The rapid growth of our cities, as well as the evolution of our production methods, have had a significant impact on how the urban world has evolved. It is estimated that by 2050, 66 percent of the global population will be living in cities, up from 54 percent now (UNEP, 2018). This means that 2.4 billion people could be added to the world's urban population. The growing popularity of the dispersed city model in the twentieth century not only contrasted sharply with earlier, more compact cities of the nineteenth century, but also had a negative impact on infrastructure and resources.
Some of the issues are the deterioration of liveability,challenges related to waste management, scarce resources, air pollution and traffic congestion, which cause human health concerns, as well as ageing public infrastructure are some of the problems generated by rapid urbanization. In response, growth solutions with less environmental impact were sought out.
What is a Green City?
Green cities promote sustainable lifestyles for their residents and provide resources to make it possible. Green cities are intended to take an active role in combating climate change and being environmentally friendly.Green cities frequently have recycling programmes, bike lanes, and community parks, as well as stringent water quality standards. This enthusiasm for "green cities" contrasts sharply with traditional views of nature as the polar opposite of culture and thus having no place in the city. The conventional wisdom held that the only ecosystems worthy of preservation could be found outside of cities, in national parks and wilderness areas.
Vienna, Austria- Over 50% of the city is made up of green areas. Almost half of the city’s inhabitants use public transport religiously. Vienna’s city-planning strategy has allowed for an abundance of city parks, walking paths around the city, and a national park on the outskirts of the town.
Madrid, Spain- Madrid is one of the world’s greenest capitals, since the city made large investments in infrastructure that allowed for the mingling of architectural attractions and plant life. Most of Madrid’s leisure activities take an environmentally-friendly spin – like solar-powered tour boats, and walking and biking tours. There are plans to upgrade 100% of Madrid’s street lights to become more energy efficient. This will add up to an energy saving of more than 40%.
Sustainable urban development and urban space development are critical not only for the natural environment, but also as an urgent need to improve urban dwellers' quality of life. A variety of important roles that urban green spaces play influence the quality of life in cities. Green spaces in the city context contribute to a more sustainable city and the improvement of its environment to a greater extent. On a global scale, the United Nations promotes the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the environment, and improve the lives and prospects of all people. In The importance of urban sustainability is articulated in the UN sustainability goal number 11: Sustainable cities and communities. A part of this goal stresses the “creating of green public spaces” which cannot be achieved without significantly transforming the way we build and manage our urban spaces.
Features of a Green City:
While all models of green cities aren't similar and each varies according to different requirements and contexts, some of the common and general elements in most of the green cities include-
Low levels of environmental and climate change impact: Developing cities that recycle, manage waste in innovative ways and use renewable energy resources.
Inclusive development and engaged residents: City planning that includes all residents, including the poor and disadvantaged, and mechanisms for people to affect the decisions being made about how their city is developed and managed.
Resilience to disasters and other shocks: City planning and development that anticipates the impact of natural hazards and helps keep people safe and infrastructure intact.
Cultural and historic preservation: The recognition of the value of a city’s cultural heritage and history, and city planning that incorporates these elements.
Green space and walkability: Moving away from developing cities around roads and automobile traffic and creating vehicle free areas.
Concept of green cities in India and policy imperatives-
The unprecedented surge of extreme weather events in India—such as drought, cyclones, forest fires, heatwaves and floods—have been directly linked to climate change, induced by greenhouse gas emissions through the use of fossil fuels and aerosols, and changes in land use and land cover. Existing urban infrastructure will need to be reinforced and made resilient to the anticipated population growth and withstand future shocks and calamities expected as outcomes of climate change. Sustainable water management through blue interventions and investment in green infrastructure can help build climate resilience.
Green infrastructure was first mentioned in an early discussion on India’s environmental policy in the Fourth Five Year Plan (1964-69), which merely called environmental protection an important ideology of a healthy life and mentioned how countries around the world were impacted by environmental issues. Yet, the environment ministry was formed only a decade later in 1980. Several issues have since come under its ambit, such as controlling air and water pollution, and preserving forests, mangroves and other natural resources. Rechristened as the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change in 2014, it remains the central point for planning, monitoring and implementing policies pertaining to environment and climate, while the Ministry of Water Resources and Ganga Development oversees India’s national water resources (the country’s blue infrastructure).
