Urban greening is gaining importance in city planning and European legislation. Take the EU’s 2030 biodiversity strategy, or the Green City Accord initiative. Both demand that nature gets a place in cities by the enhancement of biodiversity and the quality of green areas, to preserve the value of nature while “improving the wellbeing of all citizens”. Green spaces have been shown to be especially effective when it comes to promoting the wellbeing of communities with low socio-economic status. Yet these communities often lack access to such spaces. Public green spaces only represent a small portion of total green areas in European cities (on average 3% of the total city area), and the quality of these spaces is generally low. Furthermore, housing prices increase when houses are close to or in green areas, making access to these areas difficult for those who need them the most. It begs the question: What has led to this disparity in access to green spaces?
It is safe to say that legislation and urban planners are not putting enough emphasis on the social context in which green areas should be located. Rather than focusing on what communities in such areas need the most, legislators and planners are attempting to preserve the value of nature as something external to human beings and the social systems they operate in. The externalization of nature essentially reduces nature to fit the capitalist paradigm, making it fall prey to its emphasis on self-interest, competition, and private property. However, we should realize that the value of nature depends on the relationship we have with it. Value systems are human processes that depend on the social and geographical context in which the system is embedded. It is the role green areas play in communities with low socio-economic status that give them their value, this value is not intrinsic to the green area itself. Valuing nature should therefore essentially be about cultivating values that prioritize an equitable relationship between humans and nature.
This does not mean we cannot value nature as part of urban planning and Green City legislation. Rather, the focus should primarily be on the social context in which nature is valued. Given the fact that urban greening is prioritized to increase wellbeing, planning and legislation must target communities with low socio-economic status. Thus, rather than trying to capture nature’s intrinsic value, urban greening should be about cultivating equitable access to urban green areas.