Eco-cities for India

In this article, an ecological planner shares his perspective on the relevance of the concept of eco-cities in India, the eco-cities being planned and the challenges that need to be addressed.

Cities are both engines for growth and sources of concentrated environmental problems. With urbanization and economic growth, opportunities are more in the cities than in rural areas, thus encouraging immigration from rural areas to urban areas. Urbanization is increasing in many of the developing nations today and about 50 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas and about 90 percent of global urban growth now takes place in developing countries. Between the years 2000 and 2030, developing countries are projected to triple their entire built-up urban areas. This unprecedented urban expansion also means that cities, nations and the international development community face many challenges and opportunities. Improperly planned cities and lack of plans to absorb the future growth has made most cities less livable and many developing countries are now faced with the challenge of making cities both ecologically and economically sustainable.

Eco-cities

Some critical challenges for cities in future will be: How can cities continue to harness the opportunities for economic growth and poverty reduction offered by urbanization, while also mitigating its negative impacts? How can cities cope up with the speed and the scale of urbanization, given their own capacity and constraints? How can ecological and environmental considerations be interlinked with development, so that they produce cumulative and lasting advantage for cities?
To address the above questions, Eco city concept was proposed. Richard Register first coined the term "Eco-city" in his 1987 book, Eco-city: Building cities for a healthy future.  An  eco-city  in  simple  terms  can  be  explained  as  an  ecologically healthy city. An Eco- city builds on the synergy and interdependence of ecological and economic sustainability, and their fundamental ability to reinforce each other in the urban context (World Bank 2010). Eco-Cities are a concept to achieve this sustainability by taking the ecological principles as the central driving principles for the planning of our cities (Huang G Y et al 2002).

 Eco city aims at:

• Developing an urban ecosystem which is ecologically sound minimizing the negative impact of development on the environment.
• Reduction of ecological footprint of development thus shaping an improvement in the quality of life.
• Achieving environmental sustainability through reduced greenhouse gas emissions, utilization of renewable energy, and green transportation.
• Creation of a vibrant economy through environment-friendly production and industry that supports high capita gross domestic product (GDP) level
• Maintaining high air and water quality standards and an above-average ratio of green space per capita
• Social harmony with adequate educational and employment opportunities and a social safety net
• Protection of ecologically sensitive habitats, physical and nonphysical cultural legacies and promotion of green lifestyles and regional integration

Eco-city initiatives in China and India

In 1994, China announced its ‘Agenda 21’ and explicitly stressed the importance of sustainable settlement. By 1996, the then State Environmental Planning Agency issued the policy document ‘Guidelines for the Building of Eco-Communities (1996-2050)’. The intention was to promote the planning and construction of eco-communities across the country. Under this directive, between 2003 -2008 three Eco-cities were planned in China:Dongtan Eco-city near Shanghai, Tianjin City in northern China, and Huangbaiyu, north-east China. In Japan starting 1997 six eco-cities have been planned: Yokohama, Kitakyushu, Toyama City, Obihiro , Shimokawa and Minamata.

In India discussions on Eco cities started in 2000 and starting 2001 six medium and small Eco-cities were planned by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) in association with Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and with technical assistance from German technical cooperation (GTZ). The focus of the project is pollution control, improvement of environmental quality, protection of environmental resources like rivers and lakes, improving sanitary conditions, improving the needed infrastructure and creating aesthetic environs in the chosen towns. The cities included Tirupathi, Vrindavan, Kottayam, Ujjain, Puri and Thanjavur.

The Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation (DMICDC) has also aimed to develop smart Eco-cities along the Delhi Mumbai Corridor with investment from companies in Japan. The DMICDC and the Haryana State Industrial & Infrastructure Development Corporation (HSIIDC) have planned to develop an eco city at Manesar in Gurgaon, Haryana. This is planned as a pilot model, and if it succeeds similar models will be developed in different regions of the country in the future. This has been planned based on the Japanese Eco cities of Yokohama and Kitakyushu. Sustainable eco villages and towns are also being advocated. The Prince of Wales, through his charity Foundation for the Built Environment, is planning to construct an eco-friendly community for 15,000 people outside either Bangalore or Kolkata. The design of the new shanty town is inspired by the model village of Poundbury in Dorset, which has been the Prince of Wales’ pet project for thirty years.

Many of these projects are at various stages of implementation, however planning and developing an Eco-city is a tedious and uncertain process.  In China failure of eco-cities (such as Dongton Eco-city) occurred mainly due to Implementation difficulties. Factors like land availability, economic growth, Infrastructure facilities, Investment, political stability and much more will play a critical role in making Eco-cities a success. Barriers and challenges have been experienced with regards to the Eco-Towns in Japan too. It would be difficult to adopt the process of the Eco-Town formation as-is to developing countries and cities because of lack of funds, differences in the social and industrial structures, and low environmental consciousness.

Some of the key aspects to be considered while designing Eco city models particularly in the developing countries are:
- Environmentally sound technology to reduce carbon emission, recycle waste and to create sustainable transport
- Land acquisition and relocation of local people
- Involvement of multi stakeholders in town planning
- Enormous financial requirement

Way ahead

During the last two decades most Indian cities have experienced phenomenal growth which the cities found difficult to cope with and as a consequence they are faced with problems in infrastructure, water and air pollution and other environmental problems. These problems are expected only to grow more in coming years. Social injustice and gap between urban rich and poor is also increasing leading to more urban poor. If we are to absorb and sustain the powerful wave of urbanization, while continuing to manage the existing built stock, we will need a paradigm shift on the approaches towards planning and managing cities.

Eco-cities  have  the  potential  to  address  many  of  the  problems  associated  with  urban development and failure of Eco-city models  should not dampen the interest levels, however careful planning and implementation is necessary.

The evolution of cities takes many years. Each city has its own socio political, cultural and economic conditions and strategies adopted in shaping a successful eco city at one place may not necessarily work for other cities. Achieving greater sustainability in cities requires an in-depth understanding of the impacts of different urban forms on movement pattern, social conditions, environmental quality, and of their capacities to deliver future benefits. Success of Eco cities truly depends on planning taking, ecological and environmental factors into consideration..

Eco- cities cannot be formed in isolation. These projects: (a) need to ensure inter-linkages to the present city; or (b) should be aimed to develop present cities into Eco cities. Better planned eco-cities cannot be successful unless human development is taking place simultaneously. The socio cultural aspect of sustainability must also be taken into consideration while planning. With increasing economic growth in India, the growth of Indian cities can be expected to be high and it would be wise to start planning for Eco-cities today for a better sustainable future tomorrow.

The author Dhanapal. G, is an ecological planner working in India.

References:
Huang, G Y et al (2002)Eco-City: Theory, Planning and Design Methods(in Chinese)
(Beijing, Science Press)
Eco2 Cities, Ecological Cities as Economic Cities, World Bank (2010) Pp 392 last accessed at http://www.worldbank.org/pdt.
Register, Richard (1987). Eco-cities: Building Cities in Balance with Nature. Berkeley:Berkeley Hills Books.
www.ecocities-india.org/ 

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Author: Dhanapal G