Why we need to do more with our open spaces

An open space is rarely used for multiple-functions. A park is only a park. A car parking lot is only a car parking lot. In the language of urban planning, open spaces are areas allocated for public parks, playing fields, and multi-purpose green spaces. However, these open spaces have the potential to be more.

Open spaces can combine elements of sustainability, leisure, and functionality. An example of this is the Railroad Park in Birmingham. The place has 600 trees planted along with amazing landscape design. The park uses recycled and reused objects like handcast bricks and original cobblestone. It stretches over 19 acres of land and comprises of a beautiful lake, a rain curtain, a bio-filtration wetlands area, and streams.

With this backdrop of information we have, let’s explore the importance of open spaces in the urban area.

Consequences of Crammed Cityscapes

Urban zones are usually highly polluted. “More than 80% of the people living in urban areas that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed the WHO limits.” As of now, low-income cities have higher toxicity in the air as compared to high-income cities. Such low-income cities are in desperate need of sustainable measures to improve air quality.

Nearly, 4.2 million deaths are caused due to outdoor air pollution and 3.8 million deaths are caused by the burning of cooking fuels. These numbers are indicative of how desperately we need to work towards curbing air pollution and increasing open green spaces to balance out the hazards of air pollution is one way to get there.

Benefits of preserving open spaces

Green open spaces can offer a lot more when designed well. To begin with, it enhances property value near urban zones as it increases liveability in these areas. It can also be a space where citizens go for walks, jogs, play sports and have fun events. The Atlanta Beltline is a brilliant example of how an open space can be utilised to achieve sustainability with the highest utility value possible. The 22-mile loop connects many neighbourhoods and comprises of many parks and trails. The project has won numerous awards for establishing sustainability along with economic growth in the region.

Apart from improving the air quality, green spaces are also known to improve mental health. City life is synonymous with high levels of stress. And open green spaces are known to help spiritual renewal, bring a sense of harmony, and increase physiological well-being. A study conducted by Matthias Braubach and others titled ‘Effects of urban green space on environmental health, equity, and resilience’ states that “Urban green space, such as parks, playgrounds, and residential greenery, can promote mental and physical health and reduce morbidity and mortality in urban residents by providing psychological relaxation and stress alleviation, stimulating social cohesion, supporting physical activity, and reducing exposure to air pollutants, noise and excessive heat.” This sums up the mental and physical benefits of having open green spaces.

From an environmental standpoint, these green spaces are essential for plants and animals as it is their natural habitat. Preserving the natural flora and fauna of a place is also crucial to ensuring sustainability in the long run.

Conserving open spaces: some notable examples

New York's Highline (A park on an old railway)

The Highline is a 1.45-mile long linear park. It is elevated above Manhattan’s west side and is built on a historic freight rail line. The project combines elements of landscape design, architecture, and ecology.

Mahim Nature Park

The Maharashtra Nature Park is a one-of-a-kind conservation space for multiple varieties of trees, plants, birds, reptiles, and butterflies. The 37-acre space, which is located in Mumbai, Maharashtra was once upon a time a mere dumping ground.

Developing open spaces is not really a choice but a necessity. Governments and city planners should understand the importance of open spaces and prioritize the development of open spaces along with other infrastructural developments. Urban environments often have limited open spaces. We believe this makes it even more vital that we look to innovative solutions to incorporate sustainability.

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