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A Shot in Greening Tomorrow

The odds are that green spaces shrink with the densification of urban areas, and further stress arises. The profit that comes from densifying an area can many times outweigh the benefits that green infrastructure offers. Despite this, some places have observed a notable turn in urban planning practices to implement green infrastructure.

Disparities and Challenges

There are diverse distinctions between regions within urban green spaces regarding quantity and quality. Between 2000 and 2006, a notable difference has been shown in changes in urban green space between Western and Eastern European countries. While there was an increase in green areas in Western European cities, Eastern Europe declined. However, a decline has been observed in developed countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia. This loss was mainly linked to factors like densification policies and economic incentives for developers.

Multiple challenges in current planning arise relating to implementing green infrastructure. The scarcity of space in already densely populated places essentially limits the options for implementation. Narrow paths or high pedestrian flows limit on-street greenery, tall buildings restrict the amount of sunlight, poor soil conditions pose a problem for plants; and nonetheless, trees in dense cities increase the likelihood of tree-related incidents. Different regions need to overcome many institutional constraints in successful planning practice. A lack of interest, poor policy, and limited political motivation collectively result in insufficient resources and attention allocated towards green infrastructure planning. These challenges and institutional constraints require innovative thinking for such dense urban areas.

Leading the Way

Multiple cities are implementing changes to their agendas to enhance the greenery. We can pay close attention to plans such as Amsterdam’s Green Infrastructure Vision 2050, Philadelphia’s “Green City, Clean Waters” plan, or Copenhagen’s Green City. Considering many challenges and constraints in current urban planning practice, we, as (so far) students and aspiring urban planners, can slowly see the promised good practice revealed. 

A promising practice of green infrastructure has been shown in the Barcelona Biodiversity and Green Infrastructure Plan for 2020. The plan outlined several strategic actions that aimed at preserving the city’s natural heritage, planning green infrastructure for connectivity, and designing the city and green spaces to enhance environmental services. Additionally, the plan includes creating new spaces for nature, managing parks and gardens sustainably, preserving cultural heritage, improving knowledge and awareness, and fostering citizen involvement.

Promising actions from the Green Infrastructure Plan for 2020 built a foundation for the Nature Plan for Barcelona 2021–2030. A greener future by 2030 strives for sustainable urban development by improving green space distribution, strengthening biodiversity nodes, integrating green areas from the metropolitan region, and creating green corridors to connect these areas. This plan also incorporates elements of the Barcelona Superblock strategy and emphasizes the creation of green axes and square gardens to ensure access to greenery in densely populated areas. This change is mainly shifting the urban experience of residents of Barcelona and has generated mixed opinions among residents and urban planners. While some view it as a positive step towards enhancing urban greenery and improving the quality of life in densely populated neighbourhoods, others have raised concerns about the practicality, gentrification, and displacement of lower-income residents. Poor communication with residents of Barcelona regarding the changes may have contributed to the rise of mixed opinions. There are debates about the effectiveness of this strategy in addressing environmental and social inequalities across different regions.

In the face of increasing urban densification and the resulting decline in green spaces, the significance of green infrastructure is gaining recognition. While disparities in the quantity and quality of urban green spaces are seen worldwide, Barcelona’s plan emerges as a promising model. While the concept of creating green axes and square gardens is generally well-received as a means to increase access to green spaces, the specific details and implementation methods remain subject to controversy and ongoing discussions. As students and aspiring urban planners, witnessing the unfolding of Barcelona’s plan and other cities’ visions presents a significant opportunity for gaining insights into innovative and sustainable urban development and even evaluating the execution based on the knowledge of current challenges in practice.

Sources

  • Ajuntament de Barcelona. (2013). Barcelona Green Infrastructure and Biodiversity Plan 2020.
  • Ajuntament de Barcelona. (2021). Nature Plan for Barcelona 2021–2030.
  • Haaland, Christine & Konijnendijk, Cecil. (2015). Challenges and strategies for urban green-space planning in cities undergoing densification: A review. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening.
  • Jim, C.Y. & Konijnendijk, Cecil & Chen, Wendy. (2018). Acute Challenges and Solutions for Urban Forestry in Compact and Densifying Cities. Journal of Urban Planning and Development.
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Nina Zrubáková
Nina Zrubáková
I am Spatial Planning and Design student at RUG, a media enthusiast interested in urbanism-related topics. I am also working on designing layouts for the issues with the design team.
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