Green Rural Design Aims to Slow Urban Slum Growth

. Street scene in Addis Ababa.

Life in a well-planned city can be about as green as it gets, but rapid urbanization in the developing world is taxing the ability of cities to provide adequate housing, sanitation, and other infrastructure for the people streaming into their ever-growing boundaries.

In Istanbul, where I live, the population has roughly doubled since 1990, with nearly 1,000 people, most from rural Turkey, arriving every day. The situation is similar in Ethiopia, where up to 1,200 people move daily from the countryside to the capital, Addis Ababa.

Eco-Friendly 'Semi-Urban Centers'
More than half the population of Addis Ababa now lives in "self-built huts made from plastic sheets, wooden boards, and corrugated iron, with no sanitation or electricity," according to a recent article in OurWorld 2.0, a United Nations environmental magazine that quotes Ethiopian architect Fasil Giorghis warning that "if we don't manage to stop the rural depopulation then we're heading for a catastrophic situation in the cities."

The NESTown development concept could be part of the solution. Created by Swiss professors Franz Oswald and Marc Angélil from ETH Zurich, the concept -- which stands for New Energy Self-Sustained Town or New Ethiopian Sustainable Town -- envisions the building of self-sufficient, environmentally friendly "semi-urban centers" that would allow farmers to improve their financial prospects without abandoning the land.

. Concept drawing for a NESTown.

Backed by both the Ethiopian government and ETH Zurich, Oswald and Giorghis are currently planning the first such town, which will hopefully serve as a model for hundreds more, OurWorld 2.0 reports.

Capturing Rainwater, Training Residents
Rainwater harvesting will be carried out during the wet season by a "Rainwater Unit" that will be tapped in the dry months for irrigation as well as water for drinking, cooking, washing, and gardening. The unit, like other structures in the NESTown, will be made out of locally available materials and built by the town's future inhabitants, who will receive training in various aspects of the construction process as well as green technology, boosting their future job prospects.

"The project will make efficient use of the natural resources in the area for the purposes of farming, construction, and energy, depending mainly on renewable energy such as solar for power generation, and creating a waste-management system that will include recycling from the start," according to a description of NESTown on the website of the Swiss university's BLOCK Research Group. "This will set the community in a high-profile position as a green town that will serve as a model for the rest of Ethiopia."

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