Balen's Posthumanist Vision for the Mindfulness City

Published On: July 9, 2024 08:30 AM NPT By: Bimal Pratap Shah

This holistic approach aims to conserve natural habitats, revitalize urban areas, and promote biodiversity within the cityscape.

The central government has shown minimal interest in addressing these pressing environmental concerns and also does not support urban forest initiatives either.

Kathmandu Metropolitan City’s Mayor Balen Shah's ambitious posthumanist vision to create urban forests to transform Kathmandu into a livable city faced formidable opposition. Urban forests, comprising all the trees and greenery within city limits, play a crucial role in enhancing the quality of the environment. They serve as natural air purifiers, capturing pollutants and replenishing oxygen levels, thereby significantly improving air quality. Also, these green spaces mitigate the urban heat island effect, regulate stormwater runoff to prevent flooding by reducing the speed of rainwater and support biodiversity by providing habitats for various species. Despite Kathmandu's alarming position atop the 'World Air Quality Index' due to severe pollution, opposition from regressive forces hindered the Kathmandu mayor's plan. The central government has shown minimal interest in addressing these pressing environmental concerns and also does not support urban forest initiatives either.

During the recent unveiling of policies and programs for the upcoming fiscal year 2024/25, Mayor Shah presented a revolutionary vision for Kathmandu's urban landscape. Among his ambitious proposals was the conversion of historic areas like New Road and Handigaon into 'No Vehicle Zones,' a prerequisite for transforming cities into urban forests. Even more radical were the plans to extend this initiative to UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as Boudhanath and Swayambhunath, with aspirations to include other significant heritage sites across the city in the future. This move is crucial because air pollution significantly contributes to the degradation of surfaces on historical buildings and monuments. A 2020 study by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) evaluated the risks of potential damage and associated costs due to air pollution for 21 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in six European countries.

A Visionary Shift in Urban Living

Melbourne’s Urban Forest Strategy, initiated in 2012, is designed to cultivate a robust, thriving, and diverse urban forest that enriches community well-being and fosters a livable city environment. For over a decade, Melbourne has consistently ranked in the top five of the official list of the world's most livable cities. Meanwhile, Kathmandu's alarming top rank in the 'World Air Quality Index' underscores the city as one of the least livable cities in the world. The city's proposal to improve livability should be welcomed. Unfortunately, this is not the case due to the short-term thinking of political parties.

Central to the mayor’s proposals is a transformative concept: envisioning a future of Kathmandu that could potentially be pollution-free. This radical shift would pivot the city's transportation paradigm towards green public transport and bicycles as well as create a city where people can walk. Furthermore, exposure to forest-like environments strengthens our immune system, reduces blood pressure, increases energy, boosts our mood, and helps us regain and maintain focus in ways that treeless environments cannot. The mayor’s proposal not only reflects a sustainable and forward-thinking approach to urban planning but also underscores a profound commitment to the well-being and health of Kathmandu's residents.

Above all, the mayor’s decision was grounded in compelling scientific rationale rather than ideological considerations. A landmark study led by Harvard University, published in Lancet Planetary Health, revealed the staggering health consequences of air pollution in Indian cities. The report unveils a grim reality: nearly 33,000 deaths annually across 10 major cities in India can be directly attributed to air pollution levels that exceed the World Health Organization's guidelines. This study underscores the severe health implications of air pollution and emphasizes the urgent need for immediate and coordinated efforts to address this critical public health crisis in urban India. Like their Indian counterparts, Nepali cities, particularly Kathmandu, have suffered from unscientific urban planning efforts of the central government.

Health Risks and Environmental Concerns

A Harvard University study has shown that vehicle pollutants pose significant health risks, emitting harmful substances such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, benzene, and formaldehyde. These pollutants degrade air quality and contribute to various respiratory and cardiovascular health issues. Addressing these emissions through cleaner technologies and sustainable transportation strategies is crucial not only for reducing public health risks but also for minimizing environmental degradation.

As urban populations swell, cities like Kathmandu face the challenge of sustainability. Outdated ideologies and operational methods exacerbate these challenges. Posthumanist ideals offer a transformative framework for envisioning urban environments that harmoniously integrate human, ecological, and technological dimensions. To meet future demands, cities must evolve to embody these principles, ensuring they are not only livable for humans and other species but also ecologically sustainable, socially equitable, and seamlessly integrated with advanced technologies like AI, progressing towards a smart-eco-city model.

Ecological Integration with Degrowth and post-Growth

Posthumanist ideals provide a transformative framework for envisioning urban environments that harmonize human, ecological (Prakriti), technological, and Hindu/Buddhist spiritual dimensions, integrating concepts such as dharma (righteous duty) and ahimsa (non-violence). To achieve true livability, cities must evolve to embody these Posthuman principles. They should be sattvic and accessible to children and the elderly while remaining dharmic (under moral law), ecologically sound, socially equitable, and seamlessly integrated with cutting-edge technology. This holistic approach aims to conserve natural habitats, revitalize urban areas, and promote biodiversity within the cityscape.

