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Greening human settlements while providing services to people

As part of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) World Water Week 2018 (27-31 August), Dr Priti Parikh and Loan Diep from University College London’ Centre for Urban Sustainability and Resilience, presented and led seminars that fed into this year’s theme: ‘Water, ecosystems and human development’.

In rapidly developing cities, making space for both nature and people is no easy thing to negotiate. There are countless cases of elaborated government plans to green the urban fabric that would not match local populations’ needs and aspirations. Worse, they could sometimes even be detrimental by resorting to extreme measures such as evictions. During their respective sessions, Loan Diep and Dr Priti Parikh made the case for infrastructure that helps close gaps in water and sanitation services, supports livelihoods, and improves environmental conditions in the meantime.

Loan’s presentation at the seminar ‘Ecosystems in an urbanising world’ argued for co-planning strategies to manage trade-offs. Central issues to consider when planning in and for human settlements including gaps in services, financial resource constraints and density. Green infrastructure, as a network of green spaces, is based on 3 principles: 1) interlinkages; 2) exchange and 3) multi-functionality of spaces. Durban was chosen as one case study showing that the application of these principles will help preserve water ecosystems and support income generation, while working around the challenges of “planning in unplanned areas”. The underlying condition, however, is to have a firm grasp of geoclimatic and socio-institutional local conditions. Hence the crucial need to work together with residents.

Loan Diep presenting at SIWI World Water Week on green infrastructure in São Paulo and Durban localities

The community-led upgrading project ISULabaNtu in Durban has focused on 3 townships: Piesang River, Namibia Stop 8 and Havelock. Transect walks, focus group discussions, participatory mapping and service gap prioritisation exercises were conducted in each site and the results were clear: participants showed enthusiasm for scaling up existing farming practices, using greywater to cultivate vegetables. Suitable crop growing design strategies will provide opportunity for local income-revenue. It will avoid exerting pressure on ecosystems by using freshwater and avoid adding financial burden on inhabitants with extra water.

ISULabaNtu project investigates ways to create multifunctional spaces in three townships around Durban

Dr Parikh, along with presenters from the World Bank, University of Leeds and Programme Solidarité Eau jointly convened the panel titled ‘Rethinking Sewers’. This session explored optimal sewer designs and highlighted good practices for connecting low-income communities with cases from around the world.

Dr Parikh highlighted the value of nature-sensitive solutions and integration of services (water, sanitation, roads, flood management) in settlements through the case of Slum Networking in India. She demonstrated the value of designing infrastructure that follows natural drainage pathways and topographic features. This reduces resource and financial costs in construction, and improves environmental conditions. The Slum Networking approach has transformed over a million people’s lives in human settlements around India.

Dr Priti Parikh presenting lessons learnt from Slum Networking in India on infrastructure design for low-income communities

In Durban, the Sihlanzimvelo Stream Cleaning Programme led by eThekwini Municipality consisted in the active cleaning of streams and sewer lines by co-operatives. Through the way community members have helped maintain local infrastructure and environmental cleanliness, Dr Parikh called attention to the power of co-operative movements.

Above all, this case aligned with the others to show that greening human settlements and supporting people’s needs is possible with inclusive design and local ownership of grey and green infrastructure.

Dr Priti Parikh presenting ISULabaNtu Project and Sihlanzimvelo Stream Cleaning Project in South Africa

This blog post was written by Loan Diep and Dr Priti Parikh.

#greeninfrastructure #WorldWaterWeek #Brazil #SouthAfrica

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