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In Search of Greens and Open Spaces, By Gbenga Onabanjo

In our clime, the greens and open spaces are usually associated with the upper-class neighbourhoods, mostly in the Government Reserved Areas (GRAs). These GRAs are located in cities like Lagos, Kaduna, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Enugu, to mention a few.

Most of these GRAs are being reclassified for economic reasons. This trend is fast catching up with the GRAs all over the federation. The large reservations are sold and are divided into smaller plots. These plots are built up without the statutory provisions for greens and the minimum allowable airspace between two buildings.

With the upsurge in real estate activities all over the federation and the desire for maximum returns on investments, the need for the provision of greens and open spaces has been neglected.

The presence of greens and open spaces mitigate against the urban heat island effect, particularly in cities and urban centres. These green spaces allow the soil to absorb carbon from the air and help reduce carbon emissions, which invariably helps in reducing the effects of global warming and climate change.

More green spaces and parks encourage physical activities, which help to reduce obesity, prevent associated chronic diseases and promote equality among neighbourhood dwellers. The open spaces for recreation promote equality, enhance the neighbourhood, reduce crime rates and make room for better social interactions, and behavioural comportment leading to trust, mutual understanding and shared values.

It has equally been established that green spaces filter air, remove pollution and attenuate noise. They also improve cognitive functions in children.

For the cities to be regenerated and renewed, deliberate and conscious efforts should therefore be made to preserve existing trees, whilst provisions should be made for more trees and open spaces.

I recall how pristine and wooded the Ikeja GRA in Lagos was, when I had my first working experience as an architect in 1983 at an architectural firm located at that vicinity. Driving through the neighbourhood, the streets were canopied with large trees lined up in front of large unfenced compounds with lush green grass and very small buildings sitting on about half an acre of land space.

During the heat, the whole area was usually cool as the vegetation absorbed the heat and filtered the air. The atmosphere was simply heavenly!

With the gradual decline in the economy of the country, these lands were reclassified for commercial uses and investors have swooped in to make maximum returns on their investments. This trend has given rise to all manners of development that do not follow stipulated planning guidelines.

Some houses are built as high as seven floors and one could stretch out a hand from the window on the third floor to shake another person’s hand through the window of the third floor of the adjacent building. This is not only unhealthy but it is equally unsafe, especially in times of fire outbreak.

Today, considerations are hardly made for greens and open spaces. The neighbourhood skyline is usually very haphazard. Car parking spaces are grossly inadequate.

If this rapidly growing trend is not curbed by the government, it will pave way for a city that is mindless of nature and beauty, but driven only by economic gains. This will have an untold effect on the health, longevity, productivity and cognitive functioning of the residents. Being mindful of greens and open spaces on the other hand will reduce mortality and morbidity in urban residents by providing psychological relaxation and stress alleviation.

A very serious and pragmatic campaign needs to be embarked upon at this time to stem this present negative development, whilst the benefits of greens and open spaces in settlements should be emphasised.

Areas zoned for medium and high rise structures should be mandated to have large open surrounds to compensate for the density.

The benefits of greens and open spaces are so immense that attention needs to be given to them in order to enhance our urban spaces.

Mr Onabanjo is a Lagos-based architect, environmentalist, public commentator and the chief responsibility officer at Go-Forte Foundation.

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