Anticipating pitfalls when designing green spaces

07 Mar 2019

If the unforeseeable is, by definition, unforeseen, the WHO helps public authorities avoid the main pitfalls that can occur in the creation of green spaces. To guide them in their problem-free transformation to green inner cities, the organization has studied the problems most frequently encountered (1). We summarize their findings below.

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Avoid conflicts between users

Badly designed, green spaces can generate unwanted overlapping of uses which can, in the long term, cause the public to flee. To prevent roller skaters from encroaching on paths intended for seniors - and vice versa! - it is essential to mark out the spaces dedicated to each kind of user. For example, by providing suitable equipment for each practice (sportive or not) for which each green space is designed, to ensure them to stay separate. 

It is essential to involve users in the design of green spaces. Although it is impossible to satisfy everyone, public authorities play a decisive role in federating and ensuring that the choices made when creating or refurbishing a green space are fully understood by all. 

Using landscape design to create user-friendly parks

Controlling voluntary and involuntary damage and security

To prevent rapid damage to green spaces through overuse, public authorities can open several parks in their urban area to distribute usage. Throughout the life of a green space, an evaluation of the real use and regular maintenance are essential, as is providing specific equipment in separate parks coinciding, as far as possible, with their reception capacity!

Regular landscape maintenance also prevents vandalism and feelings of insecurity. To accompany this approach, good public lighting, regular patrolling and the adoption of the green spaces by residents are essential.

Prevent health threats

Falls, allergies, poisonous species and disease-carrying insects are all risks for green space users and it is the responsibility of public authorities to eliminate them when landscape planning.

Public authorities must, first of all, make sure that accesses to ponds are safe and design zones easy to cross for seniors and disabled people, for example by choosing suitable paving materials. The choice of plant and tree species is also fundamental in creating hypoallergenic and poison-free green spaces. As prevention is better than cure, the role of public information should not be underestimated.

And, of course, regular landscape maintenance to keep the green space clean!

To prevent gentrification around green spaces

Proximity to green spaces boosts real estate prices. So as not to force low-income residents to leave, public authorities should create green spaces throughout the urban area to distribute demand. Co-operation with property developers and property owners is essential to slow the gentrification process.

Provide for fluctuations in budgets

The life of public authorities is not all plain sailing and the budget allocated for the creation and maintenance of a green space can melt like snow in the sun following elections! To ensure the sustainability of public facilities, public authorities can opt for green spaces that do not require a lot of maintenance (see our article on differentiated management) and obtain the support of all political parties when the project is initiated.

Another possible pitfall for public authorities that the WHO does not list is that of managing cigarettes in green spaces. By following all these tips, public authorities can design sustainable green spaces that please everyone!


(1) WHO: Urban green spaces: a brief for action

© Photo credit:  Vardan / Skitterphoto

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