|Reference - https://static.pexels.com/photos/237411/pexels-photo-237411.jpeg|
As the world’s cities continue to grow, continuing to value green space in cities is vital: but is also a challenge, particularly in developing nations where there is pressure for space, resources and development. Open spaces across many cities in India are decreasing with growing urbanization. Amongst the rare exceptions are cities established after India’s independence, such as Gandhinagar and Chandigarh, where the urban greenery was pre-integrated in the City Master plans at the initial design phase. A study conducted by the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore noted that the Bangalore city lost much of its open spaces and urban wetlands due to urban sprawl resulting in over 35% decline in number of water bodies between 1973 and 1996.
In recent times, governments in India are trying to develop Green Open Spaces. This blog-post is an attempt to collate some points, which may be helpful for professionals involved with planning for Green Open Spaces for Indian Cities.
1. Definition: Green Open Space
School of Global, Urban and Social Studies RMIT University prepared a Report for Australian Government Department of Environment in October 2014 titled "Planning for green open space in urbanising landscapes".
In this report, the team of experts have defined green open space as all publicly owned land that is set aside primarily for recreation, sports, nature conservation, passive outdoor enjoyment and public gatherings. This includes public parks, gardens, reserves, publicly owned forecourts and squares.
To arrive at this definition, a lot of literature review was done by the experts. Therefore in this article, we will stick to this definition. Public Open Space are found to be synonymous with this definition of Green Open Space.
2. Points to consider for Planning Green Open Spaces (GOS)
a) Try to Maximize Healthcare Benefits:
There is increasing evidence that ‘nature’ in the urban environment is good for both physical and mental health. Natural views – of elements such as trees and lakes – promote a drop in blood pressure and are shown to reduce feelings of stress. Many people express this effect by saying that a park or green space is a good place to ‘get away from the stresses of life’.
One suggested way to obtain both physical and mental health improvements is through ‘green exercise’ – taking part in physical activities ‘whilst at the same time being directly exposed to nature’. Increasing access to high-quality public spaces where green exercise can take place produces substantial public health benefits and so reduces healthcare costs.
Following are most popular healthcare considerations for designing of Green Open Spaces in India.
a. Provide Means to Encourage Physical Activity – In general, it is observed that in urbanized world people are NOT doing enough physical activities. The World Health Organization has already identified physical inactivity as the fourth biggest killer on the planet, ahead of obesity. Experts are now describing sitting as 'the new smoking', a ticking time bomb of ill health just waiting to explode. Studies suggest that access to public open spaces as one of the factors contributing to encourage people for doing physical activity. One such study found that people who use public open spaces are three times more likely to achieve recommended levels of physical activity than those who do not use the spaces. Users and potential users prefer nearby, attractive, and larger parks and open spaces (Wolf, 2008).
b. Provide Platform to Encourage Sunlight Exposure - It may be noted that 60 – 70% of Indians are deficient in Vitamin-D. Exposure to sunlight during early hours of the day or during afternoon could significantly improve daily intake of vitamin D. Easy access to Green Open Spaces may surely encourage health conscious people to get required exposure to sunlight.
b) Try to contribute to Reduction in Air-Pollution:
a. The Problem of Air Pollution in India – Air pollution in India has been rising at alarming rates. A closer analysis of the data, obtained through RTI and previous studies on air pollution, pinpoint to continued use of fossil fuels as the main culprit for the dangerous rise in the level of pollutants in the air across the country (the Greenpeace India Report).
