Encouraging greener approach for dynamic changes in urban policies

Sneha Ravani

Urban planning has been a standard practice for hundreds of years in controlling land use, services, design, architecture, history, transportation, utilities, and economies. With the rapid migration of the population from rural to urban spaces and a total world population of 8 billion, there is a dire need for strategic rethinking and pragmatic solutions for mitigated outcomes that are in alignment with the history and cultural identity of a city, the environment, economic growth, as well as social and cultural aspects of the city.

Historically, urban areas have attracted people for better job opportunities and have functioned as centres for arts, social, religious, and cultural exchanges and learning, among other things. Such factors, coupled with population growth from within, have resulted in either densification or expansion of existing urban areas or cities in a sporadic manner, leading to chaos and dysfunction. These have resulted in certain megacities crossing a population of 10 million or more due to urban shifts over time.

Issues with the public health care system

The 2020 pandemic affected urban living and shed light on recognizing the need for making cities more nurturing towards human needs. Changes required to maintain the urban future for sustainable life became vital, recognizing the shift in the need for policies and governance to avoid drastic measures. Incorporating green streets and public spaces for a more people-centric city approach will reduce the effects of the traditional structure of development for high population density with heavy construction for infrastructure development, providing modern amenities, transport, commercial and residential buildings, etc.

To fulfil the needs for the rapid rise in population, several Indian cities have adopted an approach of engineered solutions causing a major decline in green and blue features, with uncalculated changes in land-use transitions indicating environmental losses that have an exponentially detrimental effect on public health and well-being, causing floods, the heat island effect, temperature rise, sources of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, loss of habitat, air and water pollution, deterioration of mental well-being, etc.

Council on the Future of Cities has included increasing green canopy cover in its top ten list of urban planning initiatives. SDG 11 can be measured by the amount of green and open space in a city.

Challenges faced by urban areas

Urban areas are home to more than half of the world’s population and are projected to increase by another two billion people by 2050. This rapid urbanisation has resulted in several challenges for urban areas, including the following:

1. Environmental degradation: Environmental degradation is one of the major problems of the upcoming century with population rise; issues like deforestation, and water scarcity are bound to increase without any socioeconomical consideration towards these issues. Urban spaces mark around 70% of global carbon emissions and are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The depletion of natural resources and the alteration of the landscape due to urbanisation have a direct impact on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.

2. Social inequality: urbanisation is a process with interrelated economic, environmental, and social changes in respect to demographic areas, the cost of infrastructure and its availability to all strata of society, development with equality, and gentrification of localities.

3. Infrastructure and services: Rapid urbanisation causes the faltering of systems with the unequal development of infrastructure and services, right from water supply and drainage channels, to reducing water runoff, transport facilities with a sustainable approach, increased land prices, and a lack of basic facilities like healthcare and education systems. These issues disproportionately affect low-income households, migrants, and marginalised communities, exacerbating social inequality in urban areas.

Urban policies and governance play a vital role in addressing social inequality in urban spaces and domains. The traditional approach to urban planning has generally prioritised economic growth over social equity and environmental sustainability, resulting in the marginalisation of low income households, underprivileged communities.

4. Governance and planning: Traditional approaches to urban governance and planning often prioritise short-term economic growth over the well-being of the environment and people.

Rapid urbanisation has posed a significant challenge for urban governance and planning worldwide.

In many developing countries, urban governance and planning often face significant challenges due to certain social and political factors, such as corruption, lack of political will, and budget allocation. The result is often observed with the depletion of natural resources in a rapid attempt to resolve (Could not generate citation due to insufficient data)issues for infrastructure and service development, which in turn leads to social inequality, with the poorest urban residents living in informal settlements without proper housing facilities as well as with limited access to basic services such as healthcare, education, and clean water.

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Urbanisation poses different challenges in developed countries in regards to urban governance and planning, ranging from managing land prices and further development, maintaining existing infrastructure and upgrading it sustainably to manage the environmental impacts. Traditional urban planning and governance models have proven to favour economic short term growth over sustainable growth patterns and long term benefits, and they also disregard human well being. Overall, traditional approaches to urban governance and planning have faced significant challenges due to the focus on short-term economic growth over long-term sustainability and well-being.

