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Goa's RUrbanism
Alan AtKisson, 4 Apr 05

Editor's Introduction:
It's one of our core beliefs here at Worldchanging that some of the most important tools, models and ideas for building a better future are emerging in the developing world. Not only can the Global South leapfrog -- skip over outdated modes of development to embrace the cutting edge -- it can itself help redefine that cutting edge.

This essay (reprinted with permission from Natural Advantage of Nations) is a prime example of possibilities developing world innovation may hold. The Goa 2100 team on whose work Alan reports have created a whole new way of looking at the problem of urban sustainability, and suggested some possible answers which are equally new, and, at the same time, uniquely Indian. We're proud to publish it.

Introducing "RUrbanism": The Goa 2100 Project
by Alan AtKisson

Adapted from Project Documents Produced by the Goa 2100 Design Team:
Aromar Revi, Rahul Mehrotra, Sanjay Prakash, and G.K. Bhat

"RUrbanism" is the sustainable integration of rural and urban communities. It is a sophisticated new set of design principles and practices governing land use, energy, transportation, governance, and all aspects of economic, ecological, and social development for a major city. Most importantly, it is a new framework for thinking about how to put an existing city onto a pathway toward genuine sustainability — particularly a city in the developing world, but the framework could apply in many other urban/rural contexts.

The term "RUrbanism" was introduced by the designers of "Goa 2100," a planning project for the capital city of Panjim, in the Indian state of Goa. Goa 2100 won a Special Jury Prize in the high-profile International Sustainable Urban Systems Design competition (Tokyo, 2003). The project is a model of RUrbanism in practice, and it introduces a wide array of new design concepts and analytical tools to support sustainability planning and a transition to sustainability.

But the applications of RUrbansim, and the tools developed for Goa 2100, are not limited to the cities of India or to the developing world. Many cities around the world, at all levels of relative economic development, are facing the challenge of better integration between growing urban centers and the often distressed rural communities that support them with food and natural resources. And all cities are facing the extraordinary challenge of transition — of moving from today's unsustainable land-use and infrastructure patterns to new patterns that will be both viable and elegantly livable in the long run.

Goa 2100's tools, and the RUrbanism design framework, offer cities a vision of how serious transformation can happen — in everything from urban form, to resource flows, to the mix of paid work and unpaid community engagement that comprise a vital community. It also offers powerful, quantitative methods for planning that transition, from finding the optimal size and shape of built infrastructure to financing the process of rebuilding over several decades.

This paper describes the basic methodology of the Goa 2100 project, and provides examples of how the method was applied. Two caveats should be noted at the outset:

(1) At time of writing (November 2003), the project design team was beginning discussions with the government of Goa about how to take Goa 2100 from prize-winning visionary model to real application, and the project designers expect this will result in far-reaching changes to the model itself.

(2) This paper can only touch on general features of the Goa 2100 model, which includes extensive quantitative analysis. The interested reader is referred to the project designers to explore the model in more detail.

Background on the Competition

In the year 2000, the International Gas Union boldly decided to ‘explore the future of cities and urban communities in the next one hundred years.’ The IGU commissioned a multi-million dollar international competition on Sustainable Urban Systems Design (SUSD), with winners to be decided at the World Gas Congress 2003, in Tokyo.

Competitors were instructed to:

• develop a clear vision of sustainable cities
• provide process proposals for the transformation of existing cities into sustainable cities over a period of a century,
• recommend how energy systems (and gas) could contributes to urban sustainability

Ten Finalists were chosen from among sixty national teams, and the Finalist projects were awarded approximately USD75,000 each to further develop their design proposals and participate in international meetings during the course of two years. A blue-ribbon international jury of seven well-recognized experts and sustainability leaders was assembled to guide the process and review the proposals, culminating with a presentation in Tokyo and the awarding of prizes.

Goa 2100's award — one of three Special Jury Awards, with the overall winner being Vancouver, Canada — was earned on the basis of the extraordinary creativity and intellectual rigor of the model. The prize was earned despite the fact that the Indian team had far fewer resources than other teams: for example, the US entry had a budget of US$ 5 million, raised from a variety of sources, while the Indian team was limited to the original US$75,000 grant from the competition organizers, and the "sweat equity" of the team members.

The team behind Goa 2100 and the RUrbanism design framework was a pulled together from some of India's most innovative design and consulting firms, with experience all over the country. The team was supported by a network of volunteer international advisors. Details about the team members appear at the end of this article.

