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Building climate resilient cities

Building climate resilient cities

The Green Goblin

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arini Nagendra
Last Updated : 29 June 2024, 22:18 IST
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Delhi’s torrential downpour, and the mayhem that followed, was certainly unprecedented, but not entirely unexpected. Long periods of intense heat -- like the prolonged heat wave in Delhi -- increase evaporation, sucking out the water from soil, plants and water bodies. The hotter the air, the more moisture it can hold -- until, at some point, the air becomes super-saturated. Intense rains follow, dumping all the excess water back into the city. Indeed, a similar pattern was observed in Dubai’s recent floods in April, where climate scientists estimate that the preceding heat waves increased rainfall levels by 10-40%.

This is not a one-off event, but a sign of things to come. When wealthy cities like Dubai struggle to cope with climate disasters, how can cities like Delhi and Bengaluru, already stretched to bursting, cope with the clusters of extreme climate events that may lie in their future -- heat waves, followed by floods, followed by drought, followed by fire?

By incorporating climate resilience strategies into their DNA. Last week, I was at the World Resources Institute (WRI) Ross Cities Prize for Cities jury discussions, with six other very experienced urbanists -- including the former mayors of Bogotá and Kampala, and the former governor of West Java. First initiated in 2018-19, this influential prize -- now in its fourth cycle -- recognizes five cities around the world for trailblazing projects of urban transformation. One winner receives a Grand Prize of $250,000 -- with four other finalists each receiving an additional $25,000. More than the cash prize, the award brings with it worldwide recognition of the systemic, innovative urban efforts underway by these cities to prepare for climate change. It seeks to document the stories of these cities, disseminating them to other locations where WRI works, eventually bringing them into teaching curricula through collaborations with global universities for propagation.

The five initiatives we examined were selected by WRI Ross Cities from a pool of 200 applicants, from 148 cities in 62 countries. This year, the prize received the most geographically diverse set of entries since its inception -- showing that climate resilience strategies are no longer niche or boutique ideas. In New York City, the Green Community Schoolyards initiative has removed the asphalt in hundreds of poor, inner city schoolyards. Schoolchildren help to re-imagine and re-design these areas as green spaces, helping in stormwater management -- and opening them for community use after school hours. Thus, the programme not only addresses problems of flood risk, it also improves public access to green spaces in underprivileged neighbourhoods.

In Buenos Aires, the Rodrigo Bueno climate-resilient housing project is an innovative programme of slum integration that integrates a large informal settlement into the city, providing energy-efficient housing, protecting biodiversity, and creating income opportunities for women. In Oslo, the city municipality has developed a detailed climate budget, adding 100-km of cycle lanes and using electricity to power almost all of its public transport, reducing emissions by almost 90%.

In Fortaleza, a city programme called Re-Ciclo now provides assured income to waste-pickers, along with dignity of work, enabling door-to-door collection of waste through apps and e-tricycles, transforming waste from trash to resource. And closest to home, in Chhatrapati Sambhajinagar (Aurangabad), the Kham river -- a seasonal stream that had become a dumping ground for garbage -- has been cleaned to create a 5-km eco-park, in large part through the efforts of Sahaai Saathi – women waste collectors. Most importantly, all these efforts help to catalyse and expand climate resilience efforts. The New York schoolyards programme has now expanded to 15 cities and 23 states in the US, for example, while the Kham river restoration project is increasing its scope beyond the city to cover all waterbodies in the broader regional water basin.

There are many stories of inspiration here, for Delhi and Bengaluru – indeed, for all of India’s growing cities. And yet, we don’t seem to be taking any of these lessons to heart. Instead, our cities are obsessed with concrete, building roads, and constructing buildings at the expense of trees, wetlands, and water bodies. Instead of building climate resilience, we are destroying the environment.

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