Journal of Geographic Information System, 2010, 2, 63-84
doi:10.4236/jgis.2010.22012 Published Online April 2010 (
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. JGIS
Urban Vulnerabilities in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal:
Visualizations of Human/Hazard Interactions
Keshav Bhattarai1, Dennis Conway2
1Department of Ge ography, Universit y of Central Missouri, Warrensburg, USA
2Department of Geography, Indiana University, Bloomington, USA
Excessive unplanned urban growth leads to many vulnerabilities and impacts on urban environments to vary-
ing degrees. However, the majority of the extant literature focuses on the problems related to location and
socioeconomic conditions, rather than vulnerability processes and related environmental degradation. This
paper analyzes the scope of urban vulnerabilities for five rapidly urbanizing and highly-congested cities in
the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. First, the historic context of the Valley’s uncontrolled urbanization sets the
scene. Second, the optic is narrowed to focus upon the geographical features of the resultant urbanized Val-
ley landscape that includes spatial arrangements and of houses, population densities, road networks, vehicu-
lar densities, garbage problems, and available open spaces. Additionally, seismic vulnerabilities in the urban
areas are also considering in this examination. Third, three-dimensional visualizations of selected urban lo-
cations are presented to differentiate between vulnerable and relatively safe locations. The intent of this re-
search is to contribute to the methodological understanding of human/hazards interactions in rapidly urban-
izing cities of the Third World, which share similar socioeconomic conditions and environmental contexts.
Keywords: Urban Vulnerability, Planning, Kathmandu Valley, Two Dimensional (2D) Maps, Three
Dimensional (3D) Visualization
1. Introduction
Urban vulnerability analysis using spatio-temporal in-
formation is increasingly used by urban planners and
policy makers to anticipate and prevent catastrophic hu-
man disasters. Throughout the world, urban centers are
becoming environmentally complex; home to over half
of the world’s population, these centers provide em-
ployment and commerce opportunities as well as admin-
istrative services to residents. Even in smaller urban cen-
ters many complex infrastructures have been developed
to provide essential amenities to their overcrowded urban
populations. At the same time, organic (haphazard/unp-
lanned) developments often lead to increased vulnerabil-
ity, and in many cases a variety of urban vulnerabilities,
that taken together, make public solutions difficult if not
impossible to anticipate, ameliorate or address ade-
quately. The identification of such “mixes of vulner-
abilities” requires sophisticated spatial analysis to un-
derstand the interactions among biophysical and eco-
nomic factors that bring about such heightened vulner-
Over the past two and half decades, the integrated use
of geographic information systems (GIS), global posi-
tioning systems (GPS), and remote sensing has become
instrumental in addressing urban vulnerabilities at the
local, national, and international levels [1-4]. Using these
tools to analyze the landscape, researchers have identi-
fied numerous urban vulnerabilities resulting from a lack
of emergency vehicular accesses and open spaces, un-
controlled solid waste management, and related unhy-
gienic conditions, to name a few. To date, methodologi-
cal approaches to identify and monitor urban vulnerabili-
ties are limited and inconsistent due to an absence of
uniform concepts, rules, and principles among academics
and practitioners. To help remedy this situation, this pa-
per analyzes spatial arrangements and housing types,
population densities, road networks, vehicular densities,
garbage problems, available open spaces and possible
seismic vulnerabilities using 3D visualization techniques
for the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal. One goal is to iden-
tify gaps within the extant of urban literature. A secon-
dary goal is to explain how urban density-intensification
not only results in declining rates of economic returns
per land area unit [3,5], but also how such density-inten-
sification hinders accessibility in cases of natural disas-
ters such as Haiti’s 2010 earthquakes, negatively impacts
hygienic conditions, and threatens the public’s health.
Urban vulnerabilities are the result of the complex in-
teraction of biophysical and economic factors. The iden-
tification of such intertwined complex interactions re-
quires three-dimensional (3D) x, y, and z information,
due to the fact that two-dimensional (2D), x and y, in-
formation produces incomplete and therefore, inadequate
scenarios for analyzing future urban landscape trajecto-
ries. We take a 3D visualization approach and use com-
binations of different datasets, such as GIS layers of
multi-layer building morphologies, satellite images, and
high resolution digital elevation data models (DEM) to
assess vulnerabilities. More specifically, these visualiza-
tions evaluate: a) man-made hazards in congested urban
areas; b) access to roads and bridges by emergency vehi-
cles; and c) highlight the importance of such infrastruc-
ture patterns in politics, culture, economy and finance.
Similar purposeful, three-dimensional visualizations will
make it easier to implement settlement planning in loca-
tions such as the Kathmandu Valley, considering the chal-
lenges routinely faced by national and regional planners in
Third World urban centers. In addition to regularly ad-
dressing the problems of slums, squatters, inadequate low-
income housing and overburdened infrastructure systems,
urban planners of the Third World may also have to
work within a corrupt political system and with an equ-
ally inefficient governmental bureaucracy [5]. Planners
and policy makers should find 3D data valuable not only
to present long-term urban trajectories, but also to over-
come undue pressures from politicians who routinely get
their votes from the slums and squatter dwellers and who
generally look for immediate problem-solving approaches
in an organic fashion [5]. Instead, 3D presentations can
illuminate planned outlays to promote sustainable solu-
tions based on scientific, methodological analysis.
Using spatial information within an urban theoretical
framework, we analyze urban vulnerabilities of the
Kathmandu Valley (Figure 1). To address urban vulner-
ability issues, this paper is structured as follows: 1) re-
search questions; 2) literature review; 3) brief description
of the study area; 4) data and methodology; 5) causes of
urban vulnerabilities; 6) remediation procedures to alle-
viate congestion problems, and 7) conclusion.
2. Research Questions
1) What determines urban vulnerabilities, and what fac-
tors make some urban areas more vulnerable than others?
2) Is it possible to identify repeated patterns of urban
vulnerabilities and if so, how might such vulnerabilities
be ameliorated?
3. Review of Literature
Research has identified a mix of urban vulnerabilities
[6-9]. As a spatial science, geography concerns itself with
the behavior and distribution of: 1) urban objects, such as
residential and commercial buildings, pedestrians, and
vehicles; 2) urban features, such as land parcels, shops,
roads, sidewalks; and 3) natural features, such as green/
open spaces, rivers, and the seismic vulnerability of places.
Spatial science considers these dynamic factors as “urban
ensembles,” which vary at different locations and scales
[10]. Some researchers have used simulation methods to
view the roles of these ensembles in urban amenities Tor-
rens [11] while Blaikie et al. [12] have taken a theoreti-
cal approach and defined vulnerability as being prone to,
or susceptible to, damage or injury due to biophysical fac-
tors. Rasheed and Week [13] relate urban vulnerabilities
to natural hazards such as earthquakes, and to human
behavioral adaptations; and argue that urban vulnerabili-
ties become intertwined with socioeconomic systems. The
World Vulnerability Report (2003) presented 50 different
indicators of urban vulnerabilities by analyzing “urban en-
sembles” at various scales.
Urban ensembles such as buildings, streets, bridges,
public and industrial areas, roofs, facades, open and green
spaces, are obviously highly interrelated, but they can be
visualized using design plans, drawings, and video data
records [14]. Various layers such as houses, critical fa-
cilities, industrial sectors, and others can be overlaid to-
gether for visualization and subsequent spatial analysis.
