With Bangalore’s population more than doubling over the past decade from 5.3 to more than 10.1 million, the city’s infrastructure is overwhelmed. The taps of some residents run dry for as long as three days, while constant electricity cuts last an average of two to three hours in the summer months.
One way Dr. Shivaprasad and his colleagues are countering the problem is with public parks that teach Bangaloreans about sustainability and energy conservation using models, exhibits and live demonstrations. Citizens of all ages that wander through the State Level Energy Park and Rain Water Harvesting Park learn about ways to conserve water and resources that they can apply in their own homes – lessons that, Bangalore’s authorities hope, will curb wastage and pave the way for social change.
Though they lack creative names, these innovative parks can serve as inspiration for urban planners everywhere. As planners struggle to get urban residents to conserve energy in the face of concerns about climate change and sustainability, such participatory design can inspire urban residents to re-use, recycle and conserve precious resources and energy.
Bangaloreans who visit the four-year-old Rain Water Harvesting (RWH) Theme Park, the brainchild of Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) and Indian Institute of Science Professor Shivakumar, as well as RWH mini-information points scattered throughout the city, can view 36 techniques for harvesting rainwater. School children and other visitors see real-time working models, which they can install in their own homes, as monitors show how much rainfall has passed through the models and the quality of the water they’ve gathered. For those interested in a less active learning experience, an auditorium with 70 seats runs free films, lectures and training sessions that highlight ways the public can conserve water in their day-to-day lives and showcase RWH systems for houses that the public can build themselves.
Similarly, Karnataka Renewable Energy Development Limited’s (KREDL) State Level Energy Park, which spans eight acres and opened in 2004, showcases ways to conserve and sustainably produce electricity to an average of three to four hundred visitors each day. Staff drive visitors around in battery-operated vehicles, as a windmill power a borewell that pumps water. Children tumble down slides, play with a set of drums and ride up and down see-saws that generate and store electricity produced by friction, while other visitors take a peek inside a solar hut with a photovoltaic roof system that produces electricity to run a fridge, TV and computer. A swimming pool is also kept warm with solar power, while street lighting and garden lights glimmer with the energy from a small solar panel.
"We wanted youngsters to think of `green energy' for the future,” explains KREDL Managing Director B.Shivalingaiah.
Such public parks show citizens that the government is serious about energy conservation, said Rajeev Gowda, Chairperson of the Centre for Public Policy at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore.
In fact, staff are on hand at the parks to teach visitors how they can use the techniques on display at home. Bangaloreans who take the leap to harvest rain water, install solar heaters or mount solar lighting get subsidies from the government and free assistance from municipal engineers and technicians who help them put the technology in place. Meanwhile, new neighbourhoods are fitted with conservation technologies from the outside as a result of new regulations that have been in place since 2008.
As Bangalore grows at a rate of 3.9 % per annum, it is encroaching on more and more land. At the last count in 2013, the city’s 10 million residents had occupied 741 square kilometers of land. As this growing population places more and more pressure on environmental resources, participatory parks have the potential to make a difference. By bringing conservation technologies to life and showing how easily they can be used at home, they give locals the knowledge they need to take the next step. And, as urban planners worldwide puzzle over how to sustainably deliver water and energy to more and more people, these parks provide some insight into how things can be done differently and how people can be convinced to change.