The team chose the small state of Goa, a former Portuguese colony on India's west coast, because of its already good quality of life and relatively high levels of human development. The city of Panjim also reflects many of the common challenges faced by India's growing cities, while also having the resources, governance culture, and institutional base that make sustainability transition a clear possibility.

Foundation: Comprehensive Data-Gathering and Benchmarking

The team began by collecting a large amount of demographic, socio-economic, planning, natural resource, economic, energy, transportation and institutional data. They consulted with leading Goan citizens, made field visits to rural settlements in the surrounding Mandovi basin, and inspected nature reserves, forests, industrial and commercial locations, and various institutions to get a first hand feel of the local culture and challenges.

Then they mapped Greater Panjim in detail, using satellite and remotely sensed data, along with "ground-truthing" using GPS technology. People were sent out on motorcycles and mini-vans with hand-held GPS systems to develop the GIS maps. The result was a complete topographical and land-use model for the area, probably the first of its kind for the region. (None of the other international teams had to do this part of the process, because pre-existing digital map databases were available to them.)

Based on this mapping data, the team forecast long-range trends for the Mandovi basin including:

• future land use challenges
• the potential carrying capacity and "ecological footprint" of existing urban systems
• economic, development and poverty related challenges
• energy, transportation and water resource constraints and opportunities
• environment and climate change related challenges
• heritage and conservation potential
• cultural and institutional capacity

The team considered these trends in relation to the South Asian cultural context and the global "state of the art" regarding sustainability planning. They reviewed a wide variety of sources, including the IPCC's long-term climate change scenarios, the results of the Global Scenarios Group, various sustainability reporting and indicator systems, and more. They found most of the global studies to be lacking critical regional variables, or to have built-in assumptions that were contrary to key operational dynamics in South Asia generally and Goa particularly. This finding would strongly influence the development of their model, as would a finding that there were large gaps in international practice when it came to the design of sustainable infrastructure in the urban context. The Goa 2100 realized they would simply have to invent a great deal of new methodology.

Intensive Quantitative Analysis

To fill one of the gaps in international best practice, the group undertook a detailed study of resource and security needs for a set of ten settlement types of varying densities in Goa and adjacent regions. This empirical study of built form and settlement structure enabled the group to create new quantitative models, including a "Resource Security Index" for water and energy needs. They performed detailed sensitivity analyses, and found that there were optimal values for the density and height of buildings in Panjim — values where water and energy were most efficiently and securely provided. This was one of the most important insights of the project, as it enabled planning decisions to be framed around optimal densities of between 150 to 300 persons per hectare — the most efficient and secure densities for providing water and energy to city residents. At those densities, major land-use changes were possible — changes that would support the regeneration of the surrounding landscape and the lowering of urban ecological footprints. Goa could essentially be condensed, almost back to its scale during medieval times, without resorting to high-rise, resource-intensive development.

When it came to the buildings themselves, the group used the design principles of Christopher Alexander (A Pattern Language) and extended them using integrated life-cycle analysis and other methods. A new set of principles for sustainable infrastructure design was developed for the static (long-lasting) and dynamic (fast-changing) elements of the city. The resulting design "vocabulary" for the project involved major reliance on organic materials and recyclable organic materials, using advanced biotechnology and nanotechnology (both existing technologies, and technologies expected to be developed in the decades ahead). This made possible a rebuilding plan that envisions the use of a large proportion of local materials to produce high-efficiency systems with high structural integrity — systems that were modular, adaptable, and ultimately recyclable.

One of most innovative features of the Goa 2100 project was its analysis of the entire "temporal economy" of the city and region. Using comparative time-use studies from around the world, and adapting assumptions to the South Asian context, the team modeled the time-use of Greater Panjim and created a "Time-use Budget" for both the present day's citizens, and for the citizens of a post-transition, sustainable Panjim, one hundred years from now. This analysis led to a key discovery: that time should be considered as an additional resource when considering the financing of a transition. (More on this point below.) It also calls attention to the fact that how people spend their time is a key element of both their quality of life, and the sustainability of a society. The Goa 2100 model — which allows for more than adequate personal, leisure, household, and community time, in addition to the needs of work, childcare, education and many other factors — appears to be the first sustainability analysis of the time-use of an entire city.

