By Stephanie Hime, KPMG in the UK
Urban green space is consistently undervalued. Many councils see parks and green spaces as a cost, without fully understanding their contribution to city life. The true value of green space can only be realized when councils integrate green planning across city planning departments.
As cities grow, the pressure on green spaces intensifies. By 2050, 66% of the world’s population is due to live in urban areas – an extra 2.5 billion people will need accommodating. Rather than giving over green space to expansion, I would argue that it is increasingly important to protect it.
Many studies have associated green space with improved mental and physical health for city residents. Recognizing this value should allow us to develop more green space because it contributes to wider city objectives.
Similarly, well-managed urban parkland has a positive economic effect on the surrounding areas. The development of New York’s High Line helped regenerate its neighborhood, and now attracts visitors and income from tourism as well as boosting property values in the area.
This regeneration value is relatively easy to measure, but much of the value of natural capital resists simple definition. Different services provided by green spaces matter to different groups – whether that be improving people’s physical and mental health, providing plants that purify the air and offset carbon dioxide or providing habitats for other flora and fauna.
Natural resources underpin the existence of every city. Businesses all need clean water, fresh air and food for their people, if not their processes. The current market does not typically ascribe a monetary value to the natural origins of these resources, yet without them, nothing would function. Urban green space helps connect us to this natural capital, reminding us of the ecosystem we all need to survive.
Connected thinking about a variety of city-wide issues needs to take green spaces into account. For example, studies have shown that wide-canopied trees in parks can offset some of the heat island effect that arises from large clusters of buildings. If strategic planting can cool temperatures between 2 ºC and 8 ºC, then this could reduce energy and heat loss.
Planners need to determine what they want from their green areas – review what they have, and if it does not work, change it. If the aim is to improve air quality, it might be more valuable to have rows of silver birch trees , which studies show eliminate pollution, along major roads rather than a single park that benefits a smaller area.
With integrated planning and conscious decision-making about the plants, livestock and people that space supports, a city’s green space can deliver a whole series of benefits. A cycle path or walkway can double as a wildlife corridor or ecosystem for particular birds or insects. A planting area can educate schoolchildren about the sources of food, ecosystems and plant life cycles.
Recognizing the different contributions green space can make to city life can help raise its status and put it on a par with other areas of urban design. Historically, green planning has been an afterthought, considered separately and this lack of integration means that there has been no clear plan or purpose for a city’s green areas.
Green space has a value that far exceeds the obvious provision of a breathing space for city dwellers or its land value. Recognising this potential must prompt senior decision makers to integrate green planning with other departments. It is only when green spaces are properly designed that they can deliver the full range of benefits to their city and its people.