India is one of the most polluted countries in the world and air pollution is a major threat to health. But, the AQLI (Air Quality Life Index) reveals that if India reduced its air pollution to comply with the WHO’s air quality standard, its people could live about 4 years longer on average, or a combined more than 4.7 billion life years. If the country reduced pollution to comply with its national standards, its people could live more than 1 year longer on average, or a combined more than 1.6 billion life years. The details are shown in Picture-1. (Reference - Energy Policy Institute at The University of Chicago AQLI, Spotlight – India)
Air pollution has both acute and chronic effects on human health, affecting a number of different systems and organs. It ranges from minor upper respiratory irritation to chronic respiratory and heart disease, lung cancer, acute respiratory infections in children and chronic bronchitis in adults, aggravating pre-existing heart and lung disease, or asthmatic attacks. In addition, short- and long-term exposures have also been linked with premature mortality and reduced life expectancy. (Marilena Kampa & Elias Castanas, Laboratory of Experimental Endocrinology, University of Crete, School of Medicine, P.O. Box 2208, Heraklion, 71003, Greece)
Effect of polluted environment is not limited to diseases. Some recent researches are also indicating that higher pollution level leads to a higher crime rate.
|Picture – 1: Reference - https://aqli.epic.uchicago.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/AQLI_1Pager_India_Final.pdf , Energy Policy Institute at The University of Chicago|
b. Plan Plantation in Green Open Spaces with intent to Reduce Air-Pollution – Plants can be used as both bio-monitors and bio-mitigators in urban an industrial environments to indicate the environmental quality and to ameliorate pollution level in a locality. Certain plants species (Holoptelea integrifolia L., Mangifera indica L., Pongamia pinnata (L.) Pierre, Dalbergia sissoo Roxb.) can be successfully grown in an area for monitoring and control of air pollution effectively besides acting as shade tree and being a source of food for animals and birds. (Kapoor CS, Chittora AK (2016) Efficient Control of Air Pollution through Plants a Cost Effective Alternatives). Thus, if Green Open Spaces are being planned next to a polluted busy road, the planners may consider fencing the open space with suitable trees.
Trees remove air pollution primarily by uptake of pollutants via leaf stomata (pores on the outer “skin” layers of the leaf). Trees and forests in the US removed 17.4 million tons of air pollution in 2010, with human health effects valued at $6.8 billion. Although this pollution removal equated to an average air quality improvement of less than 1 percent, its effects on human health were significant, especially in urban areas.
c. Other Considerations for minimizing Air-Pollution – Planners may try various possibilities for limiting air-pollution. Some considerations could be:-
i. Selection of location of Green Open Spaces (GOS) – GOS must be located in relatively less polluted area. At the same time the location should be easily accessible to the beneficiaries to reduce any incremental pollution due to conveyance of beneficiaries to the GOS.
ii. Parking facilities adjoining GOS must be provisioned to avoid traffic congestion around the GOS due to haphazard parking. Traffic congestion adds to the existing pollution, wastes time and fuel of public.
iii. Technology enablement of GOS to keep track of pollution levels all throughout the year could be useful for taking decisions on further course of action on changes to the GOS with introducing new things. It has been observed time and again that introducing measurement is critical for quality improvement and efficient management.
c) Keep in Mind Bio-Diversity Protection:
a. Encourage Protection of Bio-Diversity in Urban Areas - A network of parks and open spaces that include protected natural lands, ecological reserves, wetlands, and other green areas is critical to providing healthy habitats for humans, wildlife and plants in these densely built places. Natural landscapes are vital to preserving regional ecosystems amid growing cities.
Conservation of bio-diversity is particularly important for India. This is evident from the UN population surveys, which suggests that India is likely to have 700 million rural poor moving to cities by 2050. With 45,000 plant and nearly 90,000 animal species, India is considered one of the world’s most mega-diverse countries. Experts suggest continued growth in its urban population could lead to enormous loss of biodiversity.
Planners of Green Open Spaces may need to first understand city’s ecological network and to identify important flora and fauna. Thereafter, a comprehensive plan synchronized with city’s ecological network (connecting other city owned lands like (say) urban forests, street networks (greenways on footpath or between road dividers) or even (wherever relevant) private owned large open spaces) may be prepared.
