Defining ‘Urban Greenspace’

Vijaylakshmi Suman

One of the aspects which I am planning to analyze for my doctoral study is how urban greenspaces are defined and understood by not just the people living around it, but also by planners and researchers. As part of the research process, I have been looking at several studies to find common definitions of greenspace. While reading, I have found that a lot of the publications have not defined what they mean by the term ‘greenspace’. In addition to that, they do not have the same concept of greenspace, which limits the ability of a researcher to draw meanings or to synthesize. Some of the interpretations that are used to define and understand greenspace are synonymous with nature while others explicitly comprehend it as urban vegetation. In addition to that, greenspace is also understood as a network that forms the green infrastructure at the city level. Other common terms to understand greenspaces include open space, urban vegetation, parks, remnant patches, home gardens and roadside streetscapes. Since a lot of the literature include agricultural land as a kind of green space, it’s usage is not similar to that of urban parks, forests etc.

Since different disciplines have different research objectives, due to lack of common terms, it would be also difficult to have consensus on how they are used. To carry out multi-disciplinary research or to perform comparative studies, a clear definition is critical for researchers. The paper by Taylor & Houchuli (2017), has done intensive literature review and looked at how the definition of greenspace has been used by different disciplines, languages and cultures.

An Urban Greenspace
Image Credit: Matthias Süßen; Wikimedia Commons

While studying different case studies, the authors have highlighted that many cases often assume a single understanding of greenspace, but in reality, they could not manage to articulate one. However, they also suggest that it is not useful to impose a single definition for common terms. Rather, they are of the view that, by providing a meaningful definition of what the terms mean for each study, greenspace might be understood differently across disciplines, cultures and contexts. For instance, in interpreting greenspaces in the urban context, one could expect patterns of environmental structures or functions that could be used to make comparisons globally. 

Defining common terms for greenspaces creates an opportunity for meta-analysis. This shall also foster multidisciplinary[1] and interdisciplinary[2] research and synthesis. Having a common but context-specific understanding will be helpful for researchers to have clear definitions, or else, the risk of personal interpretation and generalization may hamper having a common understanding for future research. The overall recommendation by authors is to have a definition that could help in both, qualitative and quantitative research.


[1] Research in which different disciplines work independently on a common problem or research question. The findings from each discipline are supplementary to each other.

[2] A mode of research that brings together knowledge from two or more disciplines to advance fundamental understanding, where solutions are beyond the scope of a single discipline or area of research practice.

Reference

Taylor, L., & Hochuli, D. F. (2017). Defining greenspace: Multiple uses across multiple disciplines. Landscape and Urban Planning158, 25-38.

Featured Image by Matthias Süßen; Wikimedia Commons

About the Author
About the Author

Vijaylakshmi completed her M.A in Environment and Development from the School of Human Ecology, Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD). Ever since, she has been specifically interested in Restoration Ecology, and also completed a dissertation on the restoration and recreation of the Dheerpur wetlands in the Yamuna floodplains of Delhi, by focusing on ecological and social referencing. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Human Ecology from AUD.

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