Over 55 % of the world’s population currently lives in urban areas—according to projections, this number will go up to 70% by 2050. Rapid urbanization coupled with a booming global population could add 416 million urban dwellers to India alone. To put it simply, one in every two Indians is expected to live in cities by 2050.
Over 55 % of the world’s population currently lives in urban areas—according to projections, this number will go up to 70% by 2050. Rapid urbanization coupled with a booming global population could add 416 million urban dwellers to India alone (Source: UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs). To put it simply, one in every two Indians is expected to live in cities by 2050.
Why should you be worried about these staggering statistics? Because cities across the world are already struggling to cope with the current inflow of people. Declining air quality, increasing pollution, lack of green cover and open spaces, traffic congestion, contaminated water sources, waste-disposal problems, and high energy consumption. If these are some of the problems you are already grappling with, bear in mind that increasing population density and demands of urban environments are sure to exacerbate these issues in the near future.
Unfortunately, ecosystems, both natural and man-made, are already in the process of being degraded, damaged or destroyed by human intervention. Therefore restoring urban ecosystems and making urban areas more liveable and truly sustainable, not just for the present population but for generations to come, is a priority that we cannot afford to ignore.
Urban Planning: A Mammoth Task
Urban megacities constantly strive to maintain a delicate balance between valuable human habitat, infrastructural and developmental projects, economic activities, and the natural resources in the city, be it open spaces, tree cover, land, rivers and lakes, and woodlands occurring in urban areas. Focusing on restoring all of these in tandem is not only ecologically and socially desirable to all species, but eventually, economically advantageous to the communities residing in the cities. However, restoring urban ecosystems, especially redevelopment and replanning a city or an urban area, requires awareness and commitment from both citizens and policymakers. For the aim of such redevelopment is not merely upgrading habitation infrastructure, but uplifting the entire living ecosystem as a whole, thereby improving the quality and standard of life. This means any new restoration or redevelopment project needs a holistic and integrated approach, always keeping the needs of the city dweller as well as long-term sustainability in mind.
Concrete Jungle Vs Clean, Green Living
Open and green spaces need to be placed at the heart of urban planning, or you run the risk of living in a concrete jungle. Focus on proper waste management and disposal will affect the health of not just residents but the ‘health’ of water bodies as well. Restoring urban green spaces can be advantageous to cities in the long-term, too, for example, by reducing property damages from extreme climate events. The Mumbai floods in 2005, deemed an ecological disaster, threw light on the importance of conserving the city’s mangrove forest cover, which acts as a natural buffer against coastal erosion and flooding, storing up to four times as much carbon as other forests. There are less tangible but equally relevant benefits of restoring urban ecosystems too. For instance, better air quality, reduced noise pollution, urban cooling, and runoff mitigation, reduced energy costs, increased property values, and lower health care costs through cleaner air and increased recreational opportunities.
Paving a sustainable way forward
While the advantages of ecological conservation are undeniable, in the urban context, it is equally important to make sure that bettering the lives of the urban city dwellers remains integral to both the process and the outcome of the restoration and redevelopment process.
The Bhendi Bazaar Redevelopment Project, India’s largest urban renewal project, is one such case in point. A century-old heavily congested area in the heart of Mumbai, replete with dense bazaars, dilapidated residential buildings, and inadequate infrastructure, has been transformed into a model sustainable urban restoration project that keeps in mind and caters to every requirement of its residents. Be it community spaces for residents, increased green cover for better health and air quality, upgraded locations for the small businesses in the area, providing renewable energy sources or efficient waste management, the ambitious project is a prime example of how urban development and ecological conservation can go hand in hand.
Unarguably, cities are a vital contributor to climate change. Over the next few decades, estimates show that urban growth will be one of the significant sources of habitat loss, not just for flora and fauna but also for humans. Interweaving sustainable changes in the processes surrounding urbanization and conservation will help create a future with a happy and healthy community of city dwellers as well as a green planet for the next generation.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house