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Dienstag, 4.10.2022
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The first solid plans for President Irfaan Ali’s envisioned Silica City were ventilated at this year’s building expo, held at the National Stadium, Providence, late last month. This newspaper reported that Minister within the Ministry of Housing and Water Susan Rodrigues, speaking at the opening ceremony, divulged that the proposed $81.7 billion development, set to be built on 12,100 acres near Yarrowkabra on the Linden-Soesdyke Highway, will be a smart city, modelled on guidelines by the eleventh UN Sustainable Development Goal (sustainable cities and human settlements), “the New Urban Agenda, the City Beautiful Movement, the National Multi-Hazard Disaster Preparedness and Response Plan, and the Housing Act 36:20, among other elements”.

Based solely on the criteria outlined above, Silica City sounds like a tall order. It is preordained as a smart city, which means it must have the latest modern technology available. At the same time, it has to be sustainable as well as aesthetically pleasing and people friendly. This ideal combination is not impossible to attain and one of the heartening things Ms Rodrigues said during her presentation was that the cost for the city included consultancy and feasibility studies, among other things. Although one imagines that since a location has been decided, feasibility has already been crossed off the list.

With regard to consultancy, one hopes that tried and true experts in the field of modern, urban, sustainable living are hired as there were a few things that jarred. For example, along with bandying the word sustainability several times, the minister also tossed in catch phrases like zero carbon footprint and net zero waste. In the same speech, she reportedly said that “the developers’’ were considering the use of a solar and natural gas energy mix for the city.

Unfortunately, natural gas and zero carbon do not mesh. Although in terms of emissions, natural gas produces the least and is probably the cleanest of them, it is in fact a fossil fuel. It is acquired in the same way that other fossil fuels are and most importantly, it is not renewable and therefore not sustainable.

It was stated that 2,146 acres of the proposed city will be used for residential purposes. The type of residences visualised, according to a presentation this newspaper has seen, are low density and low impact, accommodating a variety of plot sizes and housing types and supporting neighbourhood hubs vital for community services and facilities.

Further, it was revealed that initially the city will cater for a population of 12,000 people and eventually expand to 50,000. One hopes that the latter figure is not the foreseen population cap. If so, it will be horrendously expensive to dwell in this smart city (imagine the millions of dollars in taxes that would have to be paid for its upkeep) and it will turn out to be little less than an enclave for the super wealthy in Guyana.

In terms of zoning, the minister was reported as stating that areas will be identified for commercial, industrial and tourism activities. In addition, there is to be a conservation district, an agriculture zone, a separate hydroponic area, administrative and sports districts. Libraries, museums and theatres were not specifically mentioned and one imagines they fall under the broad area of cultural, recreational and entertainment spaces as touted in the presentation. One hopes also that these will not include the current menagerie of rum shops and unhealthy, fast-food joints that have overtaken the capital.

The reference to a single conservation district is puzzling, particularly one earmarked as an ‘open space strategy’ for Silica City, which is to provide opportunities for educational, scientific, and recreational purposes. Cities need green spaces. Moreso, “a modern low-carbon development… compatible with Guyana’s commitment at CoP 26,” as Minister Rodrigues was quoted as selling. This means the inclusion of green areas or parks around the city, some can even include food crops. Otherwise, there is the risk of it not ticking the boxes enunciated by the minister.

Manhattan for example (it is by no means sustainable, but it is a locale many Guyanese are familiar with) has some 30 parks/public spaces with grass, plants, trees and water features. This New York borough sits on 14,478 acres (22.6 sq mi) and has a population of some 1.6 million people. The world famous Central Park, which is the largest one in that borough, is approximately 840 acres.

Georgetown, meanwhile, in its current configuration, is larger. Said to be 17,299.2 acres (27.03 sq mi), it has a population of maybe 118,000 people. However, the largest park in our capital is likely the Botanical Gardens, which is less than 100 acres. At this point, it is also in the process of losing more of another green area at the Merriman Mall, part of which was paved for vending, to make way for a car park. One saving grace is the seawall, but given the ever rising sea levels, that phrase could prove to be very wrong.

Apart from its low or no environmental effect, a sustainable city has to make economic sense, especially one touted as a transformational solution to climate change impacts. It should be socio-diverse, inclusive and designed in a way that offers hope to its citizens for a quieter, safer life.

Silica, the mineral found in the earth, is harmful to humans when ingested or inhaled. One hopes that by the time it is completed – some 25 to 30 years from now – the city will be the opposite.

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Quelle/Source: Stabroek News, 04.08.2022

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