Rebooting Urban Ecosystem With Reverse Urban Planning, Last Hope To Restore Bhubaneswar’s Ruptured Veins

Bhubaneswar is blessed with a river, natural drainage system, marshy land, and an irrigation canal apart from water bodies such as ponds and lakes. They are the veins of its ecosystem that ensure the presence of trees and birds – perhaps a perfect urban ecosystem to sustain the inflow of urbanisation.

An ecosystem is a community of living things interacting with non-living ones. Examples include forests, lakes, soils, etc.  A city is often regarded as an urban ecosystem. People are among the living things, and the buildings, streets, and other structures that people build are among the non-living ones.

So, the Bhubaneswar urban ecosystem comprises seven different ecosystems – roadside trees, lawns/parks, urban forests, cultivated land, wetlands, lakes/sea and streams.

However, over the years, mindless chaotic urban planning has done numerous damages to this ecosystem. An example is that in April 2021 recently, it was the world’s hottest city. Earlier, in 2012, Bhubaneswar broke a 40-year record by touching 46.7℃.

The city’s urban ecosystem is so ruptured that every other year it experiences warmer days, fewer rainy days and winter is the new spring with warm weather. Such damage is the result of outdated urban planning practices and bad urban governance. Every bureaucrat became more of an urban planner than an administrative head of the city and the position of Mayor was just a ceremonial desk. Together with engineers and urban planners, they are responsible for the imbalance in the urban ecosystem due to needless expansion turning the city into a concrete jungle.

In urban ecology, urban ecosystems are considered an ecosystem functional group within the intensive land-use biome. They are structurally complex ecosystems with highly heterogeneous and dynamic spatial structures that are created and maintained by humans. Urban ecosystems are especially important in providing services with a direct impact on human health and security such as air purification, noise reduction, urban cooling, and runoff mitigation.

Bhubaneswar is now a victim of its own ecosystem. The people living here consider themselves to be smart urban people who keep changing the local environment through their consumption of food, energy, water, and land. In turn, the polluted urban environment has been affecting their health and quality of life. Bhubaneswar consumes much more food, energy, and durable goods than it generates.

Even the proposed Ring Road around Bhubaneswar won’t be of much use to the people. It is real estate that will benefit the most since now it will have prized land to construct another concrete jungle under the garb of meeting the demand for more households. The need of the hours is to safeguard Bhubaneswar’s green buffer zones with natural sponges.

Rebooting the urban ecosystem should be the city’s new relationship with nature. This year’s World Environment Day also calls for Generation Restoration, which means restoring the city’s ecosystem with a local push to prevent, halt and reverse ecosystem degradation.

It’s time for Bhubaneswar to initiate reverse urban planning to restore the veins of its urban ecosystem that were ruptured due to its faulty planning. There has to be an investment in terms of creating green buffers, canals, city sponges, reducing garbage, converting open spaces into urban farming, and generate solar or wind-based energy than on ring roads or city highways.

This is something Bhubaneswar should have done in its seventy-three years of journey as the capital of Odisha.  More green buffers should have been added to prevent other towns and cities from sprawling into one another. Imagine how a 50 sq km green buffer having a forest, canals between Bhubaneswar and Cuttack would have been if protected for agricultural, ecological, and recreational use. This was actually a part of the discussion in the nineties.

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