The Kaikondrahalli lake in Bangalore, India, is a unique example of how an urban ecosystem has been restored largely thanks to a network of concerned citizens. Together with The Mahadevpura Environment Protection and Rejuvenation Trust (MAPSAP) the centre produced a documentary of the restoration. See extended version here
The prospect of India becoming 50 percent urban by about 2040 is daunting by most standards. This massive increase in urban population is bound to have significant implications on the country’s environment. But amid a legitimate concern there should also be room for a careful optimism as Indian NGOs, civil society groups and local communities from diverse socio-economic backgrounds engage in an increasingly more structured quest for ecosystem protection.
Take the city of Bangalore for instance. Called the Garden City of India, this rapidly growing city has been boosted by investments from the information and technology industry but has also seen an accelerated environmental and social degradation.
One in four Bangaloreans live in households classified as poor, often in slums or other settlements where provision of basic services is inadequate. The city has also more vehicles per inhabitant than in any other Indian city. Not only does this pile enormous pressure on the city’s infrastructure and resources, it also indicate considerable inequalities in the distribution of economic benefits.
But the let us not forget the positives.
From sewage to stewardship
Lakes connected through channels across the city have been severely degraded with the obvious ramifications on flood control, water livelihood use and groundwater recharge. However a number of citizen-driven initiatives have emerged with the objective to restore these lakes, based on their social and ecological significance for the city.
The Kaikondarahalli lake is one example.
Covering little over 48 acres, the lake is a unique example of an urban common that has been rejuvenated thanks to the active participation of concerned citizens.
The Kaikondarahalli lake is one case study in a research project on how social networks influence the redevelopment of urban ecosystems, led by centre researchers Johan Enqvist, Maria Tengö, and Örjan Bodin, together with Harini Nagendra of Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment. Flor Luna, a Master's student at the centre, has studied the particular transformation of the Kaikondarahalli lake.
The lake was part of a traditional tank system that was developed over centuries but as the city grew it became increasingly valuable to land developers. It also fell to neglect because traditional users such as farmers were no longer using it. Encroachment, growth of unhealthy hyacinths and sewage release became the norm.
Questioning the changes
A group of concerned citizens living around the lake came together and decided to work with the government to draw up plans to rejuvenate it into a living water body, keeping in mind the flora and fauna that was dependent on the lake as well as the needs of the people.
Today, a trust consisting of some of the movement’s core members is in charge of the maintenance of the lake and oversees any building of public amenities and otherwise works with the authorities to prevent another degradation of Kaikondarahalli (see video documentary above). Some of them are also engaged in restorations of other lakes in the tank system, as well as supporting other initiatives across Bangalore.
"While staying in Bangalore I have realized that many citizens are questioning some of the big changes now taking place because of the harmful impacts to their city"
Johan Enqvist, centre PhD student
A bridging platform and a watchdog
On-going work studying urban environmental stewardship networks in Bangalore show that that networks and initiatives such as these serve as both a bridging platform and a monitoring watchdog.
"They provide opportunities for stakeholders to connect and discuss what kinds of changes are needed and desired. Cooperation and repetitions of campaigns in different neighborhoods reproduce alternative visions of what the city should or could be like, which means that citizens get a chance to question more formal and established visions. This emerging awareness may be a seed to grow a genuinely sustainable urbanization for Bangalore,” says Enqvist.
The Kaikondarahalli case clearly shows that there is also scope for turning visions into actions and concrete outcomes.
CENTRE RESEARCHER INFO
Johan Enqvist 's research focuses on relationships and interactions in urban social-ecological systems and test ways to apply network analysis to ecological, social-ecological and social links.
Maria Tengö's research concerns emergent and self-organized governance of local ecosystems in human dominated landscapes, and the implications for social-ecological resilience and transformation.
Örjan Bodin's research focus is to develop better understanding of SES through quantitative modeling and analyses. In this work, he uses and develops theoretical/conceptual models and simulations, as well as engaging in empirical studies and empirical data analyses.
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