| Greening the city
Around 80% of the European Union’s population lives in cities and towns. Urban areas are, therefore, the places in which environmental problems most affect the day-to-day life of Europe’s citizens. Green, open spaces in urban areas have significant potential to improve the quality of life of city and town dwellers, the urban environment and urban sustainability. However, this potential is not always fully recognised or realised.
|Parks and gardens can serve several purposes: esthetic, recreational, act as a reserve for local wildlife, a play area for children, or a peaceful retreat for adults, ect.|
Five research projects funded under the EU’s Fifth Framework Programme for Research (Key Action 4: City of Tomorrow and Cultural Heritage) address the role of green and open spaces in urban sustainability and ways of improving, both qualitatively and quantitatively, the provision of green and open space as well as the quality of life in European urban areas.
From different angles
Rather than presenting the results of these individual projects separately, the project leaders decided to produce their findings in a coordinated package – Greencluster – in order to enhance their overall impact and accessibility. Although they all deal with the role of green spaces in the context of sustainable urban development, the five projects in the cluster (Greenscom, Greenspace, BUGS, RUROS and URGE) approach the subject in very diverse ways and are based on different sets of case studies, conducted in different countries. Overall, the five projects involved some 38 cities and 31 research institutes from 19 European countries.
“The fact that the projects have involved researchers from a variety of disciplines, with different backgrounds and from different countries, has forced us to make a particular effort to improve the way in which we communicate our ideas and to make them accessible and relevant to those responsible for putting the ideas into practice,” comments Leo van den Berg, the Greencluster coordinator. “This has had a beneficial impact on the quality and relevance of the tools developed.”
Involving the users
As in most areas of life, good communication can significantly enhance the planning process and ensure the long-term viability and effectiveness of actions undertaken. The Greenscom project looked at the role of communication in the management and development of green urban areas. In particular, it studied ways of involving the users of green areas in the management and maintenance of these public spaces. A number of practical examples demonstrate the value of this approach and the potential benefits of involving the public in this way.
|The benefits of green spaces were measured in terms of improved air quality, lower noise levels, economic gain and quality of life.|
The Greenspace project, coordinated by University College, Dublin (Ireland), attempted to assess the perceived value of green space to urban citizens and the various potential and actual uses of these areas. “Greenspace focused attention on the multifunctional nature of green spaces,” says van den Berg. “Parks and gardens can serve several purposes. They may be esthetic, recreational or a means of facilitating social interaction. They can act as a reserve for local wildlife, a play area for children, or a peaceful retreat for adults – or provide a safe and pleasant area for recreational activity (football, running, bowls). Ideally, they should combine several of these functions in order to maximise their contribution to the quality of urban life,” he stresses. The project provides a tool kit for urban planners to assist them in establishing what mix of ‘green space’ would be most valued in each particular situation.
Similarly, the RUROS project, coordinated by the centre for Renewable Energy resources (CRES) in Greece, was based on public perceptions of the comfort of open spaces in urban areas. Here, however, the focus was more on practical means of improving the comfort, functionality and safety of large open (not necessarily green) areas.
Benefits for the environment
The BUGS project looked specifically at the environmental benefits of green areas in an urban environment, evaluating their impact on such factors as climate, pollution, noise levels and traffic congestion.
The benefits of green spaces were measured in terms of improved air quality, lower noise levels, economic gain and quality of life. Evaluations were carried out at both a micro (park, gardens, etc.) and intermediate (whole urban area and urban/rural interaction) scale. Geographic maps based on remote-sensing, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and spatial modelling techniques, were used to visualise the accessibility and connectivity of green areas, as well as locations for potential greening sites. The project highlights the role of green space in reducing environmental degradation.
An interdisciplinary approach
The need for innovative strategies for the design and management of green spaces within cities, taking account of the complex interactions between nature, economy and social systems in urban environments, was the main focus of the URGE project. Based on close collaboration between practitioners and researchers from different academic disciplines and cultures, URGE tested a range of methods and tools. The results are presented in a widely applicable, user-friendly handbook for practitioners. This includes an Interdisciplinary Catalogue of Criteria (ICC) which provides a valuable tool by which to measure the performance of green spaces in terms of ecological, economic and social criteria.
Practical tools for urban planning
A key message to emerge from Greencluster is that the research community is able to develop highly relevant tools for urban development. There is, however, a need to improve the structures for communication between researchers and those responsible for putting research into practice. The Greencluster exercise resulted in the development of a wide range of practical tools which, it is hoped, will enhance the capacity of city managers, public authorities and enterprises to plan and design urban green and open space in different climatic and cultural contexts. These included new developments in the area of decision support systems, participatory planning tools, the use of spatial concepts, GIS and remote-sensing applications, spatial and climatic modelling and compensation principles. The cities involved in the five projects are already using and implementing the results of the work carried out. It is hoped that this practice will gradually spread and that, in time, the tools produced will help to support the improved planning and maintenance of urban green spaces throughout Europe.