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For those who love spending time in nature, there may be only a few things as enjoyable as relaxing on a bench in a neighbourhood park, walking along a tree-shaded path, or hiking on gravel roads and dirt foot trails through a forest. These green spaces in cities are meant to provide the residents with a reprieve from heat and noise pollution. However, unfortunately, not everyone living in metropolises has equal access to such areas.
Despite being an integral part of urban planning, green spaces in Pakistan have been disappearing at an alarming rate. A shift towards large-scale agricultural production to meet the increased demand of consumers combined with unchecked tree-cutting to make way for infrastructural development and construction of new housing societies are among the leading reasons behind the depleting greenery in many large cities.
Over the past years, the federal and provincial governments have kickstarted many ground-breaking projects and campaigns to tackle the effects of deforestation by planting trees both in rural and urban areas. There are currently several urban forest projects underway in Karachi, while the authorities have also planned to establish the first urban forestry park in Islamabad. Moreover, the Lahore Development Authority has undertaken an initiative to grow Miyawaki-style urban forests in the City of Gardens.
While all of these ways to increase green spaces in cities are certainly a good start, it is important to understand that land encroachment and uncontrolled expansion of urban areas continue to pose a threat to such areas. It also doesn’t help that many city dwellers are not aware of the effects of a lack of green spaces.
Thus, here is a comprehensive guide that will shed light on the importance of green spaces in cosmopolises.
Types of Green Spaces in Cities
There are many types of green spaces spread throughout urban neighbourhoods in various shapes and sizes. Depending on their function and surrounding, you may refer to these areas as open spaces, natural spaces, or green infrastructure.
While there could be countless examples of green spaces in cities, they are usually divided into two distinct groups: public spaces and private spaces. The former comprises recreational parks, community gardens, persevered areas, trails, greenways, wetlands, street trees, roadside vegetation, and rural and urban forests. Meanwhile, private or institutional green spaces consist of rooftop gardens, green walls, golf courses, and cemeteries, among outdoor areas.
Let’s look at some of the most important types of green spaces in Pakistan.
Recreational Parks and Gardens
Designed for recreation and leisure, urban parks and gardens are often the most valued part of any residential community. Apart from large spans of grassy land and tall ornamental trees, these open spaces are mostly interspersed with walking paths or jogging areas, cycling lanes, wooden benches, flower beds, and a children’s play area comprising swings and slides. Some bigger parks may even have ponds or fountains, which further enhance their aesthetic appeal.
Many homebuyers pay extra to live closer to a park so their families could enjoy some fresh air and spend quality time together in a safe environment. These spaces also strengthen social cohesion and foster a community spirit, as they are among the few places where people living in the same neighbourhood can easily meet and engage with each other.
The forests planted in and around urban settlements are known as urban forests. While they can grow naturally, they are often initiated through certain methods to increase biodiversity, reduce pollutants in the air, prevent flooding after storms, and most importantly, lower the temperatures. These forests are extremely helpful in mitigating the effects of climate change on the planet.
Urban forests are among the most expansive and distinctive forms of green spaces in cities. They can encompass street trees, parks, landscaped boulevards, coastal promenades, conservation areas, and other types of roadside vegetation. This green infrastructure not only helps create a healthier lifestyle for the local community but also allows different species of birds, insects, and small animals to find food and shelter in urban areas.
Thanks to the various plantation drives in Pakistan, the number of urban forests across the country is on an upward rise.
National Parks and Sanctuaries
A national park is an open area protected by the government for the preservation of local flora and fauna. It may also be set aside due to its historical, scientific, or geological importance. These parks are usually located in the countryside or mountainous areas outside the city limits, with most of them being open for public recreation. Also known as nature reserves, these green spaces are also the perfect place for those who want to enjoy the great outdoors and observe animals in their natural habitat.
On the other hand, wildlife sanctuaries are regions of forests and mountains that are conserved for the protection of wildlife species and their natural habitat. These green spaces are rich in biodiversity and serve as a home to many native species, some of which may even be on the verge of extinction.