The intensive quantitative analysis of Panjim's transition to sustainability continued to stretch the boundaries of what was possible given existing data and basic spreadsheet technology. (Along the way, the group on stretched the capabilities of Microsoft Excel to its limits, discovering that the program permits no more than three linked clusters of nine nested "If"-based formulas.) They modeled demographic, economic, and technological change processes. They analyzed the succession process of urban land consolidation, forest regeneration, and the inter-penetration of productive rural lands with urban structures. They incorporated hundreds of different factors, from technological advances and India's general plans for industrial development to finding the right energy mix (wind, natural gas, and clean coal, with hydrogen and the electricity grid as energy carriers) that met the conditions of Goa and the need to stay within the sustainability boundaries for carbon dioxide emissions.

When it came to financing the project, they integrated traditional public and private capital investment schemes with the time-use modeling described earlier, and the breakthrough accounting concept of "Lifetimes" — translating the available time in a human society to its imputed economic value, and thereby cross-linking economic, social, and environmental accounting systems. They categorized different kinds of time use by age, livelihood, and uses of time that were non-negotiable (e.g., sleep), partially negotiable (e.g., level of educational training), and fully negotiable (e.g., leisure). They considered the community engagement and governance needs for managing a sustainability transition — much of which is not formally paid for in the market economy, but all of which adds "economic value" to the process that is generally unaccounted for.

By combining the time-and-money accounting of the costs of transition, they firmly established that a full transition to sustainability was both possible, and affordable. In their final estimates, they discovered that an investment of only USD 60 million per year, coupled with the time investments of citizens from many different sectors (paid and unpaid) could accomplish the transition in just thirty years — much faster than the 100-year time period that the rules of the competition had stipulated, and at far lower levels of financial investment than most would expect.

The group calculated that this system of RUrban redevelopment, if adapted to develop a network of cities and linked urban areas along India’s western coast, could support over 120 million people sustainably, providing realistic alternatives to mega-cities like Mumbai. (The Goa 2100 team had originally started with the city of Mumbai with a population over 18 million, but abandoned the exercise after 4 months, when they realized that such large centers cannot make the transition to sustainability without radical surgery and deconstruction).

Envisioning RUrbanism

This extensive exercise in quantitative analysis and modeling was the foundation for a visionary reimagining of the city of Panjim, following the newly framed principles of "RUrbanism." These were defined by the design team in terms of three overall goals; seven "organizing principles for sustainability"; five "strategies for land-use management"; six "tactics to manage physical stocks and flows"; and a set of descriptions for the urban form that they grouped under the heading, "A Dynamic Fractal Morphology." These principles are detailed at the end of this paper.

The goals, principles, strategies, and tactics both grew out of, and helped to frame, the quantitative analyses that underlay the model, and these are critical to the sustainability and feasibility of the project. Concepts familiar to many in sustainability — from "Factor 4" efficiencies to the "Precautionary Principle" in implementing new technologies — are fully integrated. But perhaps the most novel and exciting element of the model is its "dynamic fractal morphology" — in a few words, how the city looks.

The design takes life itself — living biological systems —as its basic starting point. The city is reimagined as an organism, with cells, skeletal structures, circulatory systems, and skin as the metaphors and models for the buildings, neighborhoods, transportation systems, and the meeting points between city and rural or natural spaces.

Just as, say, the gills of a fish allow for the maximum meeting of surface area between the fish's circulatory system and the oxygen-rich water, so does spine-and-filament structure of post-transition Panjim make possible the complete interpenetration of urban settlement and rural land. Urban and rural meet each other in many small pockets, where dwellings jut out, and rural land juts in. One can imagine nearly everyone looking out their windows onto rice paddies and vegetable gardens, and beyond to forested and natural resource lands. The boundaries between city and country remain clear; and yet country is much closer to city, and their interdependence is plainly visible to all, and indeed experienced by them daily.

The spines allow for some interpenetration of green space with urban form as well, as the "vertebra" of urban clusters are both linked together and separated by natural or agricultural patches. Some structures are underground, some above it; but nothing is higher than six stories, making the scale quite human, and meeting the conditions for optimal resource efficiency and security. Water is collected for re-use everywhere, and off of every surface where rain falls. The staple diet of fish, rice, and curry is largely produced within the sight of the city.

