Settlements were the spaces between wilderness, interweaving the anthropocentric principles closely with the ecological ones. The reversal of this situation that we have witnessed over time where the greens instead became spaces between settlements bear testimony to the drastic shift in prioritizing urbanization over environmental preservation. The loss of biodiversity has not necessarily stemmed from an eventual lack of reverence towards nature but more due to formative consequences that have placed green covers in a more compromising and compensatory position. Predominant agrarian economy was replaced by rapid industrialization, resulting in infrastructural takeovers where nature did not necessarily find a voice. Whichever countries were late to the industrial revolution eventually caught up with the “modern times” , reducing more and more social segments that depended on land for sustenance. Farmlands were acquired for increasing housing stock, indigenous populations were sidetracked for clearing forests for its commercial advantages and the benefits of preserving ecological precincts underestimated.
Even for a country with a strong history of cultural ecology, environmental degradation has managed to seep in rather firmly making urban green spaces more relevant than before. Urban green spaces have a direct connection with urban health and quality of living. They significantly regulate the microclimate of the area, the repercussions of which are reflected in the everyday life and practices of the society residing there. Greener areas encourage more sustainable prospects. They mitigate pollution and hence permit the possibilities of more active public life and increased pedestrianization. Taking a case example of Delhi every corresponding MPD shows the effects of urbanization have had on diminishing green covers. It’s abundance of environmental assets in the form of the Aravalli ridge, the Yamuna, Reserved forests and Regional parks constitute a generous amount of non-negotiable blue-green system that should not be tampered with.
The green cover in Delhi
As per MPD’41- “Almost 20% of the land area is under green cover, as per Department of Forests, GNCTD. Based on the categorization of the Indian Forest Act, 1927, Delhi has three kinds of forests. The Ridge is a reserved forest spread over an area of about 7784 Ha that constitutes nearly 5.2% of NCT of Delhi. The Ridge is categorized as a Regional Park in the master plan, permitting very restricted development and activities. The second category comprises 26 protected forests, with a total area of about 1658Ha. Thirdly, 40 unclassified forests (about 1090 Ha) are maintained by the Department of Forests, GNCTD as ‘City Forests’. Additionally, there are more than 18,000 parks and gardens, which enhance the green quotient of the city and take the total area constituting open and green spaces close to 30%.
Around 50% of Delhi consists of open spaces but only 22% of it is green. It therefore, becomes important to understand three things
– not all open spaces are green
– not all green spaces have public access and
– most green spaces are concentrated in selected pockets leading to inequitable distribution of environmental wealth.
More open spaces for the privileged
The green gap hence, becomes a defining parameter in the existing urban life of various regions. Whatever green cover exists or has been retained, was done so due to the ability to afford green spaces rather than it’s socio-economic, ecological or health benefits. A discussion of privilege becomes necessary at this point that harps on the question of where the greens are located, in what condition and proportion. The Lutyens Bungalow Zone, Chhatarpur farmhouses, Golf Links, Jor Bagh to name a few, are few of the greenest areas of the city. But these areas come with restricted or limited public access due to a major percentage of the greens being private. Most green buffers and green belts are deflected towards township developments in the NCR region, again falling prey to private semi-private access. The lowest rungs of the society with the direst needs for green spaces find limited or no access to it. Because adjacency does not necessarily ensure access. The high-density residential areas that require breathing spaces are therefore the ones deprived of them. Green spaces are not just areas of leisure and urban health, they are more importantly containers of active social life. In high density areas they act as multifunctional magnets that encompass the pluralism of Indian societies. They are dynamic spaces that navigate changes seasonally to accommodate the interests of all cross sections of the society.
No contribution, no green space
This brings us to re-evaluate the conditional aspects of the environment. The marginalized are always associated with derelict ecological zones. They are expected to reside next to the green spoils of the city because their contribution towards maintaining it is undermined. It is not enough to be placed next to a green cover. One must also have the option of relying on it for sustenance. Otherwise, the difference between a manicured lawn and a public green would merely be aesthetic and accessibility. Reliance of green covers for life and livelihood as a medium of maintenance should be addressed through the introduction of informal greens. This classification ensures that the societies surrounding it become environmental caretakers and not predators, as the general opinion exists. The indigenous population have always played a major role in conserving the local flora and fauna. An ironic situation is seen to arise in most places, predominantly in the NCR region, where green corridors or stretches are created to connect areas but barbed in order to prevent access. These stretches eventually become waste dumps due to the lack of ownership assumed by the local population. Thus, completing the circle of prejudice that correlates the neglected with the negligent.
Environmental precedence is non-negotiable. In the pursuit of mitigating the climate crisis ecological stability shares dominance. Cities should be built to incorporate and accommodate ecological sensitivity at all costs. Any change beyond environmental limits is a permanent and unreconciled conflict.