Astor Wildlife Sanctuary, Baltistan Wildlife Sanctuary, Cholistan Wildlife Sanctuary, and Hub Dam Wildlife Sanctuary are among the must-visit wildlife reserves in Pakistan.
Green belts, roadside vegetations, and trees lining the pavements usually fall under the category of urban greenery.
As the conversation around sustainable lifestyle and eco-friendly construction practices continue to gain momentum, the local authorities in several cities have introduced new measures to increase green spaces in Pakistan. These measures generally include planting trees outside and around the buildings, allotting open areas in housing societies, using special reinforcements to create green walls, and of course, designing rooftop gardens that help conserve energy by cooling down the overall structure.
If you are also looking for ways to increase green spaces in cities, you may want to check out our guides on how to choose the best trees to grow in your house.
A wetland is an area of land that is either filled or saturated with water for a better part of the year. It serves as a distinct ecosystem and is usually populated by different aquatic species, such as mudskippers and crabs. Most wetlands are transitional zones and are among the most important parts of the natural landscape.
In addition, the amount of water covering these types of green spaces varies significantly with their location. While some wetlands are permanently covered by water, others may only get flooded during heavy rains or certain seasons. However, regardless of the amount of water, the soil in these areas remains saturated throughout the year, allowing different plant communities to grow and prosper.
The plants that grow in wetlands are known as hydrophytes as they can easily adapt to the characteristics of the low-oxygen hydric soil. These green spaces are also a critical element of the ecosystem, as many marine and wildlife species are largely dependent on wetlands for feeding, resting, and breeding.
The mangrove forests in Pakistan are among the best examples of green spaces in cities, as they help stabilise the shorelines, prevent erosion, and keep polluted water from contaminating other water bodies.
Why Are Green Spaces Important?
Here are some of the biggest advantages of green spaces in cities that everyone should know about.
Help People Live Longer
Did you know that more than three million people worldwide die prematurely as a result of air pollution every year?
A 2015 study showed that inhaling irritant gases over a significant period can reduce the lifespan of people suffering from pre-existing non-communicable diseases. As the effects of global warming become even more pronounced, this number is likely to increase. It is also important to mention that most of these premature deaths occur in Asia.
Along with worsening cardiac and respiratory conditions among people of all ages, air pollution also contributes to scorching temperatures and heat waves. These episodes of intense heat can lead to heart attacks and strokes, thus increasing the mortality rate.
However, since trees and plants can reduce air pollution by removing pollutants from the air and releasing oxygen into the environment, green infrastructure can ensure a healthier and longer life for those living in urban areas. It is among the most notable advantages of green spaces in cities.
Similarly, parks and open spaces provide people with an opportunity to engage in more physical activities, such as walking and cycling. Since physical inactivity is one of the major risk factors for non-communicable diseases, having access to green spaces can save lives in more than one way.
Hence, establishing more parks and gardens could be an effective way to improve the health of the local community as well as address one of the biggest climate crises.
Improve Air Quality
As mentioned above, air pollution is among the most significant effects of the lack of green spaces in cities. The toxic gases in the environment are not only harmful to human health but also destroy the natural ecosystem.
The leading reason behind the low air quality is the emission of hazardous gases into the atmosphere by vehicles, chemical plants, industrial boilers, and refineries. Some of the most commonly found pollutants in the air include:
- Sulphur dioxide and Nitrogen oxides, which are caused by the burning of fossil fuels
- Carbon monoxide, which is mostly caused by industrial factories and car emissions
- Other volatile organic compounds
However, trees can combat the ill effects of these gases and improve air quality, thus making it safer for people to breathe without developing any long-lasting medical conditions. The increase in green spaces in cities can also regulate the temperature, which would reduce the demand for air conditioning and curb the subsequent emissions.
Hence, keeping the importance of green spaces in mind, it is time for local authorities to strategically plant more trees in different parts of the city – particularly in and around industrial areas.
Summers in Pakistan can be quite intense, with temperatures rising to 50 degrees Celsius and blistering heat waves testing the limits of human endurance. While climate change is largely to blame for the rising temperatures across the world, it is important to understand that lack of green spaces is one of the main reasons summers are substantially worse in urban areas compared to rural settlements.