Researchers often apply spatial, multi-criteria approaches
using spatial objects to examine the quality of life, urban
conditions and aesthetic structures, because these “urban
ensembles” represent dynamic phenomena involving peo-
ple not only as users but also as victims, contributors,
and modifiers [15-21]. Remote sensing and GIS tech-
nologies have proved to be especially-helpful tools to
identify vulnerable and/or non-vulnerable ensembles acro-
ss urban landscapes.
Alexander [6] used GIS to locate areas within seismic
zones and analyzed the degrees of urban vulnerability
they posed. Webster [22] used GIS at three levels of analy-
sis: describing, predicting, and prescribing the growth and
associated problems within an urban area. Cutter [23]
used GIS to develop weighted social and biophysical
indicators associated with urban vulnerability. Wu and
Webster [3] hypothesized an artificial city and created a
multi-dimensional matrix model as P grids each consist-
ing of n × n cells to demonstrate the power of GIS as an
integrative exploratory tool within the geographical, com-
plex systems and economic theories. They argued that a
city constantly shifts spatially achieving fraction of the
cells, starting with pre-existing residential and industrial
uses, initializing the majority of cells as vacant and then
presented several possible scenarios of urban morphologies.
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. JGIS
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. JGIS
Figure 1. Map of the (a) world, (b) Nepal, and (c) Kathmandu Valley showing five urban centers.
Further, they analyzed the agglomeration effect in a city
through a moving kernel, which returns a parameter that
is a function of the number of built-up activities in the
immediate neighborhood. They argue households in a
community are assumed to place a measurable value on
such development, which may add to both urban ameni-
ties and vulnerabilities due to their causal linkages.
Madhavan et al. [24] used remote sensing to explain how
land use and land cover changes are associated with ur-
ban vulnerabilities in the Metropolitan area of Bangkok,
Thailand. Rashed and Weeks [2] explained how a society
might be subjected to various hazards because of its own
actions, such as construction of unaesthetic and con-
gested structures such as substandard buildings and nar-
row roads.
Bhaskaran et al. [25] analyzed vulnerability due to hail
damage in urban areas of Sydney, Australia, using remote
sensing techniques. They determined the need for a higher
concentration of post-disaster emergency operations in ar-
eas with less resistant roofing materials. Bottari et al. [26]
identified seismic urban vulnerabilities citing examples
from Sicily using GIS techniques. Li et al. (2006) used
quantitative models using GIS and remote sensing and
analyzed urban vulnerabilities associated with environ-
ment conditions in the upper reaches of the Minjiang
River, China. Zamoranoa et al. [27] used GIS techniques
to develop indices to determine appropriate locations for
waste disposal. Kamozawa et al. [28] studied vulner-
abilities associated with bed rock movements during
earthquakes using 3D features.
Researchers have found the 3D visualization technique
useful in examining the effects of adjacency (what is
next to what), containment (what is enclosed by what),
proximity (how close one geographic object is to another),
accessibility (how an object can be reached from a cer-
tain road), and visibility (how far certain objects are visi-
ble from certain locations) [29]. However, as in simple
two-dimensional features, it is essential in 3D features to
either associate the distance and direction with the object
as an attribute to the housing unit, or to compute the dis-
tance and direction between the roads and houses along
with the height or depth of individual objects. This re-
quires the storage of extra attribute information, i.e. lati-
tude, longitude, height or depth, (and/or time). In earlier
times, 3D visualizations were possible only in com-
puter-aided design (CAD) [30,31] and cadastral mapping
[32]. Today, ArcGIS 9.4 beta version incorporates 3D
functions in its Network Analyst [33], making it accessi-
ble and functionally more useful to planners and re-
searchers alike in the accessibility analyses [34].
Urban vulnerability analysts have found 3D models
very efficient for correlating societal and biophysical fac-
tors while working in unfamiliar locations [2,35]. Others
have used 3D visualization to display remotely sensed
images and to analyze ozone and nitrous oxide concen-
tration and dispersal patterns [36]. The use of 3D is also
increasing in transportation planning with the use of a
lane-oriented, 3D road-network model [37], though very
little research has been done in this area to date. Since
2D road network data does not have sufficient accuracy
for lane-oriented micro-scale, the recent development of
sensor technology has been recommended for the devel-
opment of road layers with higher positional accuracy
that use differential GPS, often termed as DGPS receiv-
ers. Moreover, the rapid development of digital photo-
grammetric cameras to capture lane oriented data has
improved the quality of 3D data [38]. These 3D road lane
data are useful to predict both upward and downward
(flyovers, tunnels, over/underpass) movements of vehi-
cles [39], which is not possible with 2D data. The 3D
model maintains the integrity of the network data and
provides better compatibility with the general hierarchi-
cal view of roads. Its dynamic segmentation outperforms
traditional 2D dynamic segmentation in accuracy and
flexibility. Companies like Vexcel Corporation based in
Boulder, Colorado, are producing 3D models of the world
from custom satellite data with high accuracy. However,
these images are currently cost prohibitive.
The above account highlights the methodological ad-
vancements using spatially referenced data, beginning
with a simple 2D version and progressing to a much more
complex 3D methodological framework. Though many
studies have analyzed the Kathmandu Valley’s urbaniza-
tion patterns, to date nobody has used 3D visualization to
analyze possible urban vulnerabilities in a Valley wherein
the urban areas have expanded 450% between 1950 and
2000 [40]. Past research on Kathmandu urbanization
includes cartographic visualization and historical de-
scriptions [41] and analyses of urban sprawl using re-
mote sensing and GIS techniques [42-46]. We intend to
conduct research and present evidence that reveals the
usefulness and value of 3D visualization techniques by
examining adjacency, proximity, accessibility, and envi-
ronmental conditions within the uncontrolled and un-
evenly patterned conurbation of Nepal’s Kathmandu
4. Study Area
The Kathmandu Valley is facing potentially insurmount-
able challenges due to overpopulation by immigration
and natural growth. Traffic jams, a polluted environment,
and rapid changes in the socio-cultural diversity are com-
mon features of this valley. Unplanned urban develop-
ment fostered by weak institutional arrangements has
encouraged rapid and uncontrolled urban sprawls which
have contributed to dramatic changes in the urbanized
landscape. Road blockages and the incessant shutting do-
wn of educational institutions, government offices, facto-
ries and shops due to political agitations have become
common occurrences. Garbage disposal has become a
political issue as well as a health hazard. As vulnerable
as this city is to political unrest and garbage pollutants,
the possibility of a high intensity earthquake (Figures
2(a) an d (b)) is perhaps the greatest threat to the city and
its inhabitants [47].
