Urban forests: changing cities
Sometimes all it takes to solve complex problems is simple solutions. The same can be said of tackling the rising pollution and emission levels in the major cities of Pakistan. Planting trees as part of urban forests might be a simple yet effective solution to the problem.
As rapid urbanisation takes place and developers are in a race to the bottom when it comes to the countless number of housing societies being built in Karachi, Lahore and other major cities, more and more trees and vegetation have been destroyed in the process.
In a recent interview with BR Research, CEO of the Urban Unit Khalid Sherdil pointed out that the majority of housing societies in Lahore have not even made parks, instead utilising that land for more plots which is in direct contravention with the original plans submitted to the Lahore Development Authority (LDA).
The same kind of flagrant violation has been done by industrial units which have not planted trees according to their original agreement with the government when a no-objection certificate was granted to them. According to Mr. Khalid, the Punjab government has also issued notices to 670 units in this regard.
As most of the urban land is now overwhelmingly either housing societies or industrial units, both of these should be made to comply in helping develop urban forests in Lahore. The inhabitants of these societies should hold the society developers to account and new investments should be discouraged in societies which do not include adequate green areas.
The concept of urban forests is not recent by any means. Countless examples from around the globe illustrate the benefits of making forests and natural vegetation as an integral part of urban infrastructure. In the aftermath of the Second World War more than 60 percent of the trees and forests in and surrounding Tokyo were destroyed in Japan. However, a concerted effort by the city government which went all out on tree plantation resulted in more than 20,000 hectares of forest land in Tokyo.
Another good model to study is Ireland where the Forest of Belfast initiative brings together local governments, environmental organisations, businesses as well as individual citizens who volunteer as Tree Wardens ensuring protection and cultivation of trees around Belfast. This has resulted in the plantation of more than 200,000 trees as part of the program.
Perhaps, a similar model can be implemented in Lahore with the Punjab Horticulture Authority (PHA) taking the lead in the matter while partnering with environmental NGOs and civil society. If a successful urban forest project can be implemented in Lahore, it could very well change the face of the metropolis and mitigate many of the pollution and smog problems the city faces year after year. But the benefits are not simply limited to reducing carbon emissions.
Urban forests also help with preserving local wildlife and provide shelter to building with some estimates pointing to as much as 10 percent in energy savings. In Tokyo, these plantations also act as storm a water control which is something highly useful for Lahore especially in the Monsoon season. Let the plantations begin then!