Urban open space
In land use planning, urban open space is open space areas for "parks," "green spaces," and other open areas. The landscape of urban open spaces can range from playing fields to highly maintained environments to relatively natural landscapes. Generally considered open to the public, urban open spaces are sometimes privately owned, such as higher education campuses, neighborhood/community parks/gardens, and institutional or corporate grounds. Areas outside city boundaries, such as state and national parks as well as open space in the countryside, are not considered urban open space. Streets, piazzas, plazas and urban squares are not always defined as urban open space in land use planning.
The terms "urban open space" can describe many types of open areas. One definition holds that, "As the counterpart of development, urban open space is a natural and cultural resource, synonymous with neither 'unused land' nor 'park and recreation areas." Another is "Open space is land and/or water area with its surface open to the sky, consciously acquired or publicly regulated to serve conservation and urban shaping function in addition to providing recreational opportunities." In almost all instances, the space referred to by the term is, in fact, green space. However, there are examples of urban green space which, though not publicly owned/regulated, are still considered urban open space.
From another standpoint public space in general is defined as the meeting or gathering places that exist outside the home and workplace that are generally accessible by members of the public, and which foster resident interaction and opportunities for contact and proximity. This definition implies a higher level of community interaction and places a focus on public involvement rather than public ownership or stewardship.
The benefits that urban open space provides to citizens can be broken into three basic forms; recreation, ecology, and aesthetic value. Psychological benefits gained by visitors to urban green spaces increased with their biodiversity, indicating that 'green' alone is not sufficient; the quality of that green is important as well.
Urban open space is often appreciated for the recreational opportunities it provides. Recreation in urban open space may include active recreation (such as organized sports and individual exercise) or passive recreation, which may simply entail being in the open space. Research shows that when open spaces are attractive and accessible, people are more likely to engage in physical activity. Time spent in an urban open space for recreation offers a reprieve from the urban environment and a break from over-stimulation. Studies done on physically active adults middle aged and older show there are amplified benefits when the physical activities are coupled with green space environments. Such coupling leads to decreased levels of stress, lowers the risk for depression as well as increase the frequency of participation in exercise. Casual group walks in a green environment (nature walks) increase one's positive attitude and lower stress levels as well as risk of depression.
The conservation of nature in an urban environment has direct impact on people for another reason as well. A Toronto civic affairs bulletin entitled Urban Open Space: Luxury or Necessity makes the claim that "popular awareness of the balance of nature, of natural processes and of man’s place in and effect on nature – i.e., "ecological awareness" – is important. As humans live more and more in man-made surroundings – i.e., cities – he risks harming himself by building and acting in ignorance of natural processes." Beyond this man-nature benefit, urban open spaces also serve as islands of nature, promoting biodiversity and providing a home for natural species in environments that are otherwise uninhabitable due to city development.
In a sense, by having the opportunity to be within a natural urban green space people gain a higher appreciation for the nature around them. As Bill McKibben mentions in his book The End of Nature, people will only truly understand nature if they are immersed within it. He follows in Henry David Thoreau's footsteps when he isolated himself in the Adirondack Mountains in order to get away from society and the overwhelming ideals it carries. Even there he writes how society and human impact follows him as he sees airplanes buzzing overhead or hears the roar of motorboats in the distance.
The aesthetic value of urban open spaces is self-evident. People enjoy viewing nature, especially when it is otherwise extensively deprived, as is the case in urban environments. Therefore, open space offers the value of "substituting gray infrastructure." One researcher states how attractive neighborhoods contribute to positive attitudes and social norms that encourage walking and community values. Properties near urban open space tend to have a higher value. One study was able to demonstrate that, "a pleasant view can lead to a considerable increase in house price, particularly if the house overlooks water (8–10%) or open space (6–12%)." Certain benefits may be derived from exposure to virtual versions of the natural environment, too. For example, people who were shown pictures of scenic, natural environments had increased brain activity in the region associated with recalling happy memories, compared to people that were shown pictures of urban landscapes.
The term "rus in urbe" meaning "country in the city" was used in Rome around the first century C.E. Urban planning in Rome valued the natural landscape and took account for environmental factors. It was thought that by building a city with regard to the local countryside, the people living there would be healthier and happier. English landscapes would later take inspiration from Roman urban planning concepts in their own open spaces.
The basis for many urban open spaces seen today across Europe and the West began its process of development in London in the 17th and 18th centuries. What would eventually become urban open green space began as paved public plazas. Though they were intended to be open to the public, these spaces began to be re-designated as private parks around the late eighteenth century. It was during this period that the areas became pockets of green in the urban environment, commonly modelled after the natural wild of the countryside.
The first parks to reverse the trend of privatization and again be opened to the public were England’s royal parks in the nineteenth century. This was done in response to the extensive and unexpected population movement from the country into cities. As a result, "the need for open space was socially and politically pressing… The problems, to which the provision of parks was expected to offer some relief, were easy to describe: overcrowding, poverty, squalor, ill-health, lack of morals and morale, and so on". Such sentiments again received significant popular support during the "City Beautiful" movement in America during the 1890s and 1900s. Both trends focused on providing the public an opportunity to receive all of the perceived health and lifestyle benefits of having access to open space within urban environments.
Segmentation of urban open spaces was particularly prominent in America during the twentieth century. Since the late 1800's romantic park systems, open space designers have been concerned with guiding, containing or separating urban growth, distributing recreation, and/or producing scenic amenity, mostly within the framework of geometric abstractions." Such segmentation was especially prominent in the 1990s, when urban open spaces took a path similar to that of parks, following the modernization trend of segmentation and specialization of areas. As modernity stressed "increased efficiency, quantifiablity, predictability, and control… In concert with the additional social divisions" (Young 1995), open spaces grew more specific in purpose. Perhaps this increase in division of social classes’ use of open space, demonstrated by the segmentation of the spaces, displays a situation similar to the privatization of London parks in the eighteenth century, which displayed a desire to make classes more distinct.
Today, places like Scandinavia, which do not have a significant history of outdoor recreation and gathering places, are seeing a proliferation of urban open spaces and adopting a lifestyle supported by the extra urban breathing room. An example of this can be seen in Copenhagen where an area closed to car traffic in 1962 developed, in just a few decades, a culture of public political gatherings and outdoor cafes emerged. Not only is appreciation for and use of urban open spaces flourishing in locations that historically lacked such traditions, the number of urban open spaces is increasing rapidly as well.
Urban open space is under strong pressure. Due to increasing urbanization, combined with a spatial planning policy of densification, more people face the prospect of living in less green residential environments, especially people from low economic strata. This may cause environmental inequality with regard to the distribution of (access) to public green space. A large epidemiological study  concluded that wealthier individuals were generally healthier than individuals with a lower income, explained by the pattern that wealthier individuals reside in areas more concentrated with green space. Urban open spaces in higher socioeconomic neighborhoods were also more likely to have trees that provided shade, a water feature (e.g. pond, lake and creek), walking and cycling paths, lighting, signage regarding dog access and signage restricting other activities as well.
A study conducted in Australia provided insight into how there is a correlation between community development/community safety and natural open space within the community. Open areas allow community members to engage in highly social activities and facilitate the expansion of social networks and friendship development. As people become more social they decrease the perceptions of fear and mistrust allowing a sense of community bondage.
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