the case of Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah while agricultural land is confiscated from its Palestinian owners – as in the case of Walajeh where the separation barrier surrounds the village and cuts it off from most of its inhabitants’ land.

This is a new phase in which Palestinian space is appropriated not solely through military acts or large-scale urban planning (such as described above) but rather on small-scale urban spaces and the use of planning policies. These include land-use changes, planning for the apparent “public good” (such as the attempt to build a school on Salhiya’s plot in Sheikh Jarrah), infrastructure development and touristic development. There is also clear discrimination in the distribution of building permits. While 38% of the city’s residents are Palestinians, only 16.5% of the building permits were given for construction in Palestinian neighbourhoods.

In this way, Jerusalem has become a model for using “banal” apparatuses such as urban planning to reinforce Israeli domination of this divided and contested city.


We are grateful to Dr Mandy Turner for providing the translation of Mahmoud Salhiya’s words at the opening of this article and the linked video.

Haim Yacobi, Professor of Development Planning, UCL and Irit Katz, Assistant Professor in Architecture and Urban Studies, University of Cambridge

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

The featured image at the top is for illustration and is of The Times of Israel.

Researchers develop new software for designing sustainable cities

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“Cities, more than any other ecosystems, are designed by people. Why not be more thoughtful about how we design the places where most of us spend our time?” wondered Anne Guerry in a Stanford University article in which Sarah Cafasso explains how Researchers develop new software for designing sustainable cities.

Stanford researchers develop new software for designing sustainable cities

By 2050, more than 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. Stanford Natural Capital Project researchers have developed software that shows city planners where to invest in nature to improve people’s lives and save billions of dollars.

By Sarah Cafasso, Stanford Natural Capital Project

New technology could help cities around the world improve people’s lives while saving billions of dollars. The free, open-source software developed by the Stanford Natural Capital Project creates maps to visualize the links between nature and human wellbeing. City planners and developers can use the software to visualize where investments in nature, such as parks and marshlands, can maximize benefits to people, like protection from flooding and improved health.

By 2050, over 70 percent of the world’s people are projected to live in cities. As the global community becomes increasingly urban, cities are looking for ways to design with sustainability in mind. (Image credit: Zhang Mengyang / iStock)

“This software helps design cities that are better for both people and nature,” said Anne Guerry, Chief Strategy Officer and Lead Scientist at the Natural Capital Project. “Urban nature is a multitasking benefactor – the trees on your street can lower temperatures so your apartment is cooler on hot summer days. At the same time, they’re soaking up the carbon emissions that cause climate change, creating a free, accessible place to stay healthy through physical activity and just making your city a more pleasant place to be.”

By 2050, experts expect over 70 percent of the world’s people to live in cities – in the United States, more than 80 percent already do. As the global community becomes more urban, developers and city planners are increasingly interested in green infrastructure, such as tree-lined paths and community gardens, that provide a stream of benefits to people. But if planners don’t have detailed information about where a path might encourage the most people to exercise or how a community garden might buffer a neighborhood from flood risk while helping people recharge mentally, they can’t strategically invest in nature.

“We’re answering three crucial questions with this software: where in a city is nature providing what benefits to people, how much of each benefit is it providing and who is receiving those benefits?” said Perrine Hamel, lead author on a new paper about the software published in Urban Sustainability and Livable Cities Program Lead at the Stanford Natural Capital Project at the time of research.

The software, called Urban InVEST, is the first of its kind for cities and allows for the combination of environmental data, like temperature patterns, with social demographics and economic data, like income levels. Users can input their city’s datasets into the software or access a diversity of open global data sources, from NASA satellites to local weather stations. The new software joins the Natural Capital Project’s existing InVEST software suite, a set of tools designed for experts to map and model the benefits that nature provides to people.

To test Urban InVEST, the team applied the software in multiple cities around the world: Paris, France; Lausanne, Switzerland; Shenzhen and Guangzhou, China; and several U.S. cities, including San Francisco and Minneapolis. In many cases, they worked with local partners to understand priority questions – in Paris, candidates in a municipal election were campaigning on the need for urban greenery, while in Minneapolis, planners were deciding how to repurpose underused golf course land.

Running the numbers

In Shenzhen, China, the researchers used Urban InVEST to calculate how natural infrastructure like parks, grassland and forest would reduce damages in the event of a severe, once-in-one-hundred years storm. They found that the city’s nature would help avoid $25 billion in damages by soaking up rain and diverting floodwaters. They also showed that natural infrastructure – like trees and parks – was reducing the daily air temperature in Shenzhen by 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) during hot summer days, providing a dollar value of $71,000 per day in benefits to the city.

