Cities must have bigger green areas in their midst
Dr. Vandana Sehgal is an architect, an artist, and an academic besides being a true nature enthusiast …
Q: What are the biggest challenges in maintaining green patches in urban areas where the population boom is causing a serious crunch of living spaces? What do you think is going wrong and where?
‘Green patches’ …. You have put this phrase aptly because most of our towns and cities have small green patches in neighbourhood areas where the children can play and the elderly can walk. The cities should have bigger green areas amidst the city that act as the lungs of the city. Many examples of these are the Central park in New York and the Hyde Park in London. In Lucknow, we have the Lohia Park in the middle of the urban sprawl that gives respite. Generally our older cities would have maidans that gave respite to the close knit fabric of houses. The modern cities are inspired from the grid iron plan of Corbusier, who when designing Chandigarh, made the Leisure Valley that cuts across the city, acting as the green lung. The new developments that are happening are colonies, where land costs do not allow green spaces more than the ones prescribed by law. In fact, there is a tendency to overstep that also. Even a land owner will try and construct more than the permissible. Even the so-called green patches are converted into built area sometimes due to vested interests. This results in lesser green. As the greens purify the air; the lesser the greens, the more the pollution.
Q: How environment friendly (or unfriendly) is the “Smart City” concept in your opinion?
‘Smart City’ is a holistic concept that incorporates the way a city can work smartly conserving energy and effort, improved legibility and cleanliness through systems that are impregnated in its being. Environment is very much part of the agenda of a smart city. Efficient and smart energy systems are eco-friendly. There is also a concept of Green Infrastructure that is being implemented where vertical green walls, roof top gardens and vegetable patches, Miyawaki forests (dense local foliage and tree varieties are grown very close so that they grow vertical) in between urban conglomerates are used to refurbish cities with high pollution levels. These concepts, if implemented right are totally environment friendly.
Q: Even those who can afford it, are opting for cemented ‘lawns’ with showy flowerpots rather than a more natural patch. What is your advice to them?
Many people think it is difficult to maintain a green patch so they just cement their front yard and place a synthetic green carpet. But as a lover of plants and the green, I would like to tell them that growing a plant is so satisfying because it is like a child that you can see growing up and flower. Working with the soil is almost a therapy. Growing herbs, vegetables, flowers and, if you have space, trees- it is wonderment and is beautiful because you have created it. You have to understand and realize the magic of it all. This is the best way to introduce much-needed oxygen into your environment and also purify the air you breathe. If nothing else, think of it in this way that you have introduced a natural air purifier around you. All should adopt this way of life.
Q: Whose role do you think is primary where local biosphere is concerned- the government’s or the common man’s?
I think it is a symbiotic process. All the human beings should be sensitive to our immediate environment and have a sense of duty towards it. For example, managing the solid waste of the house should be the responsibility of the common man but the final disposal is the onus of the government through its systems and policies. Government does these plantation drives every year but do we as common man look after them, or see them grow and nurture them? Then, why limit plantations to certain parts only. Why cant the common man start planting more rigorously around him- on the pavement if he does not have the space. Tolerance for trees must also increase because many people think trees cause litter when they shed leaves. But, leaves as litter is better than the urban waste that we see around us, no? Please don’t burn the leaves. Instead these can be used to create natural manure. Here, again, both the people and the local authorities have to work in tandem. See, if has to be a joint process. If you spread a little rice or grain for the local birds and keep water in earthen pots, you won’t lose anything. What is required is the will.
Q: You are a professor of architecture, an artist as well as a keen interest in nature. How do you develop such contrasting interests and how do you manage them all so beautifully?
Yes. I am an architect by profession and am into academics since 25 years. I paint as it is a passion. An artist has no boundaries in creating whereas architecture is bound by many constraints and rules. So, I channelize my creative energies into art also. And when it comes to nature, all human beings are naturally drawn to it because it is so perfect. I am a total amateur when it comes to gardening but stumble through everyday, learning something new. On my college campus, I planted many trees and shrubs when I came to live here 25 years ago and now all those Neem, Jamuni, Silver oak, Teak, Amala and Rudraksh have grown into full fledged trees and shape the environment, making it a beautiful green campus. I grow vegetables on my roof top and some herbs in a small green house. And there is nothing contrasting about my interests, but I feel mine is a life that is creative and is in sync with nature.