By Gerald Mills, School of Geography, University College Dublin

Green spaces serve important functions in cities including contributing to human health and wellbeing and providing a range of environmental services. The latter offset many of the undesirable aspects of urbanization such as the increased risk of flooding, poor air quality and loss of biodiversity. Green cover includes parks, individual trees, grass margins, green roofs, etc. but its ability to provide environmental services depends on their extent and design. In general, the greater the proportion of green space and the more diverse its content, the greater its environmental impact; so for example, the impact of Phoenix Park (1,770 acres) will be greater than that of Merrion Square park (12 acres). However, when we examine the broader value of green spaces location and connectivity are also important.  Taken together, these attributes of green cover are aspects of a green ‘infrastructure’ that provide valuable economic, social and environmental services.

At the scale of the city, Dublin is a green city. However, much of the green space is concentrated in large public parks (e.g. Bushy Park in Terenure, St Anne’s Park in Clontarf) or in private gardens. For the most part, the level of greening increases with distance from the Spire. The city centre itself (defined as the area between the canals) is relatively barren apart from some of the better known parks (Stephen’s Green and Merrion, Mountjoy and Pearse Squares). Other green spaces (e.g. Trinity College and Fitzwilliam square) are private and while they provide important functions their broader societal contribution is limited. Tree canopy cover is an especially important measure of urban greening, especially as trees are planted on streets and counter the effects of paving and traffic.  The map below shows the canopy cover in Dublin’s city centre and shows both the relative lack of large trees and their concentration in some parts, mostly the south-west part and Phoenix park to the west.

Figure 1: Dublin’s green infrastructure

Increasing the green cover is an important goal, especially in the city centre where the resident and working population is growing and fewer people have access to private gardens. Greening does not need to be a complex or costly issue and there are many very simple strategies that might be taken to greening the city. Naturally, greening strategies should account for environmental and social needs and be placed within a spatial framework to ensure fairness among the diverse communities. The redevelopment of parts of inner city Dublin provides a rare opportunity to re-make the urban landscape for future generations. However this requires a focus on the wider value of the urban environment beyond just economic gain.

For more on this urban environment work at UCD School of Geography, click here.