Urban Greenspaces: More Than A Nice-To-Have

It’s my assertion that public greenspaces should not be treated like nice-to-haves. They are essential,  reflecting our need for diverse landscapes and uses to add spice to life. Further, easily accessible greenspaces and parks add to our psychological well-being and overall health.

A part of this has to do with some of the obvious implications of this, which includes making the simple act of taking a walk somewhere close by a more attractive prospect. Add to that a place where one can walk while not breathing in the fumes from cars that certainly add to an overall better health quotient. There is also the mental, and dare I say spiritual, aspects to greenspaces and parkland in urban and/or suburban settings. A 2010 study has shown that there is less stress, less anger, less fatigue, and fewer depressive emotional states when interaction with natural environments are made readily available to citizens.

Studies aside, how good do you feel while in the shade of trees, with nothing but the songs of birds duetting with the chuckling ravine as your soundtrack? What about the very presence of other species of birds, small mammals, and even reptiles like turtles as a reminder that we live on a planet that is characterized by balance and diversity, and that we are a part of something much greater than what we ourselves can build up?

Glenbrook Ravine Park

One of my favourite places to decompress and reconnect is Glenbrook Ravine Park. This greenspace is located on the north eastern side of McBride, nestled in the middle of a number of condo developments and established residential streets between McBride and Cumberland Avenue. There are multiple entry points to the park along its oblong length. The one I generally use is just off of Richmond Street at Jamieson Court where there is parking right outside of an amenities building.

The park is a mixture of manicured garden spaces, trails, and untamed greenery. When you enter from Jamieson Court walking just adjacent to the amenities building, there is an expanse of garden with benches for quiet reflection. A little footbridge passes over a pond where, in warmer climates, it is not uncommon to see turtles lazing in the sun. Ducks, frogs, and insects can be seen on, above, and below the pond, while birds of every kind flit from branch to branch in the surrounding trees.

Dog-walkers meander up and down a central gravel trail that lead from the pond and gardens where it gets a bit wilder, and where (it appears) some invasive vines have wound themselves around the tree trunks in one section of the woods to create a lush sense of wildness. Unofficial dirt trails lead to the ravine itself, with the gentle sound of flowing water adding to a sense of calm that even the low hum of traffic above the lip of the ravine cannot interrupt. When you’re living in any area that is defined by a built environment, I think it’s important to be reminded of what had been there long before we arrived.

A balance

For all of the modern conveniences that I personally enjoy, and the simple pleasures that modernity affords, greenspaces that include the wild and the unkempt help to remind us that, once again, we are a part of a system that has been billions of years in the making. This is why I am convinced of the mandatory need to have and to maintain greenspaces in our cities.

We need them to help to anchor us in the truth of that. We need them to remind us that these kinds of places are symbolic of our relationship to our planet in general. We need them to help us find balance in our lives by reminding us that there is a wider context to be considered when thinking about our city and what our city can be for the future as it pertains to our relationship with nature and the various animal and plant species with whom we share space.

Green is green

It is important to consider how much our time spent in natural locations help to shape our views on sustainability. With the idea that greenspaces are mandatory in mind, and looking to some of the largest cities in the world that seem to be taking this thinking on more and more as primary examples, I believe that modern city planning is moving beyond the idea that greenspaces are merely decorative, but that they add physical and emotional benefits to citizens, and help to change the perceptions of where we citizens live for the better. This is an encouraging trend.

I think that trend is a reflection of how our views on these kinds of deliberate spaces that incorporate the natural world have shifted as more and more of our natural world becomes threatened by industrialization. That cycle works in reverse as well, as we spend time in the trees, by lakes, on hillsides and mountain trails, and as we admire the complexities of nature in every other natural setting besides, it gives us a vision for how we want to live in cities as more and more people flock to them over the next few decades.

So, greenspaces and access to the natural world in cities are not a nice-to-have amenity, then. They’re more like a vital part of how 21st century cities will evolve overall.