Green spaces offer solution to heat in urban areas

A roof garden at Morningside Office Suites along Ngong Road, Nairobi. Green spaces in cities mitigate the effects of pollution.  [iStockphoto]

This week, I visited Limuru on the outskirts of Nairobi, where a massive project has a proper mix of houses, roads, other infrastructure and social amenities.

In the project spanning over 2,000 acres, are enough green spaces and safe areas for jogging and other recreational activities. They call it a mixed-use facility, but what impressed me was how different developers have worked together to plan the massive land to provide space for a lot of services and facilities, without forgetting vegetation.

My worry is whether this will be sustainable, how the project owners plan to restrict carbon emissions that may ensue, including from the industries that may start businesses therein; and whether the local community will be part of the efforts envisioned by the project owners.

A lot of the new so-called low-cost housing projects aim to achieve one main goal; enabling as many people to afford well-done houses. Many of these projects only focus on the housing aspect but forget that the communities will need fresh air, especially with the likely presence of methane from landfills and poorly managed solid waste, and worse, the heat that emanates from the mainly concrete island.

For instance, a different project somewhere in Ongata Rongai, offers a perfect opportunity for people to acquire far much cheaper houses. The difference with the Limuru one is that this is far much cheaper. However, it lacks consideration for green spaces. Any space unoccupied by houses is either roads, or cabro parking and pavements. For lack of a better description, and from an aerial view, this is a small concrete island.

Such spaces are easiest to maintain. They are clean and good for children to play, while vehicles parked therein rarely get dirty. Houses are also likely to remain clean, as the outside is never muddy even when it rains.

For many projects, concrete is an easier option because it is cheaper to produce, and can work for walls, roofs, streets, and even the roads. On the other hand, concrete has a negative side, especially concerning life on earth.

According to scientists, and as presented during the climate negotiations in Egypt in 2022, at least 27 per cent of industrial carbon emissions emanate from the construction industry. The emissions spoken of encompass those from concrete, steel and iron production.

But concrete is a special one. On hot days, large areas covered with concrete form a heat island effect, which on a larger scale, can be understood to mean hotter areas than those of their surroundings.

Besides, considering that the construction of such huge projects comes with loss of biodiversity when land is cleared and more living organisms either killed or trapped under houses and pavements, a little more effort is needed to provide for those that can survive and multiply even after construction is completed.

Providing green spaces is therefore important for the construction industry, first as a means to cover for emissions caused during production of materials and the effect of the same on the environment.

Secondly, it gives a chance for life to continue on the Earth’s surface. Certain organisms that complete the ecosystem must be allowed room to mate and reproduce.

Bees, for instance, are key in pollination, and mass destruction of their habitats or sources of food occasioned by construction may affect their ability to perform. This may mess humans directly through food production.

Since there is no reliable replacement for concrete, especially in the Global South, a deliberate decision to leave room for green spaces during construction will do.

-The writer advocates climate justice. [email protected]