SDG 11.7: Urban Green Spaces for Sustainable & Resilient Cities

Hitesh Vaidya, Director, National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA)

The urban green spaces, and its extent and availability are among the most critical indicators of the quality of life and environmental sustainability of urban areas. Urban green spaces are generally defined as publicly accessible urban and peri-urban open spaces which are either partially or entirely covered by a large amount of vegetation. The urban green cover underpins almost every socio-economic aspect that surrounds humankind. It is important not only to the aesthetic and recreational avenues for urban communities, thereby facilitating the well-being of city dwellers, it most essentially reinforce the process of carbon sequestration, and mitigate the effects of climate change. It helps in reducing the urban heat island effect, improve the hydrology by preventing surface runoff, and provide groundwater recharge too. Green spaces are important in balancing the ecosystem levels by acting as buffers in case of extreme events such as floods, and natural stormwater drains leading to reducing climate-related disaster risks for cities. The urban green landscapes can act as a soft engineering strategy for climate adaptation which is ideal for tropical countries like India. It is therefore essential to prioritise its preservation and more so, protecting its existence.

Urbanisation is important for India’s economic growth, but for a long time, it has been counterintuitive to the ethos of nature. Therefore, the Government of India has emphasised on the need for creating smart and sustainable cities, for which climate resilience is an important component.

India has been experiencing rapid urbanisation since 1970, with its urban population rising from 109 million in 1971 to 377 million in 2011, a percentage increase from 19.9 to 31.6 over four decades. The number of million-plus cities in the country has increased from 23 in 1991, and 35 in 2001, to 53 in 2011. The vehicular traffic in Indian cities has also risen from 5.4 million in 1981 to 141 million in 2011, which is phenomenal growth. The transport sector of Indian cities contributes to over 7% of total greenhouse gas emissions in India. High vehicular emissions in many cities have raised air pollution to unbearable levels. By 2030 India is projected to have six cities with a population over 10 million, and more than a 100 million-plus cities.

Also Read: Waste Reduction & Management for Sustainable Urban Development

With the increasing pace in urbanisation, it is likely that environmental degradation and loss of green spaces will increase too. The green cover loss is inducing vulnerabilities of nature. Many cities in India, for example Mumbai, Hyderabad and Delhi already fall short of green space available per capita, which is much below the WHO recommended norms of 9 sq m/ capita.

Presently urban local bodies in the country are voluntarily preparing the city climate action plans which focuses on inclusion of more green spaces in future urban/suburban areas. Many city climate action plans have been incorporating criteria such as accessibility and availability per capita, and scientific principles such as landscape ecology, that provide valuable ecosystem services, reduce disaster risks, conserve urban biodiversity, and help in climate adaptation and mitigation.

It is time for formulating science-based measures to implement and mainstream green cover and review the progress against environmental targets. From a policy perspective, this can only be achieved by integrating values of improving green cover in state planning processes.
In this process, we need to emphasize on the significance of collaboration with the like-minded stakeholders and empowering and mobilizing citizen action for improving the green cover and building environmental resilience.

This issue on SDG 11.7—increase in access to green and public space by all—is a compilation of 11 articles related to quantity and accessibility to the green and open spaces in India. This issue also includes the SDG 11.a, b, and c which highlight the need for national urban policies and regional development plans that responds to population dynamics, ensures integrated regional and territorial development, and increases the local fiscal space.

Also Read: Disaster Resilience for Sustainable Urban Development

NIUA is committed towards contributing to Indian cities perform better through its initiatives such as the ClimateSmart Cities Assessment Framework – by providing them a roadmap for mainstreaming climate action. Along with its own resources, NIUA partners with media, industry, academia and other government and non-government organisations for effective research, capacity-building and advocacy outcomes. The collaboration of the National Institute of Urban Affairs and eGov magazine is demonstration of the same. Teams at NIUA and eGov magazine have enthusiastically worked to collate a diverse range of knowledge-base on the cross-cutting issues on urban green spaces, regional development, and peri-urban issues in India for this special issue. My sincere thanks to all the authors who have contributed to this special issue and shared their knowledge to make this issue possible.

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