Home > Don't just ... > Interesting > Green belts

Something to think about ...
Green space

The case for green space
Today there exists an insatiable demand for land in urban areas.  Green belts or ‘spots’  are often perceived by  various interests groups as ‘wasted, under-utilised’ pieces of land.  Nothing could be further from the truth!

If one takes a journey into prehistory it becomes apparent that man’s whole psyche evolved in the world’s wide open spaces-the savannas and grasslands of the planet.  The need for open, unimpeded space is thus indelibly stamped in our sub-conscious and when this inherent need for space is denied to us it often results in aberrant and anti-social behaviour.
One need look no further than the world’s massive cities to ascertain just how problematic the alienation from nature has become.  What do the councils of the various cities in question do?  They actually allocate even less land to open space due to so-called ‘economic constraints’.
Green space-The justification
One need look no further than the city of Johannesburg in order to understand the pressing need for green belts.
The humanising effect
Parks, stream belts, undeveloped hills and dam areas are encountered in various parts of Johannesburg.  The highest density of ‘green space’ is encountered in the north-western suburbs.  Examples such as Mellville Koppies, The Zoo Lake, Emmarentia Dam and the adjacent Botanical Gardens, Braamfontein Spruit and of course Delta Park.  These ‘green islands’ have an emphatic ‘humanising  effect’ on the local populace. Friends and acquaintances can be seen strolling and chatting on weekends or after work through the various parks.  Children can be seen playing on various apparatus or just running in the open spaces. Joggers run through the parks, undisturbed by the noxious fumes or danger of passing vehicles.   Families picnicing on weekends is another regular scenario. Children (and even adults!) are given some opportunity to experience a piece of nature.  Limited though it may be.
In fact it is no coincidence that symphony concerts are beginning to be hosted in these open spaces.  The organisers have cottoned on to the ‘humanising effect’ equation!
Islands of biodiversity
Recently it was reported that a genet had been spotted wandering around the Parktown area.  This is a mere three kilometres from the city centre!  A resident in Craighall Park wrote a letter to a local newspaper that a genet, with young, had taken up residence in her roof! Genets in the built up areas of Johannesburg?  Impossible!  Not at all. Their presence can be explained in a rational and scientific manner.
The green spaces such as the Braamfontein Spruit, Delta Park and Emmarentia Dam provide arterial nodes for the migration of various species of animals from as far afield as the Magaliesberg area.  It is no co-incidence that exciting observations of civets, genets and other smaller mammal life seem to occur in the north western suburbs of Johannesburg.  One can correlate this directly with the amount of open space.  If one is patient and brave enough to spend a night in the Mellville Koppies Nature Reserve (which is located in close proximity to the C.B. D. ) the reward could be the viewing of a host of animal species.
These green spaces thus allow for various biological processes, although somewhat disturbed, to still occur within the inner confines of the city.
The filter effect
Cities are polluted spaces.  Green belts allow the air to be filtered by the vegetation in the areas in question.  Research in Jerusalem has shown that the pine trees located in the numerous parks and hills serve to remove impurities from the air.  A comparison of the Emmarentia and Zoo Lake dams also bears interesting results.  The Zoo Lake encounters much higher levels of contamination and pollution than its more westerly counterpart - Emmarentia Dam.  This can be attributed to the large green belt lining the Westdene Spruit before it enters the Emmarentia Dam.  The Zoo Lake does not have the benefit of such a filter. The result is a highly polluted and ‘untouchable ‘ body of water.
The economic argument
A misleading perception exists among certain interest groups that large amounts of green, open space are economically intolerable.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  An attractive city actually serves to enhance its status and appeal.  Green belts and parks add to the attractiveness of the city in question, thereby increasing the prospects for tourism and other associated spin-offs.  Numerous intangible benefits can also be associated with the green belt concept such as the ‘calming’ effect it has on people (this ties up with the humanising effect). These islands of greenery can have a huge positive effect on the psyche of people, reducing their stress levels considerably.
Another economic angle, never realised, is the manner in which these belts act as ‘catchment filters’ to huge numbers of people who would otherwise head out to more ecologically -sensitive areas to ‘get away from it all’.   Pressure on these areas is reduced considerably.  This also results in a reduction in transportation and other associated costs.
The education angle
Possibilities to sensitise children to the environment are enhanced by green belts.  The parks and waterways act as excellent outdoor educational resources which again have tremendous economic spin-offs. Mellville Koppies must be seen as the pinnacle of such a concept.
In conclusion it emerges that our green belts are NOT just pieces of wasted and economically unviable tracts of land.  They are an outstanding asset to any city in question.  Their use and potential knows no bounds.  What is needed is a change in thinking of the various interest and pressure groups to the concept.  Perhaps a paradigm shift.