GREEN spaces such as parks, green fields, tree shades, natural paddocks, meadows and even water plants epitomize a fundamental component in any urban system. These green facilities should be readily accessible and be enjoyed by the masses and not just by the privileged few.
Parks and other green spaces play a critical role in making cities cool and as places of recreation. They facilitate physical activities and people interaction; a place for social communion as well as relaxation. I don’t know about you, but I sure like meeting friends in a garden than in a mall. No Starbucks outlet can beat reading your favorite book under tree canopies and soft air breeze. Green parks can help with health issues, such as obesity, too. In fact, even just looking at greeneries can make you feel better. There is something about plants, flowers and the flowing water in a small water fountain that eases a tired mind — a refuge for a deadbeat soul. A single living tree, for instance, is way more beneficial to humans than being cut and made to timber. As it is, trees produce oxygen and consume carbon dioxide. A decent-sized tree can produce 260 pounds of oxygen per year and absorb as much as 48 pounds of carbon dioxide in the same period, and can sequester a ton of carbon dioxide by the time it reaches 40 years old. It helps filter harmful air pollutants, including airborne diseases and particulates. It also helps in making our ecosystem sustainable. Water features, artificial lakes and natural ponds, on the other hand, help regulate rising temperature and provide venues for water- related activities.
Green spaces are also functional and health-beneficial; a way to reduce street accident cases, as parks provide safe routes for walking pedestrians and cyclists. Studies show that having access to green spaces improve a person’s overall well-being and reduce psychological stress.
It is for such reasons, that it should be the right of every citizen of a locality to have access to proper parks and recreational greens. Unfortunately, in the Philippines, urbanities, and even in our towns, local governments seem to regard parks as surplus assets, an afterthought, or worse, as a luxury instead of a necessity. If there is indeed a public plaza and park, most of them are underutilized, unmaintained, and even a competition for spaces meant for commercial use. This is in part, a product of an local government unit (LGU) that is conventionally focused on “commercial improvement,” and sometimes is oblivious or unaware of the measures that it takes to mitigate rising commercialism with regard to urban planning and balancing growth with a sound ecosystem. The result? More buildings, more paved areas, less greens, lesser trees and areas of shade for pedestrians.
Around the world, city planners and design professionals have begun to respond to the problem of park shortages by finding innovative solutions to add more green spaces to cities. This includes green roofs, green walls and pocket-parks. Some unconventional solutions are emerging, too. Parking lots, former industrial sites (brown fields) and even abandoned infrastructure like old railway lines (like the old New York elevated railways) are being converted into new green spaces. Even cities like Seoul in South Korea, for instance, have torn down freeways to make room for new green spaces for people, plants and animals, with big financial and social dividends like boost in tourism and better social living conditions.
Our LGUs (provincial, city and municipal) should spearhead urban renewals to prepare our people in the decades to come. Proper planning on roads, easements, circulation and greenery should go hand in hand with the rise of commercial progress. The success of a city’s gross domestic product (GDP) should also go together with environmental sustainability.
As architects, and also in the allied profession of landscape architecture and environmental design, we should use our own profession as platforms and launch pads to educate LGUs into making and adhering to proper urban planning. We should educate ourselves on the importance of green spaces within our site and our buildings as we design, integrating them into our projects with seamless transitions to our buildings. We should stop making all these buildings with a small planter at the corner. We should stop thinking as “just a building designer.” Instead, we should think as a holistic designer that have our client and the environment’s welfare in mind. If these undertakings were successful in places like Singapore, then it won’t be impossible to do it here, too. As architects and planners, we cannot do it alone. We need our clients, the LGU and our government officials for this vision. It won’t magically transpire with the wave of a wand. It takes work…hard work. But it can be done. We just, collectively, need the right mind set, discipline and will power to do whatever is needed to make it happen.
For clients, we encourage you to work with architects and planners who know their craft well. We guarantee, you will not regret the decision that you made. Hear us and listen to how we can maximize your property’s value, and at the same time, make a significant environmental impact. And, if in the end, you are not convinced with our professional suggestions or design solutions and you don’t like our proposal, you can always walk away.
No harm done. It won’t cost you anything but time, a glimpse of awareness of the problem of your plot, and a takeaway of good advice. It does cost you to hire a good consultant and designer (as great consultants and designers are not cheap), though. But bad and (often) non-specialized design cost you much, much more in the long run — in terms of visual impact, design style and use potential.
Arch. Rey N. Villegas, UAP (architect, master planner and landscape designer) is a member of UAP Cagayan de Oro Chapter since 1997, design director and country manager, Site Concepts International Inc., former design architect, WATG Singapore and former landscape design lead, PDAA Singapore.