Mumbai prepares for the future. High-quality plastics can help.

City of extremes

Six lanes on each side. And despite this, traffic is almost at a standstill. Agitated commuters honk their horns, trucks jerk and jolt. Mopeds and bicycles weave their way through the columns. The road goes past tiny shops, high-rises, mushrooming slum areas. Pedestrians hurry through clouds of exhaust, while small groups of people huddle around an open fire on the roadside.

Mumbai in the early evening. The metropolis of 20 million people roars and vibrates – and glaringly demonstrates all of the challenges that India’s growing urban areas are facing: traffic chaos, air pollution, problematic sanitation and inadequate residential space.

By 2050, over two-thirds of all people on earth will live in cities

These challenges exist in many places in the world, particularly in emerging and developing countries, where megacities are spreading rapidly. More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities and metropolitan regions, and by 2050 this figure may be over two-thirds. Channeling the urbanization that is propelling metropolis areas economically, socially and ecologically is one of the biggest challenges of the future – embodied in the United Nation’s sustainable development goals (SDGs): cities and human settlements should be inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

Rural exodus to metropolitan areas

The reality: slums in Mumbai

In India, severe poverty in the countryside and increasing industrialization in metropolitan areas is driving ever more people to the cities – in the hope of finding work and a better life. In the past 30 years, the urban population has doubled to nearly 600 million people. Today, Delhi and Mumbai are among the most populous metropolitan regions in the world, but are marked by strong contrasts: Mumbai is considered the economic metropolis of India, but more than 40 percent of the population live in slums.

“Buildings must be sustainable and affordable.”
Ashok Lall, Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture and Environmental Studies, Mumbai

Creating humane living conditions is one of the primary challenges. Under the umbrella program “100 Smart Cities,” the Indian government hopes to make cities more people-oriented and more sustainable. “To accomplish this, sustainable materials and production processes will play an important role, but living must be and remain affordable, especially for poorer classes,” says architect Ashok Lall, who teaches at the Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture and Environmental Studies in Mumbai.

Cost-effective and energy-efficient construction

The vision: sustainable, affordable living

By 2034, one million homes are expected to be built, which normal wage earners can also afford. An approach from Covestro and partners is moving in this direction: constructing buildings using especially light panels that can be manufactured in large quantities at low cost. Their good insulation helps to reduce energy consumption. The basis for this is highly-efficient, hard foam, whose components are produced and continuously developed by Covestro.

At the Solar Decathlon, an international competition for sustainable construction and living, which was held in China in 2018, students from Mumbai showed what a house that is environmentally-friendly, comfortable and affordable can look like. In just twelve days, they erected a 150 m2 solar building, which produces more energy than it consumes. “We have to think completely freely and at the same time consider the challenges of city life in our region,” reports team leader Vijay Sharma. “The experience and support of our partners, such as Covestro, helped us a great deal.”

Stefan Paul Mechnig

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