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Urban Greens – A Critical Agenda
Dr Rituparna Sengupta
University of Calcutta
Globally, urban areas are growing at an alarming pace. In fact, it is expected that by 2030 almost five billion people will live in urban areas, which would amount to 60% of the projected global population of 8.3 billion. As a direct consequence of such accelerated urban growth, there is increasing pressure on urban areas leading to the urban greens in cities being diminished even though they are the lungs of cities.
Urban Greens...a necessity
Green area plays a pivotal role in improving urban environment, such as preserving water and soil, controlling temperature and humidity of air, preventing pollution, flood prevention, functioning as buffers between incompatible land uses, preserving natural habitat and providing space for recreation.
Globally, it is being realised that just as urban areas need to upgrade their ‘grey-infrastructure’ (roads, sewers, flyovers, etc.), so too they need to expand their ‘green infrastructure’ (avenue trees, parks etc.).
It is the same story in India. Urban areas in the country are facing excessive population along with the pressure of unplanned economic development, industrialisation and vehicular emissions leading to a steady decrease in urban greens. An environment sustainability index has ranked India as one of the worst polluters, rating it 101 of 146 countries when assessed on parameters like air pollution, biodiversity and water quality. The ‘How green is your country’ index was produced by a team of environmental experts at Yale and Columbia universities and released at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, 2005. Needless to say the main contributors to India’s high pollution level has been its growing metropolitan cities, Kolkata being an important one. In an independent doctoral research, the author analysed this basic research problem of the tremendous impact of urban greens on the urban environment and the resultant problems in the face of their threat by unprecedented urban growth. The study has been done of Kolkata, the second megacity (Kolkata) of India, an important developing nation (India) of the world.
The study gauged the environmental perception of urban green space of Kolkata citizens. Considering the ‘fluid’ nature of the environmental image, the study has made attempts to analyse the citizens’ perception in both qualitative and quantitative manner. Primary data was collected from the citizens of Kolkata. An exercise was conducted to elaborate the development of a reliable instrument to tap the dimensions of citizen attitudes toward urban green spaces. A novel approach integrating collaborative GIS techniques and informal interviews generated complementary insights about the spatial and non-spatial factors influencing attitude towards urban green spaces.
The urban green of Kolkata was also analysed in quantitative terms through a spatial analysis at the time of the research 2000-2001 as well as a decadal temporal analysis between 1951-2001 to represent a comparative analysis.
Over the years, Kolkata has grown in an unplanned manner. In the post-independence years of latter half of twentieth century, the city has grown in the southern part. This was primarily to accommodate huge influx of refugees from East Pakistan (presently Bangladesh). The arrival of refugees left no time or opportunity for any land-use planning. A major planned development of the Eastern areas covered by Salt Lakes was done later in the twentieth century, by filling up the Salt Lake. After partition and refugee influx- the informal sector in service, commerce and industry have experienced a spiralling growth in the city.
Consequently the green space distribution in the study area is largely disparate. In recent times,the entire North and Central Kolkata has become covered with residential, commercial and mixed residential-commercial land use leaving very little room for any significant amount of urban greens. These areas are the oldest parts of the city which have developed from the time of its growth and development under British rule. The biggest breather around Central Kolkata remains the Maidan grounds followed by the Rabindra Sarovar. In fact temporally the pattern of green density values has been highest around the Maidan and Rabindra Sarovar consistently from 1951 to 2001.
Spatially at the time of the study the southern, south eastern and eastern fringes of the city have a more generous share of green space. These areas are new additions to the city, which have been incorporated from surrounding non-built up areas and so have not been invaded by built-up space in the proportion the older parts of the city have witnessed. In fact some of the southern and eastern fringes have significant proportions of arable land.
Based on per cent of ward green area and using GIS as a tool, the entire area of Kolkata Municipal Corporation has been identified in four green zones. (Refer Map: Kolkata 2001 Green Zones). Maximum parts of the city have been identified in the Low Green Zone (0-10% ward green area). Parts of bordering areas on the east and west parts of the city have been identified as Medium Green Zone (10%-20% ward green area). These wards are parts of areas which have lesser built up area compared to the core city. The High Green Zone (20%-40% ward green area) is observed around South Kolkata. The main concentration of the High green zone has been around The Rabindra Sarovar area. Finally a small area of the city around the Maidan and patches in bordering wards in south Kolkata recorded formed the Very High Green Zone (>40% ward green area).
The relative concentrations of major polluting industries in Kolkata in 2001 were also identified. The low polluting industries were observed in the south, east and west bordering wards of the city where the high green zones were observed. Conversely the high polluting zone was observed in the low green zone area.
The individual green assets (plants on terrace, terrace garden, indoor plants, private garden/lawns et al) must be encouraged and enhanced in a large scale in the Low Green Zone and Medium Green Zone (older parts of the city). In these zones especially Kolkata faces a space crunch when it comes to planting new trees, which is why it is also difficult to plant new saplings. Hence the focus has to shift to the household green assets. Detailed environmental policy must be formulated and implemented for the household level. This exercise may be emulated in other Indian Metropolitan cities.
- The maintenance of parks and gardens should receive much more attention with active participation from the citizens themselves. One of the greatest factors is active participation from the residents themselves. Apart from residents, students from educational institutions in the neighbourhood may be truly encouraged to play an active role in the maintenance of the green space. Environmental policies may be formulated which actually join hands with the educational institutions and make these activities a joyful yet compulsory activity for the students. The perception study has already shown the students are the most enthusiastic section of citizens.
- Data of the number of trees felled and the location and reason for doing so may be made available to all citizens on a regular basis from a common platform like the media. This would make them aware of the loss and inspire them to contribute for the regeneration of the same. Also there would be a fair evaluation of the purpose of felling.
The largest hidden potential, which may be tapped in a large scale, is the individual green assets – comprising of garden, indoor plantation and terrace plantation. This potential needs to be tapped at the household level cutting across all sections of the society. Strengthening this section along with the enhancement and protection of the visible green assets with the aid of geospatial tools, enhanced community involvement and holistic urban planning will stabilise the beneficiary role of urban green space on urban environment. GIS can be an effective tool in preserving and monitoring green and open spaces in an urban area. Today, there are several instances where GIS incorporated with other data sources such as remote sensing images and aerial photographs are providing innovative and alternative solutions in the management and monitoring of urban green. GIS is widely accepted in urban landscape planning as it can provide better understanding on the spatial pattern and changes of land use in an area.
India’s Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore had said – ‘trees are earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heavens’. As urban development proceeds on the world stage let its journey proceed in partnership with its green space.
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