Research by design agency CABE found that people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds were less likely to use urban green spaces, and that ethnicity was a stronger factor in park use than income. Other research by Dr Bridget Snaith, a senior lecturer in landscape architecture at the University of East London in the UK, delves deeper.
Snaith studies how different ethnic groups use London’s parks. She found a stark contrast in the Queen Elizabeth Park. Created on the site of the 2012 Olympics, the park is split into two areas: a south park, including extensive play areas, fountains, seating and hard landscaping; and a north park, landscaped to be much greener and much wilder, and a haven for biodiversity. As the story in The Possible reports:
‘Snaith found that the north park was largely alienating for the local community, and that just 23% of users were of BAME origin, compared to 52% for the south park. Those of non-white backgrounds were much more likely to connote its aesthetic of natural “wildness” with dirt, neglect or lack of interest — one focus group participant described it as “just depressing … like a waste site”. For many, the more structured gardens of the south park implied urbanity, safety and sociability, and they wanted a range of activities and features.’
So, if we want to bring the benefits of the natural environment into our cities, we need to think about how we can create systems that work not only for biodiversity net gain and carbon reduction but also, crucially, green urban spaces that work for people too. You could say it’s not so much a case of ‘the right trees in the right place’, but – considering the demographics of the local community – it’s actually a case of the ‘the right trees in the right place for the right people’.
There are many types of green space that could be incorporated into the urban environment. In some cases, it might be a rain garden rather than trees – green and blue infrastructure are important elements of climate adaptation in cities. With a better understanding of social context, we can co-design places with the communities who will use them.
Can densely packed urban environments also accommodate more of the natural environment?