Regreening the concrete jungle

Story by Courtney Thomas and Photography by Adam Waters

The south Indian city of Bangalore was once known for its beautiful lakes and rich greenery, but due to urbanisation over recent decades, much of that natural greenspace has been lost and the city is now dominated by concrete.

In fact, experts say the city has lost more than 78 per cent of its canopy and 79 per cent of its waterbodies since 1973 and there is now only one tree for every seven people. They expect that by 2025, 95 per cent of the city will be concreted over.

For hydrologist Dr Jagdish Krishnaswarmy the loss of local trees is particularly problematic, because unlike other types of vegetation they play an important role in the water cycle. 

HYDROLOGIST Dr Jagdish Krishnaswarmy explains Bengaluru would be unliveable without a green canopy.

“In a tree dominated ecosystem you are going to have more evapotranspiration,” he said.   

Evapotranspiration is crucial for rainfall. It’s the process by which water makes its way into the atmosphere to form clouds through evaporation from soil and transpiration from plants.

“Trees are deeper rooted and generally have a higher leaf area index and more biomass, and so their evapotranspiration is going to be higher,” Dr Krishnaswarmy said.

“Some ecosystems convert (a large percentage) of precipitation into evapotranspiration. This is basically the evaporation from the branches or leaves after rain falls on them; or through the process of transpiration, where tree roots access moisture and then release it to the stem of the leaves during photosynthesis,” he stated.

In addition to producing water vapour to help form rain clouds, trees also draw in water that that falls as rain, percolating it through the soil and storing it in their deep roots to help replenish underground groundwater supplies.


The Miyawaki method

Kapil Sharma studied engineering in Bangalore. He chose to come to the city to study because he liked its greenery and lakes. But when the trees disappeared and the lakes dried up or fell into disrepair, Kapil decided to take action and founded the non-government organisation SayTrees

SayTrees have tree planting projects in both rural areas and cities in India to give the country more ‘lungs’. They follow the Japanese Miyawaki forest method where forests see 100-years of growth in just 10 years.  

“Trees are the solution to most of the problems we face,” Kapil said.  

 “They help reduce the temperature, take away pollution, increase the groundwater table and help improve soil and air quality.

Kapil said because of the city’s growth and the construction and infrastructure that comes with it, little consideration has been given to planning for trees and greenery. 

He said Bangalore already receives less rain than it did in years gone by and that’s why he believes SayTree’s work is so important.

In just one day in April 2018, the group planted 5,500 saplings which, in the year or so since, has already become a small forest.

And in September last year Bangalore’s India Nippon Electrical partnered with SayTrees and planted 2,600 tree saplings with 61 native varieties.  Workers helped plant trees to create a Miyawaki forest in the hope that by 2029, the trees will have had exponential growth and be helping to increase the groundwater table. 

SayTrees program manager Madhusudan Iyengar said planting forests using rapid-growth Miyawaki method was the best way to respond to the urgent need mitigate the effects of urbanisation and climate change.

“I think there is no other option to continue our survival than planting trees,” he said.

tWS: MADHUSUDAN Iyengar is one man waging war against climate change in Bengaluru (Photo by Adam Waters)

“The reason there is a growth in the Miyawaki forests is because of the preparation that goes into making the soil nutrition rich. You cannot simply choose a plot of land and plant saplings randomly. Randomness is what is common,” he explained.

“A Miyawaki forest is very water intensive for the first two years but post two years, you don’t need to do anything. We leave it, let it be, and let it grow.”

While SayTrees aims to plant saplings that are native to Karnataka and improve the tree count for the city, hydrologist Dr Jagdish Krishnaswarmy says it does not matter what trees are planted just as long as nature – in all forms – is incorporated into the city. 

When it comes to creating greenspace Dr Krishnaswarmy believes we have become a bit too ‘tree centric’.

“I think trees in a city are an important part of making the city more habitable as the climate is warming (but) … we need to become more ‘ecosystem centric’,” he said. 

“There is scientific evidence that indicates a well-managed grassland or a wetland can have quite a good (impact) too. 

 “I think nature is essential because city life is very stressful.” 


Imagination

Harini Nagendra, author of Nature in the City: Bengaluru in the Past, Present, and Future believes trees and nature are essential for the lifeblood of a city. 

“We can’t have growing cities without nature.,” she said. 

“There are so many people who graze their cattle in a lake, people fish in lakes and migrant workers will extract firewood from lakes. People will also wash their clothes on the side of places of nature, while other people need them for their livelihood – like street vendors who need them for the shade. 

“I think it is very important to have nature in a city just because of the imagination of the city.

“How can you relate to cities if there is no imagination of nature? Imagine growing up in a city where you just have buildings and smoke and no way of seeing a bird or butterfly. Or brightening up your day by looking at a flower or a tree. That would just be very disturbing.”  


Courtney Thomas is a second-year journalism student at Griffith University based on the Gold Coast. She works in the research department for the media company: Southern Cross Austereo. She has done experience days at Channel Nine and Hit90.9 on the Gold Coast and she participated in the 2017 Regional Southern Cross Austereo Media Bootcamp. She also works as an assistant programmer for the community radio station Juice 107.3 and has done so for the last two and a half years. She is passionate about using journalism to connect with people and hear their unique stories.

Adam Waters is a second-year photojournalist with a background in environmental economics with respect to natural resource management. He now combines his previous study with photojournalism to help visual document environmental matters to help local communities impacted by externalities. Mr Waters is also in the process of establishing his own photography business specialising in pet portraiture while he volunteers at the RSPCA as a photographer 


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