- Introduction – need for green spaces in cities.
- Discuss the methodologies adopted for defining the extent of public green spaces.
- Mention associated issues.
One of the principal ways which city planners now-a-days are advocating to ensure quality of life in cities is by the provision of green public spaces. Green spaces aid the city environment and enhance its aesthetics, recreation, health and overall city sustainability. Its universal availability is enhanced if these spaces are spread across the city, taking various forms like walkways, children’s spaces, pet spaces, etc. Regional public green spaces may serve a specific region and neighborhood spaces can target smaller neighborhoods – such differentiated planning raises the utility & enjoyability of public green spaces through proximity and targeting diverse population groups.
Methods of creating public green spaces: City planners have defined the extent of public green spaces by spatial requirement of population and by physical area. For e.g., if a city is spread across 100 sq km and the standard adopted for public green spaces is 10% of the physical area, the city plan will provide a total 10 sq km for public green spaces. This % does not get distributed over time as it is linked to geography and does not get impacted by human densification. When a city expands in geographical area, proportionate spaces can be earmarked for green public spaces in the new geography. However, one weakness of this benchmarking is that it can constrain the spatial needs of the growing population for other civic purposes.
Another method is defining public green spaces by its population. US, UK, Canada, etc. follow this method. India’s Urban and Regional Development Plans Formulation and Implementation (URDPFI) guidelines prescribe 12 sq m/person. It makes an estimate of how much public open space is needed by each individual. The major weakness of this is, to achieve the benchmark, there is a maximum population that is automatically stipulated. For e.g., to provide 10 sq m/person in a city of 100 sq km, the adopted standard can be maintained if the population is capped at 1,000,000. But if population rise to 2,000,000, the availability of public space will get reduced to 5 sq m/person. The shortfall could be compensated by earmarking additional spaces, the possibility of which is limited due to land constraints.
Associated issues: In the context of Indian metropolitan & mega cities, as they continue to densify further, the adopted standard will get further diminished. Also, the Planning exercise undertaken follows the old method of estimating additional population likely to come into the city in the next 2 decades and then use planning standards to provide for the additional population. Other services can be managed by building more & higher in the allocated spaces; but public greens need horizontal area as they cannot go vertical. Some cities have attempted to add green spaces through roof-top gardens or podium green spaces. These, however, are enjoyable only by the community living in them and not by public at large.
The modern cities must bear in mind not merely the quality of life but also the new factor of climate change, intractably linked to quality life. This is evident in urban flooding, rising heat waves and health emergencies like the pandemic. In each case, the imperatives of climate change suggest that higher demographic and built densities are detrimental to the sustainability of cities. Water stress need larger permeability, mitigating heat waves requires lesser built density & plentiful green cover and pandemic demand thinner demography.
It is high time that while drawing up cities’ developmental plans, the methodology of upward revision of population expected in the next 20 years needs to be abandoned. Instead planning should start with an end population in mind. If a city seems to be reaching that population, then population control must be encouraged and in extreme cases frozen as far as possible. This can entail relocating urbanization in some other cities with low density. There has to be some strategic adjustments given the demands of climate change & life quality. To ensure city resilience, densification of cities forever does not seem to be an option any longer.