Why do cities lose green areas?

21 helmi 2017
Mina Di Marino
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Over the past several decades, there has been an increasing awareness of protecting unique landscapes, habitats and species. Regulatory frameworks have been created to ensure the protection of several green areas (e.g. institution of national and regional parks, Nature 2000 sites and nature reserves). In addition to the ecological values, policy makers and city planners have recognized green areas as venues for leisure and recreational activities for citizens.

While recreational and cultural values as well as the ecological ones have been the most mentioned within the policies and planning strategies, academics have investigated other services that green areas can provide, the so-called ecosystem services (e.g. improving physical and psychological health, filtering pollutants and dust from the air, providing shade and lower temperatures) (Di Marino & Lapintie, 2017).

Nonetheless, cities have lost green areas in the past. Today, this phenomenon is still occurring for several reasons. The population living in the cities is increasing very rapidly, and thus, a demand for new housings, infrastructures and services is occurring. The expansion of built up areas within the metropolitan areas has mainly occurred by transforming the brownfields into new residential and commercial areas and by converting arable lands and urban forests into new land uses.

In addition to this, real estate developers have tended to emphasize the ‘view to the green areas’, which typically increases housing costs and property values. This approach has resulted in limiting the urban densification around the protected areas (based on given distances and potential impacts), while the other green areas have been constantly affected by the urban development.

It is evident that there are conflicting interests between construction and transport networks and provision of green areas. Too often, green areas are considered ‘left over’ spaces within the built environment. The ever growing network of infrastructures (e.g. roads, highways and railways), and the housing production in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area are leaving less room for green areas. The latest decisions within the new master plan of Helsinki (2016), for instance, have focused on converting arable lands into residential and infrastructure uses, thus reducing urban forests and other green areas (Di Marino et al., 2017). Recently, several green areas have been ‘sacrificed’ for new projects, such as the tunnel along the Ring Road I in Espoo (see Fig. 1 and 2).

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Figure 1 and 2. Working sites for the new tunnel project along the Ring Road I, Espoo, Finland.

Unlike the local strategies, the Helsinki-Uusimaa Region has already developed a green strategy that includes nature, recreation and cultural environment (Uusimaa Regional Council, 2014). The Helsinki-Uusimaa Region has focused on three main issues by identifying specific sustainable measures to develop the transportation system, housing production and planning principles of municipalities (land use) (Uusimaa Regional Council, 2014). The letter of intent that has been signed between the municipalities and the state (that is called MAL) was intended to define the common objectives between the municipalities. For instance, the healthy and safe living environment should be addressed through ‘high-quality housing’ and ‘agreeable living surroundings’. In the future, the so-called island living is meant as an ecological and natural way of life ‘that combines housing and work by utilizing the latest communication and environmental technology’ (Uusimaa Regional Council, 2014, p. 22). In addition, enhancing the cultural environment and preserving the natural diversity are considered relevant to the living environment. In this living environment, ecosystem services (both material and immaterial) are provided by nature and are relevant to the human well-being (Uusimaa Regional Council, 2014).

There are still several perceptions of green areas that mostly depends on the different actors involved in the urban development. The knowledge on ecosystem services can be useful in drafting sustainable local strategies that bring together the regional and local strategies themselves. It would be interesting to include ecosystem services along with traditional public services (Di Marino & Lapintie, 2017). However, it is evident that there is a further need to understand the values of green areas themselves and related benefits. It is time to place the same level of emphasis on ‘green’, housing and infrastructure.

 

References

Di Marino M. & Lapintie K. (2017). Exploring the concept of green infrastructure in urban landscape. Experiences from Italy, Canada and Finland. The paper is forthcoming in Landscape Research

Uusimaa Regional Council (2014) The Helsinki-Uusimaa Regional Programme Vision and strategy 2040 strategic Priorities 2014–2017.

http://www.uudenmaanliitto.fi/files/13281/Helsinki-Uusimaa_Regional_Programme_A31-2014.pdf

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