It is not uncommon to hear Bangalore residents (often from the wealthier parts of the city) bemoaning the loss of trees and green space that has occurred as Bangalore rose to be the Silicon Valley of India.
But what about the people who live in the 640 recorded slums¹ across the city? What access to nature and greenery do they have and how do they use it?
Density of green space in Bangalore
Given that slums often inhabit marginal and polluted land, and that they have a high population density, one would hazard a guess that trees are not particularly common. This assumption is supported by a recent study conducted by Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, in conjunction with the University of Greifswald, Germany. Researchers Divya Gopal, Harini Nagendra and Michael Manthey observed 44 slums across Bangalore and confirmed that the tree density in slums is in fact substantially lower than that in the wealthier residential areas of Bangalore.¹
What are the implications of this for urban development, poverty and human health?
Connection between nature and health
Nature is widely recognised as a important element in human health and wellbeing² and my personal experience definitely supports that. Here, on our sparse 12th floor balcony, I feel the need to create a colourful garden full of vegetables and flowers, as a way of surrounding ourselves with some greenery amidst the concrete jungle. (My efforts have not been very successful so far, but that’s for another post!)
Given this, I can imagine that exposure to nature and greenery is even more critical for those people living in challenging and overcrowded conditions, such as those found in slums.
How is green space used in slums?
According to a Deccan Herald article reporting the findings of the study, trees can provide shade in the crowded communal areas of slums and are even used as physical structures to support clotheslines and tents. Given the severe space constraints facing slum dwellers, they are forced to get creative. Any secondhand container can be made into a pot to hold shrubs, even plastic bags!¹
Benefits of green space
The study found that these trees and shrubs in the slums –
“produce fruits, vegetables, spices and medicines, support a great diversity of urban fauna such as squirrels, birds and insects, absorb carbon (thus reducing the impacts of global climate change), moderate local climate, reduce urban noise, reduce air pollution, and also provide important cultural services such as recreation, aesthetics, and mental peace”.¹
Perhaps by providing greenery and trees to slum dwellers we can address multiple urban development, health and poverty challenges simultaneously?
Over to you
How do you cope with an urban lifestyle? Do you feel the need to spend time around greenery, in parks or exploring nature? I would be very interested to hear your thoughts!