How to improve environmental performances of urban parks
In the past three decades, urban sprawl has proliferated in the metropolitanareas of southern Europe. One of the most pressing environmental concerns inurban areas in the Mediterranean region is water use.</p><p>Problem proposition:</p><p>Given the dry climate conditions in this area, the unsustainable equilibriumbetween water supply and demand leads to a significant environmental problem.Reducing water demand becomes a critical option.</p><p>In this context, urban parks offer an interesting case for determining howcity councils are really managing water on a day-to-day basis. More empiricalstudies, especially in Europe, are needed to shed light on factors influencingthe adoption of environmentally-sound policies and practices on a local scale
A recently published Spanish study has examined how urban parks aredistributed in the Mediterranean regions and assessed whether their design andmanagement follow criteria adapted to Mediterranean environmental conditions,especially regarding water use.
The authors examined four factors that are likely to influence the adoptionof park management practices on a local scale:
- urban density,
- population size,
- municipal income per capita
- and the political views of the city council.
They analysed these factors for two different samples of parks in the Regionof Barcelona (one area with 315 parks and another with 125 parks).
The results show that in general, urban parks are more frequent in large anddensely populated areas, although environmentally-sound practices were morecommon in small and low density municipalities. This suggests that themunicipalities where urban parks are increasing are also those that lackenvironmentally-sound management practices.
Economic resources seem to be the key variable in explaining the type ofparks present in municipalities. The authors observed that the higher the incomeper capita, the more municipalities use non local plant species, which impliesmore water requirements and hence poorer performance from a sustainability pointof view. In fact, richer municipalities use more efficient irrigation systemsbut they spend more on water because they prefer non native and morewater-demanding species (for example, Atlantic species such as turf grass arepreferred to Mediterranean species).
Furthermore, the predominance of high water-demanding turf grasses in thestudied parks suggested that these parks were not managed according tosustainable criteria. Some water-saving techniques such as the use of mulchingwere beginning to be implemented in a few urban parks.
Nevertheless, the only water-saving technique already widespread in gardenedareas was sprinkler irrigation. Other techniques, such as the use of alternativesources of water or automatic technologies to determine irrigation needs, werealmost nonexistent in the urban parks of the studied region.
The authors highlight that water demand management mechanisms for public useby local governments have been little studied. The main obstacle is that mostlocal governments do not pay for water, even though they are great consumers,and therefore, there are low consumption controls and zero initiatives to savewater.
The authors conclude that changing certain practices, especially replacinghigh water-demanding species, could significantly improve the environmentalperformance of public spaces in large urban areas with a Mediterranean climate.
University of Barcelona
Marc Parés-Franzi, David Saurí-Pujol and Elena Domene
By: Rene Wagenaar,