Green spaces in cities must be improved, says TCD academic

Dr Marcus Collier: housing should go upwards rather than expanding into green areas

Poor quality green spaces and parklands should be improved rather than built on, Dr Marcus Collier from the School of Natural Sciences at Trinity College Dublin has said.

With almost 80 per cent of Europeans expected to be living in urban areas within the next 30 years, the importance of city green space must not be underestimated, Dr Collier said.

"The value of urban green space has been established by the World Health Organisation to have an effect on mortality and health. You are more likely to live longer if you live near a park – specifically within 600m of a park. Studies have also shown that you get more benefits out of exercising outdoors than indoors."

However, he agrees that not all land zoned in Dublin for open space is providing the benefits that it should to the community.


“When the city developed out into the suburbs it was often a case of grabbing farm land and holding on to it – the green belt idea. But large green spaces like that can be off putting, and people often don’t feel safe using them. You can end up with ‘green deserts’ as we saw in the large empty green spaces around the Ballymun flats.”

Research project

Dr Collier is heading up a €12 million European research project to bring nature back into cities.

“The project is about co-creation. It’s about not just going into a green space and saying ‘here it is, now goodbye’. It’s about working with communities, looking at a green space as a multifunctional area, looking at how we are planning for new communities, for families with smaller numbers of children, for elderly people. It’s an amazingly galvanising idea.”

Working to improve low quality green space was preferable to building on it, he said. “In terms of taking green space away for housing, I would say it is much more logical to go up than out.”

Open space

Few comparative studies have been done on the amount of green space provided across European cities, Dr Collier said. However in comparison with British cities Dublin, at 26 per cent of land zoned for open space, lags behind Bristol at 29 per cent, Glasgow at 32 per cent, and Edinburgh at 49 per cent, but is ahead of London at 23 per cent and Manchester at 20 per cent.

However Dr Collier said, the actual availability of the green space in Dublin is variable. “Is a football pitch green amenity space, given that its use is limited to a small group of people?”

Research published last year by Dr Gerald Mills of the department of geography at UCD and Redrawing Dublin authors Paul Kearns and Motti Ruimy, showed Dublin city's green spaces are most concentrated in the southeast of the city and residents of Ballsbridge were up to 20 times more likely to have a tree on their street than those living in the north inner city.