Friday 7 February 2014

Locally Responsive EcoTourism

Many people are in two minds about ecotourism. Tourists visiting developing areas bring wealth that is valuable for developing social infrastructure such as clinics and schools. Visitors also help create and maintain small businesses such as guest houses and restaurants.

On the other hand, there are the obvious carbon emission impacts of international and local travel. There are also a wide range of negative impacts that come with uncontrolled development including damage to the pristine environments which may be the main attraction for visitors in the first place.

hammock banana island sierra leone dublin

An interesting take on ecotourism has been the ecosalone approach developed in Sierra Leone. This describes the attractions of potential ecotourism areas and presents local development needs, as articulated by the local communities, such as the need for a ferry or a school. The site also proposes innovative 'locally friendly' attractions that may be supported such as:

  • Story telling festivals
  • Language and cultural lessons
  • Tour guide schools
  • Agricultural work tourism
  • Home stay programmes
  • Build observation areas
  • Cultural dance lessons

While the approach does not address the obvious negative carbon impacts of travel, it provides and interesting alternative to conventional tourism development. This is done by attempting to shape development to suit local needs and be 'locally-friendly' instead of catering for conventional international tourism standards and attractions.

Thursday 6 February 2014

The Value of Green Space

Increased incidences of mental illness have been shown to exist in cities. Conversely living near green spaces has been shown to reduce mental distress. A new study confirms the strong link between well being and green spaces. The study is based on 10,000 individuals finds strong correlations between the lower mental distress and well being for people who live in urban areas with more green space.

This confirms the importance of providing green areas in cities and specifically, near to where people live and work, so that this can be experienced everyday. Given that many of our cities are already developed and some have limited parks and gardens, how can more green spaces be provided?

This could be achieved by:

  • Taking over derelict urban areas and developing these as food and ornamental gardens.
  • Upgrading and greening 'brown route networks'  (see Green and Brown networks).
  • Requiring all buildings to provide areas of green. On tight congested sites this could be provided in the form of planted beds, roof gardens and creepers or vertical gardens. 
  • Requiring buildings and sites which develop, or already have gardens, to make these publicly accessible and share these with neighbors and passersby. 
These requirements have been included as criteria in the BEST and SBAT tools, which aim to support the integration of sustainability into the built environment.

More information:

SANEDI Building Energy Consumption Feeds

The graph below is from South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI)'s website. The graph shows energy consumption in kWh per month for SANEDI and for a number of tenants. The coloured energy consumption histogram is clickable and the specific energy consumption attributable to the different tenants can be ascertained.  

The graph easy to understand and should support energy consumption improvements by SANEDI and their tenants. But does it? For instance:
  • Is energy consumption in the building good? 
  • How does this compare to other buildings or to benchmarks?
  • What are the loads that the building is having to cope with, in terms of number of people and operating equipment? Is the building doing well in terms of these?
Additional information on the site would make increase the usefulness of the data and enable the above questions to be answered.  For instance, it would be useful to know the area of the building, the number of people that occupied the building and the operating schedule of the building.

Normalising the building's energy data in to kWh/m2 per year figures and referencing SANS 204 benchmarks, the consumption of similarly sized buildings in the same climatic zone would enable the current energy consumption data to be compared and evaluated. Thus, the provision of a little extra information would make this this energy consumption feed much more interesting and useful. Gauge has been working on reporting format for energy and more information is available here.

Green And Brown Networks: Time To Give Up On The Car?

The German city of Hamburg is developing a plan to become ca-rfree over the next two decades. This will be achieved through a network of interconnected parks, playgrounds, sports fields, allotments and cemeteries (gruenes netz) which will link up to enable people to walk or cycle safely to most parts of the city. 


Green networks in Hamburg, congestion charges in London and cycle superhighways in Copenhagen suggest that the car is no longer being seen as a viable means of transport in the future and that more sustainable systems are being sought.

Can the green network model be applied to African cities? The answer is that there already numerous 'brown networks' of paths that people use to walk between points in many cities and villages. These are informal routes; between buildings, besides rivers and through unused parts of the city. These are muddy in wet weather and can be narrow, overgrown and dangerous.

Formalizing these routes could make a significant improvement to urban mobility and would not be expensive. Obstacles could be removed and routes could be made wider and more even. Solar lighting and the strategic location of  small stalls (spazas) for passing trade could be used to improve safety and support small businesses. Dedicated pedestrian routes away from roads would supplement public transports networks and reduce accidents caused by people walking along roads. The development and maintenance work involved in these routes could also be easily carried out by unemployed trainees (on Expanded Public Works or  Tshepo10,000 programmes), creating employment.

Therefore, greening the brown route networks of African cities may be a sensible alternative to the ongoing, and increasing expenditure, on roads, especially as leading world cities appear to be giving up on the car.