Think of any major city in the world and alongside its iconic monuments and architecture, you will undoubtedly conjure an image of its parks. New York is synonymous with Central Park; London with Hyde Park; Barcelona with the quirky Park Guell; and a visit to Moscow would be incomplete without a trip to Gorky Park. They form the lungs of frenetic, densely populated cities, little oases of respite from the hubbub of trade, commerce and offices beyond their gateposts.
Research has long shown that green spaces in urbanised areas are beneficial for mental as well as physical health, and there is increasing recognition that city planning must include green spaces as well as roads, infrastructure and housing.
Besides creating more attractive living environments, they provide sustenance for wildlife, release oxygen into the atmosphere and cool cities by as much as 7C as trees offer shade and trap pollutants. According to Royal Parks in the UK, studies have shown that within minutes of being surrounded by trees and green space, blood pressure drops and heart and stress rates slow down.
That is why the announcement of an Dh8 billion investment to overhaul parks across Abu Dhabi is so heartening. The significant spend will involve the creation of four new parks and a revamp of 16 existing green spaces. The ambitious project will involve more than 300 additional features, from water features to ponds. The sheer size and scale of the initiative shows the determination of Abu Dhabi's government to make the emirate a viable, attractive draw for residents and visitors alike.
With the themes of exploration, interaction and relaxation, these enhanced green zones will, as Falah Al Ahbabi, chairman of Abu Dhabi’s Department of Municipalities and Transport, said, create “more opportunities for community members to better engage with one another and interact with their environment”.
The first of the new parklands will be rolled out by April next year. Revamps will be carried out of parks in remote regions such as Al Dhafra and Delma as well as cities, giving thousands of residents an escape from urban conurbations, wherever they live in the emirate.
The transformation of Abu Dhabi’s parks comes as part of Ghadan 21, a far-reaching Dh50bn package of reforms that aims to improve every aspect of residents’ lives as the UAE capital moves away from an oil-based economy.
It affects everything from the way residents do business and how long they plan to stay to how they live. Creating green oases is part of a drive to foster a spirit of idyllic living, with community area and cycle tracks encouraging active recreation.
For centuries, parks have offered an escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life, blending natural wonders with serenity. In Victorian Britain, so-called pleasure gardens were one of the main sources of public entertainment, drawing enormous crowds with circus acts and concerts.
Today, parks tend to be filled with people escaping sterile offices to enjoy lunch on a park bench, families indulging in a leisurely picnic and joggers enjoying the great outdoors. Those who live close to parks swear by the benefits of having cleaner air and outdoor life on their doorsteps.
With more than 4,000 parks around the globe visited by millions – in the US alone, more than 270 million people visit its national parks every year – it is clear how many people yearn to escape the stresses of everyday life. Given that we live in an increasingly urbanised world and that by the year 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, these green spaces will become increasingly vital, because nature is its own medicine.