Geologically, the Kathmandu Valley is as vulnerable
as Haiti, which experienced a devastating 7.0 earthquake
on January 13, 2010 that resulted in the loss of over
200,000 lives, and left half a million people (a third of
the nation) homeless [48]. Seismic geologists attribute
the huge loss of life and property to the location of the
quake’s epicenter, near the capital in Port-au-Prince, and
the construction of substandard buildings that commonly
are not build according to seismic codes. Even the Presi-
dential Palace of Haiti was damaged. Seismic geologists
in Asia fear that the Kathmandu Valley might face a
similar situation due to four reasons: 1) the Kathmandu
Valley lies between the two young and active Eurasian
and Indian Plates, similar to Haiti’s location between
Caribbean and North American plates; 2) many fault
lines crisscrossing the Valley; 3) the soft floor of a pre-
historic lake; and 4) the occurrence of many violent earth-
quakes in the past.
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. JGIS
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. JGIS
Source: Digitized from the base map of: and Figures 2(a) and (b). The meeting
of the Indian and Tibetan Plates is influencing the Himalayan arc. The Himalayan mountain range dramatically demonstrates one of
the most visible and spectacular consequences of plate tectonics. When two continents meet neither is subducted, because the conti-
nental rocks are relatively light and, like two colliding icebergs, resist downward motion. Instead, the crust tends to buckle and is
pushed upward or sideways.
Figure 2. (a) and (b) Location of Nepal with reference to Indian and Eurasian plates.
The great 8.4 earthquake of 1934 hit Nepal on January
16, 1934, and killed 16,775 people, damaged 318,000
houses, and left thousands homeless. A recent report by
the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) es-
timates that if an earthquake of the same intensity were
to hit the Kathmandu Valley, 50 percent of the buildings
would be damaged while 10-15% percent of Kathmandu’s
750,000 populations would likely be killed within the
building rubbles because many of the areas are inacces-
sible by emergency vehicles.
Another recent study on the movement of tectonic
plates and history of Himalayan earthquakes has pre-
dicted that the next great earthquake may hit the “central
gap” of the Himalayas of Nepal at any time [47,49,50].
If an earthquake measuring greater than 5 Mw occurs
in the Kathmandu Valley, many large structures, such as
temples and monasteries constructed of heavy rocks, bricks,
mud-mortar, masonry, and timber, as well as individual
houses built with adobe, stone, mud-mortar, brick-cement,
and masonry (Figure 3), having low tensile strengths,
are likely to be destroyed. Dixit [47] argues that if an
earthquake of similar magnitude to that of 1934 occurs,
over 60 percent of the houses and over 50 percent of bridges
will collapse, and the city would likely lose telephonic
connections. An earthquake of similar (6 Mw) magnitude
in Eastern Turkey on March 8, 2010 leveled off all the
mud-mortar buildings of a village trapping people under
the rubble of collapsed buildings [51]. However, there
were minimal damages in cement concrete buildings.
Most of the old mud-mortar and stone buildings of the
Kathmandu Valley are similar to those of Turkey’s rural
areas. Dixit [47] argues that aid from foreign countries
may get stuck at the airport, which is likely to be cut off
or suffer from transportation bottlenecks (like the airport
in Haiti). The resultant difficulties in rescuing the injured
and distributing aid to the impacted population will inevi-
tably result in more fatalities [47].
Over the years, the trends of rapid urbanization and
haphazard (re)development activities in the core histori-
cal areas and peripheral agricultural lands, have exposed
an increasing percentage of the population to seismic
hazards, and have decreased the capacity of emergency
services to cope with challenges associated with disasters.
Many private schools, colleges, other educational institu-
tions and private nursing homes, which should serve as
“evacuation shelters” and “treatment centers” in the event
of an earthquake striking the Valley, are currently oper-
ating in ordinary, residential substandard buildings. The
(b) (c) (d)
(e) (f) (g)
Figure 3. (a) Building types in five ur ban areas; (b) Adobe built; (c) Stone built; (d) Adobe well-built; (e)
BM well-built; (f) Brick Cement; (g) RCC Pillar; (h) Temples and residential buildings.
replacement of old three- and four-story residential houses
with eight- to ten-story commercial office complexes in
the urban centers has transformed narrow pedestrian lanes,
street squares and courtyards into parking lots, garbage
dumping sites, and “death traps”. The riverfronts, prone
to flooding in the event of an earthquake, are filled with
slum and squatter settlements [50,52].
Geologists argue that conditions have ripened for a mega
earthquake to strike Nepal [47,53] suspecting major dev-
astation like that of Haiti in 2010. A simulation conducted
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. JGIS
by the National Society of Earthquake Technology Nepal,
suggests that stone-built and adobe buildings sustain heavy
damages even in the normal peak ground acceleration
(PGA) of earthquakes. Studies of the 1934 earthquake
damage reveals that houses with: few stories, few wid-
ows, large open spaces between them, wedge-walls (joists
and walls interlocked with each other) with two bricks of
adjacent layers put perpendicular to each other, light up-
per stories, made of good quality lime mortar with thick
walls and deep foundations, more wooden structures than
brick pillars, are more durable than houses without these
attributes [54]. Since the houses of the Valley’s city core
areas are built in a more compact environment (Figures
4(a) and (b)), they are likely to sustain more casualties in
the event of a high intensity earthquake.
Joshi [54,55] studied the damages that occurred in brick
and stone masonry structures during the 1934 earthquakes
and discovered that structures built by intermediate tech-
Figure 4. (a) and (b) Earthquake intensity and building damages.
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. JGIS
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. JGIS
nology suffer the most damage because of their low ten-
sile and shear strength when the ground shakes at a higher
scale. Because of the low tensile strength of materials
used to build temples and monasteries, if an earthquake
occurs, people living close to these structures would be
more vulnerable than individuals were during the 1934
earthquake due to overcrowding and increased popula-
tion densities. Today, a growing number of people are
living close to low tensile structures, which were previ-
ously only located in tranquil and contemplative environ-
ments away from settlements. Successive waves of eco-
nomic restructuring and population growth are reflected in
the on-going development patterns of the Kathmandu Val-
ley (Figure 5) resulting in rising land prices and sub-stan-
dard housing structures in the Valley [56] and urban sprawl
into the hinterlands (Figure 6).
Figure 5. Kathmandu Valley: Once a fertile rice field (Aerial photo, (a)) has been turned into a concrete jungle (IKONOS
image (a) as the Valley’s population density is increasing at a much faster rate than the national average; (b) increasing the
uilt-up area at the cost of agricultural land (b). b
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. JGIS
Figure 6. Urban sprawl into the hinterlands.
In the 1900s, Kathmandu was a small town with a
little over 5,000 people [55]. In 1955, it comprised 100%
of the total urban population of the country [57], and in
the 1970s, Kathmandu had slightly more than 50% of
the total urban population [58] as one of 33 urban cen-
ters in Nepal. In 2008, with over 58 urban centers, the
Kathmandu Valley supports over 40% of the total urban
population [59]. From 1955 to 2008, the Valley’s popu-
lation grew over 499% [40]. Currently, it accommo-
dates over 750,000 people [59] and has become a mac-
rocosm of South Asia comprised of many diverse socio-
economic and ethnic groups. Due to the unplanned urban
growth similar to many other developing countries of the
global South, where “86% of the households face more
than one threat” [60], contemporary Kathmandu dwellers
face many risks due to unplanned structural construction
practices, inadequate planning for road accesses, high
population density [59,61], weak institutional capacities
[62] and inadequate solid waste disposal facilities (Fig-
ure 7).
