concept of sustainable cities is closely interconnected with environment and
economy and safeguard protection of natural resources, which in turn leads to a
minimum acceptable quality of life. There is a constant struggle with issues of
air pollution, congestion of human population and availability of open, green
spaces. Strong, healthy, liveable cities depend on a healthy environment, a
robust economy and ample employment opportunities for its citizens.
Before going further into the details of a sustainable city, it is important to understand the meaning of sustainability in the human context which leads to sustainable development. Human endeavour focuses on certain basic assumptions like good income; livelihoods which give meaning to life; production of goods and services for basic needs; creation of purchasing power; regeneration of the natural resource base; conservation of the environment; control on demographic transitions from the rural to the urban sector, empowerment and employment for women. Thus, a sustainable city can be defined as one which is able to provide for the basic needs of the people along with the necessary infrastructure of civic amenities, health and medical care, housing, education, transportation, employment, good governance, etc. It should take care of the needs of all sections of the society without any discrimination. As it pertains to Indian conditions, due emphasis should be given to control population and provide housing to the weaker sections of society who live in sub-human conditions in slums, subsisting below the poverty line and causing environmental degradation. Burgeoning population also leads to exploitation, crime and lawlessness due to the ever shrinking job opportunities. For example, Delhi adds on 400,000 people every year due to migration from all over India, thus putting a question mark on the sustainability of this capital metropolis. This alarming increase in population puts an enormous strain on housing, employment, healthcare, water and electricity. Large "green" areas are converted to housing colonies, leading to environmental degradation.
Characteristics of a Sustainable City
A sustainable city is a city which has :
n A controlled population for whom adequate, meaningful employment is available.
n Adequate governance set-up which can meet the needs of the populace and ensures civic responsibilities, community participation, a sense of identity, transparency and equity in local institutions.
n Efficient basic civic amenities for a reasonably comfortable existence. For example, due to the shortage of power, more than 50% of power is illegally consumed without payment to the municipal corporation, leading to corruption, astronomical financial losses and inadequate supply to those who pay for its consumption. Same goes for water, which is inadequate to meet the demands of the population.
n Planned housing colonies with adequate infrastructure like schools, parks, drainage system, local medicare establishments.
n An appropriate transport system, as transportation affects the environment. Transportation planning has to take into consideration a wide range of options and choices like adequate roads, parking lots, alternate system of transportation, mass transit facilities. The aim should be to reduce the total vehicle kilometres driven in congested areas, thus reducing the pollution and emission of green house gases. This can only be effected if the number of vehicles on roads are reduced. At present, there are about 34 lakh registered vehicles on Delhi’s roads, of which over 22 lakh are two-wheelers which are the main polluting vehicles.
n Effective environmental infrastructure to address the issues of untreated sewage and waste polluting rivers, lakes and coastal zones, (thus threatening water ecosystems).
n Empowerment of women and encouraging their participation in the political, social and economic life of a city and adoption of urban policies that take into account women’s needs and initiatives.
n Development of an efficient urban private sector, both formal and non-formal which reduces poverty by generating jobs and helping in economic growth.
n An efficient health-care system which would also address issues of nutrition, family planning and sanitation.
n A mechanism in the form of a policy initiative for industrial dispersal to satellite townships where better employment opportunities are created.
Advantages of a Sustainable City
The importance of sustainability in the urban setting cannot be over emphasised. As it concerns the very survival of a city, healthy cities contribute to a healthy nation. Clean environment and economic growth are complimentary to each other and result in a vibrant community who see themselves as "stakeholders" in all aspects of daily life. In addition, the advantages are :
n A city which provides its inhabitants with every basic amenity for a reasonable standard of living.
n Resources used are regenerated and sustained without getting depleted.
n A society which takes part in good governance and allocation of its economic resources for the well being of its people.
n Where citizens are law-abiding, conscious of their role and contribute to the all round development of the city.
A Few Barriers
In the Indian context, the greatest barrier to creation of a sustainable city is the phenomenal growth of population. The urban population, according to 1991 census was 218 million (26% of the total). It is estimated that by year 2011 it will increase to about 430 million (37% of the total) making it the largest urban population in the world. The main burden of this urban overcrowding is in the metropolitan cities. This rapid growth, if unchecked, will lead to :
n Inadequate economic growth and lack of funds for improving the infrastructure. For example, increased population needs more electric power which, in turn, needs higher output power stations. If they are not provided, there is load shedding leading to inconvenience during extreme weather conditions, power thefts and misuse of power. Similarly, due to the over-population, water and sanitation facilities get affected.
nIncreased population increases unemployment, which in turn creates a burden on the economy due to restless, unemployed people creating law and order problems for which a huge police force has to be maintained.
nIncreased shortage of housing. It is estimated that there is a shortage of 2 million dwellings in the 23 largest cities. This has an effect of mushrooming of slums where about 20% of the population lives (Central Statistical Organisation, 1997, Table 7.2.4 and 7.2.6).
nUnusual strain on education and health infrastructure.
nIncreased vehicles in shrinking transportation network, leading to pollution and wastage of man-hours for commuting.
nNon-implementation of legislation. The Water (Prevention and Control of) Pollution Act 1974 prohibits the discharge of pollutants into water bodies beyond a certain level and lays down penalties for infringement. Similarly, the Air (Prevention and Control of) Pollution Act 1981 lays down motor vehicle emission standards for maximum volumetric concentration of exhaust gases. However, compliance of such legislation is rarely followed.
by Col. V Katju