An Interview with Tahira from Embarq India

One of the important challenges for developing a smart city is to build an efficient transport network. To understand what is needed to build and intelligent transport model,I interviewed Tahira Thekaekara of Embarq India, a not-for-profit organization with a mission to catalyse and help implement sustainable transport solutions to improve quality of life in cities. Here is an excerpt from the interview.

Bubbal Makker: In your opinion what are the biggest barriers to planning as well as redesigning cities so that they are ‘smarter’ in terms of traffic flow, regular power supply, and the tracking of crime?

Tahira: Often development is associated with cars, which is a big challenge to overcome. Too many current investments in transport, go towards road infrastructure projects likes highway and flyover projects, which are focused on providing for and increasing cars and automobility, which encourages uncontrolled growth and sprawl. Uncontrolled and unplanned growth in urban centres has a high negative impact on mobility, accessibility and the livability of a city. It also places severe constraints on things like the energy system. Intelligent planning, with mixed land use, and intelligent investment in high quality public transport can create more compact cities, which will help create accessible, cleaner, healthier and safer environments for people.

Bubbal: What does Mixed-land use imply?

Tahira: Mixed land use implies different types of complementary land uses that are located together in a balanced mix, for example, residential development, shops, offices, recreation facilities, playgrounds and publicly accessible open spaces. This makes forms of transport like walking and cycling, and public transport more accessible and easier to use, as opposed to private cars. Mixed land use can enhance the vitality and safety of areas by increasing the number of people on the street and in public spaces. It can also improve the retail and economic development of an area Take for example certain areas of Mumbai, which have mixed land use.
The idea of mixed land use incorporates a well designed public transport as one of its major elements. A well developed network of public transport is energy efficient, allows people to move freely and at the same time adds to their safety. It has been estimated that by 2030, road accidents will be the fifth leading cause of death in India. The other leading causes of death are cardiac and respiratory diseases. A good transport system that provides infrastructure for active transport, would improve road safety, reduce air pollution and increase the amount people walk (an average of 30 minutes a day), thereby reducing the risk of both respiratory and cardiac diseases.

Bubbal: What cross-sectoral partnerships can you envision that would bring about innovative solutions to these challenges?

Tahira: Most urban projects have multiple stakeholders and government agencies responsible for them. Often a lot of planning happens in isolation and there is very little interaction between the various agencies and stakeholders. Collaboration between these different agencies need to be encouraged.

Bubbal: What initiatives are you aware of which are geared towards creating smarter cities?

Tahira: There are many organizations working towards creating smarter citites. By focusing on transport, which affects everything from prosperity to pollution, EMBARQ’s work yields social environmental, and economic benefits of reduced fuel use, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions; improved public health, quality of public spaces and access for all; better accessibility, traffic safety, public security, and cost effectiveness of urban transport; increased competitiveness of the city by reducing the cost of doing business and of getting to work; and increased opportunity for sustainable mobility businesses.
Other organizations like ours include ITDP, CSE which works at the policy level, universities like CEPT, IIT, which are trying to develop innovative solutions for smarter cities.
EMBARQ India’s approach to achieving smarter cities is:
– to influence policy,
– build capacity amongst decision makers and implementers
– work directly with cities, handholding them to create successful iconic demonstration projects that show what is possible, and inspire by example- After the success of the Ahmedabad BRT, people have come to realize that the BRT can actually work in India.

Bubbal: So what does a smarter city mean to you?

Tahira: Smarter cities are compact cities that are socially integrated, efficient and equitable; that provide people with accessible, safer, cleaner, healthier environments to live in; and have public transport systems which are accessible.
“A smarter city has equitable distribution of space and equitable opportunities for mobility through integrated public transport .”

Stay tuned for more interviews!

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