City living is wonderful! Jobs are plentiful, culture abounds, architecture is historical, and there is never a shortage of things to do. Amidst all that concrete and stimulation though, humans need a respite, a place to unwind, and a way to reconnect with nature. Urban planners, having built up cities with just buildings, are now realizing the importance of green spaces for their residents.
The obvious benefits of parks, nature preserves, waterfronts, hiking trails and bike paths are recreation and aesthetics. People need exercise and fresh air. And we all need beauty around us.
Urban green space benefits to residents
Other human-centered urban green space benefits are:
- Promotes psychological well-being
- Brings people together to socialize
- Visually softens the hard lines and surfaces of a city
- Reconnects people with nature
Green spaces bring the philosophy and lifestyle of rural living to the ‘concrete jungle,’ and why not? Cities should have biological diversity and the relaxation associated with the country. I think a city would be an ideal place to live with the culture, job variety and stimulation coupled with nature and ecology.
Urban green space benefits to the environment
Aside from the human factor, urban greenbelts also benefit the environment:
- Prevent soil erosion. Plants hold soil in place.
- Absorb rainwater runoff. Instead of rushing down a concrete or asphalt road into a sewer system, rainwater is absorbed into the soil to benefit the growth of trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses. This means less watering maintenance and less expense to deal with runoff.
- Cool the city. Greenbelts absorb summer heat.
- Trees absorb pollutants and take CO2 from the atmosphere, turning it into oxygen.
- Create wildlife habitat. If you build it, they will come – birds, mammals and reptiles, that is.
- Maintain and enhance the existing ecosystem, encouraging diversity of native plants and wildlife.
- Teach children and adults alike about the environment, so they can learn to appreciate and care for it.
Select urban centers with green spaces in the U.S
New York City, New York
Probably the oldest and certainly the most famous urban green space is Central Park in New York City, designed in the 1800s by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux.
Today, the Central Park Conservancy is responsible for upkeep of:
- ‘250 acres of lawns
- 24,000 trees, 150 acres of lakes and streams
- 130 acres of woodlands
- hundreds of thousands of plantings annually, including bulbs, shrubs, flowers and trees
- maintain 9,000 benches, 26 ballfields and 21 playgrounds; 55 sculptures and monuments, as well as 36 bridges
- graffiti removal within 24 hours; collection of 5 million pounds of trash a year; and providing horticultural support to City parks.
- There is also a 22-acre lake in Central Park, the ultimate green space!
According to Popular Science, Chicago made the list of the 50 greenest US cities for its 12,000 acres of public parks and waterfront space.
The Huffington Post says Huntsville, Alabama has 46,000 acres of greenspace, 33% of its city limits.
Austin, Texas has 50 miles of bike trails, and 15% of its space is dedicated to parks and greenbelts.
According to National Geographic St Paul, Minnesota has 25% of its urban area in greenbelts.
Realtor.com says Portland, Oregon has 74 miles of hiking/biking trails and a revitalized waterfront park. It is also protecting 25 million acres of forest and farmland.
San Francisco, California
San Francisco boasts Golden Gate Park and the Presidio, along with miles of bike paths and beaches.
US cities are not the only ones to appreciate green space. Malmö, Sweden has extensive parks and greenbelts, according to Grist.
Urban green spaces are a rising trend all around
It’s not just large cities that are creating green spaces. I have lived in two small towns that have rebuilt their waterfronts with extensive parks, gardens and nature preserves. Ironic that we bulldozed nature to build cities, and now we are trying to build nature back into them. No matter. I’m glad to see urban green spaces gaining in popularity.