Former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, once said “Sustainable development is the pathway to the future we want for all. It offers a framework to generate economic growth, achieve social justice, and strengthen governance.” Simply put, the importance of sustainable development cannot be undermined. It plays a pivotal role for creating a future which human beings deserve. Unfortunately, sustainable development has become a mirage due to exponential population growth in the past few decades. The unprecedented growth in population has posed an array of challenges ranging from haphazard growth of cities to heavy traffic congestion and from decline in air quality to depletion of biodiversity. It is still not too late to wake up and act promptly; following five steps, if followed in letter and spirit can bring about a paradigm shift, for the better, in building more sustainable cities.
According to Economic Survey of Pakistan 2020, Pakistan is the most urbanized country in South Asia with 36% of population residing in urban areas. People move to cities in search of a bright future, better opportunities in terms of education, healthcare or profession. Why is it so? What makes rural areas so undesirable for people migrating to urban areas? Arguably speaking, facilities offered by cities in most of the developing countries are not available in villages or sub-urban areas. So, people migrate for better education, good jobs, businesses, and for many other reasons. Can urbanization be controlled? Yes, there are a number of ways to control it along with many practical examples. The state must provide all basic necessities (Health, Education, Infrastructure, business activities, etc.) in rural or suburban areas, people will stop migrating toward cities. Even, there might be chances of counter-urbanizations. In Japan, for instance, migration from central to sub-urban areas seen when industrial revolution led to polluted areas and better facilities are being provided in sub-urban areas.
Promoting Cycling and Walkability
More and more awareness is needed to plan for walkability and cycling in cities. The spread of cycle hiring facilities such as the schemes in China, London, Paris, must be encouraged to attain numerous benefits in terms of improved air quality and promoting health. Furthermore, it also minimizes the dependency on bikes and cars, thereby, cities will become more resilient and sustainable.
Think about Densification
Dense cities are more sustainable because the impact per unit is less, up to a limit. Accommodation will become more affordable, in general, as a result. Land use should be mixed, with light industry interspersed with retail, office and workshop space and services to create local jobs and social diversity. Moreover, mixed land uses also make the place self-sustained and reduce the usage of automobiles.
Invest on Public Transport
Public transport has a number of benefits to build more sustainable cities. It supports communities financially, reduces air pollution and traffic congestion, improves the environment, saves time, and many more. Moreover, increasing availability of public transportation minimizes the influx of people towards cities. Rather, they will prefer to go to cities for education, jobs, businesses and for other activities via public transport on a daily basis provided that it should be easily available, accessible, comfortable and affordable. One reason for people to live in sub-urban areas in developed countries is that the transportation network is very strong. Even a person from a village area can come to the central area quite easily through public transport.
On the individual level of city dwellers, after energy consumption, food consumption is the biggest source of carbon emissions, then transport, consumables and housing. Urban growing can be a key to making cities sustainable. Urban growing can include: rooftop gardening, teaching children to grow food in schools, community-supported agriculture, farmers’ markets. This step will also lessen the dependency on surrounding farm houses, rural, and sub-urban areas for food items. Hence, urban growing is much needed to make cities pleasant, appealing, and sustainable.