The most significant challenges faced by urban governance and planning in its traditional approach have been a severe lack of integration and an understanding that environment, social equity, and economic growth have to be dealt with in sync with one another, a lack of which has led to fragmented policies and unsuitable solutions flailing to address urban challenges. Along with lack of involvement and inclusion in the decision making process of urban residentants in traditional approach lacks diversity, ground root reality understanding and a wholesome approach to development; increasing further social inequality.

Urbanisation is a major driver of economic growth, the challenge is to utilise this driver efficiently and sustainably to suggest insightful planning to yield long term benefits by ensuring a city’s social and economic infrastructure are sound by ramping up urban planning and adopting robust systems. These new frameworks should be based on integrated approaches that consider the interrelationships between environmental, social, and economic factors and aim to achieve long-term sustainability and well-being.

Urban heat island effect

The urban heat island effect is a phenomenon in which urban areas experience higher temperatures than surrounding rural areas due to the absorption and release of heat by buildings and pavements, air conditioning, darker surfaces, lack of green spaces, use of concrete and asphalt the mean land temperature with densely paved and built areas is significantly higher than in open spaces; leading to fatal deaths; Strong correlation is observed between land surface temperatures with normalised difference vegetation.

This phenomenon has significant impacts on the environment and people, including increased energy consumption, increased air pollution, and adverse health effects such as heatstroke and dehydration.

Anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions

Despite the vast amount of land on the planet, the maximum population resides in urban areas. Urban areas occupy approximately 0.5% of the total surface area but contribute to over 70% of global carbon emissions. This creates a significant amount of pressure on the environment, with transportation and buildings being the primary sources of these emissions.

The urban population has increased by over 40% in a century and is projected to further increase by 15% in the next 50 years. Anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions contribute to global climate change and have significant impacts on the environment and people. These impacts include rising sea levels, increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters, deforestation, and adverse health effects such as respiratory diseases.

Rapid urbanisation is creating increasing climate risks and threats to human comfort and environmental justice, leading to temperature increases, natural disasters, extreme weather, and loss of biodiversity, resulting in a failure to take effective climate action. In order to mitigate the repercussions of these challenges, urban policies must be directed towards the potential role of green (trees, parks, gardens, playgrounds, and forests) and blue (seas, rivers, ponds, lakes, wetlands, and vernal pools) infrastructure.

The need for new frameworks

The challenges faced by urban areas require new frameworks for urban governance and planning that prioritise the environment and people. These frameworks should aim to achieve long-term sustainability and improve the well-being of urban residents. Some of the key components of new frameworks for urban governance and planning are as follows:

Sustainability: New frameworks should prioritise sustainability and aim to reduce the environmental impact of urban areas. This includes promoting green and blue infrastructure, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and increasing access to renewable energy. Existing urban infrastructure will need to be reinforced and made more resilient to accommodate the anticipated population growth and withstand future shocks and calamities expected as outcomes of climate change.

Equity: New frameworks should aim to reduce social inequality and promote social justice. This includes improving access to better healthcare, education, public transport, and other basic facilities as the primary goal, while accommodating an environmentally sustainable approach.

Green blue infrastructure (GBI) is an interconnected network of green spaces and water bodies that provide multiple benefits to urban areas. GBI includes parks, pocket parks, urban forests, green roofs, wetlands, vertical gardening, green islands, and water bodies such as rivers, lakes, and ponds. Identifying GBI as a key solution for improving the environmental conditions and people’s well-being in urban areas is crucial.

GBI can be a means to mitigate several degrading factors due to urbanisation such as:

Climate change mitigation: GBI can reduce the urban heat island effect by providing shade and evaporative cooling, while also sequestering carbon, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and mitigating the impacts of climate change. GBI can aid in avoiding further land degradation and habitat loss by promoting sustainable land use practices, such as micro forests and urban agriculture. Additionally, through such initiatives, GBI can improve soil quality and reduce erosion, which can lead to better water quality in urban areas. Encouraging green roofs, opening park spaces in densely populated areas, and reimagining waste spaces as parklets.