Figure 7. Problems of waste disposal (Source:
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. JGIS
5. Data
Our data utilizes the smallest geographical units for meas-
urement, such as the housing patterns by dwelling types,
vacant land, parcel lot and home sizes, and roads. These
features are digitized from IKONOS (2004), WorldView
(2008), Google and ArcGlobe images of 2008 and 2010.
Multicolor IKONOS 2004 images were used to digitize
structures from compact urban areas, while other images
were used to capture structures of newly developed and
in-filled areas. Demographic data, such as the average
number of households and total number of people living
in urban areas was obtained from the Census Bureau of
Statistics (CBS) of Nepal. Administrative boundaries of
metropolitan, sub-metropolitan and municipal areas are
digitized from the 1:24,000 topographic maps obtained
from the Department of Survey of Nepal’s Government.
Due to high costs, it was not possible to purchase 3D
features from Voxel Corp. For example, a scene of 100
square miles that details road network costs over $ 50,000
to purchase, and $ 100,000 for a scene that captures de-
tailed urban ensembles. Alternatively, we use 1 m × 1 m
elevation data purchased from LandInfo ( to build 3D structures of urban features. Us-
ing this data we examine population growth rates, hous-
ing densities, building plot sizes, hygienic conditions,
and road accessibility to individual houses.
6. Methods
Urban vulnerabilities are assessed using: 1) population
growth and urban density-intensification; 2) plot sizes
and building structural compactness; 3) housing patterns
and hygienic conditions; 4) available open spaces; and 5)
emergency vehicle accessibility to residential houses.
7. Population Growth and Urban
Population Population density of the Kathmandu Val-
ley is increasing at a much faster rate than the overall
growth rate of the country (Figures 5(a) and (b)). This
growth is mostly concentrated in the urban centers (Fig-
ure 8). By 2008, the Valley’s residential density grew
more than 1,000 persons/ha and many new three- and
four- story buildings are constructed on farmlands (Fig-
ure 5(b)) and on smaller open spaces to accommodate
the increasing populations in densely built structures.
Although residential density in Kathmandu is lower
than in Hong Kong (> 4,800 persons/ha) and Thailand (
2,950 persons/ha), it is much higher than in the US sub-
urbs (< 10 persons/ha), and is similar to Malaysia (1, 100
persons/ha). This increase in population has in-filled
many open areas in the already-emerging “concrete jun-
gle” of the Kathmandu Valley increasing the vulnerabili-
ties of many urban areas (Figuses 9(a) and (b) ). To make
matters worse, new houses are continued to be built on
any available space (Figure 10).
8. Plot Size and Structural Compactness
Although the recommended official plot sizes in the Ka-
thmandu Valley are similar to those in Latin American
Cities (plot size 100 m2) which also have spontaneous
settlements, such as favelas, barrios, and colonias mise-
rias; observations from WorldView I, Google, and Ar-
cGlobe images of 2008 reveal that many houses in the
Khatmandu Valley are built on plots as small as 15 to 45
m2. Adhikari [56] observed similar conditions, and fol-
lowing an analysis of housing density rates and housing
costs, he concluded that accommodating over 600 per-
sons/ha in compactly built structures is not economically
beneficial (Figure 11).
Despite this significant relationship between housing
densities and costs, smaller plots of land are often sold
by private land brokers to meet individual buyer’s eco-
nomic (use-value) interests, and in many cases new houses
are built at substandard levels, sometimes without the
basic necessities [63]. For example, many reinforced con-
crete (RCC) houses are constructed on smaller plots
ranging from 2-4 anas 63 to 127 m2:1 ropani 16 anas
509 m2; often without proper sewage outlets [56].
9. Housing Standard and Hygien ic Conditions
The American Public Health Association (APHA) de-
fines housing as a “safe dwelling unit with sanitary fa-
cilities fit for human habitation by governing the condi-
tion and maintenance (1971).” Mood [64] defines housing
Figure 8. Urban population density.
Figure 9. Visualizing (a) low and high risk housing areas, and (b) housing population densities. All compact
areas are extruded in ArcScene to reveal their vulnerabilities, in the event of an earthquake.
Figure 10. Infilling of built structures in the Kathmandu Valley.
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. JGIS
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. JGIS
Figure 11. Plot size and cost of land (Modified from Adhi-
kari [56] including land prices of obtained from the Land
Reform Office, Kathmandu).
as “necessary to safeguard the health and welfare of the
occupants of the dwelling and the persons residing in the
vicinity of the dwelling.” Most of the spontaneous and
institutional types of houses built with local materials
(Figure 3) in the Kathmandu Valley do not meet “the
required health, safety, seismic scales and external envi-
ronment” [56]. Many buildings are built with scant re-
gard for regulations, such as building codes and munici-
pal regulatory controls. Some residential buildings are
constructed on 400 m2 land, occupying up to 51% of the
plot with < 4 m from the front and back boundaries of
the plot, and < 3 m from the sides of the plot boundary.
Other buildings are constructed on plots of 200 m2 with a
maximum permitted built-up area of 55% leaving at least
3 m in the back and 2.5 m in the front. Also, within this
spontaneous typology are government institutional build-
ings constructed on plots > 900 m2 with at least 5 m dis-
tance between the houses and with 7 m at the front and
back boundaries, and 5 m from either side. Such modern
expensive buildings with hyperbolic parabolic roofs,
large concrete cantilevered beams and slabs, and con-
crete steel structures designed with modern engineering
methods are very common on smaller plots [56]. A newly
emerging architectural trend of decorating building fa-
çades with numerous “false” elements such as double col-
umns, bay windows, and sloped roofs, often makes build-
ings vulnerable to earthquakes due to the lack of struc-
tural connection with the building framework. The dif-
ferences in the building (and floor) heights, materials and
construction technology in new constructions, are likely
to produce a “pounding effect” vis-à-vis adjacent houses
in the event of an earthquake [50].
Housing standards are not strictly followed, as the ex-
isting legislation is simply inadequate and ineffective to
curb such practices. A house with a 30 m2 floor-space
needs at least a 40 m2 plot to accommodate a family of
six. The majority of the houses in the Kathmandu Valley
do not adhere to these requirements. As a result, people
live in overcrowded and often dangerous conditions. An
analysis of residential housing units from WorldView I
images of 2008, following Lo [65] model, reveals that on
average, three-to-four people share a room of 12-15 m2.
Small, irregular-sized houses within sturdy “housing
compounds”, designed for security reasons, commonly
serve as garbage sites and dust bowls in the dry season
and filthy-water ponds during the rainy seasons. This
problem is further exacerbated when seepage from indi-
vidual septic tanks leaks through the residential com-
pound walls that interface with and front adjacent narrow
roads [56]. Additionally, drinking water pipes often fol-
low the narrow winding streets and run parallel to sew-
age pipes making service maintenance difficult [63].