Targeting inequities

A map of the Paris metropolitan area of France showing neighborhoods with the lowest access to green spaces (yellow), the lowest income neighborhoods (red), and an overlap of the two (blue) where, according to the Urban InVEST software, investing in green spaces like parks would have the greatest impact on reducing inequalities. (Image credit: Perrine Hamel et al)

Nature is often distributed unevenly across cities – putting lower-income people at a disadvantage. Data show that lower-income and marginalized communities often have less access to nature in cities, meaning they are unable to reap the benefits, like improved mental and physical health, that nature provides to wealthier populations.

In Paris, the researchers looked at neighborhoods without access to natural areas and overlaid income and economic data to understand who was receiving benefits from nature. The software helped determine where investments in more greenspace – like parks and bike paths – could be most effective at boosting health and wellbeing in an equitable way.

Planning for a greener future

In the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota region, golf revenue is declining. The downturn has created an appealing opportunity for private golf courses to sell off their land for development. But should developers create a new park or build a new neighborhood? Urban InVEST showed how, compared to golf courses, new parks could increase urban cooling, keep river waters clean, support bee pollinators and sustain dwindling pockets of biodiversity. New residential development, on the other hand, would increase temperatures, pollute freshwater and decrease habitat for bees and other biodiversity.

Healthy city ecosystems

Urban InVEST is already seeing use outside of a research setting – it recently helped inform an assessment of how nature might help store carbon and lower temperatures in 775 European cities.

“Cities, more than any other ecosystems, are designed by people. Why not be more thoughtful about how we design the places where most of us spend our time?” said Guerry, also an author on the paper. “With Urban InVEST, city governments can bring all of nature’s benefits to residents and visitors. They can address inequities and build more resilient cities, resulting in better long-term outcomes for people and nature.”

Transforming small cities into smart cities

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Media India Group of New Delhi elaborates on Transforming small cities into smart cities, as seen by the SRMIST and TERRE Policy Centre. Here is the story that could well be of interest to our readers in the MENA region of the Gulf, where Indian Nationals residents make up the great majority of inhabitants.

The picture above is for illustration and is of The Economic Times.

Transforming small cities into smart cities: SRMIST & TERRE Policy

Collaboration to conserve environment

Dr S Ponnusamy, Registrar, SRM-IST (left); Dr Rajendra Shende, Chairman, TERRE Policy Centre (right)

In order to promote on-campus activities for environmental conservation and fulfil UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, SRM institute collaborates with TERRE Policy Centre.

SRM (Sri Ramaswamy Memorial) Institute of Science and Technology (SRMIST), Chennai, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with TERRE Policy Centre which is a non-profit organisation dedicated to United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Our campus in Chennai is like a small city and our aim is to transform that small city to a smart city”, said Professor C Muthamizhchelvan, Vice-Chancellor of SRMIST. While speaking about signing the MoU with TERRE Policy Centre, he also said that collaborating with TERRE they would fulfil their ambition of making all their students and faculty future-ready and SDG-Ready’. “That is what I mean by smart”, he added.

SRMIST is a deemed university as well as an active member of a network of Higher Educational Institutes, called   Smart Campus Cloud Network (SCCN), launched by TERRE Policy Centre in 2017. The network is supported by UNESCO-Paris and India’s Ministry of Education through All India Council of Higher Technical Education (AICTE) and University Grant Commission (UGC).

This digital network of over 350 universities and colleges, including seven foreign universities, promotes the practical activities in the campus that contribute towards the United Nations SDGs. SCCN makes the campus a laboratory for SDGs. The network promotes ‘learning by doing’ within the campus.

In order to fulfil their objective, the network of universities encourages students as well as faculties to share the experiences of practical projects related to SDGs in the college campus. The projects deploy digital technologies like IoT (Internet of Thing), AI (Artificial Intelligence), cloud-networking, Machine-to-machine learning and BlockChain technology.

Apart from these, projects like energy efficiency, harnessing of renewable energy, waste to energy, zero-waste, green buildings, smart-grid, healthy sanitation, e-waste management, air pollution, zero-emission transport, conservation of biodiversity, ban on single-use plastic, water conservation, carbon neutrality, sustainable farming, digital agriculture are among other practices undertaken in the campus. Ideation and research on SDGs are also encouraged on the campus. The results of the practical work on the campus are shared across the universities globally through the digital cloud dashboard that TERRE has developed.

