Mumbai pioneered ‘urban forests’ and then abandoned the idea
Creation of urban forests has been part of the agenda of India’s environment departmentsUpdated: Jun 30, 2019 23:36 IST
Delhi is planning to create 11 city forests. The conserved areas, which will be developed with the help of the forest department, will have numerous benefits: they will be a refuge for wildlife – birds, insects and small animals; the area will also be accessible to the public, with plans for pathways and jogging tracks.
Cities across the world are realising the benefits of urban forests. The World Economic Forum says that cities that have more trees are less noisy, with lower pollution levels. A fully-grown tree can annually absorb up to 150kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) – one of the main greenhouse gases whose rising proportion in the atmosphere is warming the earth. Trees can moderate temperatures in heavily built cities, where heat radiated from concrete on buildings and roads, makes these areas hotter than the surrounding countryside, in a phenomenon known as ‘heat island’ effect.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation says that trees in urban areas reduce ozone, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter; remove large quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and release oxygen. They can ameliorate the ‘heat island’ effect of cities through evaporative cooling, and by providing shade. Forests and trees also help beautify cityscapes, improving land values for property owners. Urban forests also provide recreational and educational opportunities, as well as create a habitat for urban wildlife.
One definition describes the contribution of urban forests beyond environment amelioration. Gene Grey and Frederick Deneke, who wrote about urban forestry, said: “Urban forestry is the management of trees for their contribution to the physiological, sociological, and economic well-being of urban society.”
Creation of urban forests has been part of the agenda of India’s environment departments. A few years ago, environment minister Prakash Javadekar announced an ‘urban forest’ programme under which trees would be planted in those parts of urban areas which have been marked as forest lands but do not have any tree cover. Javdekar said that the country had around 200 cities with areas like this.
Green Yatra, a group that promotes urban forestry, recommends seven trees for every person, but Mumbai has only one tree for every five inhabitants. The city has 13% (of its surface) under green cover, against the recommendation of 33% by the government. Also, 50% of the trees in the city are non-native. Mumbai needs to readopt the idea of urban forests.
Mumbai’s experiment with urban forests goes back to the 1980s, though the term was not in use locally. In the 1980s, a 37-acre forest was created by the Mumbai Regional Development Authority, with the help of the Worldwide Fund for Nature, out of a garbage dumping ground in Mahim. The first tree was planted by ornithologist Dr Salim Ali in September 1984. Now known as Maharashtra Nature Park (MNP), the forest has hundreds of plant, bird and insect species.
The city has not replicated the pioneering idea. “We have not done anything like that [MNP] again,” says Avinash Kubal, former deputy director of MNP. “The skyrocketing price of land is the reason why we are stuck. People are interested and are willing, so space is the only issue.”
One urban forestry method that is suited for Mumbai is the ‘Miyawaki’ method through which trees are planted in high densities. It was pioneered by Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki but can be adapted with indigenous species for local conditions. Earlier this year, the citizens’ group Green Yatra planted 3,000 saplings in a 10,000-sqft area set aside for forestry by the Central Railside Warehouse Company Ltd in Jogeshwari.
Miyawaki forests replicate a tropical rain forest where trees grow in layers, with shorter shade-loving trees in the undergrowth and high-canopy species overhead. “In conventional forestry, around 1,000 trees are grown in one acre. We plant 12,000 in the same area under Miyawaki,” said Pradeep Tripathi, founder of Green Yatra. “Miyawaki method creates the benefit of a 100-year-old forest in 10 years.”
First Published: Jun 30, 2019 23:27 IST