Sub-standard, yet often exorbitantly-priced housing has
increased property and land prices, making most housing
unaffordable to the common Nepalese and leaving them
with no other alternative but to squat on open lands. A
comparative assessment of the IKONOS 2000, Quickbird
2003, WorldView I, Google and ArcGlobe images of the
Valley taken in 2008 reveal the mushrooming of sponta-
neous slum settlements along the riverbanks and open
spaces (Figure 12), [52]. These houses are constructed
along the ecologically sensitive and marginal areas, such
as riverbeds and lowlands, and along dangerous or un-
tenable flooding areas without proper access to clean
water. In most instances, these houses are not accessible
by motor vehicle. Furthermore, squatters often occupy
national heritage sites such as temples and monasteries
[66,67], or live near waste-dump sites, making them ex-
tremely vulnerable to life-threatening events and condi-
Many houses in the Kathmandu Valley store garbage
in large polythene bags, which are then thrown outside to
lie uncollected for long periods of time in the adjacent
open areas. This practice of open dumping is not only
unsightly, but also serves as a breeding ground for dis-
eases, posing a constant health hazard for the surround-
ing population. Many dumpsters or garbage collection
sites are close to sensitive ecological areas, such as
drinking water sources. Thus, these effluent discharges
pose health challenges [68] from the daily discharged
waste (1091-1155 m3/day or 245-260 tons/day in the
valley). Waste is not collected from dumping sites on a
regular basis due to opposition from landfill sites. Simi-
lar to the case in Mexico City where garbage disposal
has become an effective political tool [69], garbage dis-
posal in the Kathmandu Valley is not only a political tool,
but has also made living conditions more difficult by
creating new health hazards. The situation becomes
much worse as new consumer products-many with un-
necessary packaging, plastics and styrofoam-enter into
Kathmandu’s “modernizing” market every day. The pro-
testors of the landfill sites often agitate against the mu-
nicipal authorities like those that occurred in Philadel-
phia (1986), New York City (1990), Toronto, Ontario
Figure 12. (a) Locations of squatter settlements along the
low level river banks (Pradhan & Perera) [52]; and (b)
number of households in different year s (
(2002), Chicago (2003), Vancouver, British Columbia
(2007), Athens, Greece (2006), Alumfiecer, Spain (2007),
Naples, Italy (2008), and Oaxaca, Mexico (2009) (Moore,
[69]. In the Kathmandu Valley, the more unorganized the
garbage management becomes, the more it becomes a
political act. Similar to Castro-Gomez’s [71] call for an
“ideal of synthesis” between science, economic growth,
and aesthetic development (p. 139), some local Valley po-
litical parties consider debates related to garbage disposal
as a Marxist “dialectic discourse.” As the dialogue goes,
dumping garbage on the available open areas has become
a practice of Kathmandu’s dwellers.
10. Open Spaces
Each household needs some open space for a healthy
environment and an escape-route to safety in the event of
a disaster. An open space is defined as the ratio of circu-
lation area divided by the total area that is specific to
cultures and places. Parks and playgrounds, schools and
colleges, hospitals, public transportation, telephone lines,
sewers and discharge pipes are considered open spaces.
Caminos and Goehert [72] recommended an open area of
150 m2 per 10,000 m2 of built-up area, while the World
Bank housing project recommends 20 to 25% open space
for a built-up area. For the safety of an individual, a 2 m2
space is needed. In general, 5-10% open space is needed
for housing purposes; however, the unplanned housing
schemes in the Kathmandu urban areas leave few open
spaces producing conditions far below any Western
standards. Even in Manhattan, New York, an average of
19.2 m2 of natural area is available for each skyscraper;
in London, the number is 30.4 m2 for each building ac-
counting for the city’s surrounding Green-belt spaces; in
Paris, it is 12.2 m2; and in Tokyo, it is 2.1 m2 [70].
These aforementioned numerical values of “open space”,
however, may not be the best measures when evaluating
“accessibility” and its efficiency and cost- effectiveness
as it pertains to a metropolitan area’s housing growth and
development. For example, only 12-16% open spaces are
maintained in Singapore, but all houses are accessible by
emergency vehicles. Nonetheless, for cities like Kath-
mandu to serve 2- to 4-story spontaneous and institu-
tional housing styles, sufficient open spaces are needed
to rescue people from possible seismic vulnerabilities.
Given the seismic vulnerability of the Valley, contem-
porary planners in the Valley suggest a 40:60 ratio, for
built-up and non-built-up land, by 2021, which will be
higher than the 32:68 ratio that planners envisioned in
2001. A detailed analysis of the Kathmandu Metropoli-
tan area from the WorldView I, Google, and ArcGlobe
images of 2008 reveal that it is almost impossible to
meet this goal given the diminishing number of open
spaces resulting from the infilling of housing in small
open spaces (Figures 5(b) and 10). Additionally, the loss
of open spaces and vegetation (Figure 5(b)) due to con-
versions into sub-standard buildings, has not only hin-
dered vehicular accessibility to houses, but also has made
the bowl-like geography and generally low wind- speed
valley, become a sink for pollutants during the winter
seasons [42].
11. Road Accessibilities
The The UN has long defined a housing standard as a
“measure of accessibility, at a given time and place and
in a given set of cultural and economic conditions” (73:
p9). For good connectivity and the movement of people
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. JGIS
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. JGIS
and goods, both within urban areas and between urban
centers and hinterlands, effective transportation networks
are essential. However, narrow streets and cul-de-sacs
limit vehicular accessibility to individual houses. A clas-
sic example of the “Tragedy of the Commons” is evident
in Kathmandu, due to individual households’ thoughtless
efforts to maximize the private use of their entire prop-
erty, at the expense of the common good [56]. In the in-
ner areas of the Valley’s city centers, the narrow streets
( 2.5 meters) and sturdy wall fences erected for security
reasons are posing problems of accessibility (Figure 13).
In the absence of sufficient rules and/or the lack of im-
plementation, inner-city land plots have been subdivided
to maximize profits, and such action has further nar-
rowed the width of roads.
slums, squatters and low-income housing, and overbur-
dened infrastructure issues, not to mention the problems
of working within a corrupt political and inefficient bu-
reaucratic environment. Politicians routinely get their
votes from the slum and squatter dwellers and keep
planners and bureaucrats engaged with immediate prob-
lems rather than having them find long-term solutions [5].
Many planning decisions are made administratively,
which are often influenced by backroom political pres-
sures. Even when a physical plan is finally approved,
individual builders often build their own projects in an
organic fashion (unplanned) that routinely result in hap-
hazard growth [5]. Because of such unregulated urban
planning, quality of life issues such as the environment
and social sustainability, rarely make it on to the agendas
of the Valley’s urban planners.
Western-style suburbs with large open spaces are un-
available in the Kathmandu Valley due to high popula-
tion to land ratios, and the preponderance of low income
conditions among a majority of residents. In western coun-
tries, roads are categorized by their widths and services
they provide; for example, collectors (8 m width, serving
over 150 houses with 10.5 right-of-way), secondary (6 m
width, serving at least 15 houses with 10.5 right-of-way),
and local (4 m width, serving 25 houses with 5 m right
Planners have been dealing with the complexities cre-
ated by the ever-changing societal needs, market and
economic forces, and conflicting interests among various
stakeholders. Mitigating urban vulnerability in such en-
vironments is difficult, and planners routinely experience
a “planner’s fatigue and burn out” from their work [5].
Though planners may attempt to achieve their goals with
highly engineered processes, engineering alone will not
solve problems such as jammed road networks (Figure
13) and poor accessibility (Figure 14).
