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Building cities in the shade of Environment: 5 success stories

Recently, 31st October was celebrated as the World Cities Day by United Nations. Back when the observance of the day started the idea behind keeping the day was in order to address the challenge of urbanization and to come up with ways to promote sustainable development. But over the years rapid urbanization and there by destruction of ecosystems along with the lack of implementation of sustainable development on ground have led to the cities being a place with polluted air, soaring temperatures, flooding and other disasters being more prevalent as compared to countryside. All this along with the high number of populations have forced UN this year to observe the day under the theme of “Adapting Cities for Climate Resilience”.

The massive increase in number of cities primarily designed with grey structures (not keeping in mind about the negative effective they could have on the ecosystem or biodiversity) have led to rise of phenomenon like Urban Heat Island Effect (read more from %20when,heat%2Drelated%20illness%20and%20mortality) and increased frequency of natural disasters across the globe. Thus, it is becoming more and more important to look for more eco restoration methods that could be implemented in cities to reduce climate action. So today we will be looking into 5 major success stories of cities being designed assisting eco restoration from across the world.

- ABC water program in Singapore: Launched in 2016, the ABC (Active Beautiful Clean) waters program was used to restore concrete canals into a soft river edge and floods using techniques like soil bio engineering, riparian buffers, green roof tanks, canal improvement, rain garden etc across the cities. These measures have been implemented along with bringing a clear shift in the way in which water bodies have been perceived by the communities- as before communities were kept away from them to preserve the aesthetics and that is all the utility, they have seen of water bodies, whereas now there is awareness among the community in how and why communities should take ownership in restoring and retaining these waterbodies and ecosystems.

“In the past, we protected our water resources by keeping people away from them; now, we will bring people closer to water so that they will enjoy and cherish it more… By linking up our water bodies and waterways, we will create new community spaces that are clean, pleasant, and bustling with life and activities. We will integrate our water bodies with our parks and green spaces and turn Singapore into a city of gardens and waters.”- Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the launch of ABC Waters Master Plan in 2007 (Source: Tan Nguan Sen, n.d)

Fig: Various Projects Implemented under ABC Singapore (Source: Tan Nguan Sen, n.d)

- Water Sensitive Urban Development, Australia: This is a holistic project that is run in Australia wherein the buildings are mandated by law to be designed in such a manner that it is eco- friendly in nature. In addition to the mandate on building designs the program also looks on other areas like reducing storm water flows, increasing soil moisture and urban greening in order to improve the bio diversity and minimize the effect of development on environment.

Fig: Measures done as part of WSUD, Australia (Source: T Wong, 2005)

- Room for River program, Netherlands: Being one of the most known project across the globe the project was initiated by the Dutch government in order to reduce floods and help in eco restoration, the idea of this program is to provide more space for the water bodies within the city by using measures like- lowering the flood plains, deepening the summer beds, strengthening of dykes, reducing the height of gryones, increasing the depth of side channels and removing obstacles from the river that is affecting its natural flow. These measures would be implemented while parallelly efforts are taken to improve the surroundings of the river, creating fountains and panoramic decks so that the landscape can act as a natural sponge and help in retaining the water within that space and thus retain more water and reducing the rate of desertification. (For further details, go to )

Fig: Measures done as part of Room for Rivers project (Source: Civil daily,2019)

- Sponge City, Wuhan China: In simplest word the concept of sponge city is that cities should be transferred/constructed in such a way that water could be absorbed when there is surplus and then pushed out when its needed. Being one of the most lauded eco restoration projects implemented in cities this model have been widely studied and is sought after for application in other parts of the world including Kochi, Kerala. Having its base from the concept of ‘low impact development’ (introduced in Britain in 1990s) which emphasized on moving away from grey structures (which leads in running away of water) to green alternatives (that could hold the water in place retain it, in addition to the coolness that plants bring to an atmosphere), the program uses measures like bioswales, permeable bricks, green roof tops, storage tanks, bio retention bulge, large constructed wetlands and parks etc throughout the city, so that running away off water is minimized and retention is maximized while concentrating on increasing the greenery and plant population in the city and thus helping in controlling carbon within the city.

Fig: A pictorial representation on functioning of Sponge City (Source: )

- Warje Urban forest, Pune: Being one of the first ever and most lauded urban forestery project in India. This project had served as one of the major motivation for the nationwide ‘Nagar Van’ project being implemented under Ministry of Environment, Forestery and Climate Change. The urban forest was initiated under PPP (Public Private Partnership) model by TERRE and Tata Motors, the project was able to convert a barren 16 hectare land under forest department into an oasis of biodiversity with over 10,000 indigenous plant species, 29 local bird species, 15 butterfly species, 10 reptile species and 3 mammal species. Other similar successful urban forest examples in India includes- Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary and Aravalli project in Delhi, Yamuna Biodiversity park.

Fig: Peacock dancing in Warje Forest (Source: Jaishankar, June 2020)

The author has introduced 5 of the success stories that have taken place on bringing together city development and eco restoration. While many of the success stories might look only implementable on governmental the crust of it depends on increasing greenery and trees, using rain harvesting and other methods to retain water and stop running away of water, shifting to green alternatives from the grey concrete structures, creating small urban forests – which are all implementable on a personal level. Lets do these ‘small measures’ and reach the larger goal of eco restoration.


- (Vishakha jha, June 2021). ‘Restoring Urban ecosystems through green blue plans’ Retrieved from

- (The Indian Express, May 2019). Explained: Netherlands’ ‘Room for the River’ project that Kerala CM wants to replicate’ Retieved from https://indianexpress. com/article/explained/netherlands-room-for-the-river-project-kerala-pinarayi-vijayan-5741137/

- (Steve Bargona, 2021). ‘China's 'Sponge Cities’ That Absorb Rainwater Pushed Past Limits’ Retrieved from

- (Tan Nguan, n.d). Sen Water for All Conserve, Value, Enjoy – Singapore’s ABC Waters programme

- (Jaishankar Jayamariah, June 2020). ‘Tata motors turn warje into rich biodiversity’ Retrieved from

- (T Wong, 2005). An Overview of Water Sensitive Urban Design Practices in Australia


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