Melaka – one of Rockefeller’s 100 Resilient Cities

In August 2016 we left Singapore by bus and landed in Johor Bahru, a city that seems to exist solely for the purpose of supplying Singapore with goods by truck.  We spent one night there before heading to Melaka (also sometimes referred to as Malacca.)  Here we found a small city rich in history, diversity, personality, beauty and with a lot of character.

Part of its history is that it was under Dutch occupation or control for a long time, and there is evidence of this throughout the city.  In the architecture and the way things are named (like the Stadthuys or city hall in the middle of town.)   I found myself wondering if this is the part of the world that so many Cape Malay people in South Africa can trace their heritage back to.  And it turns out that there were slaves sent from Melaka to Cape Town.  I found the experience that much more personal to think on it; that there was such a distant and yet very real link between this city that I had stumbled upon, and my home town.

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The 100 Resilient Cities initiative lists the following as Melaka’s resilience challenges:

  • Coastal flooding
  • Cyber attack
  • Declining or ageing population
  • Disease outbreak
  • Landslide
  • Overtaxed/ under developed/unreliable transportation system
  • Poor air quality/pollution
  • Rainfall flooding
  • Rising sea level and coastal erosion

Coastal flooding/Rising sea level and coastal erosion/Rainfall flooding

These concerns are easy to understand.  The city is centred around the Melaka river, which winds its way around the city and flows out to the ocean.  It flows right through the heart of the touristy section of the city, and buildings and infrastructure are built right up to the water’s edge.

There is clearly a lot of history connected to the river.  A beautiful water wheel, ship exhibition, and tourist attractions and activities are set up around the river.  It is therefore not hard to imagine that the city is vulnerable to the effects of flood and sea level rise.

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Overtaxed/ under developed/unreliable transportation system

We stayed in the city centre.  We had arrived by bus from Johor Bahru and had used a bus to get from the main bus terminal to the hotel where we were staying.  This worked well and was very cheap.  But that is as far as our experience of the public transportation system went.  For the rest of our time, we walked around the city.  We didn’t brave the brightly coloured and adorned tourist tricycles.  But it’s not hard to imagine that the transport system is stretched and stressed.

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Disease outbreak

I’m not really sure what diseases they are referring to with this, but this was one of my favourite signs in Melaka.  My guess is that they’re more worried about non-STD related diseases, but still, play safe folks.

Melaka

Bangkok – one of Rockefeller’s 100 Resilient Cities

Bangkok is an incredible monster of a city.  We spent ten days there at the beginning of 2016 and saw a tiny fraction of it.  A friend of ours was staying in an apartment block where the roof was accessible on the 45th floor, with panoramic views of the city.  It goes on and on and on.  High rises as far as you can see.  Shining lights, the constant buzz of traffic.

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The 100 Resilient Cities initiative describes Bangkok’s resilience pictures as the following:

“In addition to a bustling tourism industry, Thailand’s capital city is home to 10 million residents within 1,500 square kilometres. Nearly half the population comes from other provinces and countries, seeking better opportunities, and many are considered poor and vulnerable. In 2011, Bangkok experienced a severe flood with estimated damages of $45 billion to global supply chain, out of which only $10 billion were insured. This sparked the development of a manual for flood management that includes lessons for resilience building. However, technical expertise and financial resources for creating and executing resilience strategies remain limited.

Resilience Challenges:

  • Ageing infrastructure
  • Coastal flooding
  • Drought
  • Overtaxed/ under developed/unreliable transportation system
  • Pollution or environmental degradation
  • Poor transportation system
  • Rainfall flooding
  • Riot or civil unrest”

Sounds like a lot of cities.  Here is what I found, in my short stay there.

Ageing infrastructure:

The smell of Bangkok is not for the faint of heart or nose.  On one particularly smelly day, we walked over a stormwater drainage line and it smelled like an open sewer.  There are a number of channels running through the city and they also smell.  I’m not sure if this is linked to the age of the infrastructure, but it seemed to me that the city was not adequately equipped to manage its wastewater or its stormwater.  There is water all around and through Bangkok.  It is not hard to imagine that flooding can happen quickly and that its impact could be quite severe.

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As with a number of Asian cities, the electrical and communications infrastructure looks like a real challenge.  A bird’s nest or spider’s web of cables.

