Sep 28, 2012

The only sustainable retrofit whether it’s a product or city environment

To leave scope for future retrofits in the moment you conceive the idea of product or vision of a city.

Today you realize after 5 or 20 or 30 years that this product or system or infrastructure which you had planned back then with the most sophisticated tools and technology available at that time, with the best brains at disposal and the best hands available, that robust system of past desperately needs a technology overhaul and efficiency retrofit today, just to validate its contemporary relevance and to drag itself for few more miles in the tomorrow, but it would have been quite difficult for you to confront and accept this apparently unpleasant fact that this product, infrastructure, system or even strategy which you claim to be the most advanced and avant-garde today is very soon going to be outdated, very soon indeed!! Acknowledge it or not, that’s how it works, especially when technology, planning and policy is concerned only thing which remains eternal is aesthetics and nostalgia associated with such technology, possibly that’s why many people still prefer analog watch over digital one, that’s totally a personal choice.

Change is not only an integral law of nature but equally a law of technology, inevitable like growth of humanity, because humanity is curious and that’s why innovation and hence need to replace and retrofit old technology. Problem with the contemporary approach of planning and product design is that we tend to conceive and create a system or product which is 100% complete in its form and design “today” leaving no scope for future integration except few exceptions, even knowing that need for retrofit is waiting only at the next turn of system or product life-cycle  You see those overly stuffed embedded products, jam packed conduits, circuits and channels, overcrowded service corridors, saturated underground utility trench, suffocating right of ways (ROW), chaotic narrow streets, thousands of unventilated unlit city rooms and residences, all of this have two things in common, one, is the shear lack of vision and second, ignorance to change. Change which is inevitable, but we are happy and content with what we have planned today, who cares for tomorrow? Meanwhile, you enjoy all the attention and praise because of your new product and system. They might even have bagged few awards for best innovation and work in the field, but it all doesn't really matter if that product or vision fails in next couple of years. The single largest criteria of product or planning judgment and evaluation has to be sustainability, which means your product or system or vision have to have an inbuilt scope for absorption of future technology and efficiency integration for sustainability, to keep up with future pace of life and lifestyle.

Lets talk something about "sustainability" here. The word "sustainability" has been exploited much in recent years  increasingly assuming a very narrow meaning just revolving around "anything green". Lets keep in mind that being or doing green is just a piece of sustainability. Sustainability is much more, it is vastly inclusive a phenomenon, it is about the whole life cycle of product or system or plan. if you make a greenest product on earth which has a life span or tech-viability span or people-acceptance span of one or two year that is not sustainable when compared to a product which is though not so green in its DNA but which has a larger life span or acceptance span of may be half a decade or so or more. All the resources  which has gone into making of that short lived green product goes to vain at the end of its functional or acceptance span but the similar resources  which has been consumed in making that not so green product with a much longer life span seems more sustainable an option.  Using 5 most "greenest" products of same use one after another in just five years is much less sustainable than using 1 single "not so green" product for 5 years.

Now today you realize that environmental laws have become more stringent, people have become more educated, aware and choosy  technology has become more and more complex and sophisticated, every coming tomorrow product or system of yesterday is becoming obsolete, what to do. We can’t really plan for something which has not been invented yet, but we can always try to leave some scope for future integration, for the time when it is invented. It might add to few percent of capital or man hour but it’s worth giving a thought. Acknowledging the need for future retrofit and leaving some scope for it today will make our life easy tomorrow, products more relevant and cities more sustainable.   
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