Everyone wants to move to the city. It’s the place to be. It’s where everything is happening. It’s got the goods, the income, the happiness and everything else that everyone could possibly want out of life.
No, this is not a moral article. I’m going to be very practical, and I’m going to take one specific example to show what a growing city means/could mean to the people there, and to the environment there.
As people flock to the cities, we need more space to accommodate them. There’s two ways to go about this: you could expand upwards, or you could expand laterally. The upward expansion could simply mean more stories, or to be futuristic, flying cars and floating buildings (I’m only doing this to cover all bases. Bear with me). The futuristic solution is futuristic, and building more stories to an already built structure is extremely cumbersome. So, we have lateral expansion.
The more organized expansion is through the building of techno-ecosystems. This is a relatively new type of ecosystem, with major players being humans, concrete, computers, more computers and pigeons. A lot of pigeons.
Lateral expansion of cities is happening in two ways today:
- It’s completely unplanned, involves rapid clearing of land to create space for accommodation. It could be slums, or it could be legitimate/illegal construction.
- The more organized expansion is through the building of techno-ecosystems. This is a relatively new type of ecosystem, with major players being humans, concrete, computers, more computers and pigeons. A lot of pigeons. It encroaches a good amount of land and primarily depends on non-renewable sources for energy needs (although that is slowly changing). All major tech-parks come under this ecosystem. Surprisingly, they constitute almost 1/3 of all urbanization activities in today’s world.
What gives? The land that is used up in the process are forested areas, or agricultural land. Land with trees, with good soil, where any plant can grow, which are plain, which are well-drained, where the soil depth is high, and which definitely should not be used for non-agricultural purposes. Water bodies like local lakes and ponds, seemingly insignificant, are drained out and replaced with sprawling buildings with fancy addresses for MNCs.
This kind of expansion is a major threat to world biodiversity and agricultural productions.
A case in point is the rapid expansion of Bangalore (or Bengaluru, if you prefer) that’s been happening for the last decade. I have mentioned this, briefly, in one of my previous blog posts. Apartments are sprouting like unplanned puppies all over the place, and tech parks are coming up every other year. Recently, Apple has also announced that it would like to have an office in Bangalore. Another pond/lake/fertile land/forest is going to face the axe.
Similarly, Chennai has been on a growth spree in the last decade. A lot of buildings (all unplanned) have sprouted and a place that was a lake 10 years ago, houses close to 40 apartments today (they couldn’t even accommodate more. Shame). Both Bangalore and Chennai have gone for the quick buck and myopic planning has resulted in a host of problems that I’d like to highlight. Not all of them are related to the environment, mind you.
You build offices, but where will the people working in those offices live? In the city! Where is the city? 30 km away of course!
- The destruction of these natural draining areas for rainwater has resulted in the possibility of massive floods. It has already happened in Chennai. Massive rains earlier in the year saw the city flooded for days. Nothing was moving, everything was floating. It was declared a disaster and the Army and the Disaster Management authorities were called in for major relief operations. Water from the rains had nowhere to go. No ponds or lakes, neither were there any channels made to divert water to a river body nearby. This disaster is waiting to happen in Bangalore as the monsoon approaches.
- Massive livelihoods have been destroyed because of this expansion (you could argue that it is to create more livelihoods. But what is more important to me? Food on my plate or a bunch of useless codes I can live without?) Farmers have been relocated on the promise of “better lands” and “lucrative money” only to be disappointed. Since the separation of Andhra Pradesh into Andhra and Telangana, Andhra is planning to create (yes, create) a new capital called Amaravati. The new city will cover an area of 217.23 sq km. On whose land? You know the answer.
- Because of this improper planning, land is being cleared and used with no common sense whatsoever. You build offices, but where will the people working in those offices live? In the city! Where is the city? 30 km away of course! That’s what’s happened in Chennai, in 2001, the State government decided to build the 46 km stretch of OMR following the Confederation of Indian Industry’s complaint that recurring accidents on this road caused injuries to IT professionals and their visiting foreign clients. As part of the first phase, a 20 km six-lane road at a cost of Rs. 290 crore was completed in 2008. In their hurry to provide a glamorous address for IT companies, the planners focused only on the construction of OMR and did not bother about its connectivity with the rest of the city. The impact of accommodating more than three million square metre of office space was not foreseen.
With no residential accommodation, schools or hospitals, it is impossible for most of the 2,00,000 employees who work on OMR to live on this road. They commute from the city and reach their destination from three key directions. As a result, 30,000 vehicles jam the entry points every day. They cannot be blamed.
- Loss of fertile land, I’ve already stated. Loss of biodiversity, again, mentioned.
Isn’t this enough? Floods, traffic jams, still no place to stay, increased temperatures, no trees, and only pigeons!
That’s a big price to pay for something so simple as increased accommodation for workers and people alike.
What can be done? Stay tuned.