Need for urban oases

September 16, 2019

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CITIZENS in Karachi’s Clifton area might breathe easier, for the patch of land known as the Urban Forest has been granted a reprieve. How long it lasts, though, is anyone’s guess given the continued friction between the forest’s founder and the city’s mayor. This is not the first time that the Urban Forest’s adoption was cancelled and then reinstated by the KMC since a five-year agreement was signed in May 2017 to develop the former dumping ground into a self-sustaining, natural forest based on the methods of Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki. Sadly, this latest tussle was not without its casualties, as KMC workers razed some of its young trees. Given Karachi’s burgeoning concrete sprawl, and the resultant susceptibility to urban flooding and heat islands, this speaks volumes for our penchant for self-injury.

Parks and recreation areas are estimated to account for less than 2pc of Karachi’s total built spaces. And while the relatively affluent District South is considered the ‘greenest’ part of the city by this diminutive yardstick, the amount and quality of green spaces and permeable surfaces there, too, is far from adequate. Tree plantation drives have become popular among politicians, even those who lack environmental awareness in other contexts, and local administrations tend to prioritise aesthetics over environmental needs in the few green spaces they do develop. At best, this has given rise to the phenomenon of manicured lawns behind gated walls that offer little benefit to the pedestrian public most in need of green cover; at worst, it has led to the mass planting of unsuitable, non-native species of trees. Clearly, there is a need for deeper, genuine engagement between the city’s public officials, experts and civil society to counteract the growing threat of climate change and public health hazards posed by living in an environmentally hostile city. The Urban Forest may seem like a miniscule intervention in the face of such an existential challenge, but at least it represents a start.

Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2019