For the past few decades, many developing nations have pursued relentless short-term economic growth, leading to significant ecological degradation. In response to this pattern, movements such as 'Degrowth' and 'Post-Growth' have emerged as radical alternatives advocating for a paradigm shift. Degrowth or post-growth strategies are crucial as Nepal also pursued a haphazard growth strategy for the last 40 years, exacerbating environmental degradation, widening social inequalities, and lacking long-term sustainability considerations.

At the heart of ‘Degrowth’ and ‘Post-Growth’ ideologies is the principle of sustainable consumption. This approach promotes the reduction of consumption and waste, advocating for lifestyles that prioritize environmental sustainability over material wealth. The current economic model, driven by consumerism, has led to the overexploitation of natural resources, contributing to environmental crises such as climate change, deforestation, and biodiversity loss.

Sustainable consumption calls for a shift towards more mindful and responsible use of resources, encouraging individuals and societies to adopt practices that minimize their ecological footprint. This can include reducing energy consumption, opting for renewable energy sources, supporting sustainable agriculture, and embracing a circular economy. By encouraging people to embrace alternative modes of transportation such as green public transit, walking, and cycling, car-free cities contribute to lowering energy consumption and reducing the ecological footprint associated with urban mobility.

Localism and Economic Equity

Localism is another cornerstone of posthumanist ideals, emphasizing the importance of local production and consumption to reduce environmental impact and build stronger, self-sufficient communities. By prioritizing locally sourced food, goods, and services, communities can decrease their reliance on expensive imported items and reduce carbon emissions. Localism encourages local economies to thrive and become more self-reliant. This policy approach leads to the revitalization of local industries, the creation of local jobs, and the preservation of local cultures and traditions. Governments must enact policies aimed at reducing imports and bolstering local production. By prioritizing local manufacturing and agriculture, communities can support national economies.

Economic equity is a cornerstone of Degrowth and Post-Growth ideologies, aiming to address inequalities by advocating for the fair distribution of resources rather than relentless economic expansion. In many instances, the current economic system exacerbates disparities, concentrating wealth and power in the hands of a privileged few through practices often tainted by corruption. These ideas envision societies where everyone has an equal opportunity to thrive, irrespective of their socio-economic background


One of the most profound shifts proposed by Degrowth and Post-Growth ideologies is the redefinition of success and progress. Instead of measuring prosperity through traditional economic indicators like GDP growth, these ideologies prioritize well-being, community, and ecological health. Quality of life becomes the primary metric, encompassing factors such as physical and mental health, environmental quality, social connections, and personal fulfilment. This holistic approach recognizes that true prosperity extends beyond material wealth, encompassing the overall well-being of individuals and communities. By focusing on quality of life, Degrowth and Post-Growth ideologies advocate for a more balanced and sustainable way of living that values happiness, health, and harmony with nature. For example, Bhutan's Degrowth and Post-growth strategies have been so effective that it has become the first and only place to be officially carbon-negative. This means the tiny country is removing more greenhouse gases from the environment than it is producing. Now, with bigger ambitions of creating the 'Mindfulness City,' Bhutan aims to set an example for the world to follow.

The "Mindfulness City" refers to a visionary urban development project planned by Bhutan. Spanning 1,000 square kilometres, the new city will be designed with a strong focus on sustainability, well-being, and integrating nature into urban life. Key features include low- to mid-rise buildings connected by inhabitable bridges, alongside essential facilities such as an international airport, universities, healthcare centres, a hydroponic greenhouse, cultural and spiritual centers, and a hydroelectric dam. The city's design incorporates 35 rivers and streams, with neighbourhoods structured in mandala-like patterns to enhance community connectivity and harmony. Inspired by Bhutan's Gross National Happiness philosophy, the Mindfulness City aims to prioritize personal well-being alongside economic development, utilizing local materials such as wood, stone, and bamboo for construction.

Mayor Balen Shah's visionary posthumanist mindful initiatives for Kathmandu are a bold and urgently needed step towards the city's sustainable and inclusive future.His plans to create 'No Vehicle Zones' and ultimately transition towards a car-free city underscore a commitment to combating air pollution, enhancing public health, and preserving cultural heritage. His vision aligns with 21st-century Posthumanist ideals, emphasizing the collective good over individual interests, and prioritizing ecological health and the well-being of other species. Kathmandu has the potential to blossom into an urban forest, pioneering a new model of urban development and setting a global precedent for urban sustainability. However, political parties aligned with 19th-century almost obsolete humanist ideals are hindering Kathmandu's adaptation to the Posthuman era.

Political parties are struggling to grasp that Posthumanism represents a subtle revolution, an intellectual storm reimagining the very essence of what it means to be "human."In a world accelerating with technological advancements and a growing awareness of our fragile ecology, Posthumanism dismantles the age-old pedestal upon which humans have perched, challenging our anthropocentric arrogance. It urges us to recognize the intricate connections that bind us to other species and machines—a call to understand our place in a vast, interconnected web of existence in the 21st century. 

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