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SCIENCE STORY – Evolution of an adaptive paradigm to develop safer cities

On the occasion of National Science Day, 2021

A story based on my PhD Thesis 

By this day, more than half of the global population is living in urban areas. Besides, the citizens are mainly accommodating themselves in highly dense and populated spaces. By the coming year of 2050, the United Nations predicts the extent of urban citizenship to reach two-thirds of the global population. In our country, a decadal account of the Census of India shows a notable rising trend in line with the global trend. The last such population survey of the year 2011 reported that the country’s 31% population is living in cities. Evolution of spaces is through a village to town to a city to metro and megalopolis. The increasing number of larger sized human settlements is the result one can see. Urbanization seems inevitable and unavoidable.

Cities function as growth engines of a nation. Urban settlements reflect typical character with somewhat different based on the historical connection of the place, its terrain and geographical setup. Provision of the Constitution of India mandates urbanization as a State subject matter where national guidelines are made available. Apart from managing urbanization, the existing tools of legal provisions seem to have missing clues for the urban development riddle. The evolution of cities is shaping through regulations; however, mechanisms to address physical vulnerability seems absent. Growth of urban areas are not haphazard, yet the development may bring opportunities by safeguarding lives and interest of the citizens. Let us explore a case.

Records of Census 2011 reveals that Gujarat state is the ninth highly populated State in India, sheltering 5% of the national population. Also, it has a third position (42.6%) for citizens residing in urban areas. In Gujarat, Surat had 4.46 million citizens making it the eighth and second highly populated urban settlement at the national and state level, respectively. A recent study by ‘The City Mayors Foundation’ published a ranking of the world’s fastest-growing cities from the year 2006 to 2020. Surat stands fourth with an average annual growth rate of 4.99%. Also, by the year 2018, Surat positioned as the 36th largest urban settlement. Global urban population projections predict for Surat to be the fastest-growing city by the year 2035. The city history dates to 400 B.C. where a drastic population increase began in mid of 1980. Perennial river Tapi and an annual average rainfall of 1,300 mm avail ample water supply for flourishing.

The absence of forests and fertile land with flatter terrain are major enablers. Rapid industrialization has leveraged attraction with opportunities to individuals from across the country. 

The Government of Gujarat proactively made a stipulation to tackle urbanization. The State enacted President’s Act No. 27 – The Gujarat Town Planning and Urban Development Act, 1976. The act provisions for constitution and empowerment of an urban development authority. The authority is responsible for preparing Development Plans for land assigned. Subsequently, micro-level planning is to prepare Town Planning Schemes.

Since its inception in the year 1978, the ‘Surat Urban Development Authority’ (SUDA) prepared the first Development plan in the year 1986 decadal revisions. The then land area assigned was 722 sq. km. since the inception of SUDA. After four decades, with an expansion of administrative limits, the area was revised to 1,351 sq. km. in the year 2018. The latest plan is envisioning a horizon of the year 2035 and proposes development by land-use zoning. Making efforts by brainstorming exercises for two years, the SUDA emerged with a comprehensive vision. The propositions are reflected in the form of earmarked developable zones for land use as residential, commercial, educational, industrial, and so on. The version of the plan earmarks for promoting urbanization-industrialization like the predecessors. The population in SUDA for the base year 2011 was reported as 4.8 million. The projected count of citizens is expecting to cross 10 million, depicting a leap of more than a double in about remaining the then two decades.

By the year 2018, when the Revised development plan was published, it was revealed that the surface development in Surat reached an extent of 233 sq. km. The proposed zones earmarking future development had a total area of 355 sq. km. The remaining area occupied for convertible agricultural activities. These areas are availing open-ended opportunities for advancement without any strategy.

In search of identifying an adaptive paradigm, a doctoral study employed to explore answers to research questions. These were: (1) In which directions urbanization is propagating? (2) How much is the growth of spatial surface built-up extent? (3) Is there any relationship between local climatic conditions with increasing surface built-up due to urbanization? (4) Is there any relationship between increasing urbanization and the unnatural deaths of citizens? (5) How much habitable area is vulnerable to flooding along with population? (6) What may be a situation in future, in case of a significant flood event in the Surat area? (7) Can any safeguarding measures be taken using the approach of the Development Plan as a legal tool? A most important concern was to explore the use of Open Source (and reliable) information and processing. At the same time, developing aim-objectives, scope, and methodology to make meaningful research, current work shaped as process-based research.

Data collection included the study of all Development Plan reports and maps of SUDA. For each Census ward, population since the year 1961 till 2011 extracted from the Census of India. The ‘Indian Meteorological Department’ availed records of daily temperature and rainfall for Surat station. These records included evidential information from the year 1995 till the mid of the year 2019. The ‘National Criminal Records Bureau’ assisted with records of unnatural deaths. From the repository of ‘USGS Earth Explorer’, the satellite images downloaded for the month of each year under study duration. For the years of 1995 till 1999, the images of ‘Landsat 4-5 Earth Observation mission’ in 7 electromagnetic (E.M.) wavebands was used. From the year 2000 till the year 2013, the images from ‘Landsat 7 mission Enhanced Thematic Mapper’ had records in eight E.M. bands. From the year 2013 onwards till 2020 images acquired through ‘Landsat 8 Mission’. It used ‘Thermal Infrared Sensor’ and ‘Operational Land Imager’ availing information in eleven E.M. bands.

An overlay of the decadal population using ‘QGIS’ depicted that it is showing a manifold increase in Census wards of the North to South over the Eastern parts. Other directions reported an increase at a lower rate. Processing of past images revealed it. The built-up surface area had a total spread of over 271 sq. km. with an annual growth of 5.2 sq. km. The correlation coefficient of 0.97 depicted for a stringent positive relationship. The net increase observed to be 124 sq. km. over two decades. It means that the built-up surfaces are added at almost six per cent annually.

Gauging of land development was ensured by ‘Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI)’. The analysis reported the vanishing of 208 Sq.Km. of shrubbery. The extracted digital values (reflected light energy) of image pixels had a normal distribution.

A trend examined for the local climate of Surat using temperature and rainfall. The daily maximum temperature observed a range from 25° C to 41.2° C whereas, the minimum temperature had it from 7.6° C to 30.2° C of range. The 20-year median values for maximum and minimum were 33° C and 22° C, respectively with a tolerance of ± 2°C and ± 4°C in order. It means the daily maximum temperature is increasing so as the daily minimum temperature. It is resulting in lesser daily cooling of the surface: a weak, but the prevailing correlation established between daily minimum temperature and surface built-up. The information processing on daily precipitation revealed that the number of rainy days is increasing since the year 1995.

The relationship between an increase in population and un-natural death noticed to be high. The same also applied for deaths due to drowning in Surat.

The low-lying areas susceptible to flooding are identified based on previous experiences of floods. The results of the submergence model developed by the ‘Intergovernmental Penal on Climate Change’ overlayed on Development Plans of Surat as well as other constructed layers. The study revealed that 123 Sq.Km. of exiting built, and developable region might undergo possible flooding, impacting dwelled lives of about 11.5 Lac citizens. Adjustments in the proposed zones of the undeveloped area needed for implementation. The notion is to reduce the extent of vulnerability.

Findings of the Surat case concludes in the form of amendments in development control regulation and Development Plan. It recommends safeguarding citizens and existing properties to a large extent. Through the entire Spatio-temporal exploration, a novel and pro-active approach for land management are evolving. A safer means of developing cities through logical and legal provisions has a scope for many other cities to follow saving the lives of millions of urban citizens. Urbanization is a dynamic process, so be the development administration.

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