In 2008, India formulated the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) in response to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the UN’s ‘Green Economy Initiative’. The initiative listed out the macroeconomic, sustainability and poverty reduction implications of green investment in sectors like renewable energy and sustainable agriculture, and also provided guidance on catalysing increased investment in these areas. The NAPCC includes 12 missions—National Mission for Green India; National Solar Mission; National Water Mission; National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture; National Mission on Sustainable Habitat; National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency; National Mission for Himalayan Ecosystem; National Mission on Strategic Knowledge on Climate Change; National Wind Mission; Mission on Health (to deal with climate change impacts on human health); National Coastal Mission; and the Waste-to-Energy Mission. The missions dealing with sustainable habitat, water, and agriculture and forestry are multisectoral, overlapping and multi-departmental in nature.
Institutional, systemic and process barriers—including financial constraints, inter-ministerial coordination, lack of technical expertise and project clearance delays—are major challenges in the efficient implementation of the missions.Additionally, there is “little synergy among the missions, which are still being viewed in terms of portfolios of ministries operating in different domains, and this will impact the ability to implement the policies”.
Crucially, the success of these missions is pegged to the achievements of the panchayats, councils and municipal corporations. Effective decentralisation and functional division are crucial to the success of these programmes. The prevalent top-down approach does not create enough capacity nor provide guidelines (especially related to funds, training and technological knowhow) to be followed by state governments to help the local bodies implement the missions.
In addition to the NAPCC, India has two national flagship projects—the Smart Cities Mission and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT)—focused on improving urban living and that include blue and green components as part of the mission intention. AMRUT works on issues of water supply, sanitation and green space upgradation, while the Smart Cities Mission works on solutions like sanitation, water supply, preserving open spaces and improving the quality of life of citizens.
The Indian government has unveiled a concept note that envisages the creation of a green city in every state where all the power requirements are met by renewable energy. The concept note also looks at combining all existing renewable energy programmes including ones dealing with solar street lights, rooftop solar, electric vehicles or waste to energy. The government is hoping that this will also help promote the solar rooftop programme, which has not taken off in India.
Some of the existing frameworks and examples are-
IGBC Green Cities rating system is a voluntary and consensus based programme. The rating system has been developed with the support of IGBC Green Cities Committee.IGBC Green Cities rating system is the first of its kind rating in India to address environmental sustainability in emerging cities. The rating system shall enable the development authorities and developers to apply green concepts and planning principles, so as to reduce environmental impacts that are measurable and improve the overall quality of life.
In 2018, The Government of India, AFD and the European Union launched the City Investments To Innovate, Integrate and Sustain (CITIIS) program, a challenge process that called on cities around India to submit their proposals of how they would become the country’s next smart cities. Some of the chosen cities were-
The project put forward by Amritsar Smart City Limited (ASCL) is dedicated to revamping the public transport system. Their main objectives are to introduce more e-vehicles and “smart cards”, provide a feeder network for last mile connectivity, and digitize the public transport system. This will not only bring down costs and make public transport more accessible for both residents and visitors, but also benefit Amritsar’s environment in the long run.
In order to increase Surat’s green cover and usable open spaces, the Surat Smart City Development Limited (SSCDL) proposed the winning idea of turning the city’s wastelands into an attractive biodiversity park. Not only will this clean up swathes of open spaces and turn them into flora and fauna habitats, but it will also provide a location for a public park. Moreover, the project will create and connect ponds, and help in the regulation and retention of rainwater.
Urbanization is an unavoidable and important component of development, and it is regarded as a key driver of the modern economy. As a developing country leader, Indian cities cannot afford to be an outlier in terms of urban growth and development. Activities aimed at reducing negative environmental externalities and their impact on natural resources and environmental services as an important aspect of green growth have become essential for city planners and managers in order to maintain a delicate balance between development and the environment.
One of the major challenges influencing urban green space is the rapid loss and fragmentation of both public and private green space as a result of densification-induced activities. Furthermore, activities such as infill development and redevelopment of land, combined with the real estate boom and skyrocketing land values, always force a citizen to prioritise economic benefits over green space. These factors, combined with a lack of necessary policy support, priority, and funds, render urban green space issues insignificant and ineffective. Citizens' lack of concern, combined with official laxity in strictly enforcing regulations related to the preservation of green cover, exacerbates an already dire situation. A reexamination of these factors may aid in reorienting our strategy.
The concept of green cities is relatively new, but many global cities have already begun the transition, driven by exacerbating climate impacts and events. While the green infrastructure concept has found some acceptance in India, the country must also consider including blue infrastructure in its sustainability transition. It is important to combine and protect hydrological elements of the urban landscape alongside the ecological while planning for adaptation and resilience.