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Urban Parks

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By Meena Bohara

Urban parks, also known as municipal or public parks are delineated open spaces, mostly dominated by vegetation and water to offer recreation and green space to residents and visitors. They could either be larger space or in the form of pocket parks and are reserved for public use. 

Why are they important?

The urban parks are often considered as the lungs of the city as they help to fight pollution and regulate the temperature and hence minimize the urban heat island effect. The green belts in the city centers encourage biodiversity and play an important role in social cohesion. Green areas are crucial in maintaining physical and psychological well-being. It further helps us to relax, gives us mental peace as we take some time to wander around, and is an ideal place for sports and physical activities. People value the time they spend in urban parks, whether walking a dog, playing basketball, or having a picnic. 

Know some benefits of having an urban park around you.

1. Human health and well-being for healthy life

Urban parks can provide measurable health benefits, from providing direct contact with nature and a cleaner environment, to opportunities for physical activity. Considering the high level of global urbanization, urban parks are imperative for maintaining and improving public health. A run or walk in a local park or green space can be beneficial for both the mind and body.

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Different research shows the direct health benefits of urban parks which include psychological well-being, reduced obesity, reduced stress, self-perceived health, reduced headache, better mental health, concentration capacity, enhanced quality of life, reduced Attention Disorder Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – symptoms, reduced cardiovascular symptoms and reduced mortality for respiratory disorders, longevity, post-disaster recovery, and reduced cortisol levels. Similarly, contact with plants, animals, pleasing landscapes, and wilderness offers various medical benefits including lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, enhanced survival after a heart attack, and more rapid recovery from surgery. The parks also provide an opportunity for so-called green exercise.

2. Social cohesion/identity to know the people around

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Parks in urban areas simplify social cohesion by creating space for social interactions. People love to spend their leisure time in green spaces which cater to the opportunities for high levels of interaction between persons of different social and ethnic backgrounds. The presence of shades from trees and green grass in common spaces attracts residents to outdoor spaces, which enhances opportunities for the people to interact and get connected. The parks thus serve as a meeting place for neighbors, tourists, and kids, providing a space for families and friends to unite. Hence, the city parks are a tool for reconnection. 

3. Tourism for the economy and cultural exchange

The urban park also serves as an attraction to tourists visiting the city as it provides facilities for leisure activities. Green spaces, such as urban forests, can play an important role either by enhancing the attractiveness of cities or as a complement to other urban attractions. Parks are also sites for celebrating special events and festivals that attract tourists enabling cultural exchange. They further provide sites for sports tournaments, which can be major sources of tourism and economic benefits to the smaller cities. Meanwhile, large urban parks with zoos, memorials, museums, cultural and heritage artifacts, landscape planting, and historical sites can attract more tourists. 

4. Biodiversity for a healthy ecosystem

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Due to considerably high levels of habitat diversity and microhabitat heterogeneity, urban parks can serve as an important hotspot for biodiversity in the cityscape, although their primary role is recreational. The parks often have higher species richness than other types of urban green space. Urban areas can further support endemic native species and other species of conservation concern on both regional and global scales. Concerns on urban biodiversity have become momentous because of the growing recognition of urban areas as hosts for innovative ways to conserve and promote biodiversity. 

5. Air quality and carbon sequestration for a clean environment

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The urban areas have high concentrations of pollutants associated with traffic, boilers, generators, and other industrial sources. Trees thus play an important role to filter the air since vegetation in parks can remove a large amount of pollutants. Various studies have recognized the beneficial influence of urban vegetation on ambient air quality, although pollution removal varies among cities depending on tree cover – with increased tree cover leading to greater total removal. An Urban Ecosystem Analysis conducted by American Forests revealed that in Atlanta, trees remove 19 million pounds of pollutants each year. 

Trees in urban parks can also lower air temperature through transpiration, which affects the photochemistry of ozone and reduces its production. Parks often have high tree covers which support the deposition of gaseous pollutants and improve air quality by capturing SOx, NOx, COx, and particles, including their significant contribution to carbon sequestration. 

6. Water management to reduce urban flood

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The vast expanse of waterproof streets and rooftops in most cities generate much more runoff as compared to the equivalent area of undisturbed forest or meadow. Stormwater overflow leads to loss of urban water, causes negative environmental impacts on aquatic ecosystems with pollutants, and urban floods in heavy rains. It is estimated that urban landscapes with 50–90% impervious cover can lose 40–83% of rainfall to surface runoff. Studies found that urban parks contribute to stormwater management, with a focus on the enhanced water infiltration rates in urban green spaces. Amplified infiltration rate promotes groundwater recharge and evapotranspiration from vegetated surfaces, and thus helps to improve climatic conditions in the city. The parks further help in reducing stream pollution by holding and slowing the flow of wastewater.

7. Cooling of the surrounding places

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Parks are cooler than the surrounding urban areas. The green spaces are considered an appropriate way to reduce urban heat island effects and provide comfort to the nearby occupants. Besides cooling the particular space, urban green spaces also can influence the surrounding area, and the phenomenon is called the urban green space cooling effect. In a study, the average night-time Cooling Effect Distance of Kensington Gardens (111 ha) in London (between August and December) was found to vary between 20 and 440 meters. Similarly, the park was observed to reduce the summer nighttime temperatures by an average of 1.1 and a maximum of 4 °C.

In Nepal urbanization is dominated by a few large and medium cities with an excessive population concentration in the Kathmandu Valley. The total area under public parks within Kathmandu Valley is only 4,486 ropanis (228.22 ha). Most of the big urban parks were established during the Panchyat regime while those established after democracy in 1990 are smaller. The total area occupied by the parks built post-1990 is about 30 ropanis (1.53 ha), excluding the UN park which is still incomplete (1,576 ropanis i.e., 80.18 ha). Sprawling across 650 ropanis (33.07 ha), the only large park project is the Peace and Martyrs Park, Gokarna that is under construction for the last decade. Its construction began in 2007 and was expected to be completed by 2015. Recently the Pashupati Area Development Trust publicly announced the establishment of a public park, comprising 1,200 ropanis ( 61.05 ha) of land, in the surrounding of the Pashupati area.  

Meena is an ecologist, interested in interdisciplinary research on nature and biodiversity conservation.

E-mail: me.bohara08@gmail.com


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