Meanwhile, the buildings, infrastructure, and transport systems are a mixture of high- and low-tech — bicycles, rickshaws, fuel-cell vehicles, light rail and fuel-cell ferries co-exist peacefully, meeting different needs appropriately, with an average point-to-point transfer time of only 20 minutes across this condensed RUrban landscape. Energy comes from a mix of highly efficient, low-emission sources; the materials are nearly all drawn from regional sources and easy to recycle or reuse; culture and dress are adjusted to climate, rather than the other way around; and the architecture preserves the best of Goa's mixed cultural heritage, while shaping the rebuilding of less efficient or attractive structures along futurist and aesthetically appealing lines.

In sum, RUrbanism involves transforming the city into a symbiotic partner with both nature and rural culture — and a net producer of resources and value, rather than a parasitic consumer. This fundamental feature of RUrbanism was particularly appreciated by many Judges on the international Jury. "I like the proposal of India, especially the interrelation between urban areas…with rural ones " noted Cassio Taniguchi, Mayor of Curitiba, Brazil (a city widely acknowledged as a world leader in sustainable design). And Professor Ernst Ulrich von Weizacker, noted German expert and co-author of the book "Factor 4," commented that "there was one expression [from the Goa 2100 presentation] which impressed me a great deal: that the city should not colonize the rest of the world. This is something most memorable from the entire competition."

The Implementation of a Dream

How would such a transition happen, in real-world terms? The financing questions have already been addressed; the major strategic challenges are therefore cultural and political.

Part of addressing this challenge, design team members believe, involves placing this vision for Goa right in the heart of India's overall vision for its future, as a highly developed society where traditional farming and advanced technologies are both integral to future economic self-sufficiency and indeed global leadership. A sustainable Goa is a secure and economically dynamic Goa, with the city of Panjim — site of a proposed export center for wind-turbines and advanced biotechnology and materials, along with world class music conservatory and a world heritage site — modeling the mixture of prosperity and cultural integrity that the country imagines for itself.

But perhaps the most important challenge that Goa 2100 identified was the transformation of current institutions and systems of governance. The sustainability transition clearly new values and ethics: sufficiency, equity, and the ethic of using a minimal throughput of matter, energy and information with the least impact on nature society and future generations. These were identified as key goals for the project, and they require changes in how a society like Goa governs itself.

For one thing, they require more possibility for social and lifestyle transformation, and more civic engagement in governance processes generally. The beginning of these transformations can already be seen in Goa, with its strong culture of local and community-based governance and a moderately open government. The Goa 2100 design team projected that "a high quality of life, built around local communities and institutions of governance, can help reduce consumerism and physical flows, creating a vibrant urban culture within a dense yet dispersed city." However, they also acknowledged that "this is the least developed area of the Goa 2100 proposal," and an area that would require considerable thought and debate as the project made steps from vision toward reality.

But the effort to think through the real-world implementation challenges would clearly be well worth it. As noted by the design team, "This [project] demonstrated that by 2050, up to 120 million Indians could live on the western coast meeting their basic needs without endangering the resource base or biodiversity of the region. This has special meaning in India (which would still have half its population living in rural areas in 2050) where a convergence of quality of life between rural and urban areas has been seen as a receding Gandhian dream."


Goa 2100 is an important breakthrough in sustainable urban planning for at least two reasons:

(1) The concept of RUrbanism introduced by the project design team has the potential to reshape the development of cities, especially in the case of small- to mid-size cities that are expected to grow enormously over the next fifty years. It offers a new framework for thinking about the relationship between cities and their surrounding lands — and for building cities to make that relationship far more sustainable, as well as more beautiful.

(2) Many of the analytic tools developed by the design team are both new and of immense potential utility. They include new ways of accounting for the time economy in the context of transition planning; analyzing the optimal scale and form to ensure maximum resource efficiency and security; and many other relatively simple spreadsheet models that make possible a wide variety of scenario analyses, using different demographic and technological assumptions. These need to be further developed and tried in a variety of other urban planning contexts, but they are clearly a major step forward.

This author, at least, hopes that the team involved in Goa 2100 will have the opportunity to do just that — and to see elements of their remarkable vision for Goa and Greater Panjim to become a reality not just in Goa, but in many locations around the world.

