How to build a GNH city

Bhutan is famous for its emphasis on the principles of GNH. However, the country’s urban centres, Thimphu to name one, lack the elements of GNH.

Speaking to Kuensel on the sidelines of the ongoing international conference on “sustainable and renewable energy development and design” in Thimphu, an American real estate developer, Jonathan FP Rose, said that the capital is not a GNH city.

The real estate developer is the author of The Well-Tempered City. The book offers city builders advice on estate planning.

Jonathan FP Rose said Thimphu city has expanded at the cost of the land and the valley itself. “We don’t feel the balance between people and nature (in Thimphu),” he said.

Thimphu city, he said, lacks enough trees and open spaces such as parks although the city is surrounded by forest. “There are a very few trees and parks. They absorb water and help prevent floods in the city,” he said.

Speaking at the conference, he said that estate developers in Singapore build tall buildings so that more people are accommodated within a smaller space. This idea, he said, helps cities create spaces for parks and trees.

He said that trees absorb carbon dioxide and reduce the impacts of climate change. “In the US and Europe, neighbourhoods that have trees are worth more. It’s so inexpensive to plant trees,” he said.

“Public places like parks connect us with nature and spiritual roots,” he said. “If you have 10-storey buildings you can have the same number of people in half the land and take the land back to create parks and plant trees and grow fruits,” he said.

Another speaker and former secretary of information and communications, Kinley Dorji, said decision makers often miss important discussions such as this and that it was important that media disseminate the information. He said Bhutanese society needs to hear about the issue and think about it.

“We have a famous saying that the future of Bhutan lies in the hands of our youth,” he said, adding that recently though that has been questioned. “Some of the decisions made today affect the future but it’s not the youth that are making those decisions. It’s some of the older people making decisions,” Kinley Dorji said.

“You need to be careful. You might be dealing with the mess that we left as a legacy for you,” he told the gathering, which also comprised engineering students from the College of Science and Technology (CST).

Thimphu, he said, was all rice fields in the 60s and 70s, stressing on the need to “bring nature” back into the city.

One of the organisors, (Dr) Tshewang Lhendup, said the conference was conceptualized in 2012 and is part of the CST’s preparation to offer a Masters programme in engineering and renewable energy.

The conference brings researchers and academicians together from across the country.

(Dr) Tshewang Lhendup said the conference is an annual event of the college. Researchers from India, Nepal, Europe and America are presenting their research papers to participants during the three-day conference that began on April 3.

The Phuentsholing-based CST will offer a Master’s programme in engineering and renewable energy from the upcoming academic session. The introduction of the new programme is expected to help Bhutan build human resources to execute green projects.

MB Subba

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