Sustainability & climate

Our cities can be good for the planet

Investments in green public spaces can build a healthier future for communities and nature.

Published on April 22, 2024 by Jen Angel, CEO of Evergreen

Evergreen Brick Works

This Earth Day, I’m celebrating in the city. Why the city and not out in the woods somewhere? Because in the best cities, we don’t have to choose between people and nature. Nowhere is this harmony more apparent than in green and inclusive public spaces.


Every sidewalk, park, school ground, library, waterfront, commons, trail and waterway we invest in helps to repair an urban fabric that has for too long put humans at odds with nature and, increasingly, with each other. Investing in green public spaces is not only essential for the planet, but for human health and socio-economic wellbeing too.


According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, nature-based solutions, including urban green spaces, can provide up to 37% of the climate mitigation needed to reach 2030 targets. Research shows that not only can urban green spaces sequester carbon, they can also help cool our cities, mitigate flooding, support biodiversity and increase community resilience to climate change.


Green and inclusive public spaces can also bring us together with nature and each other. I get to see this magic unfold at Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto. The adaptive reuse of a once abandoned brick factory is now an award-winning example of regenerative infrastructure, a restored ecological site rich in biodiversity, and a place for community to connect, learn and support local businesses.


Indeed, accessible and welcoming spaces like this even provide strong benefits to human health: access and proximity to green spaces are correlated with reduced rates of chronic illness and improvements in mental health, social interaction, and community cohesion. So, being outside and having face-to-face interactions with our neighbours is not only good for us but is good for our democracy, too.


Public spaces are also relevant to other pressing societal needs. As we work to urgently address the housing shortage, we need to build more dense housing in cities where amenities and supporting infrastructure already exist. More people living in smaller footprints means we need green public spaces more than ever to gather, play and breathe.


Canada’s recently announced Housing Plan, which incentivizes density to existing homes, above businesses, and along transit lines, is a step in the right direction. By attaching conditionality to infrastructure investment, we can ensure our investment of scarce public dollars works harder, and we can address multiple challenges and public policy objectives at the same time.


The same can be true of investments in public space. They too can benefit our communities in more ways than one. A recent University of Waterloo study of a new park in Peterborough demonstrated a $6.4M investment returned at least $4M annually in economic benefits related to health and wellbeing alone.


We have many existential challenges to solve and scarce public funds to invest. It makes sense then to prioritize projects that bring ideas and resources together across sectors that can solve more than one problem at the same time (not solve one problem by making others worse). Great public spaces in our cities are potent tools to support the wellbeing of both people and the planet. We need more of them in our cities, and we need to protect the ones we already have.


This Earth Day, I find hope in green public spaces and see a future where every neighbourhood has access to the beauty and benefits they provide.


Our cities don’t have to be grey. Support vibrant public places by donating today.  

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