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Greening Cities

by Nisha K

Climate change affects everyone. Nisha K examines the effects of climate change to the environment and people. This article first appeared in In Focus issue 4 magazine.

A thousand-year-old monastery in remote Nepal battles Mother Nature as melting ice caps surrounding the Himalayan valley threatens its very existence. That’s the scenario playing out in the Humla District where the ancient building lies at the focal point of the trans-Himalayan village of Halji.

Halji’s one of the three main villages that make up the Limi Valley, the other two being Til and Jang. Halji’s extremely remote and where it snows at least half the year. What’s more, with absolutely zero network capabilities, there’s no connection with the outside world. This means no Twitter or Instagram can capture the breathtaking scenery. At the heart of the village is the highly revered Rinchenling monastery, possibly one of the oldest in Nepal, but the building’s rich history is under threat by the unpredictable glaciers which sometimes melts and floods the valley.

It has been reported that the monastery sits merely 30 metres away from the previous flood path, adjoining broken walls of the collapsed houses. As glacial retreat hastens with rising temperatures, the possibility of another outburst looms large. There have been several casualties over the years and the local government agencies as well as NGOs have been working towards a viable solution to counter the effects of Mother Nature.

‘The changing climate adds the danger of development of supraglacial lakes which are prone to sudden drainage,’ says Jan Kropacek, a researcher at the Faculty of Environmental Sciences at Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, who studied the Limi Valley.

The village of Halji in the Limi Valley is just a classic example of how the forces of nature can have a detrimental effect on the livelihood of the surrounding inhabitants. The residents in Halji, who constantly live in fear in case of the worst possible scenario – the melting of the ice – aren’t alone, as many city dwellers also suffer the same fate though by the effects of climate change.

In fact, big cities are very much vulnerable to the long-term changes in the Earth’s climate and because there’s a high concentration of population in the area, it becomes a huge liability for the population. Here, we take a look at some of the major cities in the world that are affected by the significant changes in global temperature.

Effects of Climate Change
Bangkok, Thailand
Being a metropolitan hub in Asia, Bangkok have been plagued by countless floods, which is caused by the rising level of its rivers. At the heart of Bangkok is its river network that runs through the city – the Chao Phraya River which is the lifeblood of the sprawling city.

When water levels of the Chao Phraya River rise due to continuous rainfall, the swelling causes spillage onto the roads of Bangkok and its surrounding areas. This causes massive panic and inconvenience to the locals. Despite it being a common occurrence and the locals are somewhat accustomed to it; the situation does make it rather uncomfortable.

To prevent further flooding, the city’s local councils have taken positive steps in mapping out flood prone areas in early 2018. The most notable project is the Chulalongkorn University Centenary Park, which is a 44,415 square meters of green space that can hold up to a million gallons of rainwater. According to TED, the project is headed by local firm Landprocess, with its architect Kotchakorn Voraakhom designing the park to address the flooding in its surrounding neighbourhood.

Kotchakorn’s latest completed project is a dazzling park in the centre of Bangkok, set on the campus of Chulalongkorn University. She has transformed 44,415 square meters — land worth an estimated USD700 million — into Chulalongkorn University Centennial Park, a lush, green oasis featuring ample space for outdoor meetings, an amphitheatre, a massive lawn for recreation, playgrounds and even a small museum.

Since it opened in March 2017, the park has been a huge draw for students and residents (one local podcast called it a hidden gem). And while 44,415 square meters may not sound like much, any new park in green space-starved Bangkok is a big deal. According to Siemens Green City Index, Bangkok has just 3.3 square meters of green space per person, by contrast, Manila has 5; Paris, 11; Shanghai, 13.5; New York City, 23.1; London, 27; Singapore, 66.

Florida Keys, United States
Best known for its key lime pies, pastel-coloured buildings, beautiful tropical islands which are perfect for snorkelling and scuba diving, Florida Keys is a beachgoer’s paradise. But in 2015, the coral cay archipelago, which is situated along the Florida Straits, succumbed to tidal flooding and Hurricane Irma in 2017 gave a painful taste of the future.

‘In a small Key Largo neighbourhood, the tide came in — and didn’t go out for almost a month. Residents sloshed through more than a foot of saltwater that lapped at their front yards, knocked over their trash cans, created a mosquito breeding ground and made their roads nearly impassible. Some residents rented SUVs to protect their own cars. Others were homebound,’ observed Alex Harris in the Miami Herald.

