Networks of Green Open Space in Dense Urban Areas

This paper advocates that with the right planning and design urban open spaces within urban areas have the potential to provide for recreation and solidify the concept of infrastructure as an enabler of social cohesion, integration, wellness, and safety, addressing issues such as physical and mental health matters while providing economic benefits.

The aim is to provide a series of connected pockets of recreational areas and amenities which have the potential to tackle urban challenges such as: unsustainable mobility patterns, flooding, poor air quality, carbon emissions, and social exclusion. The approach advocates the importance of green open space networks as an integral part of green infrastructure (GI) planning, as a nature-based approach with the potential to address urban challenges, including climate change.

The paper argues that in Malta, high population densities together with a dense urban fabric and high volumes of vehicular traffic is resulting in traffic congestion and lack of recreational areas. A transport strategy which promotes quality of life through car reduction within our inner urban areas is definitely the way forward. In 2016, the National Transport Strategy (NTS) and National Transport Masterplan (NTMP) already advocated for such an approach.

This however, should be embedded in a larger system aimed at achieving a high-quality network of open spaces or urban green infrastructures. To do this, putting people at the centre of design is essential. We need to think in terms of creating inclusive and culturally-sensitive ‘places’.

We advocate that a strategy for a network of green open spaces would be an important planning tool. Such a strategy would be essential in prioritising and planning resources; understanding the objectives and benefits and creating awareness on the value of open space. It would also enable the value of interventions to be understood as part of the wider context. If projects form part of a strategic vision, through a number of small operations, a larger target can be achieved. It also envisages the potential for investment in a new form of public infrastructure. Having a strategic vision advocates transparency which could be crucial to stimulating investment and generating activities which support a local economy.

We acknowledge that there is a direct relation between the quality of open spaces and traffic infrastructure and the opportunity lies first and foremost in adopting an integrated approach to transport and open space. Having said that, the approach adopted starts by focusing on and visualising what could be if we had to adopt a more balanced approach to providing for the car in our urban areas. This creates the opportunity to visualise the potential for recreational open spaces in our urban areas.

The vision put forth therefore advocates a strategic approach to the planning of green open space networks within our urban areas. We believe that if we are to transform our open spaces and improve the quality of our urban environment and quality of life, then with the right studies the solutions to do this and adopt such an approach can be found. Ultimately, the paper serves to visualise what could be if we took a step back and allowed ourselves space to think otherwise!

Read a summary version of the paper here.