In India, it is less likely to get data on city’s ecological network for most of the cities. The help of academic institutions and student communities may be taken by encouraging more studies and more research in this area. A well planned and adequately funded scheme for researchers to carry on research in fields related to Bio-Diversity may also be planned to support the schemes for GOS. Engaging experts from other countries for consulting in this field, which is getting more and more relevant may also be considered.
d) Remember the SUCCESS of Green Open Space is NOT Possible without Engaging Intended Beneficiaries and Public at Large:
It is now a generally accepted fact that making public to participate in design of GOS yields better results. North Carolina is a state in the southeastern region of the United States. This state has adopted a Public Participation Policy for Park Planning on May 14, 2014.
Thus, in whatsoever ways possible, an attempt to engage public in decisions related to planning and design of GOS may be made. Conducting surveys (online or offline) could be one of the ways to get public opinion. Holding meeting with representative groups could be another possible way. Many other possibilities could be explored to engage public in the vicinity of proposed GOS.
Further, engaging target beneficiaries to the GOS and monitor whether intended benefits are getting delivered is required. This is possible through coordinated efforts for encouraging people to avail benefits from Green Open Spaces. Let us take example of associating citizens for healthcare benefits. Urban Planners may understand the demographic details and healthcare needs of target beneficiary groups while designing Green Open Spaces. Provision for suitable facilities keeping in view target population, locality, location, weather, culture and general public psychology could be incorporated. The administrative authority (may be - Urban Local Body or Local Administration), which is responsible to maintain Green Open Space may try innovative ways to utilize the facilities provisioned with attractive offerings to drive the beneficiaries for availing healthcare benefits.
I am neither an urban planner nor an architect but may try to come up with an fictitious example to illustrate how co-ordination of different agencies is important for meeting intended objectives of a plan. For example older people are at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency. Therefore, the objective of a Public Garden could to bring senior citizens residing nearby to a place where they may get exposure to sunlight during morning and evening hours (exposure to sunlight enhances Vitamin D in humans). Keeping this in view, Green Open Space Planners may suggest a restaurant with glass ceiling, having very large glass windows (on walls facing the East and the West) located at the central region of a Public Garden. The coating on the glasses could be changeable in accordance with seasons (allowing more perforation for sunlight during winter and like-wise). This will make a perfect place for people to hang around in the garden, eat something in the restaurant and while dining, get exposure to mild appropriately filtered sunlight during day time. This restaurant may be tendered to a vendor for operation. The administrators of public gardens may use funds available for healthcare initiatives (or (say) funds available for increasing public participation in public facilities provisioned by the state) to encourage the management of restaurant to come up with innovative ideas to attract senior citizens to reach hotel during morning and afternoon time and get rewarded in proportion to senior citizen the restaurant attracts. Restaurant management will try different options. (May be they take into cognizance that) Green Tea has been found to be helpful in improved functioning during old age. Therefore, restaurant management may offer free of cost green tea (subsidized by local administration funding it receives) to senior citizens reaching restaurant during pre-defined time in the morning and evening. Restaurant management may also propose attractive offers like (say) provision to play popular old tunes on demand by senior citizens during those hours on the music system at restaurant. Restaurant may also invite pathology lab representatives to restaurant to help senior citizens monitor their Vitamin D levels. This pathology test may be sponsored by some agency (say an NGO working for healthcare of senior citizens) for those people, who may not be able to afford. This pathology test data may determine one of the outcome of the Public Garden.
In India, many times, public offices do not have adequate infrastructure, adequate fund or adequate institutional framework to track and evaluate GOS projects right from need to objectives to outputs to outcome through data driven approach (nor are the real problems faced by offices as easy as described in fictitious narration above). But, all these should not deter planners to go for preparing plans with suitable metrics and required project management data. So that, need for data which are most critical to the success of project may get noticed by the stakeholders and by other interested groups. It is very much likely that with accelerated technology diffusion, with institutionalization of e-Governance initiatives in public offices and with efforts of concerned groups, the situation will improve in not so far future.
1. Urban planning and the importance of green space in cities to human and environmental health
2. Community Participation Strategies in Planning for Urban Parks
3. Planning for Parks, Recreation, and Open Space in Your Community