'Urban green spaces (UGS)' is a broad term that is used to refer to the green and blue spaces that are found within the confines of major cities. These spaces are of different and diverse forms; they may take the form of grand public parks, urban forests, private/community gardens, aerial gardens or even elevated gardens on building walls. To add to this list, roadside greeneries, cemetery grass covers, water parks, are also considered urban green and blue spaces. There are numerous definitions which vary based on context the term UGS is used. According to Smith & Humphreys (2006), UGS can be classified quantitatively or qualitatively. Quantitative classification considers the size in acreage or square meters covered or the number of people that can use the park maximally, while qualitative analysis is based on the maintenance levels, biological and botanical diversity of the UGS.
Urban green parks have numerous social-cultural and individual benefits to urban dwellers. Firstly, UGS promote the health and wellbeing of both physically and mentally either directly or indirectly. Direct health effects and wellness effects could be from the recreational and sporting activities that urban dwellers can conduct in the green parks. Indirect effects are attributed to the air purification effects of vegetation (Pauleit, Zolch, Hansen, Randrup, & van den Bosch, 2017). Secondly, urban green parks promote cultural cohesion as they provide people with a place to meet with people of diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. Such interactions are crucial towards fostering coexistence in urban cosmopolitan urban centers (Neal, S., Bennett, Jones, Cochrane& Mohan, 2015). The parks also promote cultural heritage as indigenous people living far away from their rural homes have a place where they can hold cultural occasions and interact with nature. This is highly beneficial to their physical and mental health and wellbeing. This is a qualitative research that evaluates the role of urban blue and green spaces in bringing together urban communities despite their social-cultural backgrounds. It also analyzes the various cultural practices that indigenous people carry out in such spaces and how they promote their cultural identity and how these activities contribute to their health and well-being.
The Issue of Urban Planning and Development
The global rate of urbanization has been increasing at a fast rate since the 1900 and the trend is projected to increase (WHO, 2011). More people now prefer living in urban centers to the countryside. The problem of urbanization is more serious in developing countries than in developed countries. These countries face numerous challenges due to the fast rate of economic and population growth (Stern & Seifert, 2007). These factors have led to increased land use for construction purposes. This in turn exerts more pressure on urban planners due to the environmental and social-cultural implications of excessive consumption of land for construction of physical structures.
It is particularly harder to plan and manage urban centers in developing countries than it is in developed countries. In most developed countries, urban centers are planned such that green and blue spaces are protected and well maintained. Therefore, these spaces are not threatened by the increasing population of urban dwellers and construction projects (Lord & Coffey, 2019). On the contrary, in developing countries, urban green spaces are being replaced with mega constructions that are deemed more beneficial in terms of revenue generation. This cannot be solely blamed on poor planning, but also on various challenges such as overpopulation and harsh climatic conditions (Russ, & Krasny, 2017). It is challenging for some cities in developing countries to manage urban green spaces. This makes the remaining urban parks less attractive to the public, thereby missing the desired goal of setting aside such parks (Hunter& Luck 2015). Gearey, Robertson, Anderson, Barros & Cracknell. (2019), believe that poor urban planning and failure to protect urban green spaces leads to increased air pollution; which is harmful to the health and well-being of urban dwellers. Without UGS set aside for recreation and social-cultural interactions, the divide between the city dwellers widens further. Indigenous people are the most disadvantaged as they have no venue to do their cultural practices or connect with nature/environment as they are far away from their countryside homes.
The number of indigenous people living in urban centers is increasing at a fast rate globally. For instance, 60% of the indigenous population of panama lives in its capital city with the same case witnessed in Maracaibo Venezuela. Other cities in the world that have a large population of indigenous communities living in them include San Jose (Costa Rica), Lapaz (Bolivia), Colombo (Sri Lanka) and Fernheim (Paraguay). The rationale is that failure to setup, safeguard and maintain urban green spaces leads to cultural erosion and also has negative effects on the health and wellbeing of indigenous people. According to Herbert, (2016), Indigenous communities living in urban centers risk losing their traditional lifestyle and cultural practices, knowledge and also face the risk alienation by other communities that do not support their cultural practices.
