People holding a key to a secret garden

Green is for everyone

#Accessibility

Sustainable and just cities respond to the ecological crisis by developing greener infrastructure and services that are accessible to all urban dwellers. In these cities, a person’s disability, gender, class, race, age, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, to name just a few, are not barriers. Everyone has equal access to urban amenities, green infrastructure, mobility, job opportunities, housing, food and energy. Accessibility is not only a physical issue, such as access to public space, it is also an economic issue (e.g. affordability), a knowledge one (e.g. language used), a social one (e.g. homelessness) and a political one (e.g. transparency in decision-making).

Related keys: #Economy  #Power  #Nature 

Here, the application of Nature-based Solutions for health and equality is crucial, as the approach focuses on how residents in all urban areas can benefit from greening interventions, as opposed to just a privileged few. Yet making urban sustainability accessible also means cultivating community and providing opportunities for residents to live dignified and healthy lives, especially those who have been targeted by systematic exclusion and discrimination. This type of community focused and driven work towards accessibility is evidenced by the right to housing movement and the expansion of community gardens. Often, exclusion from sustainability initiatives and benefits is a combined result of underlying inequalities and exclusions. In this sense, other helpful inclusion-oriented approaches can be used, like participative budgeting schemes, alternative financial practices and instruments (e.g., public ownership of services such as water and energy-services) and policies and practices for inclusion of disadvantaged groups. 

Increasing accessibility to green space requires more (and more meaningful) opportunities for public participation. Only by including the voices of socio-economically vulnerable groups in the process of shaping sustainability initiatives, can procedural justice be pursued. Thus, problems of accessibility otherwise invisible or unknown to planners and politicians can be paid due attention. This inclusion also needs to be complemented by policies that build bridges between separate, and even potentially opposed social groups. Finally, developing resilient and self-sufficient financing arrangements is fundamental for the creation of new tools and pathways that facilitate accessibility to urban environments.

Urban green spaces are unevenly distributed and accessed. This is related to the presence of historical inequities in the ways these spaces have been created and regulated. Examples are the racialized disinvestment in low-income, Indigenous, and communities of colour versus heavy investment in wealthy, white neighbourhoods. As cities put more money into sustainability without addressing the pre-existing landscape of inequity, gentrification and exclusion often follow, reproducing the very issues that city administrations are seeking to reverse. Increasing accessibility can address trends of racially or ethnically exclusionary urbanization and uneven access to the benefits of sustainability infrastructure through more equitable distribution of interventions and better representation of minorities and vulnerable groups in decision-making processes. 

Video: Exclusive Access to Benefits of Urban Sustainability Infrastructure

Video: Racialized or Ethnically Exclusionary Urbanization

  • “Accessibility is by law, a need in our society. It is clear that our society is changing (i.e. older, more nationalities and cultures sharing spaces) and cities have to make sure everyone can enjoy and live there.” (Pau Pamplona)
  • “I think accessibility should also be beyond physical spaces. How to access information. How to communicate through e-platforms. How to access education. How to access democratic online participation tools.” (Pilar Orero)
  • “Accessibility is essential for cities to ensure that its inhabitants, who are more often than not migrants, do not feel alienated. Keeping in mind the nature of employment in cities, this become doubly important to ensure the psychological wellbeing of inhabitants.” (Rohit Sarma)

Inspirational example

Policies for accessibility to green spaces, Lyon & Nantes

In the City of Lyon (France) a new policy was introduced in 2019 that establishes a minimum of green space in new development, seeking to encourage urban renovations, protect natural areas and enhance heritage and urban functions, while improving housing affordability. 

This policy aimed to ensure greater accessibility to urban green spaces for residents, who (at the time) only had access (in terms of walkable distances, or convenient public transport) to 10% of the city’s relatively abundant available green space. While this policy recognizes the ample recreational, health, and biodiversity benefits of green, a lack of attention to accessibility could mean that these efforts focus on the development of higher (multi-storey) buildings, something that could make natural areas less accessible, enjoyable or welcoming than originally desired. 

Another example is the greening strategy of Nantes (France), implemented since the 1980s and dedicating 6% of the city’s total budget to green space. The strategy favours an equality-driven approach that seeks to guarantee access to green space throughout the entire municipality: The plan aims for green spaces within 300 meters of the homes of Nantes’ residents. From 1984 to 2015, green spaces doubled, reaching 57 m2 of green space per capita for a total of 100 municipal parks. The city’s green space strategy combines small neighborhood parks, green corridors and large city-wide historic parks. 

Avenues for action

You might be wondering, what everyday actions can I take to put all this theory into practice? Take a look at the avenues for action, below, for some practical guidance.

Get inspired!

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