Not Grey, Fifty shades of Green

Updated: Oct 25, 2020

Greening Cities through Civil Society Initiatives and Movements

"City people make the most fuss about country life" - Mason Cooley

Increase Urban population v/s the Urban land cover due to urbanization in the world.

Source: Fritsche, Uwe & Eppler, Ulrike & Laaks, Sabine. (2015). Urban-Rural Linkages and Global Sustainable Land Use.

The urban population of India has doubled in the last 30 years; 100 million Indians became urbanites from 2001 -2011. On the same hand the national urban land cover has increased by 4 times in the same time period. Along with expansion, our cities have been the news for prioritizing large scale development - infrastructure, housing, etc; that promises a better quality of liveability in the city at the cost of mass afforestation in existing urban areas. Some of these include the cutting of 16,000 trees in South Delhi for a Central government housing redevelopment project, 2700 + trees were felled for the Mumbai Metro rail project while 56,000+ trees were felled for Delhi Metro. Sure the government may have replanted 5-10 times of these trees as claimed, the question that still remains is that where are these trees being planted? How well are our streets being designed as shaded corridors? What policies are being incorporated by Urban Local Bodies as part of the development control regulations to plant trees within private properties? How often are tree censuses being conducted by cities to ensure that the planted saplings have survived into trees? What active strategies are ensured to promote bio-diversity with relationship to tree species that are being planted?

Tree Cover Map of the World.

Source: Coupé, Christophe & Maddieson, Ian. (2016). Quelle adaptation acoustique pour les langues du monde ?.

While global discussions on afforestation and the impact of climate change, pollution and quality of life index have been fairly recent. Civil society movements regarding environmental protection have existed since centuries. In India, the Bishnoi movement has been dated as the oldest organized civil society movement against the cutting of sacred trees from being cut down by the king’s soldiers for a new palace in the 1700s. While the more recent ones in public memory can be acknowledged to the Chipko Movement of 1973 in the Tehri Gharwal region of Uttarakhand. While these movements existed in the pre-media times, the 'Tree Idiot Campaign' initiated by the Radio Mirchi jockey RJ Dhvanit of Radio Mirchi 98.3 FM and supported by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation has shown the might of media in steering a city wide address to the issues of greening urban areas. It also brings to light the role and power of the voice of public figures as influencers to motivate and bring citizens together. The initiative began with a humble goal of planting 30,000 trees in its first year but with the overwhelming response the initiative succeeded in planting over three times more within just a fortnight with the potential of the reach through media and social media platforms and has been growing ever since.

The consciousness of the civil society needs to be channelized through a formalized plan with adequate planning for mobilisation of various resources both financial and human. The success of the 'Tree Idiot' can be attributed to the organization of society at an individual, community and city level. While individual citizens joined the campaign through an accountable system of Google Forms where they entered their details; communities and the city came together to green large open spaces within their neighbourhood. The accountability built into the system not only helped the campaign create an earnestness to achieve the real goal but also was helpful in conducting tree audits to trace the survival of the saplings in the hot climate of Ahmedabad - which was surprisingly 62%.

The Miyawaki Method by Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, is another such initiative that has recently gained a lot of attention with urban local bodies, environmental advocates and landscape architects to develop dense forests with native species in small parcels of land. The thesis of the Miyawaki method emphasizes on densely planted native trees along 40-60 variety of other "support" species that have the ability to grow faster than other species that may not be indigenous to the area. In addition, the plantation itself helps in restoring the deserted nutrient value of the soil due to withering and blooming cycles of pioneer and secondary indigenous trees. The method has multiple benefits like low maintenance of the trees as they are already adaptable to the climatic conditions and also helps in restoration of lost micro ecosystems of urban regions. Such initiatives should also be looked as social and economic opportunities for cities that help create specialized jobs from a maali (gardener), to botanists, horticulturist and even landscape designers and architects to advise and maintain the regional biodiversity and environmental health of our cities.

Human cultures across the globe have been advocate of the unison of man and nature. Whether it be the stories from our mythologies of Sita in Ashok Vatika, Buddha attaining enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree, the decoration of the Christmas tree or 'Shajarat al-Kholoud' - the tree of life; religions, mythological and philosophical traditions place emphasis on knowledge, good, evil and survival .

Source: - tree

Urban landscapes need to be given its due importance as a faculty for active urban plans of cities. Cities like Ahmedabad and Mumbai still have neighbourhoods like Fanas Wadi or Ambavadi that still bear the identities of the trees groves around which settlements were created but the trees remain only a reminiscence of people memory. While cities like Mumbai and Delhi have a statutory regulations in place for urban development, many cities are still to follow suit. Modern urban planning philosophies like the Garden city movement, the creation of New York Central Park, the avenues of Paris and Cubbon Park in Bangalore are proof enough that our cities will be a better place with trees and planned urban landscapes in them. But most of these have been top-down initiatives. What we need is to achieve a threshold between administrative bodies and civil society movements encouraging citizens from children to old, to participate in city building with collective thinking and knowledge. So that we create cities that are shaded by trees, rather than overshadowed by skyscrapers.

Keywords: City, practical cities, urban studies, urban management, urban planning, tree, landscape, tree idiot, green lungs, climate change, Ahmedabad


To know more about the Tree Idiot Campaign, watch the Masterclass 08 on:


About the Speaker

RJ Dhvanit is popularly known for his morning shows on Radio Mirchi 98.3 FM in Ahmedabad. He is an actor, poet, singer, movie critic and columnist amongst many other things. He has been advocate for greening of cities through a city wide tree plantation initiative in Ahmedabad, India called the 'Tree Idiot Campaign' since 2016 and has helped in planting over 3 Lakh trees in Ahmedabad alone. This drive was achieved with the support of various local authorities, public participation and local celebrities.


About the Writer

Enakshee Bhatia is a practicing Architect, Urban Designer and Academician from Mumbai who is passionate about exploring inter-disciplinary approaches towards urban transformation. She believes that writing is a crucial medium of engaging with society to better the practice of architecture and urbanism.

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