Marga López | Fundació ENT
The cimate emergency is a fact. It has been for decades But we needed to reach a limited situation before stopping and paying attention. We haven’t got to work yet. Large forests are disappearing, in fact, they are producing now more CO2 than is captured, the ice from polar regions is becoming liquid and threatens to cover coastal zones in other areas. Animal and vegetal biodiversity is fading with serious consequences toagriculture productions. And the great powers are focusing their interests on the Arctic region or rainforests to take advantage of natural resources that, in fact, belong to all of us.
The pandemic has highlighted the need and the availability of free areas in urban environments. In order to guarantee safety after the lockdown, a minimum distance between people has to bebe kept, which could be a little difficult if all of us decided to go out at the same time. Some recommendations indicate no less than 10-15m2 per inhabitant. In an area such as Baix Llobregat, with a population of over 830.000 inh, the minimum space to achieve this condition should be, at least, 834 ha. The truth is that only 5,8m2 is available per person, and when refering to forest, it is reduced to 2,3m2. And hen refering to urban parks, the value is as low as below 1m2. Several studies demonstrate the health benefits of green areas in urban cities, such as a better intellectual ability of children or lower mortality (Rojas-Rueda et al., 2019; Bijnenens et al., 2020). In fact, some recommendations propose less than 300 m to green areas (European Environment Agency, 2002; Natural England, 2010; ten Brink et al, 2016) and in the Baix Llobregat only people living onthe limit of the municipality or near a park achieve this.
The main activity in the Baix Llobregat is agriculture given the quality of deltaic soil, with indigenous products such as El Prat’s artichokes, Gava’s asparagus, Baix Llogregat’s cherries or El Prat’s bluelegged cocks. Also, there is the Delta del Llobregat, with more than 900 ha of a Special Protection Area for birds (SPA) under Xarxa Natura 2000, of which 500 ha is a Partial Natural Reserve. These areas are threatened by residential construction and by the extension of Barcelona’s Airport.
The construction peak appeared between the last years of the 90s and mid 2000s, when in Catalonia more than 120.000 property development activities were started and only 80.000 were finalised. Also, with the economic crisis that came after, construction was reduced to values of below 20.000, and the rate of completion was in line with construction. The population density of Baix Llobregat increased from 1.347 inh/km2 in 1998 to 1.714 in 2021.
The forecast for the total crude growth rate is decreasing in the last years, with values of 0,25 inh per 1000 inh in 2020. This is an increase of 210 people. In all municipalities of the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona there has been a regression for the same period of -0.9 inh per 1000. This last period has been impacted by the pandemic, working from home or new working activities, promoting population movement towards areas far from the metropolis.
Even though, there are property development initiatives going on in under-pressure areas such as Baix Llobregat. Currently, the town planning includes more than 30 projects which affect nearly 2000 ha, of which 700 would accommodate up to 70.000 flats. These plans come from the past century and no updating has been done. In an area where the growth rate is decreasing. Paved soil increases and opportunities to increase room for people are being lost. With this, it is unlikely to reach 10-15m2 per inh. Maybe there is enough room to support this urban growth, but it is not sustainable nor necessary in current conditions. In all the Baix Llobregat area about 10% of dwellings are vacant.
Innovative projects about Green Cities promote the creation of real green areas (FAO, 2020a) apart from the already existing, which is not the same ascreating new urban areas along with green areas. The balance is clear: the former increases total green areas while with the latter the total green surface is reduced and the number of new green areas increases. The property developments can include a flower bed when accounting for green areas.
Usually, decisions about the implementation of green areas and the people in charge are interested parties (Jornada Green Cities, 2021), previous or current actions in the individual sphere seem not to be relevant. This is a contradiction.
Green areas as parks, gardens, squares, etc., play an important role in societies, and most of them are linked in the urban areas between generations and different social layers. They have been areas for assembly, social activities, neighbourhood integration, events, sports…, open areas to enjoy nature inside the cities, as urban gardens, which recover activities far from urban life and that can be lost if green areas are not preserved. The frequent abandoning and consequent degradation of these areas is usually the reason to transform, urbanise and privatise the territory, giving a lucrative interest.
It is obvious that for local administration the revenues from building activities is a main source that can reach up to 50% of the total budget. Even though, the current circumstances of the climate , social and health emergencies require more effort from these administrations to find better economic alternatives and to be more imaginative when searching for economic resources. And this is not a question of ignorance. It is a question of assessment, usually subjective, partial, selfish, and biased. Some things must be priceless, whosevalue can’t be calculatedconsidering their role to society like urban green areas. A flower bed is not a green area. A green building is not a green area. To restore a degraded path is not to increase the green areas… It is necessary that interests, particularly economic, and real need to happen at the same time. If it is not like this, the sustainability concept collapses and all the rest will be only amendments.
How do we get to polar regions? Well, this association can be made: if people are happy in their area, they enjoy it, use it and this means that these areas are kept in good conditions by the local administration. Giv value things near us and protect them, because they cover everyone’s needs. Living in the area, using the local commerce and enriching the area, fills it. Spending more time outside, leads to better health and makes stronger communities. If working from homeis allowed, no regular transport is needed. Less transport, both public and private, and consequently less energetic consumption. The ecological footprint is reduced. And consequently, it contributes to a reduction of the degradation of polar regions.
Well, it can be utopic, but if these areas are lost no utopia can have a place. Let’s think about what we do. And Baix Llobregat, is just an example…
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