The December 2020 edition of the quarterly Natura magazine brought out by the WWF, carried an article by Ammara Farooq Malik that highlighted the need for optimum utilization of spaces and resources after Covid 19. Seplaa Hub was highlighted as a case study in focus that caters to the development and support of businesses through an on ground and hybrid online model to save resources.
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COVID-19 AND ITS AFTERMATH: URBAN DEVELOPMENT AND OPTIMUM UTILIZATION OF SPACES
“One way to optimally utilize space is by encouraging the development of green co-working spaces. These will not only provide green sanctuaries but will also empower women to collaborate and integrate ideas with solutions to create income.”
With COVID-19 came an unforeseen wave of health, social, technological and business disruptions and with it an almost unrelenting yet mandatory routine of working from home. However, where many were forced to work from home in order to curtail the spread of the virus and hence save lives, for others this was either not possible because of the absence of an enabling support structure, or the inability of their business markets to transition to the change immediately.
In such conditions, Seplaa Enterprises embarked on the project of creating small green businesses and learning hubs in Lahore. While the first green hub, an office space that is paperless, sorts waste, is energy efficient and is designed to conserve light and energy was piloted in 2016, the second was initiated as a model green building project in 2020.
The guiding principle was to create a space that was not only conducive to creating business opportunities but was also a model of optimal utilization of space in line with green building principles to promote climate change adaptation and resilience.
As a social enterprise, Seplaa Enterprises leans heavily towards empowering women and hence is training a team of young women who can understand the multidimensional impact of integrating optimal utilization of urban spaces, with developing green energy-efficient business hubs that can also partner with responsible transport companies. The latter will ensure that safe public transport is available for women so that they can commute to these green business spaces with the knowledge that with the green business hub and community support, they will be able to contribute effectively and optimally to the economy of Pakistan.
Seplaa Hub, the business and community centre of Seplaa Enterprises, is hence not just a green co-working space, but a centre that promotes green concepts and ideas, ranging from paperless office work to working in a hybrid online and offline model, thereby saving resources and simultaneously promoting business activities. This model, now tested during the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated SOPs, was already in use at Seplaa Enterprises since 2008. It allowed women, in particular, to be able to juggle and effectively manage several other responsibilities along with their work, by partly working remotely online and partly at the green co-working space for some hours.
With the pressure to develop more urban spaces, the focus has been on spreading and augmenting cities, creating new housing projects and new development schemes. In this instance, the government and housing projects must give incentives to developers and landowners to develop their buildings into green buildings or those willing to invest in creating green businesses and community spaces.
Singapore is one such case study where the government gave special incentives to property owners willing to start green rooftop gardens and convert or build their buildings under green principals. The result in the past 15 years has seen Singapore transform into a green sanctuary for flora and fauna of various kinds and a business hub of the world. Pakistan is keen to develop the Naya Pakistan Housing Project and the Punjab Clean and Green Development Project along with two new urban development projects including the new Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project and the development of two of Sindh’s islands — Bundal and Buddo on the Arabian Sea and off the coast of Karachi — which are now supposed to be the initial focus of the newly created Pakistan Islands Development Authority (PIDA) under the PIDA Ordinance 2020. It is a good time to not only assess and ascertain what can go into the integrated multidimensional green optimization plan for these new projects but also convert already developed areas into optimal spaces to curb traffic congestion, seasonal smog and dangerously high air quality index readings.
Women have been directly impacted by COVID-19 and climate change, therefore including them in the equation for recommendations will be essential to drive any real and sustainable positive change forward. This is a well established fact that has been observed with over 2,000 women who have been impacted, who are members in the Seplaa Women Consortium. These include heads of women run groups and organizations such as ICIMOD Gender Group, Women In Energy, Women In Law, Connected Women, etc. This view is also supported by a recent paper presented by Dr. Chanda Goodrich at ICIMOD, an ICIMOD commissioned research study.
One way to optimally utilize space can therefore be achieved by encouraging the development of green co-working spaces. These will not only provide green sanctuaries but will also empower women to collaborate and integrate ideas with solutions to create income. Property owners willing to invest in such projects should be given incentives to not only build such green buildings but also sustain them through business activities that can have a ripple effect of creating and sustaining new businesses run by women and other marginalized groups. Awareness programmes must be run in local communities to hammer home the significance and need for the sustainability and support of such projects. The government must play a pivotal role in integrating civil society views and expert opinions in future policy-making for green urban development, post-COVID outbreak.
Ammara Farooq Malik is the Founder of Seplaa Enterprises, SEPLAA Foundation and Think Tank and AFMalik Law- Attorneys & International Development Consultants.