SEVERAL studies have shown that there are real mental health benefits to having greener cities. One published in the Journal of the American Medical Association detailed a case of how the conversion of abandoned lots in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania into community parks and gardens actually led to a 68-percent decrease in residents’ feelings of depression, particularly among those living below the poverty line.
Interestingly, a recent Aarhus University, Denmark study related satellite maps of Denmark’s greenery with incidences of schizophrenia and found that those who did not have access to green spaces within 210 square meters of their homes were 50-percent more likely to succumb to the mental illness.
The Greek philosopher Socrates once said: “By far, the greatest and most admirable form of wisdom is that needed to plan and to beautify cities and human communities.” Yet, data would show that even if we have our own share of “wise” urban planners and designers, their wisdom hasn’t been really put to good use, especially in terms of greening our cities.
For instance, in the 2012 Asian Green City Index — a study of 22 major, often high-density Asian cities across certain criteria — Metro Manila registered very low in terms of the amount of green spaces available per inhabitant. Where residents in Singapore had access to 66 square meters of green space; 50 in Taipei; 44 in Kuala Lumpur; 27 in London; 23 in New York City; 19 in Shanghai; and 17 in Hanoi; those in Metro Manila had only 4.5 square meters. Only those in Bangkok, Jakarta and Kolkata had access to fewer green spaces.
Congestion due to poor planning has also led to an urban landscape that favors cars and other motor vehicles, making it inconvenient — sometimes dangerous — for people to travel around as pedestrians.
It’s no wonder then that a 2017 Stanford University survey of 111 countries determined that Filipinos were the 4th most lethargic or physically inactive people in the world, walking only 4,008 steps or 4.6 kilometers a day. In contrast, the most active — those from Hong Kong — walk close to 7,000 steps or six kilometers a day.
The Philippines may be a country endowed with so much natural beauty. But clearly, we have not done such a good job with building up our cityscapes and ensuring that our urban spaces truly nurture life and promote productivity.
This is why the Department of Budget and Management’s (DBM) new program called “Green, Green, Green” is auspicious, as it marks a decisive step towards unleashing the wisdom of our urban design and planning experts across the country in tandem with our Local Government Units (LGUs), particularly cities.
Under this year’s budget, up to P2.6 billion has been set aside — as the assistance to cities (AC) component of the Local Government Support Fund (LGSF) — for grants and support for projects that involve enriching open spaces; establishing forest parks and botanical gardens; installing benches and proper shading to streetscapes; setting up bikeways and walking lanes; and constructing other “green” infrastructure.
While such projects are definitely about making our cities beautiful and greener, they’re also about making them more resilient, especially in the face of the devastating effects of climate change.
Out of the country’s 145 cities, 143 expressed interest when the DBM launched the program earlier this year. And out of that number, 65 cities recently comprised the first batch of recipients of assistance of various amounts depending on the project scope, population size and land area covered.
Ours is such a beautiful country. It’s only right that we build up our cities to amplify, not diminish, that beauty.
Senator Sonny Angara was elected in 2013, and now chairs the Senate committees on local government, and ways and means. (Email: [email protected]| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara)/PN