Appendix 1

Design Principles for Goa 2100

Three Goals for the Sustainability Transition

1. Sufficiency and Equity: Well-being of all people, communities and ecosystems
2. Efficiency: Minimal throughput of matter-energy-information
3. Sustainability: Least impact on nature, society and future generations

Seven Organizing Principles for Sustainability

1. Satisfying the basic human needs of all people and providing them an equal opportunity to realize their human potential
2. Material needs should be met materially and non-material needs non-materially
3. Renewable resources should not be used faster than their regeneration rates
4. Non-renewable resources should not be used faster than their substitution rates by renewable resources
5. Pollution and waste should not be produced faster than the rate of absorption, recycling or transformation
6. The Precautionary principle should be applied where the ‘response’ time is potentially less than the ‘respite’ time
7. ‘Free-energy’ and resources should be available to enable redundancy, resilience and reproduction

Five Strategies for Land-Use Management

1. Enable a long-term ecological succession from forest to cropland to city to forest
2. Design the landscape first; situate the city in the interstitial niches
3. Land-use transitions governed by the demand for ecosystem services, resource potential, natural ecological succession and contiguity
4. Identify static and dynamic elements in the city, design the former, and provide a dynamic vocabulary for the latter to co-evolve with the landscape
5. Devolve governance and taxation to the lowest viable level

Six Tactics to Manage Physical Stocks & Flows

1. Use less with Factor 4 technologies for supply and social limits of sufficiency and equity on demand
2. Grow your own, tapping harvestable yields as autonomously as possible
3. Build two-way networks for security: every consumer is also a producer
4. Store a lot because renewable resource yields are often diurnal and seasonal
5. Transport less over shorter distances using least life-cycle cost technologies
6. E-xchange using intelligent wireless networks to enable real-time trade and delivery of goods

A Dynamic Fractal Morphology

1. Cellular structure: nuclei, cores, spines and skins
2. Hierarchical networks adapting to topography
3. Optimal densities, settlement structure and heights enabling security
4. Contiguous and hyper-linked with interpenetration of living net
5. Dynamic consolidation and nucleation around fractal boundaries and surfaces

Appendix 2

The Goa 2100 Design Team:

Aromar Revi, TARU
A1/276 Safdarjung Enclave, New Delhi 110 029 India

Rahul Mehrotra, Rahul Mehrotra Associates
4 Express Building, 9 Dinanath Mangeshkar Marg, Tardeo, Mumbai 400 036 India

Sanjay Prakash, Sanjay Prakash & Associates
R1/301 Hauz Khas Enclave, New Delhi 110016 India

G.K. Bhat, TARU
Plot No. 37, Road No. 5, Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad 500 003, India

Author's Note:

This article was adapted from large number of written documents and other materials provided to me by the Goa 2100 team. The principal source is a detailed paper on methodology, from which I have drawn significant portions of the text. But I have also relied on presentation files, statements of design principles, and spreadsheets, together with long conversations. From these sources, I have endeavored to distill the most important features of Goa 2100 for general readers, but it is impossible to do this project justice in a text this short. Goa 2100 is truly a breakthrough project, with many design features and analytical elements that must be studied closely to be understood and appreciated. This article serves only as a general introduction; the serious reader or engaged professional is referred to the original documents, and the members of the design team. See the end of the article for contact information.

I should note that I served on the project's Board of Advisors, reviewed some of their technical work, and assisted with the writing and editing of their final presentation to the Jury at the World Gas Convention. However, my role in the Project was very small, and I performed these services voluntarily — as did nearly all of the members of the design team as well, who deserve to go far with this work. Goa 2100 marks that rare coming together of enormous professional competence and creativity with the passion to make a positive difference, which is the very definition of a "labor of love."

© 2005 by Alan AtKisson

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A question about "optimal" density -- 300 people per hectare is 25% more dense than Manhattan and more than twice as dense as central Tokyo.

It just seems a little high. I'm wondering where that number comes from.

Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 4 Apr 05

Thank you so much for sharing this information. I am so inspired by the content of this article and eager to know more about the project and the team. As a graduating student of architecture, it is exciting to know that people are making great efforts to achieve sustainability and finding practical strategies to implement and transform nations. I applaud the contributors to Goa 2100 and am excited to become more involved with the active visionaries of today.

Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. (Jeremiah 29:7)

Posted by: Heather on 4 Apr 05

The Goa 2100 team is part of a four-city (Vancouver, Shanghai, Groningen & Greater Panjim) initiative that is developing 30-year RUrban plans that will map out the transition to a more sustainable future.

This is described further on a href="">Bridging to the Future. The website looks fairly good and provides access to a bunch of planning tools.

The project is running from mid 2004- mid 2006.

Posted by: Garry Peterson on 5 Apr 05



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