I'm not entirely sure why, but for some reason our holiday to Phuket has got me thinking about green spaces, or more specifically, the lack of green spaces in Vientiane. Its strange, because we didn't visit any parks in Phuket, or get a larger dose of "green". The only connection I can find in my head is that we spent time at the beach, and being outdoors in nature. Maybe that is what it is: I miss nature.
Anyway, since I starting thinking about it, I can't stop.
I've been thinking a lot of the bigger picture of Asia and development and urban planning. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) website says that cities in Asia have grown faster than any other urban area in the world. By 2022 there will be more people living in cities than in the countryside in Asia. ADB conducted interviews of people in Vietnam about what they wanted to see in their cities and the response were following:
In harmony with nature
More small parks
More spaces for children
Exactly what i would want from a city!
Unfortunately, this is far from the reality in a lot of Asia cities, Vientiane included. Everywhere I look there is construction happening. At the end of our street there is a canal. When we got to Vientiane if you looked past the canal you would see open scrub and the river. Since then, in 5 months, this scrub has been demolished and a huge new shopping centre is being constructed. The rate of construction is incredible!
The World Health Organisation recommends that cities provide 9 square metres of unpaved open space for every inhabitant. I don't have a figure on Vientiane but Bangkok had 3.3sm. This is in stark contrast to my home town of Melbourne which has a whopping 17.8% of the city as green space.
As I look around Vientiane and how much it is changing I know that it will rapidly be a different city. I will come back in 5-10 years time and there will be parts of the city that I won't recognise. I just hope that it learns from previous Asian cities to consider open areas with trees and parks. We know that they reduce pollution, improve air quality and reduce temperatures.
Vientiane does have some green. There is quite a large park along the river very close to us. The road between the park and the river is closed to traffic in the evening and it seems that everyone in Vientiane is down there to enjoy the fresh air and a bit of badminton/aerobics/soccer/roller blading. We are lucky to have this area so close. The park is also home to Vientiane's only public playground (that we know of).
Anyway, I don't really have any exciting conclusions or grand ideas from these thoughts. If I was an urban planner maybe I would. But it has been interesting to research and to actually find research that confirms that the residents of green cities are actually happier. I, for one, have been trying to spend more time outdoors walking along the river and getting out of the city on the weekends and into green spaces. A few weekends ago we headed to an eco resort with a little stream and rock pools. It was lovely to get away from the concrete and back to nature.
The only playground in Vientiane
A bit of green at Patuxay
Aerobics by the river every evening