Can Sustainable and Smart Cities Fight Smog and Air Pollution

Sustainable and Smart Cities - Stay Fresh Today

Lately, Pakistan’s major cities have suffered severe smog hazards. Rapid urbanization has compounded the causes of air pollution; smog is the byproduct of these unprecedented levels of air pollution in urban areas. Developed countries like the USA and the UK have successfully managed the problem of smog due to rapid urbanization. Recently, China integrated the concepts of sustainable and smart cities and energy efficient transport systems and reduced its air pollutants by 35%.

Why is smog a problem?

Environmental pollution and poverty are inextricably related in Pakistan. The poor population of Pakistan depends on natural resources, causing a significant strain on the environment due to population growth and urbanization. According to experts, indoor pollution may cost Pakistan’s economy over PKR 67 billion; urban air pollution may cost PKR 65 billion; lead exposure may cost PKR 45 billion; and land degradation and deforestation may cost PKR 6 billion. Many environmental specialists think that the price of environmental damage must have gone beyond PKR 450 billion.

Strain on the environment due to population growth - Stay Fresh Today
Strain on the environment due to population growth.

[Reference: “Environmental Degradation Draining Pakistan’s Economy: Survey.” Environmental Degradation Draining Pakistan’s Economy: Survey, 16 July 2014,]

What is smog made of?

Smog, a term derived from the combination of “smoke” and “fog“, refers to a noxious mixture of pollutants that hangs in the air. It is primarily composed of two types of pollutants: particulate matter (such as soot, dust, and aerosols) and ground-level ozone (a secondary pollutant formed when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds react in the presence of sunlight).

Smog Components - Stay Fresh Today
Smog Components.

These pollutants are released into the atmosphere through various human activities, including industrial emissions, vehicular exhaust, and the burning of fossil fuels. Below are the main components of smog:

Carbon monoxide: Carbon monoxide is primarily created by motor vehicles.

Hydrocarbons: Form due to incomplete burning of fuel.

Nitrogen Oxide: Vehicles and power plants both emit nitrogen oxides.

Ozone: When nitrogen oxide and hydrocarbons mix under sunlight, a dangerous form of oxygen called ozone is created.

Particulate matter: Small pieces of solid or liquid substances created by industry, transportation, and home coal burning.

Smoke: Smoke is composed of solid particles that can be seen.

Sulphur Dioxide: A colorless gas called Sulphur dioxide is mostly released by power plants. It creates acid when it reacts with airborne water.

High levels of air pollution have a negative influence on the environment and impose costs on the economy due to decreased productivity and quality of life.

The relationship between urban planning and air pollutants

Implement measures to disperse air pollutant concentrations - Stay Fresh Today
Urban planners evaluate, propose, and implement measures to disperse air pollutant concentrations.

By virtue of their responsibility, urban planners have a significant role in controlling air pollution and smog and reducing their effects. Urban planners evaluate, propose, and implement measures to disperse air pollutant concentrations, reduce people’s exposure to pollutants, and improve the efficiency of urban transport systems. To materialize these objectives, urban planning has to take into account the following measures:

  • Work out the current ambient air quality, pollution sources, and meteorology.
  • Incorporate and evaluate air pollution considerations when developing land use policies and transportation systems.
  • Source control programs for both stationary sources and vehicle emissions
  • Encourage legislative steps for effective implementation of urban planning programs and source control programs.

Why focus on urban planning to fight air pollution and smog?

Smog’s constituent chemicals have been linked to detrimental health effects like respiratory illness and visual issues. Public health safety suffers a high societal cost in cities with unhealthy pollution levels. Today, cities sustain half of the world’s population. The ratio is predicted to increase, with seven individuals out of ten living in cities by the year 2050.

Urban planning to fight air pollution - Stay Fresh Today
Urban planning is a must to fight air pollution.

Cities are the main drivers of economic growth and account for more than 80% of global GDP. However, 70% of greenhouse gas emissions also come from cities. Ambient air pollution caused 4.2 million deaths in 2019. The main sources of ambient air pollution were traffic, industry, power generation, waste burning, and residential fuel combustion. Around 6,000 cities, twice as many as in 2015, are monitoring the air quality.

[Reference: Statistics Division, United Nations. “&Mdash; SDG Indicators.” &Mdash; SDG Indicators, Accessed 1 June 2023.]

Urban planning parameters to reduce air pollution and smog

Only well planned and managed urban growth can be inclusive, prosperous, and sustainable. The severe disparities that the COVID-19 epidemic and other cascading crises such as climate change, rising air pollution, and the phenomenon of smog have highlighted the significance of sustainable urban development.

Outdoor air pollution - Stay Fresh Today
Outdoor air pollution.

Outdoor air pollution is the cause of 91% of the 4.2 million premature deaths in developing and underdeveloped countries. More prepared, resilient, and sustainable urban centers can only respond to upcoming disasters.

Here are the broad planning parameters for sustainable urban development to reduce air pollutants and smog:

  • Urban planning to use land for the development of industrial, commercial, and residential areas must reduce the concentration of aerial waste.
  • Urban planning must cater to dispersing the pollutants concentrations and reducing the exposure of people to air pollution with the help of large open spaces and green belts.
  • Effective highway planning can also cause significant reductions in hydrocarbons and carbon dioxide.
  • A well-thought-out public transportation system can lower vehicle emissions. Free traffic zones and transport facilities compatible with adjoining land uses can also help reduce vehicle emissions, a large contributor to air pollution and smog.

Sustainable and Smart Cities can help reduce air pollution and smog.

The United Nations has drafted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that aim for safer and more resilient human settlements. The SDGs, established by the UN General Assembly in 2015, are the guiding parameters for a better and more sustainable future with a more clean and healthy environment.

One of the goals of reducing air pollution for promoting sustainable and smart cities is to reduce adverse per capita environmental impacts by focusing on air quality, municipal waste management, and other waste management by 2030. The goals of sustainable cities also focus on providing universal access to safe, green, and inclusive public spaces, especially for women, children, older people, and people with disabilities.

Smart Cities - Stay Fresh Today
Smart Cities.

The idea of “smart cities” has gained significance in the battle against air pollution and to reduce the negative environmental effects of urbanization. According to the European Commission, a smart city should include advanced water supply systems, ecologically friendly water disposal facilities, and structures with great energy efficiency.

[Reference: “Smart Cities.” European Commission, Accessed 1 June 2023.]

What’s the way forward for Pakistan?

Rapid urbanization without paying the requisite importance to urban planning has aggravated the environmental hazards associated with air pollution and smog. In the last few years, Pakistan has experienced extreme conditions of smog, causing huge socio-economic losses. Following the best practices of urban planning as implemented by China is the answer to the air pollution and smog problems in Pakistan. Following the lead of China, which has reduced air pollutants by 35%, Pakistan must also look to reduce carbon emissions with elaborate transport systems and decrease the concentration of air pollutants with sustainable and smart cities and communities.


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