With a make-or-break world climate change summit scheduled for December, the United Nations will tomorrow mark World Cities Day on the theme ‘Designed to live together’ to promote togetherness and harmony, making our cities and neighbourhoods inclusive and livable. This follows last year’s thrust where the UN highlighted the critical role that cities and smart urban planning have to play in sustainable or eco-friendly development.
According to a UN report, half of humanity now lives in cities, and within two decades, nearly 60 per cent of the world’s people will be urban dwellers. As cities grow in size and population, harmony among the spatial, social and environmental aspects of a city and between their inhabitants becomes of paramount importance. This harmony hinges on two key pillars: equity and sustainability.
Planned urbanisation maximises the capacity of cities to generate employment and wealth, and to foster diversity and social cohesion between different classes, cultures, ethnicities and religions. Cities designed to live together create opportunities, enable connection and interaction, and facilitate sustainable use of shared resources, the UN says.
Rural to urban migration is climbing. Megacities are sprouting across the world and new, idealised models of sustainable urban living, such as Sustainia, are gaining huge traction. With more than 3.5 billion city dwellers on our planet, urbanisation is and will remain highly influential on our ability to adapt to the effects of climate change.
An article written for the Guardian by UN Under-secretary-General and UN Habitat Executive Director, Dr. Joan Clos, underscores the urgency of efficient, integrated city planning by outlining the way cities tip the environmental scale: up to 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions originate from urban areas yet they comprise only four percent of the planet’s land mass.
Playing a key role in Sri Lanka’s vision and goals to build eco-friendly cities and urban areas is the Megapolis and Western Province Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka. Addressing a news conference this week, the Minister said an essential part of this would be the creation of a port city from Mutwall to Wellawatte. He stressed this had little or nothing to do with the controversial Colombo port city that China is trying to build. An airport city would be set up in the areas around the Bandaranaike International Airport while most significantly a technological city would be set up in the areas from Malabe to Homagama. The Minister said eco-friendly sustainable projects, ways to reduce the unbearable traffic crisis in the city and suburbs and a just solution to the problems of the impoverished shanty dwellers would be among the main goals of the sustainable eco-friendly development during the next two to five years of the National Government.
The Minister said that instead of hauling thousands of shanty dwelling families into high rise apartments, the new Government would work out a just and fair solution in consultation with the impoverished families. Media reports have shown that the former regime’s high rise apartments were hastily constructed to the extent that some of them are now breaking down. World phsycological and architectural experts have reported that when people live or are forced to live in apartment complexes that are more than four storeys high, the tendency is to have more family quarrels and problems apparently because it is not good to live so high above ground level or Mother Earth. The high rise complexes may be okay for business purposes but not for daily living.
According to the Minister, Sri Lanka’s transportation cost which now is around 11.3% of GDP, could rise to an alarming 24.7% by 2020, if the current travel as usual is allowed to continue. It is shocking that the economic cost of fuel and time currently spent by Sri Lankans on the roads is Rs.1 billion a day.
Within the last three decades from 1985 to 2015, the number of daily commuters to the Colombo metropolitan region has nearly doubled from 1 million to 2 million. While the number of private vehicles travelling into the region has increased from 130,000 to 500,000, nearly four-fold. The number of public and private buses has shrunk from 32,000 to 29,000.
At the Tokyo motor show this week, a well-known Japanese company unveiled its prize product, a green or eco-friendly car that runs on hydrogen. Thousands of electric cars are also being produced. Sri Lanka needs to look at these and other creative and high technology methods as part of our contribution to curb climate change and save Mother Nature.