Cities are the engine of growth, human development, creativity and innovation. Expanding eco-friendly business structures in the cities will give a basis for sustainable and circular economy models.
All countries need to focus on green cities because, per the United Nations estimates, by 2050, the urban population will increase by more than 2 billion people. Most of this migration happens in sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asian countries.
Instant urbanisation is posing a challenge to land availability. Moreover, inadequate infrastructure leads to congestion, environmental degradation and unhealthy living conditions. The irregular expansion in urban cities leads to unplanned informal settlements without affordable housing, sufficient service provision and protective infrastructure.
Dwellers in these cities will be more exposed to climate change events, natural hazards, and human-induced accidents. The incident of the Pandemic and the epidemic have affected the people living in slum areas where access to sanitation, washing of hands and social distancing are impossible.
Government has to address the challenges at the stage of urban planning, and these efforts will help the cities to harness the opportunities. Once the urban area has formed, rebuilding the whole city will not be easy. It is thus crucial to ‘get urbanisation right’ and avoid unsustainable infrastructure patterns in cities.
Graana.com in collaboration with the Iqbal Institute of Policy Studies discusses ways to integrate urban development with environmental sustainability and socio-economic aspects.
Why Does Pakistan Need Green Cities?
Green cities will improve the environment, reduce air pollution, ensure rich biodiversity, dampen noise, ensure water storage and help cool down in warm periods. In Pakistan, the urban population increased from 17.7% to 36.4% between 1951 and 2017.
The study has analysed the pattern of urban growth in the ten most populous cities, which depicted that population growth in a rural area is higher than in the urban area. With the increase in urbanisation, waste disposal and sewerage is also growing.
Due to poor urban planning, industries are located close to the urban centres, affecting the citizen health. Pakistan is the fourth most polluted country in the world out of 240 countries (AQLI, 2021). The industries are not vigilantly following the waste disposal policies and dumping material in rivers and canals, polluting drinking water. Hence, poor water quality is affecting the population’s well-being.
In May 2018, the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) reported that very little or no clean water would be available in the country (Shukla, 2018). Only 20% of the country’s population can access clean drinking water.
These figures depict that Pakistan needs green cities. The Water Aid has highlighted the five pillars of clean green Pakistan as safe drinking water, solid waste management, total sanitation and hygiene promotion, liquid waste management, and liquid waste management and tree plantation.
How to Build Green Cities?
Cities are the main centre of intensive resource demand, emission of greenhouse gas and environmental degradation. Cities can play a significant role in promoting low-carbon development, energy efficiency, green building and reducing emissions from urban transport by introducing integrated and participatory approaches and using sustainable and resilient pathways for urban development.
The Approach: Integrated, Place-based and Participatory
The investment in urban areas should consider that it is necessary to move towards a more comprehensive approach which holds efficient investment planning and prioritises it as per the need of spatial planning.
From National to Local
To implement integrated planning, local authorities and multiple levels of government involvement are indispensable. It must ensure that national environmental policies are reflected in urban plans and that national strategies should encounter urbanisation challenges.
The framing of National Urban Policies will be the key instrument for elaborating responsibilities across levels of government, ministries, and stakeholders and for integrating sustainability concerns and climate change responses, including disaster risks.
Cities and their Surrounding
The impact of climate and the environment is highly dependent on city planning and strategies. The urban planning of a city should incorporate barriers for upgrading slum areas and consider surrounding areas (urban, peri-urban and rural). Cities depend on the surroundings present around their boundaries for food, water and energy supply.
Foster Dialogue and Information Sharing
It must be mandated that all climate change and sustainability reforms must be based on data and factual information.
Use Sustainable and Resilient Pathways for Urban Development
Urban planning decisions can shape the well-being of citizens and direct urban growth. Strategic urban planning directly supports urban resilience as a tool for sustainable development. In urban planning, there are very few strategies that are exclusively addressing climate change events and efforts to mitigate them.
Low Carbon Emission Development
Reducing climate change effects and air pollution can generate new economic opportunities and improve the overall ecosystem and health of the people. It can be achieved by:
- Reducing emissions of harmful pollutants and identifying the low carbon emission options
- Decreasing the Green House Gas emission, specifically in transport, construction sector and waste management to avoid landfills
- Using low-carbon emitting vehicles.
Give Space to Nature
Cities provide a wide range of resources to the citizens apart from green spaces, i.e., vegetables, gardens, fruits etc. Restoration and conservation of the ecosystem will reduce the vulnerabilities of cities, make them more cost-effective and resilient, and increase the city’s biodiversity.
Moreover, there is a need to develop blue and green spaces to accommodate floods, treat wastewater, combat heat stress, reduce carbon, provide recreational space, biodiversity etc. Furthermore, the use of hybrid engineering can be employed where possible.
The impact of green spaces should be positive but not enhance inequality, exclusion and social vulnerability.
Apply the Circular Economy Principle
All industrialists and stakeholders should support each other to promote resource efficiency, reduce pollution and waste management, and regenerate the natural system. Other initiatives include:
- Encourage a change in inhabitants’ attitudes to using sustainable consumption patterns and foster innovative activities to raise awareness.
- Design energy-efficient buildings and infrastructure by utilising sustainable construction materials.
- Build a resilient city region food system that can link urban, rural and peri-urban areas. Include ‘urban agriculture’, e.g. vertical gardens, community gardens etc.
Enhance the Capacity to Finance their Plans
Listed below are some ways to enhance the capacity to finance plans for sustainability:
- Prioritise the investment that supports sustainability.
- Cities should develop fiscal stability by securing huge cash through environmental tax, selling and purchasing green bonds, etc.
- All provincial governments should quantify the risk reduction and adaptation strategies for climate change.
- Government should encourage investors to follow Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) strategies in investment.
Apply Tools for integrated Planning and Decision Making
It is important to make long-term planning to overcome urban sprawl. The government should create compact polycentric (more than one centre) settlements with optimal connections and protect the land from unnecessary loss of natural ecosystems.
Moreover, Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEA) should be used in the planning process to compare and suggest alternative development options. Also, there should be an assessment of environmental and climate performance and tracking of the plan implementation progress against its objectives through detailed indicators.
Rapid urbanisation is posing a challenge to land availability. However, inadequate infrastructure leads to congestion, environmental degradation and unhealthy living conditions. The irregular expansion in urban cities leads to unplanned informal settlements without affordable housing, sufficient service provision and protective infrastructure.
In Pakistan, urbanisation is increasing water, air and land pollution because of poor urban planning and implementation of reforms. The country must develop green cities.
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This article is written by Sehrish Irfan. Sehrish Irfan is a Research Analyst at the Iqbal Institute of Policy Studies (IIPS).