Focus on bridges, roads, buildings and other urban infrastructure to improve public amenities and municipal service delivery system at the cost of urban environment is fundamentally erroneous and a step in the wrong direction. The government at all levels must take appropriate actions to maintain a balance between the green and grey infrastructure to guarantee healthier and liveable cities for urban habitants.
Ensuring that our cities remain sustainable, buzzing and keep moving to a prosperous future, without negatively impacting their ecosystems, is a challenge. The requirement of energy in cities is significantly higher in comparison to rural areas because of a range of urban activities required to run cities. These activities add burden on existing urban ecosystem and increase carbon footprint. Despite this, urban governments have not given appropriate importance to building adequate safeguards to mitigate the effects of rapid urbanisation and climate change.
Many developed countries in the West are already predominantly urban and urbanisation is taking placeat a fast pace in developing countries. Most of these countries, in Asia and Africa, will see an exponential urban population growth in next couple of decades. This throws up a challenge of accommodating increasing population in existing and new cities.
According to a recent World Bank study, urban population growth is likely to result in a significant loss of non-urban land as built environments expand into their surroundings. Cities in developing countries are expected to triple their land area between 2005 and 2030, with each new city dweller converting an average of 160 square metres of non-urban land to urban land. It is evident that the cities will have to expand their land area and invest hugely on infrastructure. It will result in loss of urban forestry and existing natural ecosystems. Recently a bench of justices Badar Durrez Ahmed and Ashutosh Kumar of Delhi High Court commented: “If trees were included in electoral roll as voters, then they would remain”. They underlined that a huge number of trees have been felled by local authorities like Delhi Metro, for projects and by encroachers, like in the Asola sanctuary. All of us should mull over the serious effects of cutting trees and resolve to bring about improvement in natural safeguards in urban centers. Building and maintaining green infrastructure in cities can balance development and sustainability.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the preservation and restoration of natural landscapes (such as forests, floodplains and wetlands) are critical components of green infrastructure. Green infrastructure is a cost-effective, resilient approach to managing wet weather impacts that provides many community benefits. While single-purpose gray storm water infrastructure—conventional piped drainage and water treatment systems—is designed to move urban storm water away from the built environment, green infrastructure reduces and treats storm water at its source while delivering environmental, social, and economic benefits
There are many components of green infrastructure and urban forestry is just one of them. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the preservation and restoration of natural landscapes (such as forests, floodplains and wetlands) are other critical components of green infrastructure. Green infrastructure is a cost-effective, resilient approach to managing wet weather impacts that provides many community benefits. While single-purpose gray storm water infrastructure—conventional piped drainage and water treatment systems—is designed to move urban storm water away from the built environment, green infrastructure reduces and treats storm water at its source while delivering environmental, social, and economic benefits.
The planning and management of a city always affects how city systems encroach upon the natural system or use natural resources. If an industrial city has not taken into consideration the treating of waste water being generated from its industries, it will lead to spoiling its water bodies such as rivers and lakes. In the long run, the uncontrolled industrial activities would also affect its ground water and in turn water supply. This is quite evident in cities like Kanpur and Agra where industrial activities have polluted its water bodies. Cities must be held responsible for maintaining the natural resources on which they rely on and prosper. Another example is uncontrolled urban sprawl in Chennai wetlands. It damaged the natural water drainage and led to terrible floods in the city in November 2015. Protecting and improving green infrastructure is as important as building bridges, roads, dams and other public utilities.
Governments at the centre formulate policies for implementing projects but local leadership, public consciousness and the impact of the project on the lives of local populace will always be decisive in making it a success. The requirement of people and urban environment in different cities would always vary for different reasons. Local leadership need to channelize the resources and capacities to achieve the objectives as envisioned and make sure that the outcomes serve local needs.
Officers and elected representatives of urban local bodies need to keep themselves updated with the successful projects in the domain to bring about affirmative changes in the minds of their staff and also citizens. Studies suggest that a single large healthy tree can remove greater than 300 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year. Why can’t urban local bodies play a pro-active role in encouraging people to plant more trees? They can come up with innovative ideas like incentives to Resident Welfare Associations to maintain public places with trees.
Cities need to chart out their priorities in infrastructure and look around what solutions have worked and what have not. Public engagements have also worked in this regard and borne good results. A case in point is the High Line Project of New York city.
High Line Project: New York
Following decades-long growth in the interstate trucking industry in the USA, the last train ran on the High Line in 1980. The elevated railway line became obsolete. According to Friends of High Line, a community that manages and generates funds for maintaining High Line Project, a group of property owners lobbies for demolition while Peter Obletz, a Chelsea resident, activist, and railroad enthusiast, challenges demolition efforts in court. To advocate for the High Line’s preservation and reuse as public open space, Friends of the High Line was founded by Joshua David and Robert Hammond in 1999.
The High Line project in New York captured the public’s imagination and helped redefine and globally influence what urban green space can be. It demonstrates how a city can positively utilise obsolete city infrastructure and also how a project of this scale can be successfully managed by the local community. At present, Friends of the High Line raises 98% of the High Line’s annual budget. There are several other examples of the different ways in which infrastructure services can be delivered that allow for eco-efficiencies and social inclusiveness.