12. Patterns of Vulnerability and Resilience
across Urban Areas Accessibility needs to be given the highest priority,
because it is not only important for business but also to
evacuate people in cases of emergency. Unfortunately,
the occurrences of accidents, vehicle breakdowns, road
closures due to road works and political agitations are
In Nepal, urban vulnerabilities are the result of poor
planning. Local planners routinely deal with issues of
Figure 13. 3D visualization of housing typology without proper accesses by emergency vehicles (New Baneshwar area of
Kathmandu digitized and convert e d into 3D).
Figure 14. Distances to individual housing units from serviceable roads. Average plinth areas of houses were estimated from
WorldView I and Google images of 2008, population for each housing dwelling unit was estimated following Lo (2006)
“Dwelling Unit-related Demographic Models” (p. 351).
common problems on narrow roads. Despite traffic jams
on narrow roads, more vehicles are registered than the
transportation network can accommodate. For example,
over 181,000 new vehicles were registered during
2005-2008 [74], but only a very small increase in road
length was added to the existing 1,319 kilometers of road
length over the same period. Each year, many houses are
added by filling-in open spaces (Figures 5(b) and 10).
Politicians often favor their constituencies and pressure
bureaucrats and planners to add more urban ensembles,
in order to demonstrate their short-sighted promises
made during the election periods. Political leaders often
make false promises while campaigning when the mass
gatherings of their supporters prompt such political pan-
dering. Planners then bow to the pressures of these poli-
ticians, letting building code standards and their general
plans go by the way side.
The 3D visualization techniques we use and advocate
therefore may help planners to effectively visualize the
cities (Figure 13) they are responsible for; and ulti-
mately, convince them to implement more eco-friendly
and sustainable policies [75]. Currently, these 3D data
models are being developed on smaller scales, which are
helpful when dealing with boundaries, neighborhoods,
and co-boundary cells [30]. In order to display the topo-
logical relationships for large-scale areas, Chalmet et al.
[76] developed a 3D graph model. Instead of representing
the topological relationships between node, arc, face, and
body, these graph models present the topological rela-
tionships among 3D objects [77] and 2D objects. These
models represent the adjacency, connectivity, and hier-
archical relationships among buildings and street net-
works to provide navigation guidance for an escape.
Acquiring accurate location information is challenging as
many buildings block GPS signals, however, geocoded
addresses may help to accurately locate spatial objects.
In such a 3D model, geocoding converts descriptive
location information into geometric coordinates. The
geometric coordinate information can be applied in the
3D for route finding problems by identifying the shortest
path from a single source to all other nodes in a network.
It utilizes multi-layer building morphology data, shape-
files, digital elevation models (DEM) data, and remote
sensing data to develop a complex 3D city model. Such
3D city models can be utilized to analyze a variety of
parameters including building occupancy, frequency values
and socio-demographic patterns that highlight areas and
objects exposed to various levels of threat. By combining
function-specific grids with 3D exposure levels, we map
potential threat areas. These specific threat levels can be
combined with additional socio-demographic or infra-
structure data to further geo-visualize risk prone and safer
areas to alleviate urban congestion.
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. JGIS
13. Alleviating Urban Congestion to
Minimize Vulnerability
We identify urban vulnerabilities in the Kathmandu Val-
ley resulting from unplanned developments with irregu-
lar, substandard, and inaccessible (by emergency vehi-
cles) housing patterns, coupled with waste disposal prob-
lems. Approaches taken by the past governments to alle-
viate urban congestions outside the Kathmandu Valley,
such as, “Creation of Five Regional Divisions and De-
centralization of Power,” and “Relocating Educational In-
stitutions” have unfortunately failed. None of them have
successfully relocated any of the burgeoning urban popu-
lation away from the urban concentrations in the Valley
and none have reduced, or even satisfactorily addressed
the unpredictable urban sprawl and growth.
Urban sprawl (unplanned growth) and growth (planned
growth) often happen during economic booms, but in the
Kathmandu Valley, rapid urban sprawl and growth oc-
curred as the Maoist insurgency escalated in the country-
side beginning in 1996. The threatened rural people re-
sponded by migrating into the Valley for safety. As a
result, the lack of any planning is exaggerated, leading to
inappropriate land-use, increased traffic congestion, per-
sistent and increasing emissions of green house gases,
longer commute times for shorter distances, increased
dependence on imported goods and fossil fuels, worsen-
ing water pollution, loss of open space, unmanaged
waste disposal, political upheavals, road network over-
loads and institutional “grid-lock”.
There are cities such as Las Vegas, where a 238%
urban growth occurred between 1990 and 1996 [78]. How-
ever, Las Vegas is comparatively “well planned”, whereas
Kathmandu Valley is growing organically despite ex-
periencing a slower growth rate than Las Vegas. Long
overdue in Valley planning logistics is a need to not only
reduce traffic jams and to conserve open spaces, but also
contingency plans and infrastructural re-alignments that
will enable the authorities to evacuate people in the event
of a high intensity earthquake like that of 1934 in Kath-
mandu and of January 13, 2010 in Haiti. Kathmandu’s
seismic condition is as vulnerable as that of Haiti. While
earlier it was firmly believed that rapid urbanization
would bring increased development, now, it is time to
weigh the values of safer and healthier communities and
green space against the consequences of unbridled, de-
velopment. There is an urgent need to reverse the process
of urban congestion through counter migration by decen-
tralizing many power centers from Kathmandu to else-
where. Limited open spaces of the Kathmandu Valley are
today occupied with in-filled infrastructures with inade-
quate, poorly-constructed housing, and deteriorating lo-
cal environmental conditions. In the foll population might
be resettled and moved owing paragraphs we present vari-
ous options on how the Valley to other areas.
14. Strict Imposition of Building Codes
Urban vulnerability in the Kathmandu Valley is due to
physical events (seismic hazards) and societal conditions
(substandard house and unplanned layouts). Though
seismic hazards are very dangerous, socioeconomic and
political systems play even a larger role in creating vul-
nerabilities for the population. As these natural processes
cannot be changed, the practical solution is to address the
hazards resulting from socioeconomic and political sys-
tems. In most parts of the Kathmandu Valley, buildings
stand side-by-side on narrow alleys. Fire brigades and
ambulances are unable to provide services (Figure 14)
[79] and in the aftermath of a big earthquake, it will be
difficult to provide emergency services due to the accu-
mulation of debris on narrow roads. Even hospitals,
schools and public offices are not earthquake-resistant
[47]. Public awareness about earthquake safety, en-
forcement of building codes, and proper training of ma-
sons to build standard houses is essential. In the Kath-
mandu Valley over 90% of the houses are built by ma-
sons, however, only 10% are supervised by trained engi-
neers [47]. Many engineers are needed to ensure an ef-
fective implementation of building codes for the safety
and security of the Valley residents.
Nepal has acknowledged the need for earthquake
safety measures-especially after the International Decade
for Natural Disaster Reduction (1990-2000) and has ini-
tiated various strategies at the national level including
retrofitting of schools, preparation of emergency hospital
plans, and conducting training sessions to address the
challenges faced in the aftermath of an earthquake.
