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Whose Park?

It appears that it is not clear what Mijn Park is about and who is doing the research. Well, my name is Bep Schrammeijer. I grew up in Tasmania, Australia but am a returned second generation emigrant. My mother’s parents were from Groningen, and my father grew up in Amsterdam, so I feel I do have some mokum-dna. Despite this my Dutch may still read a little like a google – so sorry ‘bout that, but I do need the practice…

As a PhD researcher at the Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM) at the Vrije Universiteit (VU)  in Amsterdam, I am researching public values of urban green spaces. With Mijn Park I am trying to measure these public values. The name Mijn Park Amsterdam refers to the idea that the green spaces in the city should be linked together to form one integrated green infrastructure, or one large park, providing access to green spaces for all Amsterdammers. But, what do you think of Your Park Amsterdam?
In my first project I tested the use of an app to measure how people experience and use the Rembrandtpark [you can see some very brief results here]. Now I want to find out what people need in their neighbourhood and which green public places provide what they need – and especially those in areas where a lot of development is planned. To find this out I am using an online survey where you can also give answers on a map [you can take part here].

The reason I want to find out more about this is because we don’t know much about for who and how and where green spaces are important in the city. Researchers and policy makers do agree on a few things, like that biodiversity, climate adaptation, health and wellbeing are important functions provided by green spaces [see City of Amsterdam policy or Atlas Natuurlijk Kapitaal]. But if we consider health and well-being we don’t know how to measure whether a green area provides this. For example, the potential for recreation is measured by how many square metres of green space there is per resident. But, recreation can include everything from picnicking, sports or playing to walking, watching birds or simply relaxing. If we only measure in square metres and do not consider if green spaces are actually useful for the different types of recreation it could mean that some of these uses are not possible or are crowded out by others.
If we then consider that green spaces are important for stress-relief and mental health as well as physical health and social cohesion we need to make sure that there is enough green space for the quieter functions, where people can also relax, escape, come in contact with nature – if they need that. They should not feel that they are pushed out by people using the spaces for other more active or social functions.

Green spaces are also essential for liveability in urban neighbourhoods, and especially in areas where more people live close together. Now, Amsterdam plans to build more homes in a number of higher density developments [see website with project information and map of plans]. Of course green space is an important part of these developments and is (usually) taken into account in the plans. But, what does this mean for other green spaces in the area – won’t they become too busy? Can they still fulfil their functions for the current residents as well as for the new residents?
During the Corona lockdown the importance of green spaces in the city became blindingly obvious, as did the pressures they face in the more densely populated urban areas. The scarce green patches in central city neighbourhoods of Amsterdam were filled to the brim – so much so that they needed to be fenced off and people sent home. To ensure a liveable and socially sustainable city we need an adequate green (and blue) infrastructure that provides the functions people need where they need them. And any new developments should not compromise this, but add to it.

But then we need to know what people need and which types of green space fulfil those needs. Are people prepared to cycle 5 minutes to find somewhere to relax? Can a patch of grass and a couple of trees already be found relaxing? Is a winding path through different vegetation types better? And for who? Considering more vulnerable groups of our society – do they have the access they need? Do children have green places close by to play in? Do those with lower incomes, not able to pay for air conditioning, have access to cool places they can reach without melting in a heatwave? How can new developments ensure they add green space functions to the neighbourhood and not just put more pressure on existing ones?

I hope to be able to answer questions like these with this research. You can help by doing the survey and letting your friends, family and colleagues in Amsterdam know about it.

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