Often dubbed as “pockets of green in a grey landscape”, green spaces such as urban parks, vertical gardens and street trees, are increasingly being incorporated into city plans and designs for their multi-functional benefits of ecological, physical and social nature. An obvious benefit from increasing green space within cities is the increase in biodiversity. Often serving as refuges and habitat corridors for wildlife, studies have shown increases in both native and endemic flora and fauna with the expansion of green spaces in cities. Infact it has been observed that city planners choose to incorporate green spaces, such as urban parks and fields, with the purpose of increasing urban biodiversity .
Unending Benefits of Green Spaces
One of the many other ecological benefits of green spaces is combating the urban heat island effect, primarily caused by the increased density of impervious and heat reflective substances in cities. Green spaces such as urban parks and gardens reduce the impermeable nature of cities, thereby promoting natural cooling through increased absorption and ventilation. Some of the other physical aspects that green spaces can help improve include urban flooding, stormwater runoff and air pollution.
In addition to regulating the urban ecosystem, green spaces also offer a wide range of social benefits to individual and community health. The increase in urban parks often motivate urban dwellers to use them as spaces for exercise, leisure and recreation, thereby providing opportunities to improve their physical fitness and health.
Moreover, spending time with nature has found to be healing and beneficial to ones’ mental health, particularly engaging those with anxiety and depression. And finally, the pockets of green across the city often find themselves as places for gathering and celebration, as communities use them to socialize and congregate. Studies have shown greater improvements in community cohesion and identity with the presence of urban green spaces.
Green Spaces in Middle East
Green spaces within the Middle East, however, may not be utilized as successfully as their global counterparts for a variety of regional reasons; the hot and arid climate, the social culture of preferring indoor privacy, and the novelty and unformed attitudes towards green spaces.
The lack of academic studies and research on the usability and availability of green spaces in the Middle East may reflect the current unpopularity towards green spaces in this region. Despite the commercial viability and health benefits of such green spaces, another growing challenge for the Middle East region is the pressure on water and land resources to maintain these spaces.
Nevertheless, there have many ambitious projects over the years such as the recent Mshereib Downtown in Qatar, the world’s first sustainable downtown regeneration project, that are increasing access and awareness towards green spaces in the Middle East. Having worked on large scale projects in the Middle East, award-winning architect John Avery links green spaces within developments to increased commercial performance as they serve as “the thread that connects communities”, thus making them more attractable and recognizable.
The Way Forward
As such, the use of such spaces needs to be incorporated into more accessible places to create awareness; for instance, green roofs and allotments that children and young adults can engage with in schools and universities, and vertical gardens and parks adjacent to work places where employees can gather for meetings and breaks.
Moreover, cultural and social activities held through public and private partnerships are a great way to engage residents to use these spaces, either in the evenings or during the winter months, when the temperature is less harsh. The greater public demand for green spaces in cities will serve as pressures for local governments to install more resource-efficient, and accessible spaces for the benefit of the city’s and residents’ health.