The recent and ongoing protests in Turkey related to the Taksim Gezi Park redevelopment are not only an example of a lack of participatory and community decision making that serves to make cities and urban spaces less sustainable and /or equitable. The protests also serve to highlight the importance of Public Open Space (POS), and specifically soft and green POS in the creation of sustainable cities.
We all know that sustainable cities need effective public transportation systems and high density mixed land uses. However, often during the planning process; public transportation, density, efficiency and the need for mixed use urban environments as well as politics and economics tend to overshadow the need for soft and green POS. This ultimately results in urban environments which are lacking in softer spaces.
In order to create sustainable and equitable urban environments it is essential that we are able to balance the needs of public transportation, density, the need for mixed use urban environments, politics and economics with the societal, cultural and environmental needs. We need to always bear in mind that there is a great deal of value in soft green public open spaces that is often overlooked in the search for the creation of sustainable cities and a focus on energy efficiency and density. This has resulted in the undervaluing of soft, green public open spaces.
If we increase the value we place on soft and green public open spaces we will be able to move towards ensuring that such open spaces are able to compete with and balance out the need for harder public open spaces such as service roads, malls and parking lots during the planning process. In so doing we may be able to prevent protests and political unrest such as we are experiencing in Turkey.
Some of the key and important services provided by soft or green public open spaces are;
•As spaces for cultural and social interaction
•As breathing spaces from the urban activities
•In the provision of essential ecosystem and climate change mitigation and adaptation services offered by such as;
oReducing air pollution and acting as carbon sinks though the provision of ecosystem services provided
by trees and vegetation.
oActing as wetlands and sponges to facilitate a more effective and less expensive way to manage storm
water runoff (than building systems of concrete sewers and drainage ditches etc).
oActing as biodiversity islands
The Turkish government’s proposal to redevelop the existing Taksim Gezi square and park reveals the need for not only participatory planning, transparency of government and accountability but also a need to ensure that a balance is found between social, political, economic and environmental needs.