Time to think, talk about green space

In Photo: The Burnham Lake Park, a famous tourist attraction in Baguio City

Are there enough green space in so-called urban jungles in the Philippines? Apparently none.

As the Philippines embark on building spree, EarthThink, an advocacy and resource center that ventures in scientifically, economically and socially viable changes and solutions for sustainable and resilient communities, is pitching the preservation and improvement of existing, and possibly, development of more green spaces in the Philippines.

Mary Antonette Beroya-Eitner, founding president of EarthThink, said last week in an e-mail interview with the Businessmirror that  urban communities need not only urban parks, but other forms of green spaces, like green roofs and walls, green corridors, street streets, especially in areas where park development is not possible due to limitation in space.

A fellow at the University of the Philippines (UP) Center for Integrative Development Studies and Centre International de Formation des Autorités et Leaders Philippines, Beroya-Eitner noted there is a need to engage various stakeholders in scientific discourse on environment and ecology, climate change, disaster-risk reduction, ecosystem services and sustainability and resilience, to enable and challenge communities to make life-changing decisions and actions that impact the present and future generations.

Beroya-Eitner engages in information, education and communication activities, capacity-building, policy-lobbying to promote green space.

A geologist with a master’s degree in geology, specializing in landslide evaluation at the UP, she has a PhD in engineering geology, specializing in earthquake/liquefaction hazard assessment at the University of Hong Kong.

What is a green space?

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines green space, or open space, as any open piece of land that is undeveloped, has no buildings or other built structures, and is accessible to the public.

It can include land that is partly or completely covered with grass, trees, shrubs or other vegetation. These may be parks, community gardens and cemeteries, schoolyards, playgrounds, public seating areas, public plazas or even vacant lots.

According to EPA, “Open space provides recreational areas for residents and helps to enhance the beauty and environmental quality of neighborhoods.”

Beroya-Eitner broadly defines green space as areas covered by trees and plants. These can be parks, green roofs and walls, green corridors, or green streets or trees with plants and trees. Around 300 meters to 400 meters is considered an ideal area for green space.

“This is why this is the target in many places in Europe. Nantes [France], for example, has 100 percent of its citizens living within a 300-meter perimeter around a green space,” she said.

Urban development improvement

EarthThink is calling to preserve and improve urban parks and other green spaces, and develop new ones, to promote urban biodiversity, offer ecosystem services and contribute to the improvement of urban development.

“They [green spaces] may not offer as much ecosystem services as urban parks, but they can also contribute to the improvement of the urban environment,” she added.

“In other countries, like Japan and Germany, this is incorporated in the development plans of housing or subdivision and commercial buildings as required by law. In Darmstadt [Germany], for example, if you build your house now, especially in newly opened residential areas, you are required to have green roof above your car garage or carport,” she said.

In the Philippines, there are already some initiatives toward similar direction.

“There are already buildings that incorporate green spaces in their design. And there is already the Green Building Code, so it’s a good starting point,” she added.

Putting value to green

There is a need to study or assess the ecosystem services of urban parks and urban green spaces, in general, to highlight its importance, and to make such “values” concrete and tangible to policy-makers, communities and business, Beroya-Eitner said.

“It is always easier to drive people into action when you have numbers to show. With better information, better long-term decisions can be made toward improving our urban environment,” she added.

“A strong policy support, especially at the local level, is eventually needed for the successful promotion of urban parks and other green spaces as green infrastructure,” she added.

However, she believes the more immediate need is to increase people’s awareness of the concepts of ecosystem service and green infrastructure, and of the range of benefits urban parks and other green spaces can deliver, as concretized through ecosystem services assessment and valuation which are “relatively less-known in the country”.

Beroya-Eitner said where trees and plants are, valuable ecosystem services exist.

“The only questions are how much and in what form, as these depend on the [number of] trees or plants and structures in the park,” she added.

She said there’s no known existing studies or assessment of ecosystem services of parks in Metro Manila, or in the whole country.

However, urban green spaces, like the Quezon Memorial Circle and Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Rescue Center, are delivering considerable ecosystem services.

