The importance of incorporating green spaces in city planning

The Singapore government’s “Garden City” campaign, launched in the 1960s, aimed to transform Singapore into a green and lush city. Since then, Singapore has significantly invested in creating new parks, nature reserves, and other green spaces, including the popular Gardens by the Bay and the Marina Bay Sands SkyPark.

The results? These green spaces have significantly impacted the quality of life for Singapore residents. They provide opportunities for recreation, relaxation, and social interaction and promote environmental sustainability and biodiversity.  Many residents agreed that parks and green spaces make Singapore a better place to live. 

Singapore is an excellent example of how green spaces in city planning can contribute to a more livable, sustainable, and economically strong city that improves the quality of life. After all, the goal of city planning is to create livable, sustainable, and functional urban environments that meet the needs of the population. This requires careful consideration of various factors, such as demographics, social and cultural values, environmental impact, economic development, and urban design principles.

Despite that, it is not uncommon for city planning to overlook the inclusion of green spaces, especially in highly urbanized areas where the demand for space is high. In some cases, city planners may prioritize economic development and infrastructure over the provision of green spaces. Additionally, the lack of understanding of the benefits of green spaces, limited resources, and the competing demands of different stakeholders may also contribute to the lack of green space planning.

Why we need green spaces in urban planning

The WHO defines green spaces as “an essential resource to provide healthy and sustainable living environments,” and it estimates that ideally, everyone should live within 500 linear meters of a green space.

Green spaces, such as parks, gardens, and trees, are essential components of a healthy and sustainable urban environment. Whether or not humans have interfered with the development of a green area determines whether it is considered to be natural. Urban or suburban green spaces typically contain trees, plants, or shrubbery and are used for recreation, though occasionally, they are protected areas due to their significance to the environment.

In general, however, incorporating green spaces in city planning is crucial as it not only provides numerous environmental benefits but also enhances the quality of life of urban residents. Here’s why.

Green spaces improve physical activity

The urban environment may have an impact on people’s amounts of physical activity, according to studies. Parks and other urban green spaces, in particular, give people a safe and accessible location to engage in physical activity not too far from their homes. According to the CDC, individuals who have unfettered access to green spaces, such as parks, gardens, and trails for hiking through nature, are more likely to walk and engage in other forms of physical activity. The closer they are and the safer they feel, the more likely people are to walk or ride a bike to such locations and use the park for physical activity. Green spaces have been linked to a reduction in the likelihood of being obese or overweight, according to a study

Green spaces improve mental health

Lincoln Larson and Aaron Hipp, associate professors at NC State, claim that spending more time outdoors improves cognitive abilities, concentration, and stress levels. Also, people are more likely to express high levels of enjoyment and well-being after spending time outdoors and are less likely to exhibit depression and anxiety disorders. This is probably connected to the fact that green spaces also form excellent backdrops for social interactions within the community. These interactions help reduce the isolation often felt when living in big cities and lead to greater resilience and well-being at an individual and community level. 

Green spaces improve the livability of cities

Parks and other green areas within a city create a sense of place, adding character and identity to urban areas. Aside from providing opportunities for recreation and relaxation, green spaces also act as a buffer between busy roads and residential areas, reducing noise pollution. This improves the acoustic environment of urban areas, making them more pleasant and peaceful.

Green spaces also help to remove pollutants and improve air quality by absorbing carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and other harmful substances. This helps to reduce the incidence of respiratory diseases and improve the health and well-being of urban residents. They also enhance biodiversity, providing habitats for various plant and animal species.

Adding green spaces to urban areas

There is visible scientific evidence that green spaces are beneficial for the good of the environment and the community. However, one major challenge remains: many cities have already grown so packed that large swathes of parks and forest trails are nearly impossible to institute. However, urban planning organizations have looked into unconventional ways to make cities greener by utilizing the space remaining. 

Creating mini-forests

Japanese botanist and authority on plant ecology Akira Miyawaki developed a method for creating mini forests that grow up to 30 times faster and are 100 times more biodiverse than conventional forests. The Miyawaki technique involves planting several native tree species in a short space to produce a thick, layered forest that resembles the biodiversity of an established forest. The method is very efficient in restoring deteriorated land, lowering carbon emissions, and supplying animal habitats. As a sustainable and viable form of reforestation, the Miyawaki method has been successfully applied in various regions of the world.

Revamping underutilized spaces

Many cities have underutilized spaces, such as parking lots, abandoned buildings, and vacant lots. These can be converted into parks, community gardens, green roofs, and other types of urban green infrastructure. Governments can encourage community involvement in the creation and maintenance of green spaces through volunteer programs, community garden initiatives, and other community-based programs.

Practicing green building

According to the USGBC, green building involves “the planning, design, construction, and operations of buildings with several central, foremost considerations: energy use, water use, indoor environmental quality, material section and the building’s effects on its site.” It means constructing buildings that have zero negative impacts on the environment in every single stage outlined above.

Green building practices can help to reduce the environmental impact of buildings by improving energy efficiency, reducing water consumption, and minimizing waste. This helps to mitigate climate change and preserve natural resources. These energy-efficient buildings also help to reduce energy costs, while water-efficient buildings can help to reduce water bills. 

Some examples of green buildings around the world include:

The final word

Green spaces are socially responsible because they provide a range of benefits that contribute to improved physical and mental health, a healthier and more sustainable built environment, social interaction and community building, and economic development. By prioritizing the creation and maintenance of green spaces, we can create more livable and equitable communities for all.