By Johanna Caresse Eusebio, the Philippines
Economic growth over ecological health
In lower-income countries such as the Philippines, economic development has always been entangled with the idea of numerous blue infrastructures surrounding the cities. Over the past years as a BS Forestry student, I have grasped the idea of the importance of environmental health as it affects the ability of the ecosystem to provide goods and services as well as mitigate the global climate crisis. The overall environmental health of the country should not be sacrificed for the sake of the false premise that the lack of blue infrastructure may mean stagnant economic growth.
Lack of green spaces and their inaccessibility
Since I started using remote sensing imaging to generate maps in my undergraduate courses, the reality of the dwindling green spaces in highly urbanized cities such as Metro Manila has never been clearer to me. In a recent report by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, only 12 percent of the land areas in greater Manila count as green spaces, the majority of which are not open to the public. Moreover, public green spaces are poorly managed by local governments, which puts them at risk of deforestation and infrastructure development. In the midst of the global pandemic, where poorly ventilated areas are considered a risk for rapid spread of infection, the urgent need for open green spaces has intensified.
Studying environmental science has opened my mind to the fact that we often mistake closed cities filled with skyscrapers for economic growth. Prior to university, I was guilty of equating blue infrastructure with economic growth, even at the cost of green spaces. Over time, I realized that natural ecosystems should not be sacrificed and exploited for the sake of capitalism and urban development. The Philippine Government also fails to recognize the potential benefits of urban green spaces in major cities. As such, the promotion of green spaces reduces both air and noise pollution in the cities as well as lessens the vehicle emissions for urban transportation. The status quo in urban development in the country is mainly in favor of the establishment of highways and expressways that favor privately owned vehicles thus hindering the development of a more pedestrian-friendly community.
Faced with worsening global warming and rapid climate change, isn’t it time to change our ancient perception of what genuine development looks like? Undoubtedly, the integration of green spaces into cities will decrease the likelihood of intense urban heat island temperatures, making our cities more livable while mitigating the effects of increased greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, walkable cities will most likely decrease vehicle emissions, together with the promotion of a more sustainable means of mass transportation. With the help of urban forestry and through the establishment of urban green spaces, we can make green walkable spaces that can connect one city to another.
The need for better urban planning was intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic. The strict quarantine regulations made the public realize the value of green spaces for their physical and mental well-being. It’s high time that we scrap the idea that public green spaces are a privilege accessible only to the elite minority.
Future of urban green spaces
Moving forward, the protection and conservation of our ecosystems are vital in maintaining the remaining vegetation in urban cities. The integration of nature in city infrastructures, such as public parks and ecotourism recreational areas, may contribute to the goal of reducing the inaccessibility of these areas.
Given the role of green spaces in public health during the global pandemic, the overall design of these green spaces should include the needs of minorities such as differently-abled people, children, as well as economically disadvantaged individuals. Over time, urban green spaces will be recognized as a public good, and be part of promoting climate change mitigation, public health, and sustainable development goals. Regardless of social and economic class, the benefits of urban forests and green vegetation, especially in highly urbanized cities, should be made accessible to everyone.
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Featured image: Fabio Achilli