Studies evaluate how the presence of nature can positively influence life in cities
If poor income distribution was commonly mentioned as the main factor for social segregation, experts now point another decisive factor for maintaining inequality: the place where we live. After all, securing opportunities and quality of life for all our inhabitants is an unresolved challenge. Are homes and neighborhoods safe, affordable and stimulating? Is it possible to have different types of people living with different types of dreams? What are the roles of the private sector, individuals and experts in building these communities? What roles do governments have in making places healthy, while supporting local initiatives and creating a framework for everyone to contribute to the common good?
If on one hand there are no easy solutions, on the other hand experts point out that one simple measure can help – a lot – people’s lives: green areas. Research from Emory University, in the United States, shows how urban green spaces encourage feelings of health and safety among its users, positively impacting not only the health of each individual but also the relationships they establish with each other.
A study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed a new algorithm that tells how green a city is from the pedestrian perspective, the Green View Index (GVI). The results were presented as a rating to analyze the participant cities so far. Singapore tops the list with a 29.3% GVI, closely followed by Sydney and Vancouver. Across the spectrum, Paris ranks as the surprising grayest city, with a GVI of only 8.8%:
1. Singapore (GVI: 29.3%)
2. Sydney and Vancouver (GVI: 25.9%)
3. Cambridge (US) (GVI: 25.3%)
4. Durban (GVI: 23.7%)
5. Johannesburg (GVI: 23.6%)
6. Frankfurt (GVI: 21.5%)
7. Geneva (GVI: 21.4%)
8. Amsterdam (GVI: 20.6%)
9. Seattle (GVI: 20%)
10. Toronto (GVI: 19.5%)
According to WWF, Earth loses 18.7 million acres of forest per year, the equivalent of 27 football fields per minute. Although urban processes are a major cause of deforestation, cities can provide immense value to green areas. We also know that technologies are powerful tools, with the potential to improve and accelerate positive changes. With this in mind, smart alternatives are already emerging to repair environmental damage and to secure green areas in cities.
An example is Cities4Forests, which catalyzes the support of local governments and residents by curating, evaluating, and guiding tools and data to integrate forests into city development plans and programs. Through technical support, working groups and research events, participants share the desire to help reduce deforestation, restore forests (including more trees in cities) and manage them more sustainably. Four Brazilian cities are part of the collaborative network: Belo Horizonte (MG), Campinas (SP), Salvador (BA) and São Paulo (SP).
The initiative sucess, however, requires the collaboration of citizens and public agents to create effective and transformative policies. We, humans, are social creatures who reach our greatest potential when we collaborate. Truly smart cities will nurture smart citizens. After all, cities are not just smart buildings and networks – they are people who seek to pursue their dreams of a better life.