Urban forests to help cities breathe easy - GulfToday

Urban forests to help cities breathe easy

Meena Janardhan

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

Urban forests to help cities breathe easy

There are many cities where the forest department has its land but there are no forest on it.

India’s Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar recently made a case in Parliament for creating urban forests to provide lungs to cities gasping for clean air and introducing a programme in schools where students would grow and distribute plants.

“There is a need for urban forests. We need to plant trees. We have done that in Pune where the forest is spread over 70 acres. Today many people walk to the place every day. That would be a big tourist attraction in coming days,” he said during a debate the situation arising out of the dangerous level of air pollution in the country, particularly in Delhi.

On the World Environment Day, the Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Javadekar had highlighted the need for increasing the green cover and protecting wildlife.

“Urban forestry is the new thrust area and we will be taking up massive tree plantation drive in as many as 200 cities and towns across the country” said Javadekar at a commemorative function in Mumbai.  The Environment Ministry will launch the ‘Urban Forestry Scheme’ in Pune, where 6000 saplings will be planted to create an ‘urban jungle’ on about 80 acres of land.”

Highlighting that in most of our cities there are gardens and parks but no forests, the minister added, “There are many cities where the forest department has its land but there are no forest on it or are degraded. In these places through people’s participation, we will establish urban forestry” he added.   Stressing that the green mission can succeed only through active people’s participation, the Environment Minister urged the citizens to plant trees, take a selfie and share photographs on ‘wedselfie.nic.in’.

One such emerging urban forest success story is in the city of Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Urban authorities in Ahmedabad, as in some other cities, are experimenting with ways of creating small green areas in an ever-expanding concrete urban landscape.

Among other methods, one method which is growing popular is that of the Miyawaki forests. Developed by Japanese botanist and plant ecologist Akira Miyawaki, and named after him, the Miyawaki method of reforestation is a way of ecological engineering that advocates development of forests even in small areas, by first treating the top layer of soil, and then planting local species that can flourish on their own. In Ahmedabad , which has Kobe, Japan as a sister city, the municipal corporation and the city’s builders are experimenting with this method and are hoping to create such green spaces not only on land but also on the now fully flowing Sabarmati River.

Recently, about 67,000 trees were planted along the banks of Sabarmati, to ensure greening of areas along the waterfront, with the biggest patch encompassing 50,000 trees over an area of 10,000 square meters on the west bank and 17,000 trees in four other patches.

Different species, based on their growth, fruit bearing and flowering patterns, were selected to grow side by side, for optimum use of soil nutrients and sunshine.  Five different species were planted over an area measuring one square metre. Understanding these patterns is the key to successful plantation, so that the forest develops at different levels, vertically and with adequate canopy.

For the first time in India, Ahmedabad is also experimenting with the concept of “Floating Gardens” on a river with flowing water. These gardens can be created in any water body that has stable water, like ponds, lakes and slow-moving rivers. The final structure can be a big island or a narrow walkway lined with plants, depending on the requirement. But the concept faces many challenges, from assembling and installation to disposal of waste to maintain quality of water.

Delhi is also planning to create 11 city forests. The conserved areas, which will be developed with the help of the forest department, will have numerous benefits: they will be a refuge for wildlife – birds, insects and small animals; the area will also be accessible to the public, with plans for pathways and jogging tracks.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation says that trees in urban areas reduce ozone, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter; remove large quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and release oxygen. They can ameliorate the ‘heat island’ effect of cities through evaporative cooling, and by providing shade. Forests and trees also help beautify cityscapes, improving land values for property owners. Urban forests also provide recreational and educational opportunities, as well as create a habitat for urban wildlife.

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