Green city blues


Protecting our trees has never been more important than it is now. Ironically, the more the city planners cut trees in the name of development, the more we need them. Given the increasing air and sound pollution, trees are perhaps our last hope for a healthy environment.

Ask your parents, or grandparents. They will confirm from personal experience that our cities are becoming less habitable. Walking or cycling even short distances to work has become such a dangerous affair, what with undisciplined traffic, fumes and all manner of garbage to negotiate, that scooters, cars and taxis have become the order of the day. There is never any one single reason for good things to turn sour. As in life, so with the environment around us; the slide starts with small things and then turns into an avalanche of despair.

One reason for the falling environmental standard in our cities has been the hacking down of grown trees over the past few years.

In Mumbai today, the process of widening roads continues to take its toll of trees. Yet, traffic congestion gets worse. Unfortunately, urban planners presume that cutting trees in cities is an issue concerning aesthetics. Of course it is, but the issue goes way beyond into the realm of the falling quality of our lives. Here is how:

  • Trees and green plants are the most effective atmospheric quality control mechanisms known to science. They absorb poisons from the air. Tree-lined avenues can be up to 70 percent more dust-free. If that statistic does not mean much, ask your doctor what would happen to your lungs if they had to cope with double the amount of dust! Trees, of course, also help make the air, which we are so bent on polluting, more breathable through the release of oxygen.
  • Trees – nature’s air conditioners – reduce the temperature of the city and thus improve the microclimate, which has so much to do with our quality of life. Their roots absorb moisture from the ground, which is then transported upward to be released into the atmosphere by evaporation.
    The hotter it gets, the harder trees work to make our environment livable.
  • Trees, particularly broad-leafed varieties, are the only permanently effective sound buffers (apart from ear plugs) available to the urban public. In this mega-decibel age of loud horns and motor engines, construction noise, electioneering, blaring religious discourses and bhajans, not to mention amplified stereophonic music, such a service cannot possibly be overrated.
  • Every single tree acts as a home for birds, lizards and other predators, which help keep cities free of pests such as mosquitoes and rats.

Fortunately, city green spaces can be restored, despite the acts of vandalism inflicted on them, provided they are not constructed upon. Dilapidated parks can be replanted and nurtured. Birds will soon nest in these trees, squirrels will colonise their branches and office-goers will share a moment of respite in their shade, at lunchtime. At another level, several polls reveal that the most attractive feature of cities, in the minds of tourists and residents alike, is the presence of dense greenery, open spaces and cleanliness.

To conclude: what good our multi-crore businesses, our high-stepping lifestyles and our imagined high society ways, if we cannot sustain something as elementary as the safety and health of the areas in which we live? It is certainly within our means to create this ambience, but until the intimate connection between our health and environment is recognised and accepted by those who wield power nothing will be done. You can help. Here is how:

  • Bring home to corporators, executive engineers and politicians (particularly when they come for your votes) that you want a greener city to live in.
  • Write to editors of newspapers protesting the cutting down of trees, storage/dumping of industrial wastes of which you are aware.
  • Involve local children in conducting a census of the trees of your neighbourhood.
  • Join a conservation body and consult botanists and naturalists in your city to help identify species of trees, which lend ambience and protection to the street where you live.


Bittu Sahgal

Editor, Sanctuary magazine