Thailand is not poor though.  There was a stark contrast between Bangkok and the cities in Vietnam and the Philippines that we had just been in.  We experienced one power outage while I was there, but that appeared to be from maintenance work on the local grid.  Not from capacity issues.
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Transportation

We stayed in Chit Lom.  It’s an easy, if a bit long, train journey from the airport into the city centre.  Our apartment was within easy walking distance to the train station, and the elevated walkways that link one shopping centre with another (shopping is not taken lightly in Bangkok…)  On one particularly touristy day, we took the train to the water’s edge, and then caught a boat to one of the temples.  That was my experience of Bangkok’s public transport.  Fast, regular, air-conditioned and predictable trains, and boats.

 

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On one day we tried to take a taxi from Chit Lom to a neighbouring suburb, but the driver turned us away, and recommended taking the train as it would be faster.  On another day we took a taxi to their secondary airport, to go to Chang Mai, and we crawled through the traffic.  From this one taxi ride, and from our walking around the city, it’s clear that traffic is an issue.  I am not sure what the public transport system is like once you are out of the city centre.  There are a number of bus routes operating, some of which run all night but the city is enormous, with millions of people needing to move around every day, all day.

So when 100RC lists poor transportation as a challenge, I can understand why.  The train system is set up for people to move from the airport to major hubs easily.  It can’t possibly handle 10 million people. It’s monstrous infrastructure running through the city.  It can’t have been easy or cheap to build, and any expansion to it must be a gigantic undertaking.  The city is hot, and it’s not easy or comfortable to walk around.

The city is hot, and it’s not easy or comfortable to walk around.

Skytrain
Taxis, cars, trains, buses and tuk-tuks. Bangkok has it all.

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Pollution/environmental degradation

Plastic is the tragedy of Asian cities (with Singapore the major exclusion – possibly Seoul too, but I’m yet to go there).  It’s everywhere and it’s heartbreaking.  No stretch of road, or expanse of water, is free from it.

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The air quality was also not great.  Our friends who live there have commented that at times they have to stay indoors because the air quality is too bad to be outside, particularly as they have a young child.

The SkyTrain is built above roadways, and this infrastructure naturally traps vehicle exhaust fumes.  I was four months pregnant while we were there and it made me feel quite conscious of what air I was breathing in.

Riot/Civil unrest

This was not our first time in Bangkok.  We spent a day there in December 2013.  It was around the time of civil riots in the city, and we were quite conscious of this as we made our plans for the day.  In August 2015, the Erwaran Shrine, located within the city centre, and a short ten-minute walk from where we were staying in Chit Lom in 2016, was bombed.

Then in October 2016 the national monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, died at the age of 88, after reigning for 70 years.  This has led to more concerns regarding civil unrest in the country.

For all of these threats and the knowledge in the back of our minds that the country, and therefore its capital, was experiencing this discontent, we never came face to face with it.  We were conscious while we were there that it’s recommended that tourists avoid talking about the king, the military junta or politics in general with local Thai people.  It’s difficult to get a sense of what local people are struggling with, or living with if you aren’t really able to talk to them about it openly.  That says a lot itself I suppose.

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Other experiences

While we were in the Philippines I saw a sign which broke my heart a little bit.  It was in a public lavatory, and said something to the effect of ‘Our children are precious, please protect them’ and made reference to child trafficking.  I was reminded of that sign when walking around Bangkok.  Old white males sitting at tables being served by young, beautiful Thai women or men dressed as women.  Viagra (or a cheap knock-off) for sale by street vendors.  The sex industry seems to be alive and well in Bangkok.

It’s hard to see this and not feel that local Thai people are being exploited by wealthy westerners.  Surely this has an impact on a place’s resilience?  If your people are objectified and targeted by a certain demographic of tourist, it must have a knock-on effect.

Rockefeller’s 100 Resilient Cities – a personal journey

Last week I went to a talk hosted by Melbourne Conversations and the Resilient Melbourne Initiative.  The president of Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) programme was the main speaker, and it led to an interesting discussion on the challenges that Melbourne is facing.

I was involved in the development of the Cities Resilience Index (CRI) when I was in Cape Town and I’ve written a bit about this before.  The CRI is a tool that can be used to assess a city’s resilience, and help to highlight where they may be vulnerable, and it was a project that was running in parallel to the 100RC programme.  So this is close to my heart.

Melbourne in all its sunny glory
Melbourne in all its sunny wintery glory

It became even more personal this morning when I had a look through the 100RCs and realised that I had been to 15 of them.  So over the next while I will be casting my mind back to these 15 cities, talking about my experience (where I can remember them) and what kind of resilience priorities these cities have.

