Tuesday, July 24, 2007


With development everywhere, Bangalore’s green lung spaces are shrinking. But even the most developed cities — whether London or New York — maintain their green expanses. BT asks the experts why that should be a priority

THEY are more than just pretty green spaces. Bangalore’s Cubbon Park, Lalbagh and Bannerghatta National Park, Kolkata’s Maidan or Mumbai’s Mahalaxmi racecourse act as vital lung spaces for the growing, counterweight concrete jungle cities. So when the Mumbai mayor recently put forth a proposal to convert the racecourse into a car park, it created a furore among environmentalists, town planners and citizens.
Pollution shield
Almost every city in the world has a well-maintained and conveniently located lung space. New York has Central Park, and London has Hyde Park and St James’ Park. So why is India blind to the dangers of destroying these vitally important spaces?
In fact, Bangalore is especially vulnerable, points out environmentalist Suresh Heblikar of Ecowatch. “We can’t do without green spaces. Unlike cities like Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai that are by the sea, Bangalore is vulnerable to major carbon emission because of its topography. In Mumbai, the wind and the sea disperse the carbon emissions, but in Bangalore it stays suspended in the air above the city.”
Besides Lalbagh and Cubbon Park, the biggest lung space in Bangalore is Bannerghatta National Park, he adds. “If there’s degeneration there, the impact is immediately felt in Bangalore.” Other important green spaces: IIM, LRDE and the city’s golf courses. “Earlier, Bangalore was full of forests. But successive governments have ravaged Bangalore’s environmental assets,” he says.
“As the pressure on any city to go vertical increases, the need to make space for greenery also increases,” says Janaagraha’s Ramesh Ramanathan. “These issues may seem insignificant, but are not. We must come up with innovative ways to keep cities green.”
International perspective
Besides the vital environmental aspects, green spaces give a city a unique character and something special to its citizens — a visual treat and place to relax. Interiors professional Vinita Chaitanya speaks of her recent experience of New York’s Central Park. “There’s a lake with benches around it, an area where musicians can play, a kids’ theme park, a rollerblading area and a jogging track. There are zones for different purposes and it’s all beautifully maintained.” Also, Central Park is a sight for sore eyes after the concrete and traffic of Manhattan, she adds. “It’s well-designed with the purpose of attracting tourists and residents alike.” Even Kuala Lumpur and Singapore have green pockets that welcome tourists as they land. “It’s all been thought through and implemented. A city like Paris might have a lot of concrete, but also has perfectly maintained green spaces along the Champs Elysees and the Seine. Every town should have spaces like that, just small landscaped spots,” she says. This initiative was attempted earlier by the local administration, but failed because of red tape, she adds.
It’s not too late
But Bangalore can still be saved, say experts. Heblikar is optimistic. “The government is trying to retrieve around 12,000 to 14,000 acres of encroached land. Even if half these spaces are converted into urban forests rather than sold for profit, it will help the city. “It will improve the micro climatic conditions of Bangalore. The air will improve — there will be more oxygen. Dust will be absorbed and so will noise. Rainfall will improve. Most importantly, ground water will be recharged. Today, Bangalore’s geological map shows its groundwater is over-exploited. But groundwater must only be used in emergencies, or Bangalore will become barren and hard-crusted like parts of Africa that haven’t seen water for 15 years.” German cities, for instance, maintain 40-45 per cent green cover, while Bangalore has barely 7-8 per cent.
Says Jaisim, architect, “Green areas should not exist just in pockets, but should be inter-related like a necklace, so people can locate green areas within a 200-metre radius.” And which city has integrated green spaces most perfectly with structured growth? “London,” he says, “but I do believe India can be better.”
Suresh Heblikar: Smaller patches of green cover, even 2-3 acres, must be created wherever possible. Native tree species should be used.
Vinita Chaitanya: The government should go into partnership with private industry to promote green spaces around the city. Many industrial houses are interested to contribute in such areas.
Jaisim: We need to move towards a public transport-based society like Europe, instead of a car-based one like the US.
Dr P Nallapa, member of The Tree Foundation: It’s not just about preserving lung spaces in the city, it’s also about replacing the greenery that’s being displaced thanks to ‘progress’. This has to be a citizen’s initiative. Everyone should plant at least one sapling.


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