Small stretches of roads are a test case for Florida and the country. A lesson learned here is that climate change will swamp in the years to come and hundreds of kilometres of roads are susceptible to sea level rise in the next two decades.

Examples of Green Lungs
Developing countries have taken on the issue of sustainability and have introduced lush green landscapes into the enclosure of their concrete jungles. Singapore is a prime example of a city which has a mix of skyscrapers and greenery.

Its most recent example is their Jewel at Changi Airport, connected to its Terminal 1, opened in April 2019. The multi-level dome structure houses an integration of ‘nature with engineering marvels’ through a canopy park, hedge maze, rain vortex, forest valley and topiary walk, along with retail stores, a hotel and eateries. The dome’s top floor alone is 14,000 square metres and contains a variety of nature-prone recreational spaces.

Going back a little, Singapore’s efforts kickstarted with the Garden City vision, introduced by its first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, in 1967. It was to transform Singapore into a city with abundant lush greenery and a clean environment in order to make life more pleasant for the people. Singapore has come a long way since then and has remodelled itself into a world-class city in a garden that it is today.

The combination of high demands of fresh produce and dearth of suitable urban farming land in urban areas, roofs are increasingly being seen as a plausible space for growing food and a proactive measure in building a sustainable future for cities. In the heart of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the rooftop of 22-storey Kenanga International building enables vertical farming by local company Agrosky.

Kenanga’s rooftop space of around 1,300 square metres allows for a production capacity of around 20,000 kg of crops per month. The end product will be used for food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical. The project kicked off in May 2019 and expected to produce results by end June of the same year. Besides an economic effect, converting rooftops into green roofs is a rising trend in cities globally and transforms lifeless roofs into vibrant green cityscapes.

Slowing Down Deterioration
Cities are also becoming more sprawling: the amount of land being used for urban purposes is expected to triple between 2000 and 2050. This is leading to the loss of natural ecosystems and productive agricultural land. ‘Sprawling cities are also less energy efficient, as residents have to spend more time travelling to reach jobs, services and amenities,’ says Aniruddha Dasgupta, Global Director of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

‘The Sustainable Development Goals commit to ending poverty in all its forms by 2030. To realise this aspiration, governments need to provide under-served urban residents with decent housing, safe drinking water, reliable sanitation and clean energy. Ultimately, the number of slum dwellers should be declining by 50 to 60 million people a year even as urban populations rise,’ says Aniruddha.

Emissions are highly concentrated in a small number of crowded, high income cities and affluent suburbs according to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, who compiled a list of carbon footprints of 13,000 cities worldwide. ‘The study, released in 2018, identifies where actions to combat climate change are more desperately needed,’ says Dan Moran, lead author and principal investigator on the Global Gridded Model of Carbon Footprints.

‘People can take actions such as improving bikeability, investing in solar panels for city buildings and schools, using clean vehicle fleets or even consider actions we might consider more radical, like moving the whole city to green electricity or establishing a walking-only downtown,’ says Dan.

Intensive urban growth in cities have detrimental effects – exhaust from automobiles increases lead levels in the air, uncollected waste become hazards and animals are affected by the loss of their homes and food sources. By 2050, 75 per cent of the population of the world is expected to be living in urban areas. One way to make a city greener is to create parks – these can be considered as green lungs where families and children can play in a safe environment. It also balances the hardscapes like skyscrapers and contributes to cooler temperatures.

Also, providing public transportation that allows commuters to move around quickly and within cities would reduce carbon footprint. Governments should also create policies and regulations to cut water consumption and waste and encourage recycling and composting to ensure a greener environment for the next generation.

The Paris Agreement commits to eliminate net global emissions by 2050. To decarbonise cities, governments will need to mobilise large-scale investments in renewable energy, public transport, energy-efficient buildings and solid waste management. Much of this investment will be needed in urban areas that need to reduce emissions by four to five per cent every year.

Download In Focus issue 4 magazine for more insights on The Future of Business is Sustainability.

Main photo by Andreas Brücker on Unsplash.

8 Jul 2019
Last modified: 8 Jul 2019
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