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Green lessons from the Olympics bids

Last week UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) congratulated all the countries that bid for the 2012 Olympics for their concern for the environment as elaborated in each country's proposal.


Britainís Kelly Holmes (C) reacts to the announcement that London will host the 2012 Olympics, in Trafalgar Square in London, July 6, 2005. The London team overhauled long-time favourites Paris as well as Madrid, Moscow and New York to win the race to stage the lucrative sports extravaganza. REUTERS

"The fact that all the candidates featured the environment so prominently in their bids showed their commitment to the concept of sustainable cities," said Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director in a press release.

"It is also testament to how the environment has truly been adopted as the third pillar of Olympism, alongside sport and culture," he said.

The press release further said that, all the short-listed cities made pledges related to increasing the use of renewable energy, reducing carbon emissions, minimizing waste and promoting ecologically friendly venue design and sustainable transport and tourism.

This is a welcome sign for the future. The fact that the world's large cities are waking up to the reality of environmental sustainability after years of unsustainable growth and energy consumption is indeed a change for the mega metropolises of the world. The growth of cities is an inevitable environmental disaster and creates huge problems that need to be addressed. It is cities that suffer most from pollution of air and waterways.

It is cities that suffer the lack of green spaces and stagger under the weight of huge energy bills. Cities attract people to its fold and these people then demand services like water, electricity, drainage, sewage, good transportation, recreation etc. So cities grow outward, and upward, and more expensive to maintain.

More expensive, especially, in an environmental sense. Those who live in cities inadvertently consume a huge amount of resources as opposed to those living in rural village areas.

To have the more developed nations rethinking their models of city development and considering better alternatives to the present days urban hell-holes provides a good example to the rest of us.

In developing countries, population migration patterns point to an increasing trend towards urbanisation. More and more people want to move to towns and cities as agriculture fails to provide sufficient livelihoods to the rural populace.

This is a reality even in Sri Lanka, where the present urban population stands around 35-40 per cent. In 2050 an estimated 70 per cent of our countrys population will live in urban centres and large townships in the districts, preferring wage labour or jobs to the traditional occupation of farming. This is huge shift and the problems that will ensue are not small either.

Todays cities are bad enough in terms of environmental mismanagement and resource waste, imagine this problem doubling as cities expand to accommodate the migrants who will in turn demand more services from the already-stretched local authorities.

Therefore it would be pertinent for our urban planners to look at the new aspects of planning that have been incorporated in the Olympics bids to get an idea of what a future city should strive towards.

To get an idea of the means of incorporating sustainable development concepts into a living, breathing, growing urban centre. To provide us with an idea of what kind of renewable energy resources are proposed and the elements of the ecologically-friendly designs are that the UNEP is so happy about.

These lessons would be valuable in a country where environmental problems would be manageable if there is a serious attempt at managing them in a proper, long-term manner.

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