Go a lot less gray

December 29, 2019

The urban sprawl has spelled havoc for the city

City managers in tandem with the public can work out a strategy to increase the green cover.

Half of the world’s population lives in urban environments. Therefore, any changes to urban design, such as the introduction of green spaces, are supposed to impact public health.

Nature does the body good, and a sprawling analysis done of more than eight million people across seven countries suggests that to boost human longevity, cities should go a lot less gray and a lot greener. Urban dwellers living in close proximity with greenery have an increased life expectancy, as per the findings of a Lancet Planetary Health study. According to its authors, the scale of the study was huge and the purpose of it was to understand the impact of green spaces on both the physical and mental health of urban dwellers.

It’s a known fact that vegetation can act as a buffer between residents and blaring city racket, even if it’s as simple as a tree-lined street. Another fact known to people is that plants help regulate temperature extremes, tempering the effects of climate change.

Whereas major cities around the world are already working on plans to create urban green spaces, Lahore is seen lagging behind. Caught in the frenzy of a development mantra, the city administration appears to be least bothered to address the environmental and ecological impact which is slowly and steadily gnawing at the genus loci of a modern metropolis.

Lahore, a bustling and sprawling city of more than 10 million people (according to the recent census), has 100 percent of its population living in urban areas. As per the previous survey, done in 1998, the city had 18 percent of its population based in rural areas — that is, in villages on the periphery of the city. With a weak policy in place, the city of Lahore pulled its rural population into the fold of unplanned urbanisation, becoming the only city in the country with no rural population, as per the latest census, conducted in 2017.

From a political point of view extending urban facilities to rural population is a winning formula but from an environmental angle this urban sprawl has spelled havoc for the city.

A 2014 study, titled Spatial Distribution of Urban Green Spaces in Lahore, conducted by independent researchers, reaffirms that the once-known City of Gardens has turned into a concrete jungle. The study took Gulberg Town as sample, to analyse how much green space is available per person in the area. According to United Nations’ health standards, the required minimum green space per person for assured their wellbeing is 9 sq metres. Out of the 15 union councils of Gulberg Town, only one union council, UC 97, met the standard; the rest fell majorly short.

The study further found that within the UC 97 Gulberg, per-person available green space was 9.74 sq metre, whereas UC 31 (Railway Colony), UC 32 (Dars Baray Mian) and UC 75 (Bibi Pak Daman) only had 0.01 sq metre of green space respectively, for its population.

What’s interesting to note is that posh localities such as UC 126 (Garden Town), UC 127 (Model Town), and UC 128 (Faisal Town), which are believed to have a good green cover, also fell short of meeting the UN standards. With a population density of 16,231 persons per sq km, Garden Town was found to have a total of 60,259 sq metres of green space which translates into 1.02 sq metres of green space per person. Similarly, Model Town with 8,052 persons per sq km, has a total of 21,994.6 sq metres of parks which constitutes 0.45 sq metre of green space per person. Faisal Town has 1.28 sq metres of green space per person for its population density of 22,899 persons per sq km. The remaining 8 UCs, namely Garhi Shahu, Alhamra, Zaman Park, Makkah Colony, Naseerabad, Liaqatabad, Kot Lakhpat and Pindi Rajputan collectively constitute an appalling total of 3 sq metres of green space per person.

The sample town selected for the study represents a microcosm for Lahore due to its central location on the map of the city.

Decade of action

As the world enters the “decade of action” to fulfill its commitments to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 2030, big cities worldwide are planting more trees to minimise the severity of heat waves and floods, and to boost people’s physical and mental health.

Several cities around the world are focused on creating new green spaces. For example, New York has successfully turned 27 percent of its land into public green spaces, according to the World Cities Culture Forum data. Paris is going a step further, vowing to turn one-third of its public green spaces into sustainable urban farms. Pakistan too is waking up to the issue, and the current government has pledged to plant 10 billion trees across the length and breadth of the country to mitigate the effects of the changing climate. But experts believe that the loss of green spaces in urban areas cannot be offset by planting trees elsewhere. To them the loss of green spaces in cities represents a net ecological loss, as large numbers of people are concentrated there and deprived of the benefits of a green cover.

But all is not lost for Lahore yet. Programmes such as the Afforestation Lahore Project which aims to plant a total of 8.7 million trees in the city, and the prime minister’s promise to convert 60,000 kanals of land (in Lahore) into urban forests hold some promise. Urban greening programmes are not only key to promoting public health, they also increase biodiversity and mitigate the impacts of climate change, making cities more sustainable and livable. One can only hope that as we step into the new decade, city managers in tandem with the public, can work out a strategy to increase the green cover. Failing now is not an option.

Go a lot less gray