LESSON 3: Living in harmony – Turning cities from grey to green


Environmental Education School Curriculum Outcomes mentioned in this lesson: Grade 1; Grade 2; Grade 3; Grade 4; Grade 5; Grade 6; Grade 7; Grade 8; Grade 9; Grade 10; Grade 11; Grade 12

Eco-Assignments that relate to content covered in this lesson: Grade 1Grade 2Grade 3Grade 4Grade 5Grade 6Grade 7Grade 8Grade 9Grade 10Grade 11Grade 12

Pollution of the environment can happened anywhere – in rural areas and in cities which means that most of us are confronted with environmental degradation where we live. that means that all of us are in a position to become involved as change agents right where we are. Once we are able to identify the natural systems on our doorsteps we can look at possible ways to improve and sustain it. By so doing we will invest in our own well-being.

We know by now that nature strives to maintain a condition called “dynamic equilibrium”. However, human activities very often cause imbalances in the ecosystem (Supporting article L). For example, when we allow too many of our cattle to graze on the same piece of land, year in and year out, it will not be long before the vegetation will be thinning out and as a result of the sparse ground covering, erosion will set in and prevent vegetation to re-establish itself. Unless the cattle is removed from this land, the situation will go on raging until the landscape will be filled with dongas and gullies and finally it will be rendered useless for grazing and agriculture.

Let us see how nature might have treated a similar situation. When a herd of springbok have for instance grazed on the same piece of land for a long enough period of time, unpalatable pioneer vegetation, which cannot be eaten by these animals, would sprout amongst the previously eaten veld grass. The herd would then move on in search of other pastures and the land would again have time to recover.

So knowing that there are mutual relationships in the environment which makes it function as a system, it will be to our advantage to apply these principles even in our owns and cities (Supporting article A).

Many existing open spaces in our cities and towns have been transformed to such an extent that natural life is unable to sustain itself there. Beautiful pruned hedges, wide open lawns and colourful exotic plants in our good suburbs are ecologically sterile with little or no insect, bird and animal life. In contrast to this, when open spaces are well positioned around natural water or stretches of nature, it could play an important ecological role. Marshy areas could absorb effluent to provide clean water to river systems. Rain water running straight off hard surfaces such as streets or rooftops could be chanalled to these areas where the water will sink into the green open space to replenish ground water resources (Supporting article W). The ideal would be ecologically, viable, self-supporting green belts.

If we ensure that enough water and indigenous plant life are provided in an open area for food chains to begin functioning, animals and especially bird-life will return to re-established themselves. They can play a vital role in the urban ecosystem. Birds like the sparrow and rock pigeon have adapted remarkably well here (Supporting article G). We can still find frogs and bats and sometimes the dwarf shrew, hedgehogs and moles in some towns and cities of our country. The basic food of these animals is insects, which often would only cause damage to our gardens. So for the purpose of pest control and the maintenance of biodiversity (Supporting article N), these animals serve a crucial purpose.

(Supporting article H). We need to encourage this integration (Supporting article V). Green areas rich in biodiversity will enrich our personal lives by providing space for recreation and offer people safe and pleasant through-fare to shops or schools away from busy street traffic; it offers a safe habitat for animal and bird life; and the vegetation will absorb much of the air polluting gasses characterising most of our busy towns and cities.

The term ‘MOSS’, is an abbreviation for Open Space Systems situated in a Metropolitan, (or large busy) City (Supporting article T). It may also refer to big parks and botanical gardens or servitudes under power lines or even cemeteries that are linked to each other by means of green corridors. Most isolated urban open spaces are too small to host complete natural systems (Supporting article O). There are too many missing elements to accommodate complete food chains.

An ideal MOSS (Metropolitan Open Space System) therefore must be a system where open spaces are linked to each other and where they are kept as near as possible to natural functioning pieces of nature in and around the city. Rivers and linear ridges are ideal linkages that could connect many parks and create ecologically viable green belts. If these are not available one should even look at green areas along highways and streets to serve as links to open spaces.

