Sustainability is a choice, and it does not contradict with economic development -Part B

                 Sustainability is a choice, and it does not contradict with economic development -Part B

SDGs -8,9, and 11 (economy, innovative infrastructure and sustainable urban-rural development)

Original Article: Ms. Sara Yeh
Translated by: Eden Social Welfare Foundation

City resilience: the well-prepared cities would maintain the environmental change from becoming disasters

Another condition of sustainable city is its resilience to the environment

Whether we like it or not, the effect of climate change is unpreventable. Different cities encounter different types of natural disasters, such as cyclone, drought, earthquake, flood, landslide, and volcano eruption, challenging the operation of cities. Disasters like the 2001 Typhoon Nari, the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, the 2010 Typhoon Fanapi in Kaohsiung, the 2010 Haiti Earthquake, the 2011 Thailand floods, the 2012 Hurricane Sandy and Beijing flood, demonstrate that the environmental change is hard to avoid. The aftermath of disaster is unimaginable, the causalities and economic loss are hard to measure; for example, the great power outage caused by hurricane Sandy caused US$50 billion loss in New York.

Prof. Liao emphasized clearly in the past articles that, human beings have long relied on control engineering, for example, using accumulating artificial levees to prevent flood, meander cut-off, flood divisions, trying to divert water streams. We assumed that the environment will finally return to its original silent and stable condition, or in other words, the hope of returning to peace after disaster enables reconstructions after serious disaster and using same methods to tackle future disasters, however, the same mistakes are being repeated. 

“Environment management targeting on resilience does not keep the systems under the same and stable condition, it focuses on the continuity of the system under the environmental change.”  A good urban planning has to be able to survive through floods, remain stable through changes, rather than preventing, resisting the changing environment. Because the change of environment is nature and irresistible, it would only be recognized as “disaster” when it happens in the unprepared cities and causes loss and damages to assets and lives.

In other words, the cities capacity to handle environmental changes has to enable it to reorganization and back to its order, but it does not necessarily mean returning to its “original status” for the status of environment keeps changing itself.

Photo Credit: @ Wikimedia Commons

What to expect from - “Forward-Looking Infrastructure Projects”

If we are to discuss the road to sustainable cities mentioned in SDGs, the role of the government is particularly important. For example, in the 1970s, Western countries which adhere to economic liberalism claimed on the government should limit its intervention on economic developments, stimulate economic growth through foreign aids such as infrastructure and investment, calling for the magical breakthrough during industrial revolution, but forgot that without tariff protection and policy of fiscal subsidies, the seed of renovation and technology couldn’t have been cultivated. (Note) “ Sustainability and economic, is the issue of equal resource distribution, it takes intervention from the government, it’s not being formed by “an invisible hand”, it would be like now, using tax-payers money to build parks and greeneries, but the beneficiaries are property developers.”, said Prof. Liao.   

However, if we use this kind of thinking to exam the government’s “forward-looking infrastructure project”, we might be sorely disappointed. The project is expected to spend NTD$ 420 billion during the course of 4 years, dominating Taiwan’s infrastructure project for the next 30 years, take ecological infrastructure from the waterworks, it is estimated to invest NTD$ 250.77 billion in the next 8 years, NTD$ 112.46 billion in the first 4 years.

The eight-year objective will combine resources across government agencies to build quality aquatic environments that provide reliable water supplies, clean drinking water, stronger flood defences and accessible waterfront spaces. Increase regular water supplies by 1 million metric tons per day, and emergency water supplies by 2 million metric tons per day. Construct the Amuping desilting tunnel at Shimen Reservoir, upgrade and improve the Tianhua ecological reservoir which is expected to cost NTD$ 129.4 billion, consists of 10 eco-sensitive zones 2 fault lines, conserve and manage reservoirs and water catchments.

“The targeting setting and the methods to reach the goals were not really forward-looking, the purpose is usually to meet the current and future water needs, but not reduce the usage of water. The effect water banks on the environment is not news, the risk of dam failure causes the huge danger to the citizen living in the lower course of the river, which is inappropriate in terms of ecosystem conservation or social justice. Water bank constructions such as this put on the name of “ecology”, such as

Shuangxi ecological reservoir and Tianhua ecological reservoir seems incredible.” Prof. Liao pointed that, forward-looking projects do not focus on ecological restoration, only focused on building a superficial “water friendly” area where people can go and check in and post on social media”. Concepts like this can be seen clearly seen during the 2014 maintenance of the Liou River, and the Lyu River which is under construction is another example of transformation under the same line of thinking.

In the past, polluted from household wastewater, the Liou River was treated like the city’s drainage ditch, and the fourth major river of Taichung. Including the Lyu River, the city of Taichung issued a “Liou River management and eco transformation project”, covered the damaged river with cement, building tourist pathways on top of it, using groundwater as major water sources, the water system would seem really clean immediately. “The reconstruction like this is not different from other rivers with coverage on river to become artificial waterscape. If the function of transforming a river is only to be “water friendly”, the transformation became roads or parking lot, it transformed into waterscape. If building a waterscape means water friendly, it is not related at all to the ecosystem”, said Prof. Liao.

Postdoctoral Researcher Chia-Wei Chao, from National Taiwan University’s Risk Society and Policy Research Center, pointed out that old pipelines across Taiwan leak 1.7 million tons of water. It would cost NT$180 billion to change the whole pipeline system. The item was not included in the forward-looking infrastructure, which is incomprehensible. Moreover, apart from water environment construction, one of the “Urban-Rural Projects” target is to “increase parking spaces by more than 40,000”, it is promoting the usage for personal transportation, which is the contrast to the international goal of building green cities.


Photo Credit: @ Wikimedia Commons

The combination of innovative ideas and sustainable infrastructure

According to Sachs, sustainable cities is the choice of its citizens as a whole. The great urban design enables its citizens to choose to walk or cycle, reduce transportation barriers and pollution, the public will obtain wetlands and greeneries from the hand of real estate developers and real estate agents. Sachs used New York as an example, where 15 years ago, two main rivers in New York were seriously polluted by waste from nearby factories, affecting more than 8 million New Yorkers. The city originally spends billions of dollars on water cleansing construction, solving the pollution of lower-flows, the money then used to promote for change of its business type of the upper-flow and its surrounding cities, reducing pollutions from the upper-end, and offering subsidies to manufacturers and farmers during transition, successfully solving the problem.

It can be seen clearly that when choosing a sustainable model, we need a revise outdated thinking and methods and exercise good political management. Everyone in the city is entitled to build up their ideal sustainable city, design a more eco-friendly and resilient infrastructure, to answer and solve the social needs while maintaining citizens’ productivity. This does not only include reducing pollutions and wastes, increasing green infrastructure and resilient cities, it also takes good communication channels and innovative management.

Observe your community, where are the good and comfortable public space and infrastructure design located? Are you willing to actively participate in the local public decision making? For example, you could join the participatory budgeting at the community, discuss how to allocate resources effectively, input the thought of sustainability, safety, resilience and inclusiveness - helping build a better and healthier life for yourself and the next generation.   

* References: Tai, Po-Fen, 2016. New Cities: Urban Studies Beyond Spatial Dimensions. (xin doushi: chaoyue kongjianchidu de chengshi yanjiu zhi kaizhan). Development Studies and Contemporary Taiwan Society (fazhan yanjiu yu dangdai taiwan shehui), Chien, S.-S., Wang, J.-H., Taipei: Chu-liu.