Despite the great strides this country has made to make our neighbourhoods greener, there is still a lack of recreational space. For example, residents of Dubai's Al Barsha 1 told The National that the absence of playgrounds is causing their children to develop health problems and to become sedentary. This is an issue that extends throughout our cities.
It’s important to have green spaces and playgrounds spread around neighbourhoods to improve public health by encouraging our children to be more active. This will help address the country’s health issues, including childhood obesity and diabetes, and may in turn reduce healthcare costs. Studies also show that green spaces reduce general stress levels among residents and can play a part in tackling depression.
One can argue that we already have big parks, such as Mushrif Central Park in Abu Dhabi, Safa Park in Dubai and Saqr Park in Ras Al Khaimah, which play a vital role in forging community spirit by hosting activities, hosting cultural events and being great places to relax and unwind. One can also argue that parts of the country are well-served for green spaces: Abu Dhabi has approximately 20 sq metres per capita of green and open space double the international standard of 9 sq m that the World Health Organisation recommends.
But more could be done. The issue is particularly relevant in areas that have been earmarked for development but are, as yet, incomplete or unfinished neighbourhoods.
Perhaps developers of newer communities could be encouraged and incentivised to turn plots that have not yet been built on into green, open spaces or into recreational facilities, complete with five-a-side football or basketball courts and playgrounds. This could be undertaken on the basis of an option for the plot being returned to the developer at a later date if demand for land and pressure for development intensified. Many benefits can be reaped from such practical planning.