When interacting elements are missing in city parks and open spaces we can refer to it as “cosmetic green deserts”. Instead of having dynamic living systems, we have been eradicating all insect life (Supporting article J) with chemicals. These chemicals have filtered through the ecosystem to eventually not only deprive the birds from their food resources but it has often killed them. Also our city streams and dams have been poisoned resulting in diminishing aquatic life. Concrete paving and gutters have replaced natural ground-cover causing rainfall to run off without penetrating the soil.

A big part of municipal budgets go towards the maintenance of city parks and open spaces. It involves activities such as the constant cutting of lawns, the spraying of insecticides, planting flowers and irrigation. It makes far better sense to keep parks in line with natural processes. If we plant only indigenous trees and shrubs for example, more birds will return. Insects and even rats and mice could be kept under perfect control – maintaining the park naturally as a self-sustaining asset for the people.

The World Health Organisation defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity”. Therefore in a healthy city the basic environmental conditions of the air, soil and water should be of good quality and under perfect control (Supporting article F). Design trends in town planning during the last number of centuries were done to offer each man his own little secluded paradise, but nowadays it is moving more towards concepts that encourage community interaction (Supporting article B). It strives to make it easy for people to move around without privately owned vehicles and rather to use environmentally friendly ways to travel, such as walking, jogging or cycling or to use public transport. In the end this would mean less pollution, traffic noise and better interaction between individuals and general health will improve. (Supporting article U).

In many of the world’s big cities much of the land is being used for agricultural purposes (Supporting article D). In Hong Kong, 45% of vegetables, 68% of the chickens and 15% of the pigs used as food, are produced right in the city. In Nairobi, 67% of the urban families are farmers. 65% of all families living in and around Moscow are farmers. In the USA, 30% of all agriculture is done within the metropolitan areas. 25% of urban families in Kenya depend on self-produced food for survival. 60% of metropolitan Bangkok is used for agriculture. 90% of the large cities in China are self-sufficient in the production of vegetables. 25% of the trees beautifying the streets of Bangalore, India, are fruit trees (Supporting article I). In South Africa however, animal products such as meat, milk and eggs, which form the basic food of urban dwellers, are produced on farms far outside our cities. Farmers have to travel long distances to deliver these products (Supporting article E). We can learn a lot from other nations in this regard (Supporting article R).

More than 50 % of the world population today lives in cities. This is putting huge pressure on resources like water that is required for domestic and commercial use as well as agricultural and industrial activities in and around cities (Supporting article C). More ground water resources are being targeted and huge schemes are undertaken to bring surface water closer at enormous cost. We need to ask ourselves if this is sustainable – not only financially, but also environmentally and the answer is clearly: No (Supporting article K)!

More and more waste is being generated where cities and towns exist. Open space for landfill sites are becoming hard to find. Although incineration or depositing waste in excavated holes have been sufficient ways to deal with solid waste in the past, this is no longer the case. Recycling initiatives should be high on the agendas of civil authorities.

As you can see, there is much room for improvement (Supporting article M). I know that safety often becomes a consideration for not enjoying open spaces in our cities, but this should not deter us from encouraging town-planners to create and connect sustainable pieces of nature in our cites and towns. It will greatly improve our living environment and encourage us to be more in touch with nature. A healthy respect for all living things will hopefully result in the hearts of many more people culminating into eco-friendly habits in the majority of people living in the city (Supporting article Q). We will think twice of the products we use and how we dispose of it; the means of transport we use; and the methods of generating energy. Then hopefully we could start to slow down the vicious circle of destruction as a result of ill-considered economic and industrial practices.

Because of our ability to influence the environment in such a big way human beings are called the ecologically dominant (Supporting article P). This does not mean that we have the right to be merely outside spectators who can mess around with the system whenever we want to in whichever way we decide. Let your voice be heard and send us your ideas for a better world in our cities and towns (Supporting article S). Let us hear from you on our Twitter platform.