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Harmony with nature for making cities truly livable and sustainable in a changing climate

  • Published at 04:59 pm November 11th, 2019
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Greeneries in Ramna Park Photo: Sayed Uddin

Dhaka is known as one of the fastest growing cities of the world

Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, is the least liveable city among any of the South Asian city surveyed. It is ranked 138 on livability among 140 cities of the world.This information has been brought to light by The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Index 2019. 

Dhaka is also known as one of the fastest growing cities of the world. Greater Dhaka has a population increase of 10 times in last 40 years to about 20.2 million population in 2018 (World Population Review). Dhaka’s role as a commercial hub has led to rapid population growth with an enormous pressure on social, environmental and economic well being. 

With the continuous expansion of the city, green spaces and water bodies are being replaced by housing, commercial spaces and industrial infrastructure. Dhaka city has barely 5 per cent greenery available while the livable city should contain 25 percent greenery of its total area (Siddiqua, 2017). Loss of greeneries,and increased amount of built up infrastructures coupled with an increasing amount of greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles and factories. These factors are contributing to generating heat stress, water shortage and unbearable pollution in Dhaka City.  

Within the current context of rapid urban growth and climate change, improving cities’ liveability has become a major concern in Dhaka’s city planning and management.Making cities livable and sustainable requires a set of economic, social and ecological characteristics, which improve without deteriorating the environmental conditions and will have a positive impact on residents’ quality of life. 

Sustainable urban planning with nature-based solution and re-naturing is important to tackle lower liveability. Nature-based solutions combines human ingenuity and natural ecosystem services that creates living system to reduce negative impacts of environmental change.There are a variety of new approaches for the implementation of nature-based solutions including integrating living systems with built systems through innovative combinations of soft and hard engineering. Incorporating blue and green infrastructures such as ponds, lakes, rooftop gardens, community gardens, parks in urban environment is undoubtedly a no-regret measure that address negative climatic impacts while restoring natural environment and enhancing residents’ quality of life.

Re-naturing, bringing nature back into our cities, offer a tremendous opportunity to enhance well-being and strengthen community cohesion. It goes beyond urban greening or bluing and offers even greater benefits, not only in improved health and well-being, but also in generating environments that support a diversity of species.

Growing green in urban setting reduces urban heat stress, boosts more healthy and active lifestyles, promotes well-being and brings communities together. Rooftop gardens, green walls and greenery associated with housing help to flourish urban lives and improve the attractiveness of an area in addition to lowering tenants’ cooling costs. Similarly, urban community gardens increase local food sovereignty, enhance social interconnection, provide opportunities for learning and contribute to urban biodiversity.Forests and vegetation in and around urban areas sequester carbon, regulate the micro-climate, purify the air and reduce urban noise. In addition, spending time in nature and in direct contact with natural elements improves mental and physical health, and well being. In Dhaka, rooftop and balcony gardening/agriculture are getting popular due to social acceptance and economic benefits such as food, vegetables.It is inspiring to see that the house owners in the Dhaka South City Corporation enjoy a 10 percent tax rebate on holdings if they are into gardening in the rooftops, balconies or compounds. Undoubtedly positive changes in Dhaka residents’ willingness to live with nature are coming, although environmental benefits of green measures are often outweighed by social and economic advantages. 

Restoration and construction of blue spaces are other approaches for attaining sustainable urban liveability. Blue spaces like permeable surfaces, bioretention swales, natural and constructed wetlands, rain gardens are important for absorbing excessive rainwater and lowering the risk of water logging and removing pollutant from storm water. The purified runoff can be stored for re-use to prevent water scarcity during dry season. However, blue strategies are still not as prevalent as green adaptations in the context of Dhaka city. Blue spaces are evident to reduce heat stress, micro climate variability and pollution in many of the Asian countries such as Korea, Japan and China. Thus,Dhaka has a huge opportunity in adapting blue spaces associated with residence. 

In Dhaka, residents are culturally unfamiliar with the importance of nature-based solutions and re-naturing for better liveability. Thus, particular attention must be paid to the involvement of society, community and individuals in re-naturing, with the aim of re-connecting people with nature, raising awareness of societal benefits, and creating a public demand for healthy urban environment. Successful implementation of nature-based solutions is only possible with public engagement and collaborative activities.

Dr. Rumana Sultanais an Assistant Professor at The Center for Sustainable Development, University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh.