Cities Need Sustained Urbanization: Experts

Oct 10th, 2014 | By | Category: Advocacy, India, Urbanization

As the Union government unfolds its long-term plans for planned development of urban centres, experts warn that poorly managed urbanization can be detrimental to sustainable development of cities like Pune.

The United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) and The Forum of Environmental Journalists in India (FEJI) held a brainstorming session on climate change in New Delhi recently to understand ‘low carbon development in India’. The session coincided with the Union government’s conclave of states on “smart cities plan”.

J Srinivasan, chairman of Bangalore-based Divecha Centre for Climate Change, said that local development projects in cities will decide the future of environmental changes happening in that particular city. “Urbanization is happening rapidly and local climate changes can be controlled only by planning at the local level. The development agenda followed in the last 100 years was wrong. Doing things in the short-term will prove suicidal,” Srinivasan said, pointing at heat waves experienced in Bangalore city in the last few years.

As per the United Nations (UN) data, cities disproportionately contribute as much as 70% to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, although they occupy just 2% of the land area. Intensified human activity in cities has led to increased greenhouse gas pollution while the capacity of oceans and vegetation to absorb them is declining. The urban ecological footprint in both developing and developed countries is on the rise with the increasing use of fossil fuels for transport and construction, large-scale industrial pollution, deforestation and land use changes, among others.

Nagesh Kumar, head of UN-ESCAP South and South – West Asia office, said, “In India, the bulk of infrastructure has to be built so it is an important and a unique opportunity to opt for sustainable path. Hundred smart cities is an interesting idea and we can build them in a much more environment-friendly way.”

Civic bodies like the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) have no plan in place to develop civic infrastructure in a sustainable manner. The civic body, which has failed to improve its public transport, is constructing flyovers and is now pushing for elevated metro project as a solution to traffic congestion.

Kirti Parikh, chairman of the Integrated Research for Action and Development, New Delhi, has a word of caution for administrators of cities like Pune. “Cities are congesting very fast. We need to have efficient transport systems in place or in the next 5-10 years we are heading for a massive collapse. Cities must put fleet efficiency norm standards and impose congestion charges,” he said. C Manoharachary, emeritus professor at Osmania University, echoed Parkih’s views. “Heavy taxation on those who cause pollution is imperative,” he said.

Civic activists and local leaders admit that no political party will support steps like imposing congestion tax. “The city’s infrastructure has crumbled and we are facing financial crunch in bringing about sustainable development. There is a lack of political will on this front,” said a civic official.

Union urban development minister Venkaiah Naidu drew the attention of state officials to inadequacies in the implementation of the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) that fell substantially short of physical and financial targets. He noted that political leaderships have failed to provide the required impetus to galvanize urban local bodies., which in turn has adversely impacted implementation of the JNNURM. Naidu said that this should not happen in case of the “smart cities project”.

A UN report stated: “We must find ways to achieve economic and socially equitable growth without further cost to the environment. A part of the solution lies in how cities are planned, governed and provide services to their citizens. By prioritizing sustainable urbanization within a broader development framework, many critical development challenges can be addressed in tandem such as energy, water consumption and production, biodiversity, disaster preparedness and climate change adaptation.”

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