This phenomenon is termed the ‘urban heat island effect.’ Though its intensity may vary depending on the annual rainfall and population, residential communities with congested concrete structures and fewer trees are more likely to experience hotter weather than neighbourhoods with open spaces and parks.
The main reason the former is usually a few degrees hotter is that the dark-coloured surfaces in these areas, such as the asphalt streets and rooftops, absorb heat throughout the day and then gradually release it back into the atmosphere. In other words, it creates little islands of heat in the middle of the city.
That being said, researchers have determined that community gardens, parks, wetlands, urban forests, and green belts all play a major role in regulating the temperature and mitigating urban heat. In other words, areas with more greenery are bound to be cooler than the rest.
You can read more about the heat wave horrors in Pakistan here.
Prevent Flooding and Water Pollution
Urban flooding and water pollution are among the most crucial effects of the lack of green spaces in cities. Forests, green belts, parks, roadside vegetations, and other green infrastructure helps reduce flooding during and after heavy rainfall by absorbing, retaining, and filtering stormwater. It also reduces the contaminated runoff that pollutes streams, lakes, rivers, and oceans.
Green spaces mimic natural hydrological processes. It means the soil and plants in these areas turn excess water into a resource instead of letting it flood the streets and urban infrastructure. Moreover, these natural or man-made spaces can improve the quality of water by filtering pollutants and sediments. The roots of trees also help against erosion, which occurs when the upper surface of the soil is detached due to rainfall, strong winds, or heavy rainfall.
Furthermore, green spaces in cities can help increase the quantity of local water supply.
Improve Mental Health
We already know that access to urban parks and playgrounds is good for physical health. However, it is time we talk about the importance of green spaces for mental health.
It has been scientifically proven that parks, gardens, and landscaped areas not only add to the aesthetics of a neighbourhood but also reduce the stress among the residents by creating a serene environment. Researchers have also found out that individuals struggling with stress and aggression usually feel better after spending some time in a natural setting. Similarly, these spaces can help reduce instances of violence in a community.
However, that’s not all.
Green spaces in cities can also enhance concentration. Studies have found that people who spent more time outdoors surrounded by nature found it easier to concentrate on the tasks at hand as well as their immediate surroundings. This voluntary focus can also increase the productivity of individuals, as they are less likely to get distracted throughout their day, allowing them to effortlessly pay attention to their work or studies.
Therefore, it won’t be wrong to say that green infrastructure can play a crucial role in boosting the mental and physical health of the local community. Those who find themselves under duress or stress can dedicate a few hours in the morning or evening to take a walk outdoors in a shaded area or spend some time in a local park, where they can relax and enjoy the fresh breeze.
Stimulate Social Cohesion
Last but not least, different types of green spaces in cities can bring those living in a community closer to each other, thus stimulating social cohesion.
Unfortunately, many of us spend a better part of our days stuck in traffic jams, walking amongst crowds, and breathing polluted air. These factors, along with chronic stress and insufficient physical activity, leave many individuals with barely any time or energy to form social bonds with those around them.
This is where neighbourhood parks come in. These green spaces provide the members of a community with a safe and beautiful space where they can meet each other and engage in conversations, thus strengthening their social relationships. Since local parks do not have entry free, the neighbours can spend time together without having to spend any money, thus keeping their finances in order.
Hence, green spaces in cities should be designed to fulfil the needs of the local community. Ideally, parks should have a section where children can play together, a cycling track, a jogging area, and a few wooden benches placed strategically under shaded trees for an optimal experience.
To conclude our guide on why are green spaces important, it is important to understand that a large segment of the population in cities is exposed to environmental hazards and lives a physically inactive lifestyle that is made worse by stress and anxiety. Fortunately, urban green spaces can help these individuals lead a healthier lifestyle. Spending time in nature can boost mental health, support physical activity, increase exposure to clean air, enhance social cohesion, regulate temperatures, and prevent flooding.
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