A Dream or Distant Reality?

With many Indian cities acquiring the shape and size of mega cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Pune or Kolkata and presenting the typical Indian urban chaos, there is an urgent need felt for creating ‘green cities’

Most Indian cities today look brown in colour. Many urbanisation experts or researchers in the field call them ‘modern brown city’.  What is a brown city? Or for that matter what is a green city?

Since the advent of modern urban planning and architecture, the effort has always been to create such habitable towns or cities that are liveable, safe for its citizens, full of clean environment with abundance of water and fresh air. Such cities were invariably green cities although no such terminology of ‘green cities’ was in vogue, say 50 years ago. It’s when urban planning began succumbing to political and demographic pressures in the late 90s that the cities turned ‘brown’ from what they were.

The definition of the city is a complex one yet it can safely be defined as: “a City is not just a land occupied by men, machines and buildings that promote essential activities for human survival but it is a place to work, relax and happily live…a city composes of various types of buildings for individual, industrial and social use, open spaces, wetlands, roads, vehicles, people, trees, animals, birds, air and all that.”

However, with the explosion of urbanisation in late 90, and with Indian cities being increasingly touted as “growth engines” both, by Governments and international agencies with vested interests, the rural-urban migration patterns underwent complete change, throwing new challenges to policy makers and city managers. In the specific context of India, the last six decades saw the gradual but definite collapse of rural development agenda.

Hundreds and thousands of crores of rupees were spent under successive five years plans by the Planning Commission, State Governments and Union Rural Development Ministry to develop rural India. But to no avail! A systematic killing of Indian villages happened and in turn posed serious problems for the urban planners, demographers and economists. What is unfortunate is that no one really wants to accept the reality that India’s rural development road map has proved to be a complete disaster. In the absence of proper roads, electricity, schools, hospitals and employment opportunities, that small beautiful ‘Indian Village’ died an unnatural death. But no requiem was ever written for it, no one cried for the poor villages that died one after the other.

This phenomenon brought an unnecessary and unnatural burden on Indian cities which were green, peaceful and happy places of habitation. Now with many Indian cities acquiring the shape and size of mega cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Pune or Kolkata and presenting the typical Indian urban chaos, there is an urgent need felt for creating ‘green cities’. In these days of climate change discussions, special focus is now being given in official discourses and policy planning on making cities liveable. Rapid speed of urbanisation is now a serious worry not only of urban planners and architects but also of environmentalists who are demanding that a city be sustainable and environment friendly.

At the time of writing this piece, India had just submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to the UNFCCC in the run-up to the Paris CoP-21. Many commitments in the Indian INDCs aim at bringing in green elements in India’s overall living pattern. India is swearing by its ‘traditional pattern’ of living while pitching itself against the carbon emitting rich western countries.

In other words, if India, under the global pressure, adopts environment- friendly strategies in protecting forests, using sustainable transportation systems, promoting energy efficient building system designs, encouraging public transport, conserving water and protecting natural habitats or using renewable energy options, it would help curb the global warming challenge. Since an increasing number of Indians are going to make a city their permanent abode in the coming years, planners have seriously started talking about green cities. But creating a green city is not an easy task due to multiple challenges which are historical in nature as also reasons that are economic. A recent publication by Pune-based NGO Mitra-Mission for Transformation of Urban Area has underlined the need to decentralise urbanisation by creating 1000 green cities. The study emphasises on the need to go back to Indian traditional life style and to adopt green architecture while erecting new building structures. In the mid-sixties and seventies, both Pune and Bangalore were considered garden cities with much smaller population and large tracts of greenery still intact there. But both have dramatically changed with the influx of IT professionals. The old planning choices were abandoned soon. The new population pressures changed the face of these two cities.

Chandigarh, in contrast, is called a green city. Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh is also dubbed as a green city due to its inherent natural gifts of hills and large water bodies, broad roads, much smaller population and planned green patches left open by the then planner, Late M N Buch. Chandigarh, India’s first planned city was designed by the famous urban planner Le Corbusier as a green city. The basic units of planning were changed by Le Corbusier, the Swiss born French architect, invited by Pandit Nehru. He introduced a different architecture design with more openness, and based the city on the neighbourhood concept of city within a city. Chandigarh boasts of a massive reserved forest situated on the south-west of the city which serves as an air purifier and Carbon Sink. The public buildings that he built were done with the principles of green architecture.

So, today why is the ‘Smart Cities’ project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi being implemented across India? Because there is a need to make cities environmentally clean and green, adopting energy, construction and transport technologies which are sustainable. Only then would the smart cities be called green cities.

More than smart cities, India today really needs green cities with large water sources, tree cover and much less industrial and vehicular pollution. Green cities should not remain a dream but should become a reality!

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