Media Information | 5 Juni 2020 | pp

A Latter-Day Noah’s Ark

Three reasons for the necessity of urban parks and open spaces

The exploding need for green spaces during the coronavirus has made one thing abundantly clear: Berlin’s parks are essential - for our physical and mental well-being, for the environment and for biological diversity. They serve as a kind of Noah’s Ark for our times. In growing cities like Berlin, however, open green spaces are often squeezed out, regarded as a luxury and regularly forced to make way for construction projects. Resources are often lacking for their proper care and maintenance.

Professor Dr. Ingo Kowarik of the Institute of Ecology at Technische Universität Berlin is also state commissioner for nature conservation and rural conservation. His areas of research include urban nature and the associated ecosystem services which play a key role in the quality of life in cities. He calls for the preservation and development of green urban spaces and has further come up with three reasons for the necessity of urban parks and open spaces.

Health: Urban nature has a positive effect on body and mind

“Many people see green spaces as a luxury in compact cities of short distances - particularly as space becomes tighter,” says Professor Kowarik. “The current crisis, however, has more than adequately demonstrated the great importance of urban green spaces for the cities of the future. Overcrowded parks are very often the best indicators of this. People use parks because it does them good to be there.”

For Kowarik, the first reason we need urban parks is their importance for a preventative healthcare policy. “The positive effects of urban parks on our mental and physical health are well documented. Exercising in green spaces and contact to urban nature reduce the likelihood of cardiovascular disease and depression. Urban green spaces contribute significantly to a better management of health and thus a significant reduction of healthcare costs.”

Climate change: Urban parks reduce heat stress and the effects of heavy rain

Climate change no longer dominates the headlines, but heat, aridity and heavy rain will present us with ever-greater challenges in the future, shortening lifetimes. This is the second of reason Kowarik identifies for the necessity of green urban spaces. “Several studies conducted by our institute have shown that green spaces help cool cities down through evaporation and by creating shade, promote the circulation of air and reduce heat stress. They also help us deal with the quantities of water resulting from ever heavier rainfall and reduce the strain on the canalization system.” In short, green urban spaces are indispensable in helping cities adapt to climate change.  


Biodiversity: Urban parks as places of refuge for endangered plants and insects

For Kowarik, the global biodiversity crisis provides the third reason for the importance of urban green spaces: “The decline of species and the dying out of insects is accelerated by intensive land use in rural areas. Cities, by contrast, with their natural and culturally influenced green spaces, offer many species a latter-day Noah's Ark. Our research shows that under the right conditions many animal species, including rare ones, and plant species can survive in urban parks.  

Natural capital is important for the economy

These arguments were also put forward in the city report of the “Naturkapital Deutschland” study on the economic significance of nature produced by the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research and coordinated by TU Berlin’s Institute of Ecology. According to Kowarik, this has resulted in some changes, none of which however are really significant. “The coronavirus crisis provides the opportunity to really gain an understanding of the importance of urban parks and redefine society’s priorities. We also need green spaces of sufficient size and quality where many people live in close proximity and where competition for space is particularly strong; namely the inner cities. The coronavirus crisis provides us with a new perspective on the social value of spaces like Tempelhofer Feld or the cemeteries in Neukölln at a time when plans are being discussed for the development of these areas.”

The current crisis offers a great opportunity to introduce practical measures to capitalize on the importance of urban green spaces for healthcare, climate change, biodiversity and other social goals. The Institute of Ecology and further academic chairs within Faculty VI are ideally suited to use their interdisciplinary expertise to develop, test and implement measures and systems to create a multifunctional urban green infrastructure.