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Climate change adaptation: GBI can improve the resilience of urban areas to the impacts of climate change, such as flooding, droughts, and other extreme weather events. GBI can absorb and store water, reducing the risk of flooding and erosion. The planning process should aim to understand water runoff and scarcity and conduct further studies on water systems to incorporate water bodies. Incorporating GBI in urban planning can also have positive impacts on air quality by providing habitats for biodiversity. Furthermore, involving community members in the planning process can lead to a more equitable and sustainable outcome.

Improved air and water quality: GBI can filter pollutants from the air and water, improving air and water quality and reducing the risk of respiratory diseases and waterborne illnesses.

Improved mental and physical health: GBI can provide opportunities for recreation, social interaction, and relaxation, improving mental health and reducing stress. GBI can also promote physical activity, reducing the risk of obesity and chronic diseases.

GBI can be implemented at different scales, from individual buildings to entire neighbourhoods and cities. Some examples of GBI include:

Green roofs: Green roofs are vegetated roofs that provide multiple benefits, including reducing the urban heat island effect, improving air quality, and reducing stormwater runoff. Revising urban policies to incorporate green roofs as a mandate in new construction, depending on the location and microclimate of the areas. Implementing green roofs at larger scales can have significant positive impacts on the environment and human health, along with increasing biodiversity.

Urban forests: Urban forests are clusters of trees and other vegetation that provide multiple benefits, including reducing the urban heat island effect, improving air quality, and providing habitat for wildlife. Reimagining waste spaces, and unused land parcels as urban forests. This approach can also help to increase property values and enhance the aesthetic appeal of urban areas. Additionally, involving local communities in the planning and maintenance of these urban forests can foster a sense of ownership and pride in their neighbourhoods, further aiding mental wellbeing.

Green streets: Green streets are streets that incorporate green infrastructure, such as trees, bioswales, and rain gardens, to manage stormwater runoff and improve the urban environment.

Identifying spaces that can be used as parklets on the side of the streets to create shaded walkways, and rest areas for pedestrians, and overall creating a more people-centric, more inclusive approach. Green streets will not only improve the environment but also enhance the walkability and livability of the community. By creating shaded walkways and rest areas, green streets can encourage more people to walk, bike, or use public transportation, reducing traffic congestion and air pollution.

Blue infrastructure: Blue infrastructure refers to water bodies and systems that provide multiple benefits, including improving water quality, providing habitat for wildlife, and reducing the risk of flooding. Protecting and conserving city lakes and encouraging infrastructure development around natural water bodies will increase land value, reduce mental stress, and provide recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike. Additionally, blue infrastructure can also serve as a source of renewable energy through the use of hydroelectric power or wave energy converters.


Urban areas face significant challenges concerning environmental degradation, social inequality, and inadequate infrastructure and services. Traditional approaches to urban governance and planning have often prioritised shortterm economic growth over the well-being of the environment and people, leading to adverse impacts on the environment and people’s mental and physical health. Therefore, it is imperative to develop new frameworks for urban governance and planning that prioritise sustainability, equity, resilience, and participation.

Green-blue infrastructure (GBI) is a promising solution that has been identified to improve the environmental conditions and people’s well-being in urban areas. GBI offers multiple benefits, such as climate change mitigation and adaptation, improved air and water quality, and enhanced mental and physical health. It can be implemented at various scales, from individual buildings to entire neighbourhoods and cities, and should be incorporated into the new frameworks for urban governance and planning.

By integrating GBI into urban governance and planning, we can create more sustainable and resilient urban areas that promote the well-being of both the environment and people. It is time for urban planners, policymakers, and stakeholders to work together to reinvent frameworks for urban governance and planning and create cities that are livable, equitable, and sustainable.

Author: Sneha Ravani, Member, NIUA