Growing up in the city of Accra, there were hardly any parks or open green spaces to speak of, other than perhaps the Efua Sutherland Children’s Park. As far as open urban green spaces are concerned, this has always been the most prominent public space. Disappointingly, the lush greenness of park’s lawns have waned over the years, leaving dusty island patches in the midst of the lawns which have themselves progressively developed a brownish tinge resulting from lack of irrigation and sunburn. It is hard to envision the vibrancy that the park once had. The space also doubles as an amusement park; however, its rides have all but literally fallen apart due to years of neglect and lack of maintenance.
Indeed, one is hard pressed to pin-point a great out-door green space that has stood the test of time in the country. The Aburi Gardens come to mind, but has suffered from the same maintenance deficiency and is not what it used to be. Although still patronised by the public, one might argue that it is for a lack of options rather than any sort of fondness for the place.
Likewise, anyone who decides to take a trip to Kumasi in search of some fabled “Garden City” can expect anything but that – except perhaps “gardens” in the wild. Kumasi which is apparently known as “The Garden City” because of its many beautiful species of flowers and plants has no proper parks and gardens to speak of. Its version of a “Children’s Park” is in an even more deplorable state than Accra’s.
The development of our cities have been undertaken in a very conservative manner, favouring infrastructural development – which is slowly turning our cities into concrete jungles – over the sort of development which recognises the necessity of a balance with manicured natural settings. The benefits of having well placed, green spaces in an urban area cannot be over stated. The benefits of such a deliberate investment into the environment and the lives and well-being of the populace are worthy of interrogation.
According to research results from the UK based Environmental Science and Technology.Journal, living in an urban area with green spaces has a long-lasting positive impact on people’s mental well-being. The results, which were compiled by way of data from the British Household Panel Survey (now known as the Understanding Society survey), also indicated that, access to good quality urban parks was beneficial to public health. Co-author Mathew White, from the European Centre for Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter, UK, explained that the findings of the study that showed people living in greener urban areas were displaying fewer signs of depression or anxiety.
In an increasingly fast-paced society, issues such as depression and anxiety are a very present reality in the lives of people caught up in the corporate rat race and just caught up in the pressures of life in general. The Epidemiol Community Health Journal throws more light on the necessity of green spaces to counter this trend by stating that, many people experience nature as an environment where they can rest and recover from daily stress. In any hectic society, there is a growing need for nature/green space as a source of relaxation and recreation.
However, urban areas across the world have experienced a decline in the quality and quantity of their green spaces. The United Nations Population Division notes that, although just under half of the world’s current population lives in urban areas, nearly two thirds of the world’s populations will live in urban areas within the next 30 years. It is therefore paramount that, issues of the well-being of urban dwellers and ultimately issues of economic productivity be taken into consideration when planning the development of our growing cities.
Other general benefits of having open green spaces in urban areas include, health benefits for children who will be able to have the space to move about freely and get needed exercise, an increase in community based activities and strengthening of communal bonds; which also has security benefits for the community.
Ghana is still a young country with evolving cities. Whereas Accra and Kumasi as well as other well established major cities may be too far gone in their metropolitan set up to allow for new open green spaces, there is certainly an incredible amount of potential for smaller towns to be sensitised towards embracing a culture of environmental friendliness that allows for open parks and gardens to add to their aesthetic. The existing parks and gardens in our big cities should also be given new life if we aspire towards being a part of the global green revolution.