However, these plans have become paper tigers. For
example, the 1995 Kobe earthquake in Japan, has clearly
demonstrated that preparedness and emergency plans in
hospitals alone are insufficient if it is not possible to
keep equipments, staff and electricity running during an
emergency. Learning lessons from the recent Haitian
disaster is essential. Additionally, strict quality control
on construction work and building materials including
bars in slabs and columns is essential [50].
On the development front, a combination of disaster-
relief programs and responsible (re)development tech-
niques need to be introduced and implemented through
flexible means of incentives, consensus, and awareness
programs, rather than by rigid laws. On the legal and
institutional front, an independent disaster management
institute managed at the federal level and backed by leg-
islation to formulate earthquake mitigation techniques,
emergency response plans, and post-reconstruction pro-
grams to coordinate various concerned agencies is essen-
tial. The community’s preparedness could be improved
by retrofitting the existing buildings, developing rescue
and response plans, and educating and training those
involved in the building industry. Such efforts, together
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. JGIS
with increased public awareness at the household level
could help develop a culture of building earthquake-
resistant cities and disaster-responsive societies. Once
individual households are made aware, it will be possible
to develop model houses (Namuna Gharharu) that pre-
serve the traditional architectural styles recognized by
15. Conserving Urban Spaces
In many developed economies, a number of communities
are now purchasing environmentally sensitive land or
farmland to prevent uncontrolled development. However,
such an approach is not feasible for the Kathmandu Val-
ley due to the high cost of land. Also, unstable political
conditions do not support such moves. Nonetheless, the
government can enforce laws to prevent the building of
substandard houses on open spaces.
While such a law has been passed recently, the out-
come of this rule is yet to be seen. Another example Ne-
pal can learn from is the Communist government of
Vietnam’s decision in the 1970s to ban rural-to-urban
migration. In 1949, the Chinese government strictly en-
forced and restricted in-migration by implementing strin-
gent residency permits to control rural in-migration to
the biggest cities. Limiting the number of citizens who
could be registered as urban dwellers restricted the num-
ber of individuals moving to cities to find better jobs.
The registration program was supported by the rationing
of food only to those in possession of urban household
registration documents. In the absence of any significant
black market, these measures proved highly effective in
slowing the rate of rural emigration [80]. Such approaches
could be implemented in the Valley to stop further over-
crowding and minimizing urban vulnerability and even
improving city efficiencies and aesthetic conditions.
16. Improving Urban Efficiency
Kathmandu’s urban patterns, its socioeconomic status,
and demographics are a challenge to the successful im-
plementations of innovative (re)development plans. How-
ever, some experiences from other countries could be
helpful in improving the cities’ efficiencies. One such
approach—Haussmannization (named after Baron Hau-
ssmann, a Paris-based urban planner of the 1940’s)was
followed by the French government to improve the
cleanliness and appearance of Paris streets. Roads were
widened roads and proper buildings were realigned. The
US government in the 1950s and 1960s, implemented
urban renewal plans backed by billions of dollars to dis-
mantle old buildings and properly realign them along
improved roads and housing patterns [81]. Likewise, in
the 20th century, a social equity plan was implemented in
New York City, USA. This plan allowed only a certain
percentage of any given lot to be occupied by tenement
buildings and strict building codes were followed. Such
buildings provided much needed facilities to renters [81].
The Chinese government took a different approach to
control urban congestion. When the Communist Party
assumed power in 1949, many people were living in ter-
rible slums. Cities were filthy with inadequate sewage
facilities, water supplies, and garbage collection. The
Communist government dramatically altered the Chinese
cities by cleaning them up and providing standard hous-
ing for everyone. Rural-to-urban migration was strictly
regulated. While the Chinese approach per se might not
work for Nepal due to a different government system,
cleaning the cities as was done in China, and regulating
rural-to-urban migration would help to improve the city’s
efficiency, and control urban over congestion. A zoning
method practiced in Frankfort, Germany in the late 19th
century was used to control land use based on land suit-
ability classes [81]. In capitalist economies these pro-
grams are self-sustaining financially, where the govern-
ments first purchase the lands and do planning to im-
prove efficiencies, and then resell the lands at higher
costs. Though some of these approaches may be possible
for the Kathmandu Valley, substantial foreign aid is re-
quired. While it may sound unrealistic to look for foreign
aid to dedicate to internal city planning, significant im-
provements could be made with foreign aid to prevent
potentially disastrous conditions such as those in Haiti
following the 2010 earthquakes. Nepal will need foreign
aid to improve city efficiency. It is a matter of time- now
or later after the destruction. Along with the improve-
ment of city efficiencies, shifting Kathmandu’s over
crowded population elsewhere by creating new cities and
shifting the country’s only international airport to other
location and/or creating new international airports in other
parts of the country could be some of the options to alle-
viate Kathmandu’s urban vulnerability.
17. Creating New Satellite Cities
Like the cities in the Kathmandu Valley, Cairo, Egypt
became overpopulated, woefully deficient in urban ser-
vices, and had a high unemployment rate beginning in
the late 1960s. In an attempt to improve conditions in the
city center, the Egyptian government began creating new
towns and jobs outside Cairo [81]. Implementing a simi-
lar plan, the Nepalese government developed Five De-
velopment Centers, namely Eastern, Central, Western,
Midwestern, and Far Western in the late 1970s. Unfor-
tunately, these centers did not attract citizens due to the
highly centralized power structure of the Nepalese gov-
ernment. The 1970s approaches failed to attract people
away from Kathmandu due to a lack of planning and
organization. Following the formation of the multi-party
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. JGIS
democracy in Nepal in 1990, several universities, tech-
nical institutions, and medical facilities were opened
outside the Kathmandu Valley with the hope that new
cities would be created and the Valley’s population
pressures would decrease. To some extent this approach
has been successful in attracting businesses due to the
low cost of land and proximity to several Indian cities
near the southern border. However, these cities have
failed to attract a higher number of residents due to a lack
of job opportunities and inadequate access to international
markets. To make matters worse, beginning in the late
1990s, security in virtually all of the cities outside Kath-
mandu was compromised as a result of the Maoist insur-
gency. Improving transportation to create increase con-
nections between these outer cities and Kathmandu may
help to improve security and ultimately facilitate out-mi-
gration from Kathmandu or even to daily commute to
Kathmandu for official work. Several European countries
have successfully reduced the overcrowding and traffic
jams in urban cores by implementing various transporta-
tion policies and facilitating people to commute by pub-
lic transportation services.
18. The Western European Transportation
Several transportation models adopted in European coun-
tries have been successful in alleviating traffic jams in
the main urban areas. For example, the cities of Bergen
in Norway have successfully decreased traffic by 7%
with the introduction of a Kr. 5 ($ 0.80) toll per vehicle,
per day, for entering the city center. A similar approach
in Oslo minimally reduced traffic by 3% despite a higher
Kr. 10 ($ 1.60) per day, per car [82]. In Singapore, a simi-
lar approach successfully reduced traffic congestion. The
low rate of success in Oslo may be attributable to lower
price elasticities, due to the lack of transportation alter-
natives available to the motorists for long-distance trips.
In Central London, a charge of $ 1.00 per day reduced
automobile traffic by 45% and increased speeds by 40%,
and the benefits were estimated at $ 50 million per year.
