Thursday, January 31, 2013

Asian mega cities have a global risk of unsustainability- an example with Bangkok's unpreparedness

Figure 1: In Bangkok speed boat are used to solve the traffic congestions

There has been a radical change in the number of megacities – cities which metropolitan population is bigger than 10 millions- : their number has exploded since the 80's from 9 only in 1985 to 27 in 2000.

Megacities are the result as well as the driver of globalization change, 8 out of 10 are in developing countries.

More than half megacities are located in Asia and the 5 biggest in the planet are Tokyo (34mil), Guangzhou, Seoul, Jakarta, Shanghai (all 4 topping 25 mil).  

Only 4 megacities are in developed countries, with New York, Los Angeles, London and Paris, the last two being the oldest and smallest.

From 1990 to 2025, under United Nation current projections, there will be an enormous increase of people living in developing countries’ urban areas (from 37% to 57%), while industrialized countries will increase only slightly (from 77% to 78%).

Most of these megacities will be located in tropical and equatorial areas, usually next to the coastal line and close to major rivers, such as Bangkok, Shanghai, Honk Kong, Jakarta, Yangon, Manila, Singapore, Kolkata, Dhaka and Mumbai. Megacities will be  particularly threatened by the effects of the coming global warming.


Megacities present a double-headed challenge: global change -global risk

This mega city development is unprecedented in history. As explained by Frauke Kraas (Asien Apr 2007) there is a risk system issue. First megacities are an engine of global change because due to their vertical concentration and their size's scale effect, they need less land and upfront investment costs per person are lower. But in the same time they present a global risk with a systematic minimization of issues arising from their huge human concentration.

We already know sprawling slums and poverty, cronyism and the growing importance of the informal sector, the problem of overburden and aging infrastructures.

Megacity's system could easily spin out of control. Major environmental problems due to the massive change of sustainability is the face of the future (cf. Southeast megacities: big challenge, biggeropportunity published in Knowledge@warton 2013). Indian blackout in summer 2012 affecting the life of 600 mil persons is an example.

Traffic congestion and air pollution are major problems of megacities. Jakarta car congestion costs 5.4 bil $ annually while increasing poor air quality. With business as usual conditions, pollution would increase 2-3 folds on 1990-2020 due to population growth, industrialization and increased vehicle use. 

Which developing country would accept to pay 5% more for expensive costs derived from LEED leadership in energy and environment design specifications, even if upfront surcharges are paid-up quickly in reduction of life cycle costs?

Who really think that Asian megacities could take the lead in shifting from car to trains, bus and rapid transit systems: when in the same time the development of car plants in China are aiming at huge domestic outputs? So there will be the high subsequent costs and health hazards:  the truth is that megacities and high rise buildings are not optimal if we include all hidden costs.

The future of megacities in China is particularly scary under the business as usual urbanization scheme proposed by MacKinsey Gobal Institute's last report “Preparing for China’s urban billion”. China’s urbanization in 2025 means a 50% increase of its urban population (more than today USA population), 220 cities with one mil + people living in them (there are only 35 today in Europe), 170 mass transit systems to be built to alleviate traffic congestion, 50 000 skyscrapers the equivalent of 10 times the city of New York...

But will these megacities be adapted tomorrow in the new context of carbon emission reduction, energy saving, easing of traffic bottleneck, build-in renewable energy and water conservation equipments?  As explained in my post dated 23 Oct 2012, maybe it would be wiser in China to develop medium size and smaller cities far from the crowded east costal ribbon in order to settle and stabilize the migrant population and have a more inward oriented development model.

Small is beautiful and big is awesome.  Dubai is proud to have the highest tower in the world but are people really more happy when they need to wait hours in the traffic before crossing Sheikh Sayed Road or when they are suffering in their home from heat resulting from excessive outdoor glass surface?


Asian Green City index by EIU and Siemens

Asian green cities index is a research project conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, sponsored by Siemens which aim is to assess the environmental performance of Asia’s major cities. The Asian Green City Index is ranking the environmental situation of 22 Asian cities mostly 14 megacities and 8 smaller but quite still big (population >5 mil): Kuala Lumpur, Nanjing, Hong Kong, Taipei, Bangaluru, Hanoi, Yokohama. The only missing Asian megacity is Dhaka.   

Each city environmental achievement is assessed across the following 8 environmental parameter's categories: energy and CO2, land use and building, transport, waste, water, sanitation, air quality, environmental governance.

The overall ranking is obtained by adding-up all parameters with an equal weighting, including some fine tuning made by the evaluation comity. However these final twists and corrections by the comity are all but transparent and Bengaluru and Kokalta rankings are unclear.

It is s big improvement even if the methodology needs to be clarified and more transparent.

The risk management issue is missing along with the population awareness assessment.

Altogether there are insufficient differences in the performances and a too broad classification between various cities.  So we have applied the same methodology but without the final twists in order to increase differences between cities (see Figure 2 below).

The 8 parameters are equally weighted with the following 5 values: well above average=100; above average=75; average=50; below average=25; well below average=0.

Figure 2: Sustainable ranking obtained by addition of 8 parameters issued from EIU-Siemens research project “Asian green cities index

The biggest result from this ranking is that megacities from Asian developing countries are around 40-45% less environmental friendly and sustainable than those from Asian developed countries, the best performing country being Singapore (see Figure 3 below). 

Figure 3: Singapore's ranting issued from EIU-Siemens research project “Asian green cities index”

Bangkok is an example of sustainability unpreparedness (see Figure 4 below)

Bangkok in 1930 was named as the "Venice of the East". Hundred of canals were used to move goods and persons across the city. These canals were also the waterways of the Chao Praya River during the high waters in Sep and Oct.

Figure 4: Bangkok's rating issued from EIU-Siemens research project “Asian green cities index”

Unrestricted construction over the last 30 years when Bangkok started to modernize resulted in lots of waste and trash in the canals. Progressively they were filled and paved. Then the city was more or less blocking the flow of the river during the high waters. Flooding of some part of the city became a recurrent phenomenon. 

Bangkok lies about 2 meters above sea level. The city is particularly vulnerable to the flood during the monsoon season. Any changing condition could worsen the situation. The drainage and storm water system - after the canals disappeared - are unable to deal with so much rain in a short period of time! 

There were floods in Bangkok in 1983, 1995 and the last one in 2011 killed 815 people, not to mention the heavy economical cost for Thailand.

A research has shown that Bangkok is sinking at a rate of 10 cm a year. The Global warming effects in Bangkok need also to be assessed. There are fears that the Thailand capital will be submerged by 2030!

Traffic congestion in Bangkok is also a big headache. There have been significant improvements in the 90's by adding two mass transport systems: the sky-train opened in 1999; the underground train system in 2004.

But it seems that the underground system more or less duplicate the sky-train. So people prefer to use the sky-train, because they like to look out of the windows!

Anyway for the Thai owning a car is a statute symbol and even the lower middle class are spending all their money to buy car!

In order to remedy the two mass transport systems’ deficiencies, some old canals had been rehabilitated to be used by speedboats (see Figure 1). However, this solution seems temporary as the passengers’ comfort and safety are low, especially due to water splashing or transshipment hazards at the riverside stations for elderly or disabled . The crossing of two boats coming from opposite directions in the narrow channel is also a bit dangerous.