Once this is done, perhaps I will carry on, and look at some of the cities I haven’t yet been to.  Maybe starting with cities where those close to me have travelled.

So far, my travels have taken me to these cities looking to improve their resilience:

  1. Bangkok
  2. Barcelona
  3. Belgrade
  4. Cape Town (yay)
  5. Da Nang
  6. Durban
  7. London
  8. Melaka
  9. Melbourne
  10. Montreal
  11. New York City
  12. Singapore
  13. Sydney
  14. Thessaloniki
  15. Toronto

You can see the full list of cities here.

What could possibly go wrong on a Solar PV project during construction? – Part 3

This post is the last (for now at least) in a three part series looking at some of the things that can go wrong during the construction of a solar PV facility. Part 1 of this topic looked at design, programme, labour and environmental conditions that could impact construction.  Part 2 focused on the importance of effective onsite management, including quality control, equipment management, housekeeping and safety.

External conditions/events

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”  No matter how carefully planned out a project is, progress will always be at the mercy of external events, outside the control of project teams.  Some events are possible to predict, and contingency plans, or mitigating plans can be created.  Other events come out of the blue, are totally unforeseen.

The contractor should be responsible for completing the project to the extent that they are able to control, or perhaps even influence, what is taking place.  But contracts will have ‘force majeure’ clauses included, to address what happens if something happens which is totally outside of the contractor’s control.

Regardless of who is responsible, works need to get back on track, and repair works or accelerated catch-up works may be required.

Weather conditions, like floods, heavy winds, lightning and hail, can lead to facility and equipment damage.  Material or equipment supply chain hold ups or shortages may occur (by way of example, a project that I worked on had their steel supplier’s factory burn down).  Permission to connect to the electrical grid can be delayed, through no fault of the contractor or employer.  Third party works may need to take place (for instance transmission lines, substations or access roads).  Third party inspections and/or approvals may be required.

Storm water management/drainage

This is closely linked to external events – as heavy rain is clearly a weather event.  And it is linked to the appropriateness of the design (which is discussed in Part 1.  But it’s important enough to merit its own mention.  Solar facilities are covered with impermeable, smooth, titled panels.  They act like a roof, without a gutter.  Rain runs off them easily, and, over time, this leaves little grooves in the ground beneath the bottom edge.  This water accumulates and then runs downhill.  Depending on the ground type (permeability), the facility slope and the amount of rain received, stormwater management can become an issue.  Moving water can erode away at ground, roads and earth surrounding the mounting structure base.  This is clearly an issue over the life of the plant, but the management of stormwater can also be a problem during construction if water rushes into trenches, washes away civil works, or affects other aspects of work.

It’s therefore important that the contractor is aware of rainfall patterns, and considers how stormwater will behave onsite.  Plans should be in place to manage the water, and drainage designs should consider protecting the facility both during construction, and over its operational life.

Access road degradation

For any equipment, people or materials to reach the site, it is naturally important that the facility can be accessed.  There is typically a portion of road, of varying length, linking public roads to the facility’s boundary.  It’s important that the responsibility for building and maintaining this road is clearly defined.  But regardless of who is responsible, this road will take quite a beating over the course of construction.  Trucks carrying modules, mounting structures, inverters, switchgear, concrete, and other components and materials will be travelling backwards and forwards for months.

If the road isn’t built properly, it will end up being heavily corrugated and can turn into a swamp with heavy rains.  This then affects the delivery of components and materials, and the accessibility of the site for people working there.  Because it’s outside of the site boundary, it can be overlooked, but can result in a logistical nightmare if it’s not built properly.

Connection quality

A problem for a number of projects in South Africa was in the power quality at the point of export.  Different countries have different connection requirements, which will be set out in the relevant codes, regulations and standards.  Equipment may be brought in from other countries, and designs carried out by foreign engineering professionals.  This can result in the facility not complying with the specified requirements.  Design adjustments, equipment tweaking or reprogramming and/or possible additional equipment may be required, and these may end up delaying the project.

It’s therefore clearly important that the designers are aware of local conditions and requirements, and design the facility appropriately.  Sufficient time for testing is also required, in case there are hiccups along the way.

Ground risk

The contract should define whether or not the contractor is liable for any sneaky surprises that may be lurking underground.  They will be develop their design according to the conditions that they have observed onsite.  The mounting structures, electrical equipment housing units and cable routing designs will all have been selected and developed accordingly.  If the actual conditions are different from than what was expected it can have an impact on the suitability of the design.  It’s therefore incredibly important that a thorough geotechnical assessment is carried out.