Urban oases: the importance of green space

27th January 2022


The pandemic seems to have focused minds on the importance of green space, says Aona Stuart

Urban areas are hubs for people, infrastructure and commerce, requiring extensive resources and putting intense pressure on

the environment. As urban landscapes become the everyday environment for most of the human population, with the UN predicting that 68% of the global population will be living in urban areas by 2050, we must address the inextricable link between nature and people.

Intense urbanisation processes have resulted in built environments that lack green spaces. However, more recently, and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a change in the perception and functionality of existing green spaces and infrastructure. Incorporating green spaces into the built environment can strengthen relationships between nature and people.

Green spaces can typically be split into the following categories: those for pleasure (public parks, tree-lined streets), those for use (allotments, playing fields), water features (canals, dockyards), natural green spaces (meadows, woodlands), controlled green spaces (greenbelt, nature reserve) and untended green spaces (disused railway lines and wasteland). These green spaces have a plethora of benefits, including improvements to local air quality, local biodiversity, human health and wellbeing, and urban resilience to climate change impacts, as well as reductions to the urban heat island effect.

Nature positively affects human health in several ways, with one widely recognised benefit being the provision of opportunities for physical activity.

For example, tree-lined streets encourage cycling as a form of travel by increasing the appeal of the route. They have also been shown to reduce temperatures in the hottest months through shading, and by absorbing heat from the air via the process of evapotranspiration.

“There has been a change in the perception and functionality of existing green spaces”

Urban areas are vulnerable to the increasing frequency and intensity of the environmental extremes caused by climate change. Ecosystems provide a buffer, or a measure of resilience, in urban environments, helping to address environmental challenges. An urban planning strategy that aims to design effective green infrastructure can implement climate change adaptation strategies while also creating green spaces for biodiversity.

Including green space in projects

Arcadis applies sustainable principles to support the inclusion of green spaces into its projects. By considering spatial use, connectivity and accessibility when master planning places, we can contribute to a range of transformational aims, such as promoting active travel, improving community health and wellbeing, and building flexible places that can adapt to future changes in climate, population and the economy.

Arcadis is working with Glasgow City Council to develop the Liveable Neighbourhoods programme, a post-COVID-19 and climate change response to make Glasgow more resilient by promoting active travel and nature-based solutions. This toolkit highlights the importance of local public space within Glasgow, and the need to re-prioritise the balance of the streets to maximise social, economic and environmental benefits. There will be increased space for green infrastructure, contributing to the city’s climate adaptation and mitigation strategy.

Construction in urban areas has previously focused on infrastructure, creating residential and commercial space with limited access to nature. However, the incorporation of green spaces and green infrastructure in design has unearthed numerous benefits that encompass human health and wellbeing, biodiversity and urban resilience. With nature increasingly at the forefront of people’s minds, we can expect to see more beneficial change to our urban landscapes in the future.

Aona Stuart is an environmental consultant at Arcadis and a member of the IEMA Futures Steering Committee.

Image Credit | iStock

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