Of sustainable cities | By Waqar Hassan


Of sustainable cities

IBN-e-Khaldun declared towns as places that bulwark their residents from all pernicious things and are pure of all kinds of adulterants.

Present-day megalopolises, on the contrary, offer a different story. Today, cities look like asphalt jungles. With the supersising of the populace, small towns are turning into mega burgs. 1n 1950, only eighty-three cities with a population of over a million existed.

By 2025, the number is likely to be over thirty mega-cities. Most of these places are fast losing their sustainability which in terms of climate, transport, livelihood and food is an alien concept in many developing societies.

Sustainability is the puissance to draw a stasis between consumption and availability of resources, meeting the current needs without exhausting the ecosystem. Modern metropolises are home to environmental degradation, widespread inequality, urban flooding, food insecurity and slum areas, making cities devoid of the features of sustainability.

Various factors have led us to this situation. First, present-day cities clamor for electricity produced through fossil fuels. Transport facilities also beckon greenhouse gas emissions. This sector is liable for twenty-three percent of C02 emissions.

Mega structures in cities produce almost 39% of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the US Green Building Council.

Hence, the use of fossils has dispossessed cities of their environmental sustainability. Second, modern metropolises rely on food imports from the adjoining areas and are not sustainable enough to feed the ballooning population.

To fulfil the requirements for food, livestock farming has become necessary for feeding the population and is a driver of deforestation. Third, cities produce an elephantine amount of waste, and waste collection mechanisms in cities also add up to greenhouse gas emissions.

The disposal of waste in the surroundings of cities also invites the anathema of air and water pollution to mega towns. Fourth, the imminence of urban flooding has become a reality for modern cities.

Feckless sewage systems and unplanned cities are a cause of urban flooding. Fifth, slums around cities are a breeding ground for poor human development, depriving people of economic sustainability.

According to the UN, between 2014 and 2018, the proportion of the urban population living in slums worldwide increased from 23 percent to 24 percent, translating to over one billion slum dwellers.

Indeed, sustainable cities ensure parity and equality in opportunities for all people. But developing countries do not believe in devolution of power to the grass-root level, which jacks up inequality among the social strata, making cities unsustainable. In fact, modern cities have turned into wicked places owing to the prevalence of these factors. Therefore, resilient and self-sustaining cities are the need of the hour.

The idea of sustainable cities demands serious engrossment, and only this concept can cope with environmental, social, and economic challenges.First, we need a sustainable bond with the environment. For this, the concept of biophilic cities needs to be adopted. Professor Tim Beatley at the University of Virginia shared this idea.

The concept advocates close contact between citizens with nature and bio-diversity. Modern cities can produce fruits and vegetables for local consumption by using available space in the streets, parks, and roof-tops.

Singapore has incorporated this model, conceiving concept of urban farming. Preferring the use of clean and green energy, such as solar, tidal, wind, and thermal energy can diminish the baleful effects of carbon emissions.

Governments must prioritize energy efficiency to minimize energy consumption to make cities sustainable.

For example, Sweden has a per capita gross domestic product almost equivalent to the USA but uses 40 percent less energy per capita owing to its ability to adopt more energy-efficient policies.

Shifting buildings to clean and green energy by installing solar panels can achieve this goal. The concept of sponge cities can help address the menace of urban flooding, and improving the sewage system of cities can also counter the threat.

Rainwater preservation by households can restrict urban floods and minimize the over-consumption of the water table.For good measure, an innovative shift in the transport model can transform our cities’ environment.

In this context, green public transport can help to reduce the levels of CO2 emissions. Local transport in cities can also slough off the waste. It will reduce carbon emissions and increase the efficiency of the local government in cleaning the city.

De-carbonization of energy is the need of the hour, but it demands agreement from all the global stakeholders to accomplish the milestone. Affordable housing schemes can solve the problem of slums.

The devolution of power to the grass-root level can make cities sustainable. The formation of local bodies can wipe out inequalities in the communities by providing equal opportunities for all citizens to play a role in the community’s advancement.

Last, population control is a prerequisite for reducing resource burden and ensuring sustainability. Sustainable cities thrive on the concept of sustaining population, economy, and ecosystem. However, our cities are developing unsustainable characteristics and it is the need of the hour to address the causes that are responsible for the degradation of our cities.

Indeed, destiny favours those nations that take steps to safeguard their habitat because this is the only way forward to secure a jewel-like future for our generations.

—The writer is CSS Officer, based in Sargodha.