As I begin my second trip to Southeast Asia, after spending a year living in upstate NY—surrounded by mountains and trees—arriving in Bangkok was extremely discouraging to an environmentalist. Bangkok, Thailand has developed rapidly with little efforts towards urban planning. The city grows as new buildings are constructed and then the sky-rail is expanded to follow them. It can be mentally draining being isolated from anything green within developing urban centers. The few green spaces are located along the river or far from the city center, and these are the spaces of life! Your morning aerobics, afternoon steel drum jamming, and evening pop dancing classes. Green open spaces attract human action, movement, life, and general artistic practices.
A few friends that I have made in Bangkok have all said that in the evenings the go-to places are bars, galleries, and public green spaces/parks. This philosophy of young professionals isn’t any different than that found in New York City. Green spaces exist as a community empowering space that by design cannot exclude anyone or thing and supports life of all forms. It is a space that intersects ecology, community, and design.
There are countless studies done on the physical and psychological health benefits of residency within close proximity to green urban spaces. In addition to human health, access to green spaces is believed to foster urbanites’ spiritual connection with nature and to inspire a sense of responsibility to protect the health of our greater ecosystem.
In Phnom Phen, Cambodia, the only green spaces are the public squares and the area near the water front. This is where community flourishes. Women sell full meals out of carts—or mobile cooking pots they carry around on sticks balancing them on their shoulders or head. This is the space where teenagers will come out at night and dance to pop khmer songs all in unison. This is the space where you go on your first date, and this is the place where you go at 6am to get your morning yoga/pilates/exercise/stretching game on. Humans are attracted to green space, which is pure inspiration.
Back to Union College in Schenectady NY, our on-campus green spaces serve as a laboratory for environmental studies course, guitars are played, philosophy courses are taught, and naps are taken. Urban Designers and planners need to listen to the people and the environment’s needs and assure the sustainability and accessibility of public urban green spaces.
This blog post is an effort to express my personal amazement of the communities and life that is fostered from urban green spaces universally.