By Ahana Ramji | Illustration by Kshiti Mishra

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Humans have been living on planet Earth for over 200,000 years, and it has evolved considerably from the time we inhabited it. Ever since our world underwent the Industrial Revolution in the late 1800s, our environment has taken a toll for the worse. Pollution, deforestation, ozone depletion and loss of biodiversity are some of the many issues faced by our environment today.  These changes to our ecosystem have impacted nature and affected wildlife and people in several ways.  However, humans have started to realize that the environment needs saving if we want to continue living on Earth. Studies show that environmental problems were first addressed in the 1960s and 1970s, and ever since then, efforts have been made all over the world to restore our environment and prevent/reduce the problems humans have caused on the environment. 

Ecosystem restoration can take many forms – growing trees, greening cities, or cleaning up rivers and coasts. Greening cities can be achieved by working with nature and creating habitats to provide ecosystem services in such a way that cities can become more efficient and more pleasant to live in.

First, let us understand what a green city is. A green and sustainable city is a community of residents, workers, and visitors who strive together to balance ecological, economic, and social needs to ensure a clean, healthy and safe environment for all members of society and for generations to come. A green city improves the environment, ensures rich biodiversity, reduces air pollution, ensures water storage, dampens noise and helps in cooling the air during warm periods. In addition, there is a positive effect on the health and social connections of people living, working and recreating in a green environment.

Let us look at some of the cities where the “green belt” is making a comeback. 

Copenhagen is known to be the world’s most cycle-friendly city, but how did it there? In the 1970s, Copenhageners demonstrated outside City Hall in Copenhagen, demanding that cycling also be prioritised after cars became more and more dominant during the 1950s and 60s. Authorities and planners listened and the bicycle subsequently began to be an important part of traffic planning in the city.

This has resulted in a steady increase in cycling over the following decades. The goal is for 50 percent of all trips to work and education in Copenhagen to be made by bike by 2025. In 2018, they reached 49 percent. Out of all trips made to, from and in the City of Copenhagen, 28 percent were in 2018 made by bicycle in 2018. In the inner city, bicycles outnumbered cars in 2016.

Ever since then, Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, has made rapid strides in its evolution as a sustainable city and has been largely successful in its efforts.  Its sustainability plan has focused on three primary areas – mobility, pollution and energy.  The city’s mobility has transformed itself into one based on bikes instead of traditional cars.  Residents use bikes for more than 60% of their daily commutes.  All the city’s buses are now electric and almost 96% of residents have access to green space in 15 minutes or less.  Their pollution clean-up efforts have transformed harbours contaminated with oil spills and industrial waste into community swimming pools where kids can take a dip after school.  Copenhagen is also a leader in commercial wind power and is at the forefront of eco-friendly commercial building design.  They have developed advanced pipeline systems that not only trap heat from electricity and keep homes warm in winter.  Copenhagen is now a wonderful example of a city that has transformed itself into a sustainable green city and serves as a template for other cities of the world.  

Sydney is also another city that has undertaken major efforts to become a green city. Sydney was the first major city in Australia to embark on a mission of being a carbon-neutral green city.  Extensive efforts to lower emissions and create more pedestrian zones and transportation routes enabled it to be certified as carbon neutral. Small and medium-sized businesses improved their environmental performance with the help of local government initiatives and saved over 200 million litres of water and diverted 2400 tons of waste from landfills.  Sydney has transformed itself from a concrete jungle to a stunning “urban jungle” with acres of native parkland and vertical gardens where locals can walk, cycle and picnic with ease.  This focus on a green and environmentally sustainable city has led to a logical enriching of lifestyle for Sydney’s residents.

The United Nations General Assembly has declared the years 2021 through 2030 as the “UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration”.  It is now up to us citizens of the world, inhabitants of this wonderful planet called earth, to ensure that we continue our mission to green our cities and make this a sustainable and thriving environment for our future generations.

About the Author:

Ahana Ramji is an 11th standard science student in Bangalore. She is interested in the applications of biology and technology in creating solutions to modern problems.

About the Artist:

Kshiti Mishra is pursuing a PhD in physics in the Netherlands and occasionally likes to dabble in different kinds of art.