How urban green spaces combat environmental challenges
As our cities grow, the importance of green spaces becomes increasingly evident. While skyscrapers and bustling streets are iconic of urban environments, access to natural landscapes and parks is invaluable.
Air pollution is a major issue in cities. Vehicles, factories, and other human activities release harmful pollutants into the air, leading to respiratory issues, heart disease, and other health problems. Estimates say that nearly 9 million people die annually due to air pollution.
Green spaces can act as natural air filters, absorbing pollutants and releasing oxygen. Therefore, the more green spaces in a community, the better the air quality. Cities with parks and natural landscapes tend to have better air quality and lower rates of pollution-related health issues.
“Green spaces improve quality of life and are essential to mental and physical well-being,” says Olga Abinader, director of environmental review and land use planning at Matrix New World Engineering. “Urban dwellers with access to more green areas experience fewer instances of mental distress and are less likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, and other diseases.”
The urban heat island (UHI) effect is a phenomenon creating waves for city dwellers in multiple areas.
A UHI occurs in big cities where natural vegetation has been replaced with dense concentrations of buildings and large amounts of materials such as asphalt, concrete, and pavement. This results in higher temperatures than surrounding rural areas due to surfaces absorbing and retaining heat from the sun. Nature’s natural cooling systems, such as trees and vegetation, are no longer available to mitigate the heat.
UHIs can lead to heat-related illnesses, higher energy consumption, and increased air pollution (from air conditioning units, for example). Green spaces help to combat this issue by providing shade, evaporative cooling, and natural ventilation. As such, cities with more green spaces tend to be cooler and more comfortable to live in.
Although solutions will not always be quick to implement, the opportunities for urban planners, architects, and engineers, for example, to help combat these issues are abundant:
Accessibility is a significant challenge facing urban green spaces. The lack of accessibility to urban green spaces is often due to their location and distance from certain neighborhoods. Many parks and natural areas are located far away from certain communities, making them difficult to access for those without a car or reliable transportation.
For green spaces to positively impact communities, they must be easily accessible to everyone. Community gardens, urban farms, public parks, and rooftop gardens are just some of the creative options available to work in more lively green spaces to high-density urban areas.
“Everyone, including persons with disabilities, have the right to access and enjoy outdoor urban green spaces,” states Abinader. “We need to eliminate gated open spaces and gated community gardens.”
Urban areas often produce more waste, consume more energy, and have higher rates of greenhouse gas emissions than rural areas. However, there are positive changes we can make regarding planning and personal responsibility. For example, planners can create more walkable and bikeable communities, reducing the need for cars and lowering emissions.
Another environmental challenge that faces high-density urban environments is noise pollution. Noise pollution can come from various sources, such as traffic, construction, and industrial activities. It can harm human health, with symptoms such as stress, hearing loss, and sleep disturbances. Green spaces can act as a buffer against noise pollution by absorbing sound waves and reducing noise levels.
Green spaces play a crucial role in improving the quality of life in urban communities. By working together and taking personal responsibility, we can create more sustainable and livable cities for all.
People who live within 300 meters of green spaces, such as parks, tend to have lower levels of depression and anxiety.
Interested in growing a garden, but don’t have a big enough space? Here are some tips on how start your own community garden:
With determination and collaboration, a community garden can be a thriving green space for all to enjoy and reflect the uniqueness of your community.
Gardening is a fantastic way to connect with nature and improve overall well-being. Spending time outdoors surrounded by plants and greenery can reduce stress and anxiety while boosting mood and creativity.
Gardening also provides a low-impact form of exercise, which can improve cardiovascular health and increase muscle strength. Plus, the fruits and vegetables you grow can be a nutritious addition to your diet, providing essential nutrients that support a healthy lifestyle.