By Aparna Datta
In our grandfather’s time, a house was built to last
one hundred years. In our parent’s time, a 50-yesr life
span for a building was assured. But for the current generation
in their thirties and forties buying apartments in condominiums,
the life of properties after even 25 years is not so certain.
Visualize this scenario: the swimming pool lies empty, water
drained out, because it is too expensive to maintain. The
groundwater from the bore well has become contaminated, which
means ever-increasing costs on filtration systems. Worse still,
the bore well may have run dry and water on a daily basis
has to be bought.
This isn’t scare-mongering. It’s for real, and
in certain pockets in Bangalore this situation already exists.
Reason enough, you would think, for property developers to
review the features considered almost standards in upmarket
complexes – sauna, Jacuzzi, swimming-pool et al. Rarely
do developers consider long-term sustainability and costs
of maintenance which residents will have to bear. And water,
life-giving water, is a recurring theme for a sustainable
future. With the push of developers into the greater metropolitan
region of Bangalore, it is important to pause and perhaps
re-think the current paradigm of property development.
Bangalore has a unique geography which sets it apart from
most other cities in India. It sits on a plateau, with streams
and rivers flowing ‘away’ from the city. Water
supply ‘into’ the city naturally becomes a critical
issue. Kempegowda and the original founders created a network
of tanks that formed catchment areas and canals maintained
a hydrological balance. But from some 260 tanks we are now
down to 81 and dying fast, much to the delight of land sharks.
According to Mr Prem Chandavarkar, Joint Managing Director
of Chandavarkar & Thacker Architects Pvt. Ltd., watershed
management is the most challenging aspect of Bangalore’s
development, and future town-planning must stem from this.
Urban development directly transforms large areas of the
earth’s surface. Witness the changes in the areas around
Bangalore – undulation flattened out, valleys and swamps
filled with rocks and waste materials, soil and groundwater
regimes modified in various ways. Says Mr G K Bhat of Taru
Leading Edge, a firm engaged in developing eco-friendly systems
for management of water and solid-waste, “The crucial
issue is to balance bio-mass, energy and water.” This
conceptual framework in fact points to the three distinct
and practicable areas for sustainable property development:
waste management, energy use, water harvesting/recycling.
Some developers are taking steps in the right direction.
L&T ECC Construction Group has got its blueprint for ‘South
City’ in Bannerghatta approved, incorporating supprt
infrastructure for solid-waste management. Ms Lakshmi Venkatachalam,
Commissioner, Bangalore Development Authority, feels there
is great scope for NGOs like Waste Wise and Acts Trust to
provide support services to developers – the key task
is to standardize, package and market the service in a manner
that developers can readily access the systems.
Legislation, and a modified form of Environmental Impact
Assessment which is used in industrial projects, can establish
new norms of environmental responsibility, even for large
housing projects. Civic bodies need to raise these issues
and create awareness such that legislation, when introduced,
will have popular support and compliance.
Ecologically sound systems such as solar water heaters seem
to work best in single unit houses. City Mansion on Langford
Road, a complex of 26 apartments was one of the first to incorporate
solar panels on its rooftop for water heating. Ms Veen Rao,
a resident of City Mansion explains that their experience
with such alternative energy sources was somewhat mixed. The
solar panels are effective for about 6-7 months of the year,
but apartments on lower floors tend to use up more water as
the water in the pipes remains cold and hot water takes a
longer time to reach. Here again, ‘green’ technologists
need to adapt methods for wider applicability. Solar waster
heating is currently not an option for high-rise apartments.
However, solar panels for common area outdoor lighting would
be a possibility.
Rainwater harvesting is another new concept which is receiving
attention. Mr G Govardhan of Bangalore Environment Trust says,
“Rooftop rainwater harvesting offers a possibility as
a supplement to domestic water supply requirements, and in
conjunction with other systems such as low volume flush, efficient
taps and showers, etc., can considerably reduce the burden
on city supply networks.” Independent houses can incorporate
rainwater harvesting systems at minimal cost; even retrofitting
involves relatively little additional expense.
Some progressive developers such as the Embassy group have
looked at sustainability as a community issue. Since most
of their projects are downtown properties, they have introduced
features like water-recycling in some buildings. Mr Jitu Virwani,
Managing Director, advocates a “stakeholder” approach
to community development. Check out “Beautify Lavelle
Road”, a civic awareness campaign sponsored by Embassy,
for which residents, establishments located on Lavelle Road,
civic organizations and the Embassy Group have come together
to make the neighbourhood a better environment.
Clearly, the challenge is for developments upwards of ten
acres/ 100+ units to consciously evolve a ‘greener’
approach. Currently, the green theme is largely cosmetic –
features such as parks and landscaped gardens. Notice how
‘Park’, ‘Garden’ and ‘Woods’
are favourite names for buildings! However, far more substantive
features need to be incorporated if these large complexes
– which are literally islands of consumption and waste
generation – are to be sustainable over the long-term.
In the final analysis, the key to sustainable development
is a simple dictum: “If you take it out, put it back.”
Town-planners, architects and property developers have an
enormous responsibility in designing and creating a new landscape.
One that future generations can live with.
© Aparna Datta, 1997
Published in Assets – Property pages
of The Times of India, Bangalore, October