Green space and biodiversity

Beroya-Eitner said biodiversity is fundamental to the generation of ecosystem services because “without any biodiversity, there would be no ecosystem services”, citing carbon sequestration and pollination.

However, she noted that even the United Nations Environment Program in 2014 disclosed that the type and strength of the relationships between increasing numbers of species, or other aspects of biodiversity, and the delivery of ecosystem services remain less clear.

“This is particularly true in urban ecosystem, where the exploration of such relationship has only just begun,” she added.

Beroya-Eitner cited a study of Kremer et al. (2016), which presented the results of the three-year Urban Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services project.

One of the seven key insights from the project was that the “relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem services in urban areas are unclear, lack evidence and require new data and empirical research”.

She said such lack of clear understanding is not surprising, considering the nature of urban ecosystems, being situated in a highly modified landscape in a mix of man-made and natural environments.

Until now, she said, the dynamics and interaction between these two environments, which presumably have effects on both biodiversity and ecosystem service provisioning, remains largely unknown and, therefore, in their relationship to each other.

Nevertheless, she added that understanding the relationship between urban biodiversity and ecosystem service is a necessary task in an increasingly urbanized world, where 75 percent of the world population is projected to live in cities and their peri-urban surroundings in 2050, as reported in United Nations World Population Prospects 2012, and where the loss of habitats, resources and biodiversity is expected as a consequence.

In her recent study, Beroya-Eitner noted there were indications that only a couple of species are important in the delivery of crucial urban-ecosystem services, such as avoided urban-run off, carbon storage and sequestration and air-pollution reduction.

“For instance, only 11 species representing 15 percent of the total species in the park are needed to deliver 55 percent of the total avoided run-off. On the other hand, only 10 species [14 percent] are needed to deliver almost 70 percent, and 51 percent of carbon storage and carbon sequestration services of the park, respectively. Most of these species overlap, such that their union consist of only 15 species [21 percent], implying that only 15 species can be considered important in the delivery of much of the ES [ecosystem services] under consideration,” she said.

Green space, ecosystem service

Beroya-Eitner said there is a need to integrate plans to develop urban green spaces within an ecosystem service framework.

“I have heard of Quezon City’s Park Development Program [plan] to create green spaces but based on the documents I’ve seen, it is not yet framed within an ecosystem-service framework. In EarthThink, this is what we are advocating in its initial campaign to promote urban green space—that urban infrastructure development should be approached from an ecosystem service perspective,” she said.

Citing her recent study, titled “Urban Parks as Green Infrastructure: Assessment of the Flood Regulatory and Other Ecosystem Services in Kinuta Park, Setagaya, Tokyo, Japan” for the United Nations University-Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability, Beroya-Eitner said with the multiple benefits they provide, urban parks play an important role in making cities liveable, sustainable and resilient.

“This role will become even more important in the future in the face of climate change,” she added.

Flood, risk mitigation

In that study, focus was given to the assessment of the role of urban parks in flood-risk mitigation, flooding being the main problem in Setagaya where the study area, the Kinuta Park, is located.

Results show that urban parks can be a viable nature-based solution to flooding.

She noted, however,  such flood-regulatory service can be technologically replaced, and in ways that may even be more “efficient” in addressing the problem.

Because of this there’s a need to assess the other “cobenefits” of parks, which should be factored in.

“From a policy perspective, therefore, it is not easy to argue for the integration of urban parks in the general strategy for flood-risk reduction, particularly where competition for limited resources is high and continuous pressure from developers is present. For this reason, the other cobenefits of the park were also assessed, all of which should be factored in when weighing options for flood-risk mitigation.”

According to Beroya-Eitner, most parks—with “ecosystem services” as the technical term for the benefits people obtain from the environment, including avoided run-off, carbon sequestration, carbon storage, oxygen production and air-pollutant removal—should be assessed by conducting a tree survey.

Hence, Metro Manila, which is considered flood-prone, should look into the ecosystem service, particularly of flood-mitigation services not only of its urban parks, but other green spaces, too, before deciding in its building spree.

This article was originally posted on the www.businessmirror.com.ph