During the novel coronavirus pandemic, momentarily we do have witnessed an outflow of people from the bigger cities to suburban and rural areas. But now this trend is reversing and urban occupancy is rebounding. The need for housing with adequate amenities in the cities is growing fast. The government and the industry are struggling in keeping up the pace to fulfil the increasing demand for sustainable urban housing.
New job opportunities and natural population increase is making people move to the cities, thereby putting enormous stress on the shared resources which are getting translated into an additional burden on the cities. To name a few, it has resulted in the concretisation of cities, increases in greenhouse gas emissions, declining water table, etc.
Climate change, urban emissions and declining green spaces in the cities is throwing challenges on cities infrastructure and is asking for immediate remedial action and timely course correction to avoid the situation from getting out of hand.
Why do we need green spaces in the cities?
- To mitigate the effect of Pollution: It can help to reduce a phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect, which refers to heat trapped in built-up areas. Increased temperatures in summer lead to an increased demand for cooling.
The urban heat island effect appears in towns and cities as a result of human activity. The heat generated by people, transport, shops and industry is trapped in the narrow roads and concrete structures, unable to escape to the atmosphere. This can bring the temperature in urban areas up 3-4°C higher than the surrounding countryside.
- Crucial for Community Health: Green spaces are good for human health and they are crucial for community health. Research shows that cities with healthy community forests are more resilient. Cities gain from the environmental, social and economic benefits of urban trees and green spaces when it is part of overall planning and infrastructure.
- Avoid Flooding & Degradation of Water Quality:
- The impermeable materials used for roads and pavements mean that rain is not absorbed and remains on the surface, which results in flooding.
- High levels of surface water run-off are that rainwater washes pollutants away from the surfaces it falls onto, transporting them into watercourses.
- Wildlife and Habitats: Cities are considered to host a less diverse range of
plants, animals and birds than nearby rural areas. However, green spaces
within an urban area can be home to many of the same species that are more
commonly associated with rural settings.
Fear of Urban Collapse: NITI Aayog in its report on “Reforms in Urban Planning Capacity in India” (September 2021), cites the COVID-19 pandemic as a revelatory moment that underscores the dire need for all cities to become healthy cities by 2030. Climate impacts are certain to affect cities even more fundamentally and permanently. NITI Aayog recommends the following approaches:
- Participatory planning mechanism
- Surveys and focus group discussions to assess the needs and aspirations of citizens
- Implementation of technological tools
- Bringing private-sector talent and mapping strategies to identify a city’s assets and to plan spatially.
Possible ways to make green spaces available:
- Green roofs: Adding a layer of vegetation to rooftops and creating green roofs has proven to reduce the urban heat island effect. Greenery on our roofs would both reduce surface temperature and serve as insulation for the structures below, reducing the energy needed to heat and cool the buildings.
- Miniature Forests-Planting Trees in streets: By increasing the diversity of trees on our streets we can create miniature forests. This has already started to be implemented in cities like Singapore, where they are mixing human structures with many different tree species.
Democratising our green spaces: Access to green spaces isn't a universal phenomenon, rather it is getting more of a luxury nowadays to a few. It can be a driver of inequality in our societies. A 2008, Lancet study has shown link between income inequality, access to green spaces and life expectancy. In rural areas with plenty of access to green spaces, the life expectancy of those on the highest and lowest incomes was roughly the same. But the gap is staggering in an urban setup.
- Affordable green housing: At the moment it is more expensive to live in high-quality urban areas, with good access to nature. Due to the demand-supply gap housing cost goes up. It is a kind of green gentrification. Comprehensive work needs to be done in this area to make green housing affordable.
Green gentrification is the process by which environmental greening leads to increases in perceived local desirability that result in higher property values and rents.
- Big data analytics-Open Metering: Collecting real-time electricity data for the household to enable big data analytics for the grid. It can improve customer awareness of their electricity consumption habits and favour more efficient and sustainable consumption models.
- Need for Functional Master plans: Less than half of all cities have master plans, and even these are ruled by informality, since both influential elites and the poor encroach upon commons resources differently, so carving remedial action plans on a case-to-case basis becomes important.
ROLE OF GOVERNMENT:
Evaluation of Greenness of Building:
- Green Building Codes: There are green building codes such as the NBC (National Building Code). Green building code in India defines all the specifications that a developer can adhere to qualify a project for Green-certification.
- Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (GRIHA): is recognised as India’s own green building rating system in India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
- Efficiency’s Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC): Its purpose is to provide minimum requirements for the energy-efficient design and construction of buildings. The implementation of the Bureau of Energy Efficiency’s Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) has not been uniform across the country.
- Improving air and habitation quality in cities (SDG 11). Policymakers are now realising that urbanisation is set to accelerate and so is the need for green spaces in the cities. There is still an inadequate understanding of the need to plan for urbanisation. It poses Indian cities not only challenge but also dismantles Sustainable Development Goals SDG 11.
- By 2030, India is expected to be home to 6 mega-cities with populations above 10 million. Currently, 17% of India’s urban population lives in slums.
Sustainable development Goal (SDG) 11: Making cities sustainable means creating career and business opportunities, safe and affordable housing, and building resilient societies and economies. It involves investment in public transport, creating green public spaces, and improving urban planning and management in participatory and inclusive ways.
Net Zero Carbon Cities Initiative:
- The implementation of India’s commitments, to achieve net-zero by 2070 was made at the 6th Conference of Parties (COP-26) at Glasgow. It may seem a long way off, given the timeline but actions have to begin now. Major transformations will be needed in many spheres.
- Buildings must be designed to use less energy. Cities will have to take multiple and coordinated, actions to reduce carbon emissions. Accelerating the use of clean and renewable energy.
Reducing emission to nearly half by 2030: panchamrita (five-fold strategy)
- India will get its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 gigawatts (GW) by 2030
- India will meet 50 per cent of its energy requirements from renewable energy by 2030
- India will reduce the total projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes from now onwards till 2030
- By 2030, India will reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by less than 45 per cent
- So, by the year 2070, India will achieve the target of Net Zero
Smart Cities Mission:
- It envisages technological advancements of our cities to improve governance, sustainability and disaster risk resilience.
- It sought to improve energy efficiency and non-motorised transport capacity in urban centres.
Sustainable Land Management:
- Climate change cannot be mitigated only through greening and reversing land degradation. This will have to be coupled with sustainable land management strategies.
Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC):
- India plans to reduce its emissions intensity by 33 - 35% between 2005 and 2030. To this effect, it is focusing on accelerating the use of clean and renewable energy by 40% by 2030, and on promoting the efficient use of energy.
Revising 74th Constitution Amendment:
- It has been around 30 years since the Twelfth Schedule was enacted. The twelfth schedule was added by the 74th amendment act of 1992. It contains the powers, authority and responsibilities of Municipalities.
- With new challenges and the changed priorities of the cities, the vision of local governing bodies needs to evolve. It must mandate at least functions impacting the sustainable developmental goals, such as the provision for governance of urban amenities and facilities like parks, gardens and playgrounds.
“Sustainable cities or green spaces amounts to giving up some control of our surroundings- but for our long-term benefit.” We need to get used to letting go and try not to manage everything. India doesn’t need flashy retrofitted ‘smart’ enclosures but sound, functional metropolitan cities that can handle floods, heatwaves, pollution and mass mobility to insulate the growth momentum of Indian economy from fading away.