The conditions in which urban indigenous communities live in are far much different than the living conditions in the countryside. They have to adapt to living in houses that do not represent their traditions or culture. This further complicates the process of passing on cultural knowledge and holding cultural events that are usually held in the open in the countryside. Several studies have shown that the lives of indigenous communities living in urban centers are greatly improved if they remain attached to their cultural practices (Gearey, et al., 2019), Research studies of urban indigenous people in North America and countries like sri lanka lived a more comfortable life because they remained attached to their spiritual way of life despite being miles away from their ancestral homes (World Health Organization, 2011). The various cultural practices that urban indigenous communities engage in help them forget about past acts of injustice, historical loss and discrimination and also helps them stay desist from vices such as suicides and over indulgence in drugs.
Urban Green Spaces in Relation to Health and Wellbeing of Urban Dwellers
Research studies have shown that environmental diversity in urban areas has the ability to improve the quality of life of the urban population significantly (O'Brien, De Vreese, Kern, Sievanen, Stojanova, & Atmis, 2017). The growing interest in the topic of the role of urban green spaces is the availability of evidence showing the positive impacts of urban green spaces on the health and wellbeing of people living in urban regions. The wide range of urban green spaces based on structure, composition, and scale satisfy many social-cultural and health/wellbeing needs of the different communities living in urban centers (van den Bosch & Bird, 2018). Currently, there is a lot of evidence to show that there are numerous health and wellbeing benefits that arise from exposure to natural environments like urban green spaces. Vegetation in urban green spaces facilitates the formation of airborne microbes and influences the release of compounds and negative ions that are crucial to human health and wellbeing (Pauleit et al., 2017). Interaction with the natural environment has been seen to lower inflammations and increase levels of immunity. The increased immunity is crucial in combating immunological ailments such as allergies and asthma.
Human health and wellbeing is positively impacted by physical exercise and social interactions. People are free to engage in physical exercises in public parks, roadside parks, or any other urban green park (Konijnendijk, Annerstedt, Nielsen, & Maruthaveeran, 2019). It is needless to emphasize the numerous benefits of physical activities on the human body. Generally, the role played by urban and green spaces towards psychological and physical wellbeing of urban dwellers is great. Moreover, green surroundings aid in the development of movement skills in children and also provide them with learning opportunities (Hunter & Luck, 2015). For indigenous urban residents whose children have never been to the countryside, it is important for them if their children have a place where they can interact with nature away from the chaotic and polluted urban settlements (Van Uchelen, Davidson, Quressette, Brasfield, and Demerais, 1997). This creates a sense of cultural identity.
Socializing and engaging in physical exercises with other people also serves to reduce stress levels. Smith & Humphreys (2006) established that while nature parks were more popular, greener and thicker parks are more effective in reducing stress levels. Yang & Matthews (2010), insist that urban green spaces do not reduce stress and agitation levels by only providing a place for recreation. Venn & Niemela (2004), argue that just by being in green scenery, the human body receives the positive health effects that the green environment generates. These effects lower blood pressure and enable people to concentrate more, thereby leading to reduced generation of stress hormones. Further, studies indicate that people are attracted to parks which differ in characteristics due to their cultural, social, emotional, physical, and psychological needs (Lee, Jordan & Horsley, 2015). People in a stressed or depressed state of mind prefer parks with serene characteristics as they need peace of mind to think clearly. According to Neal, et al., (2015), urban green spaces are important especially for indigenous communities as the day to day activities in the city are busy and exhausting and require a serene environment for the brain to take in everything. Before indigenous people adapt to the city life, they face difficulties that sometimes lead to headaches and depression disorders.
As urban green spaces provide a place for indigenous communities to meet and conduct their cultural and spiritual practices while socializing with other urban residents of different cultures. This fact alone shows the role played by urban green parks in promotion and strengthening of the cultural identity of indigenous urban dwellers (Hall & Barrett, 2018). Studies on Native American Indians living in urban centers in the United States shows that their strict adherence to social and cultural norms (also known as enculturation) helps in discouraging the youth from engaging in drug and substance abuse (Hunter & Luck, 2015). This has also helped reduce the number of suicide cases associated with depression and stress disorders among youths. Native Indian youths are counseled by the elders on the importance of cultural identity and living in harmony with other urban communities. This helped them overcome stress that most marginalized urban indigenous communities go through as a result of discrimination and cultural loss.
Urban Green Spaces and Spirituality
Connecting With Larger Reality
Urban green spaces promote the coexistence of different communities by connecting them with nature and offering them a meeting place. The connection between people and the natural environment away from the chaos and the noise of the crowded cities inspires them to think about beings that are beyond them (Hopkins, 2016). For urban indigenous communities, they have an opportunity to carry out their religious rituals and communicate with their superior beings. Some indigenous communities consider the natural elements such...
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