Urban sprawls and frayed ecosystems

27 Apr, 2017
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ACCCRN, Agriculture, Climate change, Disaster, Farmer, PeriUrban, Resilience, Rural, Urban

Urban sprawls and frayed ecosystems

As urban population continues to grow, peri-urban areas become the logical choice for additional housing, infrastructure and associated activities. Most  of the times this space is regarded as a ‘solution in waiting’ to the growing clamour for a city’s rapid development, one that can be casually bulldozed over.  Open fields are concretised; flood plains built over; and small, marginalised farms lost to the greater need of an urban sprawl.

And here, it is the existing ecosystems in this peri-urban space that bear the brunt of this unhindered spread. The ecosystems and their services are lost in the booming real estate din. The 'extractive' nature of urbanisation places a low premium on preserving the ecosystem; and people’s livelihoods and the city, both are greatly affected.  Most often, peri-urbanisation eventually leads to the usurpation of this ecologically sensitive land.

What happens next? The face of agriculture changes, open space reduces and pressure on natural resources increases. These areas are then marked by a lack of hygiene and sanitation infrastructure, industrial effluence, air pollution and inadequate provision of basic services. Very often, the city’s solid waste too is dumped in these peri-urban areas.

But we forget that it is these ecosystems that help provide a city with essential services. The fresh vegetables and fruit on your table, the clean air, places that uplift you emotionally and spiritually; these are just some of the many benefits that a city derives from its peripheral areas. In addition, they enhance the redundancy and flexibility of urban systems, and help ensure that any failures are 'safe failures' so as to minimise future damages

Also, contemporary land acquisition policies disregard social equity and environmental integrity, undermining a city's capacity to adapt to climate change and rendering the peri-urban areas and poorer populations more vulnerable. Environmental degradation, natural resource conflicts, health concerns and social injustice are particularly acute in these peri-urban areas that are excluded in formal planning processes.

Can a city strengthen itself? Yes, it helps if it follows an ecosystem-based approach to urban climate change adaptation and resilience. And it is only when people are rooted in their original habitat, but with total access to their development rights as well as basic needs, that they are able to preserve the ecosystem, so vital to the health and also the resilience of a city.

Thus, protecting ecosystems and ecosystem services in peri-urban areas is essential to the survival of the poor and to enhance the city's resilience. Central to a systems approach is the protection of urban and peri-urban agriculture. Peri-urban areas cannot be viewed as ‘waiting rooms' for entry to urban areas. What is needed is a fundamental change in mindsets, to prevent further land-use changes and unregulated construction activities.

For example, in Gorakhpur city in Uttar Pradesh (India) where we work, peri-urban areas are conceptualised as those villages that are included in the city's master plan. The term peri-urban is not used, which means that the social, economic, ecological and administrative changes occurring in these villages, as distinct from those villages that are strictly rural, are ignored. This has led to many changes, not necessarily for good.

Has this been your experience too? Share with us your insights on the ecosystems in the peri-urban areas around you. 

  1. Has rapid urbanisation in your city led to the degradation of peri-urban ecosystems?
  2. What has been the counter effect of this degradation on the city and its people? And the repercussions on the peri-urban population?
  3. Do you believe that your city’s resilience capacity has been affected? How so?

This blog was first published by the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network, ACCCRN, here and talks of the increasing degradation of Peri-urban Ecosystems and their declining vital ecosystem services, which help build resilience in cities.

We invite you to please share your experiences from your countries and regions so that we can together understand these peri-urban ecosystems and their relevance in a better way. 

Join us at our Urban, Peri-Urban and Ecosystems Working Group, where we exchange ideas and experiences and undertake joint advocacy initiatives in a collective form,  to map the diversity of problems between cities and landscapes, and the real and potential scale of loss & damage.

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