Approximately, 15% of the revenues were used to pay
for the enforcement and administration of the plan. This
improvement in traffic reduction was possible with the
reinforcement of other policy improvements such as rail
infrastructure, bus service, park and ride provisions, and
environmental traffic management [82]. The 40% de-
crease in car traffic has resulted in reduced fuel con-
sumption and a 15% reduction in carbon dioxide emis-
sions. However, the introduction of such a system raises
the question of how to equip vehicles with a levy system
to ensure payment [83], as well as issues of privacy and
freedom of travel [84]. Low income travelers supported
the idea of charging taxes to private vehicle owners [85].
Other measures that can be applied to control traffic
include: 1) parking control, 2) physical reallocation of
road space, and 3) regulatory controls using permits or
other restrictions on car use. The practice of reallocating
road space to other users, such as buses, failed in Not-
tingham, UK, in 1975 due in part to an increase in the
cost of bus travel [86]. Yet in several Italian cities, grant
permits were needed to enter certain zones, and in Ath-
ens, Greece, an “odds and evens” scheme was implemented
in which odd-numbered cars were allowed into the city
center on alternate days of the week and even-numbered
cars on the others. Such schemes can, in principle, achieve
any pre-specified reduction in car use. However, there
are possibilities of producing fraudulent permits, and a
simple scheme such as “odds and evens” is not guaran-
teed to allocate road space to those who most need it. In
Nepal, when government car plates are converted into
private plates and vice versa, such an “even and odd”
number approach could fail easily. Athens also adopted a
complex traffic checking process using electronic barri-
ers in which a machine would detect a certain vehicle
and would raise a barrier to stop a car from crossing into
a certain area without paying a levy [87].
Given the unruly state of the Kathmandu Valley, where
almost every day roads are jammed as the result of a
minor car accident or political demonstrations, the mod-
els discussed above may not work without maintaining
strict law and order. In the late 1970s, a ring road was
built in the core peripheral areas, which at first reduced
core area traffic. Currently, almost all of the areas of the
old ring road are filled with new structures. The opening
of a new ring road in the hinterlands of the Kathmandu
Valley (Figure 15) may help to alleviate the Valley’s
core congestion problems for now, but the situation may
very well repeat itself unless other regulatory measures
are implemented. Significant changes in regulatory power,
including 3D methodological assessment and enforcing
building codes to ensure optimal road development is a
recommended forward-looking policy. Such an approach
would create the opportunity for the gentrification of neig-
hborhoods, urban renewal, mixed land use development,
and restoration of heritage sites.
19. Conclusions
In this paper, we have: 1) analyzed the spatial arrange-
ments of houses in the Kathmandu Valley and identified
areas with high, medium and low risks, based on the spa-
tial arrangements of houses; 2) visualized urban ensem-
bles in 3D views for some selected urban areas and ex-
plained how these crowded cities with sub-standard
houses may prove fatal, if there is a disaster similar to
the earthquake of 1934 and/or similar to that of Haiti in
January, 2010; 3) analyzed the accessibility scenarios to
different locations and found that many of the housing
unts are not accessible by emergency vehicles; and d) i
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. JGIS
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. JGIS
Figure 15. Proposed ring road in the Kathmandu Valley to depopulate ur ban core.
explained the merits and demerits of 2D and 3D data
models to visualize transportation networks and a 3D road
network to undertake vulnerability analysis. We conclude
that without improving housing spatial distribution and
the transportation network, urban vulnerabilities are likely
to increase. In summary, we have identified vulnerabili-
ties; second, we have analyzed divergent perspectives on
urban vulnerability in order to test related theories and
hypotheses to improve our understanding of the linkage
among various urban ensembles and vulnerabilities; third,
we have explained how important it is to work for inte-
grated solutions to alleviate urban congestion; and fourth,
our approach of 3D visualization of urban ensembles
should help to accurately evaluate and quickly imple-
ment emergency response plans to reduce the risks to the
affected urban populations following a natural disaster.
Developing geospatial data in 3D will help to analyze
emergency situations, and also offers spatial analytical
and modeling capabilities to facilitate better planning and
decision-making. We believe our paper’s approach will
lead to a better understanding of the dynamic nature of
urban ensembles in such overcrowded urban core areas
like the Kathmandu Valley, and will add to the spa-
tial-scientific evidence that is necessary to improve plan-
ning and the implementation of solutions. One methodo-
logical limitation of this research, discovered while con-
ducting our 3D data analyses, is that we were unable to
accurately locate all objects/evacuees at certain specific
locations, because GPS does not work efficiently within
multi-level structures due to degradation or loss of signal
in certain areas/parts of such buildings and locations.
In our future research we will attempt to address this
methodological conundrum.
In this paper, we have: 1) analyzed the spatial ar-
rangements of houses in the Kathmandu Valley and
identified areas with high, medium and low risks, based
on the spatial arrangements of houses; 2) visualized ur-
ban ensembles in 3D views for some selected urban areas
and explained how these crowded cities with sub-standard
houses may prove fatal, if there is a disaster similar to
the earthquake of 1934 and/or similar to that of Haiti in
January, 2010; 3) analyzed the accessibility scenarios to
different locations and found that many of the housing
units are not accessible by emergency vehicles; and 4)
explained the merits and demerits of 2D and 3D data
models to visualize transportation networks and a 3D
road network to undertake vulnerability analysis. We
conclude that without improving housing spatial distri-
bution and the transportation network, urban vulnerabili-
ties are likely to increase. In summary, we have identi-
fied vulnerabilities; second, we have analyzed divergent
perspectives on urban vulnerability in order to test re-
lated theories and hypotheses to improve our understand-
ing of the linkage among various urban ensembles and
vulnerabilities; third, we have explained how important it
is to work for integrated solutions to alleviate urban con-
gestion; and fourth, our approach of 3D visualization of
urban ensembles should help to accurately evaluate and
quickly implement emergency response plans to reduce
the risks to the affected urban populations following a
natural disaster. Developing geospatial data in 3D will
help to analyze emergency situations, and also offers
spatial analytical and modeling capabilities to facilitate
better planning and decision-making. We believe our pa-
per’s approach will lead to a better understanding of the
dynamic nature of urban ensembles in such overcrowded
urban core areas like the Kathmandu Valley, and will
add to the spatial-scientific evidence that is necessary to
improve planning and the implementation of solutions.
One methodological limitation of this research, discov-
ered while conducting our 3D data analyses, is that we
were unable to accurately locate all objects/evacuees at
certain specific locations, because GPS does not work
efficiently within multi-level structures due to degrada-
tion or loss of signal in certain areas/parts of such build-
ings and locations. In our future research we will attempt
to address this methodological conundrum.
20. Acknowledgements
This research was supported by the University Research
Grant from the Office of Sponsored Programs and the
College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at the
University of Central Missouri (19-SU003). Special thanks
go to Prof. Nanda R. Shrestha for his insightful guidance
during the formative phases of this research. Dr. Darlene
Budd deserves special thanks for her initial comments on
sociopolitical and demographic aspects that helped to sh-
ape this research. We want to thank to Prof. David Rice of
the Center for Teaching and Learning, University of Cen-
tral Missouri for his encouragement and support in soft-
ware and data acquisition.
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