Greenbelts were designed foremost to limit the perils of suburban sprawl, but in doing so, they have significantly augmented city living by providing accessible green space to city dwellers.
The tremendous growth in vast urbanized spaces the world over has forced society to re-evaluate its relationship with nature. The more we build, the farther we isolate ourselves from tranquil, pristine environments we hold dear. While in many developing countries rural populations outnumber urban ones, as cities grow in the face of globalization, expansive construction begs the question: how do we preserve access to green space in dense, urban environments?
Greenbelts were designed foremost to limit the perils of suburban sprawl, but in doing so, they have significantly augmented city living by providing accessible green space to city dwellers. Often within a city’s public transit network, greenbelts create a buffer of trees, earth and water where one can easily escape the high-paced life of contemporary urban spaces. Socially, their existence improves the quality of life of a given place, while environmentally, greenbelts reduce the impact of heat islands, preserve natural habitat, and provide refuge to various flora and fauna in what are often vulnerable eco-systems.
As greenbelts have been implemented at various levels of government in countries, provinces and cities all around the world, the experience has come with its fair share of setbacks, however. By limiting land available to development, property values have skyrocketed, making even the smallest unit in some cities unaffordable to the average person. Land speculation has taken hold in some of the world’s largest cities, putting tremendous pressure on urban planners to offset the impact of volatile economic factors. Real estate brokers, on the other hand, are having a field day.
In addition, greenbelts cut bedroom communities off from the urban cores around which they are designed. Depending on the size of protected land, the distance between outlying suburbs and city centres may result in unfeasible public transportation systems, larger highway and freeway networks, and poorly planned suburban street grids. In the end, vast green spaces may create the adverse effects they were initially conceived to avoid.
That being said, when thought-out with potential negative impacts in mind, many of the problems associated with greenbelts can be easily prevented. At the end of the day, creating highly accessible, vast green space ought to be the priority of every city planner. The proximity of plants and trees to car-ridden urban cores may significantly improve air quality. Parks encourage exploration, exercise and camaraderie. Amenities like canals, ball parks and various other athletic facilities may represent altogether different opportunities such as attracting large-scale sporting events. In any case, human beings deserve the privilege of experiencing the great outdoors easily, and nowhere is this more sustainable than in close proximity to densely populated cities.