Rwanda leading the way to sustainable urbanism (part 2)

THIS IS the last of my two opinion pieces that highlight Rwanda and Kigali’s decade of leadership in Sustainable Urbanism, focusing on sustainable master plans and green building initiatives.
Donna D. Rubinoff
Donna D. Rubinoff

THIS IS the last of my two opinion pieces that highlight Rwanda and Kigali’s decade of leadership in Sustainable Urbanism, focusing on sustainable master plans and green building initiatives.

The first article (see The New Times, March 19, Rwanda leading the way to sustainable urbanism) described the two policies that have been adopted to counter the different challenges that pose threat to sustainable urbanism; these are design of the cities and how urban buildings should be designed in a way that they can generate energy.

The third challenge is to alter citizens’ transport habits, which account for 23 per cent of carbon emissions and this is the fastest growing source of emissions.

In 2013, the City of Kigali reformed public transport to make it more efficient. In the future, the city Master Plan calls for Bus Rapid Transit and Mass Rapid Transit systems that will form the backbone of urban transport, reduce automobile dependency and related congestion, and reduce precious energy used by cars. 

Non-motorised transport and walkable neighbourhoods are also key components of the Kigali Master Plan.  When children and families walk to school and neighbourhood centres for daily activities, travel time and costs are reduced, thus liberating these for other productive uses, such as starting a business, undertaking community work, or spending more time with family.

Walking produces healthier citizens and evidence shows it makes children smarter.

This year, the City of Kigali, with RTDA (Rwanda Transport Development Agency) and partners UNEP/UN Habitat, will design a “Streetscape” along the main downtown corridor from Centreville Roundabout to Serena Hotel.

This “People Place” project will demonstrate vibrant pedestrian and bicycle-oriented street life first hand, becoming a model for up scaling non-motorised transport and the public realm throughout Rwanda.

The fourth challenge is to change how we produce, transport, and consume energy.

On this, Rwanda has already embarked upon an ambitious alternative energy supply programme, including hydropower, methane, geothermal and solar. Next, the Kigali urban energy efficiency programme will develop a comprehensive demand side/energy reduction strategy to build awareness on how households can reduce consumption. It will also consider a potential Net Zero Energy system, in which buildings can become generators of energy and pump it back into the grid.

Fifth, we must reform how we manage water resources and water infrastructure, so that this precious resource can be re-used several times, and on a city-wide scale.

Here, the City of Kigali, with partners at RNRA, RTDA, European Union, and Netherlands cooperation, has embarked upon integrated short-term and medium-term projects to address water management and flooding problems at the Nyabugogo Transit Hub area.

These will form the basis of a large-scale medium/long-term IWRM plan that will include watershed management strategies for the entire Nyabugogo watershed, covering more than half of Kigali plus upstream/ downstream parts of adjacent districts.

This project will include urbanisation-related drainage management, site planning and landscaping regulations that help retain rainwater; reform peri-urban agricultural practices that promote flooding; and build a host of water resource quality/quantity management institutions.

Finally, we must change the way we manage solid waste so that it becomes a resource, not a cost.

The City of Kigali is currently in the Expression of Interest short list phase of a comprehensive “Waste to Energy” tender that will utilise city wide solid waste to produce an estimated 6-10MW of energy. This project will also include a recycling programme. Kigali has already tested “sorting at source” programmes and has been using biogas digesting solutions for a decade.

These six steps require a comprehensive and coordinated change in behaviour, and will require government at all levels to cooperate, invest at scale, share ideas, replicate best practices, and plan for the long term.

Both the City of Kigali and the Government of Rwanda have demonstrated a growing commitment to systematically integrated planning and project implementation.

At all levels, integrated planning boards will routinely review key projects; and cross agency teams will deal more effectively with interdisciplinary problems. At the City of Kigali, planning and infrastructure departments have been integrated, and construction permitting teams comprise members from EWSA, RDB and REMA in project review. 

As Rwanda moves from an agrarian to an urban society, it should be proud to have been an “early adopter” of Sustainable Urbanism (SU), but it should not rest on its laurels.

To be sure, Kigali has “jump started” the SU agenda with a rich mosaic of initiatives and projects in every SU area; and these can be the basis for national rollout. But there are also important opportunities for all Rwandan cities to learn from “best practices”, experiments, and innovative solutions from around the world.

These ideas can and should be tailored specifically to Rwanda’s special conditions and vision for itself. In the end, though, the momentum towards Rwanda’s global leadership in Sustainable Urbanism has already been established; and it can be both an exemplar and a partner in creating a planet filled with cities of dreams.

The writer is a Senior Advisor to the City of Kigali in Sustainable Urbanism.


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