Apart from UNESCO other partners of SCCN are GORD (Gulf Organisation of Research and Development) in Qatar as well as several NGOs. TERRE also works closely with ECOSOC, UNEP, IUCN and UNFCCC.

“Through SCCN we aim to mainstream United Nations Global Goals (SDGs) in the education system where young minds are moulded”, Dr Rajendra Shende, Chairman of TERRE Policy Centre and former director of UNEP, tells Media India Group.

“The MoU has the overarching objective of skill development of the students for implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including making the campus Carbon Neutral,” he adds.

In addition to being a leading higher education and research, the institution has gained an international reputation in various fields and has evolved a comprehensive student-centric learning approach, SRM-IST has also signed carbon neutrality ledge, ‘Not Zero-Net Zero Pledge’ designed and monitored by TERRE under SCCN.

At present, SRM-IST aims to be South India’s regional hub of Smart Campus Cloud Network (SCCN). TERRE Policy Centre, through Smart Campus Cloud Network (SCCN), plans to provide overall guidance and mentoring to SRM-IST on United Nations SDGs and climate change issues

In order to inspire more institutions and organisations across the world, the success stories will be showcased on a number of network platforms including Discussion Fora on its website sccnhub.com. The progress of the activities would be monitored using smart technologies and will be visualised using a cloud platform and a real-time dashboard. The partnership with business, government and civil society would be the key axis around which this network will flourish. ‘Learning by Doing’ and ‘Accelerating by Sharing’ would be the key mantras that TERRE and SRMIST would be practising to train the students for the carbon-neutral future.

Egypt’s new capital – a smart city in the making

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GLOBALFLEET‘s article authored by Alison Pittaway argues that Egypt’s new capital is a smart city in the making. So it will but some people are not happy. Let us see what’s it all about.

The image above is for illustration and is of Reuters.

Egypt’s new capital – a smart city in the making

18 May 21

Aside from the recent troubles in Gaza threatening war in the Middle East, decades of population growth and unplanned urban sprawl have taken their tole on Egypt’s economy.

The Government is building several cities, including a new capital, one million low-cost homes, plus an infrastructure of highways and bridges.

*Image courtesy of Shutterstock

This bustling regeneration has helped Egypt remain in growth in 2020, despite the economic shock of the Coronavirus pandemic.

However, some people are not happy. Citizens have been displaced and lost their homes to the building work. Others have seen their neighbourhoods transform too quickly. Analysts wonder how much of a difference the infrastructure boom will make while economic problems persist.

A new capital city

Under construction in the desert, east of Cairo (due to open later this year) is a a futuristic-looking city that many are calling “the new capital city”. Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi recently referred to it as “Hope city”. It’s officially referred to simply as the “New Administrative Capital”. It will be Egypt’s first smart city and is expected to house 6.5 million people. Covering 700 square kilometres of desert, it’s the size of Singapore.

Some people worry that the pace of change in Egypt is too fast and that the “old ways”, such as selling tomatoes from a donkey cart or driving a rickshaw, are being bulldozed and the people who rely on them forgotten.

Investing in the future

On the positive side, in Eastern Cairo and beyond, 1.1 trillion Egyptian pounds ($70 billion) (€53.7 billion) will be spent on transport between now and 2024. A third of that is for the new road network, which will connect many more citizens to transport networks, basic services and create the foundations for a raft of mobility services.

While being interviewed on television recently, Sisi was emphatic about the new developments: “We need to do this so we can make people’s lives easier, so we can reduce the amount of lost time, reduce people’s stress and stop the fuel being used causing more pollution.”

A 2014 World Bank Study put the cost of congestion in greater Cairo at 3.6% of gross domestic product. But while new roads are being built, old ones are poorly maintained.

Middle East’s first mobile natural gas fuel station opens in Egypt

Meanwhile, Egypt’s Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources has launched the first mobile facility to supply cars with compressed natural gas as part of the sector’s efforts to increase the supply of the fuel across the country.

The new station can transport and store up to 5,000 cubic meters of gas and supply up to 1,000 cars every 24 hours to public, industrial and commercial facilities.

The Ministry has plans for 10 new mobile stations across the country, especially in areas of seasonal consumption, such as tourist spots and resorts.

It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out. Will Egypt’s smart city be a step too far or will it become a shining example to the rest of the world? Time will tell.