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4 Ways to Green Our Cities

Credit: Claudia Dewald

Credit: Claudia Dewald

Tuesday, April 22, marked the 44th anniversary of Earth Day, celebrated under the theme ‘Green Cities.’ This theme encapsulates a two-year campaign launched by Earth Day Network last fall in a bid to “help cities around the world become more sustainable and reduce their carbon footprint. Focused on three key elements – buildings, energy, and transportation – the campaign aims to help cities accelerate their transition to a cleaner, healthier, and more economically viable future through improvements in efficiency, investments in renewable technology, and regulation reform.”

The vision of Jamaica’s Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change is that “In 2020, Jamaica is among the top three countries in the Caribbean and Latin America in environmental stewardship, access to potable water, equitable broad-based land ownership and climate change resilience.” In order to attain this goal, particular attention must be paid to our booming cities – Kingston, Montego Bay and the municipality of Portmore, where significant portions of our population live and work.

 Here are four ways in which Jamaica can green our cities:

Implement proper water management systems

As urban populations grow, the needs of the people become more pronounced. One of the most urgent needs is for an adequate supply of clean water. As the National Water Commission’s tagline states, “water is life,” but it is not always available. Right now, Jamaica is experiencing the dry season and many areas are affected by the drought. Whereas residents of rural areas might be able to get water from nearby rivers or streams, urban dwellers typically do not have that luxury. Portmore is a prime example of this, as the municipality was largely constructed on reclaimed land. While the dry season and drought are unavoidable, the effects could have been mitigated with a proper water management plan.

Water availability is only going to become more of an issue in the years to come as the adverse effects of climate change continue to manifest. These effects include increasingly variable rainfall – longer dry seasons with shorter wet seasons, with more intense extremes. In fact, an overall reduction in rainfall is predicted.

The IUWM approach advocates the integration of water planning with other urban sectors, such as land, housing, energy and transport, in order to “avoid fragmentation and duplication in policy- and decision-making.” Principles of the IUWM approach include:

  • Encompassing alternative water sources
  • Matching water quality with water use (eg. utilising wastewater in agriculture instead of potable water)
  • Integrating water storage, distribution, treatment, recycling, and disposal
  • Protecting, conserving and exploiting water resources at their source

We can look at São Paolo, Brazil’s largest city, as an example of what not to do with regards to urban planning and water management. According to the World Bank’s ‘Blue Water, Green Cities’ blog, “Urban sprawl generated little to no infrastructure for managing water, sanitation and wastewater, or solid waste. Clearing the land for houses caused erosion and compacted soils, and the resulting increase in runoff has made an already wet city even more prone to floods.”

In order to avoid a similar fate, we have to ensure that water management plans are not only drawn up but properly implemented. Planning is an important consideration because of the increasing number of high density housing developments being undertaken. This creates an increased demand on an already taxed supply, given the inadequate synchronicity of water management with actual and projected demand.

Watershed management is key to adapting our water sector to mitigate the effects of climate change. This will help us to trap rainfall and release gradually to streams for sustainable supplies.  There is also the urgent need to protect groundwater where wells are used. There is currently a project being implemented to improve supply in the Kingston Metropolitan Area water supply by bringing in water from the Rio Cobre basin, which may become a prototype for future reference.

Create an efficient public transportation system

According to Earth Day’s official website, “rapid urban population growth has strained existing transportation infrastructure and made walking and cycling increasingly difficult, prompting more and more people to rely on cars for transportation.” Not only has this population explosion resulted in greater inconvenience for urban travellers, it has also caused the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions (24 per cent). So, how can this system be streamlined so the travelling population and the environment both benefit?

Earth Day Network recommends three steps:

  • Strengthening and expanding existing public transportation networks so that they are more convenient and more accessible. For one thing, that means the Jamaica Urban Transit Corporation (JUTC) will have to develop and stick to a reliable schedule.
  • Invest in sustainable transportation technology to create fuel efficient and low-emissions vehicles. Design biking- and walking-friendly citie.This would entail creating specified walkways and cycling pathways. These non-motorised forms of transportation can be built into our cities’ master plans and offer a healthy, economical, and environmental-friendly alternative to motor vehicles, the Network states. Although not a city,an architectural concept for the aborted Clarendon new town development had such a concept.  Motor vehicles would have been limited to the perimeter and selected zones of the development. This was certainly a missed opportunity for a paradigm shift.

Increase use of solar and other renewable energy sources

Earth Day Network posits that, as it is, the current electricity grid system most countries in the world rely on is entirely outdated and needs to be re-imagined. This new vision includes small-scale renewable energy sources to replace centralised, fossil fuel-burning power plants and smart grids to regulate energy flow and ensure efficiency.

This new energy future will rely on solar panels and wind turbines “spread throughout communities, providing cheap, clean, and efficient energy that doesn’t have to travel hundreds of miles to reach its destination.” Decentralising these energy hubs would mean less inconvenience whenever there is a problem – no wide-scale blackouts, for instance.

Earlier this year, three entities signed on to provide 78 megawatts of renewable energy to the national grid with the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS). Three entities, Blue Mountain Renewables, Wigton Windfarm Limited and WRB Enterprises, were selected. Environmental Solutions Limited (ESL) is serving as the environmental manager for WRB Enterprises on this project and, to date, has undertaken a number of initiatives in phase 1.We will explore these further in a follow-up blog post.  

Prioritise green building

According to Earth Day Network, traditional buildings are responsible for 1/3 of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, chiefly because they rely on “dirty energy sources” for power and don’t use their energy very efficiently. This problem can be combated with ‘green’ buildings.

‘Green’ buildings are characterised by energy and water efficiency, reduction of waste and pollution, the use of renewable energy sources and sustainable building materials. According to the website, these strategies can reduce energy consumption in buildings by 30-80 per cent. As construction increases to house the growing population, along with new business places, public structures, etc, these strategies must be included in building plans and the national building code. Existing buildings can be retrofitted to incorporate ‘green’ strategies as well.

One of the major issues with this plan is that the cost of implementing these strategies is usually prohibitive. However, some local financial institutions have begun offering special ‘green loans’ for companies and (to a lesser extent) householders who want to become more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.

While these loans are beneficial, a larger-scale plan needs to be put in place to support and grow a ‘green building market,’ which would offer incentives for designers and contractors of eco-friendly buildings. According to Earth Day Network, some incentives that have been employed in other countries include expedited permitting, tax credits, fee reductions or waivers, and grants, as well as technical and marketing assistance.

This is a cross posting from Environmental Solutions, a Caribbean environmental consultancy based in Kingston, Jamaica

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