Gardens or Ponds: The Sustainable Cities Challenge

Bulldozer in the City
An increasingly common sight in cities

Bulldozers are furiously scrapping earth from a garden adjoining an artificial lake in Vashi Sector 10 of New Bombay. Or so a recent news item in the Times of India dated 8th April, 2010 read. We immediately reacted by saying that so much for open spaces, for playgrounds, and for children in the neighborhood.

We tend to think of lakes, rivers, mountains, ridges passing through urban areas as a burden for our living environment in metropolitan cities.  The only way we want these natural environments to impact us is by providing clean river fronts with cool breeze, flowing clean waters, trees for shade and flowers and fruits, with lots of birds bees and bugs, so that our aesthetic sensibilities are satisfied. We look at nature in urban environment as a duality, environment versus cities. Nature in urban environments exists or should exist in order to make our life beautiful.

So the news about the judicial order to restore the lake is frowned upon by us. The Mumbai High Court supported a Public Interest Litigation and pulled up the commissioner for filling up the lake to create a garden. 1.1 ha. of land was dug up to create these lakes or holding ponds at a cost of 12 crores just 35 years ago to protect the (planned) urban development along the shore line and the estuary. City Industrial Development Corporation that was responsible for developing the city created these large ponds to hold the monsoon runoffs during high tide. These ponds also hold creek waters during high tides regularly.

But the truth is that the lakes are part of a more extensive ecosystem which our essential for the survival of cities which are usually found near water whether river fronts or sea coasts. Almost all cities are build near some water front. In Mumbai, when they were looking for solutions for the monsoon flooding twenty years ago, it was suggested to use the Mahalakshmi Race course as a holding pond. Hyderabad has a series of ponds which are used for irrigation purpose. Delhi has a very wide river basin that is allowed to flood during rains. In a river front city usually cities develop on only one side of the river so that the flooding does not affect the urban settlements. Sea fronts have wave breakers or holding ponds.


Environmental anthropologist by training, been in the field for over 20 years, Gialome (pseudonym) is mainly concerned with the impacts of infrastructure and technology projects on local communities.

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