Green Space Issues in a European Comparative Perspective

Green Space Issues in a European Comparative Perspective- Berlin, Dublin, Marseille and Turin
by Andrew Taylor

Aims and objectives

How does the KatuMetro urban green space research that is being undertaken in Helsinki compare with urban green space research in other European cities, specifically Berlin, Dublin, Marseille and Turin? The following research questions are currently being considered:

i) What type and amount of green space exists in each city?
ii) What is the definition and function of urban green space in each city, and how has this been influenced by the European Union?
iii) Is there any evidence of urban infilling of private gardens in each city?
iv) What opinions do immigrants have on urban green space?
And finally, considering that the above information may not be under study in each city,
(v) what urban green space studies have been conducted / are on-going in each comparison city?

The outcomes to these questions will give insight into to what extent there is a European wide green space movement.


Following on from Richard Robinson’s 2011 phase I study (Antwerp, Leicester, Prague, Stockholm), I have corresponded with known contacts in each city / country for information and further contacts, as appropriate. Unfortunately this doesn’t always lead to information or a new contact, but this has at least always generated a reply and consideration of my objectives.

As the study has progressed, and I have gained an understanding of the research institutions, groups and city government departments responsible for green space, I have found new individuals to correspond with and seek assistance from. I have emailed city planning departments, relevant governmental agencies, and urban historians, geographers, sociologists and ecologists at local research institutions. The difficulty of this approach is that while the contact is likely very knowledgeable in this area, responses are rarely forthcoming. I have also noticed that considering where their expertise lies, and only asking about one dimension of the project is more likely to generate a response. I have wondered if asking four or five questions may be overwhelming.

Finally, I have conducted internet and research database searches using keywords. I have also searched relevant journals, for example urban forestry and urban greening. This approach is rather time consuming, however, the results are sometimes fruitful. Overall, this has led to the collection of large amount of information and data. A balance is currently being struck between spending time seeking new information, and analysing and reviewing the collected information.


Perhaps due to its size, its renowned association with urban ecology and history, and some political and cultural factors well recounted by Lachmund (2011), there seems to be a wealth of information on green space in Berlin.

According to the senate for urban planning of Berlin, the planning authority responsible for the city of Berlin, the major cumulative classifications of green spaces in Berlin are green and recreation areas (3% of the city area) and public green spaces (14%). The addition of forest, agriculture and water mean that open space in Berlin totals 44% of the city area. The Berlin land use plan classifies 11 types of open space: green area, parkland, cemetery, allotment, woodland, water, field / meadow, sport, water-sports, camping and agricultural land.

I have found a wealth of academic urban ecology research papers, which will be fully reviewed in the final report. One feature of many of these papers is the renowned biotope area factor, which aims to safeguards vegetation during development in the city. A certain amount of green space must be left during development, depending on the value of the existing vegetation cover.

The researchers and city officials I have contacted have all stated that there has been very little research conducted regarding green space and immigrants, to their knowledge. However, based on a 2010 survey conducted in the Tempelhof-Park, it appears that
immigrants use the public parks less than German nationals. In the survey 5.6% of park users were immigrants, yet the residents of Berlin include 12.1% immigrants (personal correspondence with Carlo Costabel, 2012).

There is also anecdotal evidence that immigrants use the parks in a different way, and in ways that are causing frictions in local communities. For instance, barbecuing and grilling has recently been banned in Tiergaten park (personal correspondence with Professor Polinna).

The 2012 strategie stadtlandschaft states that green spaces will play a role in “addressing urgent social issues- including, for example… demographic changes and the balancing of conflicting interests that may arise in a culturally diverse environment”, which shows that the opinions of immigrants in green space is on the city’s radar. Joe Batcheller tackled the opinions of immigrants, multiculturalism and open space planning in his Master’s thesis “Berlin by design, transforming open space in a fractured city”. The author conducted interviews of German (16) and foreign nationals (11) regarding their use of two open spaces in Berlin- Görlitzer Park, a 14 ha pubilc green space in a Kreuzberg, an area renowned for it’s cultural diversity and Alexanderplatz, a city centre plaza. Immigrant views, however, were rarely separated from the views of other interviewees in the analysis and recommendation section on the report, the author instead focusing on more general social behaviour and space structure and function. Batcheller’s study includes an unfortunate anecdote regarding the rather disasterous episdoe of the Pamukkale fountain in Görlitzer park. The fountain, built in a Turkish style, was meant to help symbolise the relationship between the Turkish and German communities but unfortunately design issues caused its premature closure. Another project, at Lasker Meadowns, has a specific goal of promoting “intercultural exchange” and alleviating “patterns of isolation among immigrants” by the encouraged involvement with
other community members in an American style “community garden”.


Dublin is well studied from a green space and urban ecology perspective, much like Berlin and also Stockholm and Leicester from Richard Robinson’s 2011 study. As with other cities, most of the green space research collected is dominated by ecologists and geographers.

Dublin was one of the five European cities studied in the GREENSPACE project’s comparative work from 2001-2004. The project aimed to analyse the role and value of green space and to use public participation to explain public needs and future provisions. A large amount of data was generated, particularly regarding the valuation of green space in Dublin, as was intended. In addition, the collected papers of the 2002 Biodiversity in the City conference held in Dublin generated a wealth of urban green space information.

Amongst the papers, Prof David Jeffrey highlighted the importance of suburban gardens, and recommended that ecologists and planners should evaluate these further. Prof Mary Forrest reviewed the history of urban trees. Meanwhile Lynn et al. measured biodiversity in twenty urban parklands in Dublin. Despite the large amount of research, urban green space is poorly defined by the local authorities and I have not come upon any information regarding the opinions of immigrants. I intend to focus my future efforts on contacting sociologists and city architects so as to generate more comparison data here.


It has so far been difficult to find information on green space in Marseille. This is perhaps due to a language barrier, or perhaps due to environmental, cultural and historical reasons green space is not so appreciated, present and therefore studied in Marseille. These themes were touched on by Ann Werquin in her green space reports for the COST 11 analysis, and in personal correspondence. The dry local climate makes garden maintenance difficult and costly; locals seem to value more natural green space outside of the city and since the second world war the demography of Marseille appears to have shifted- the wealthier classes, more likely to maintain and appreciate urban green space, have left the city core. On immigrants Ann’s personal opinion is that immigrants value open space, rather than green space. Tree establishment practices in Marseille were analysed and compared along with 21 other urban
areas by Pauliet et al. 2002. Marseille compared very poorly with other European cities: street trees per 1000 inhabitants was a little over 20 (the average was 50-80 trees per 1000 inhabitants). Meanwhile Olivier L’Aoustet and Jean Griffet considered the experiences of teenagers towards recreation space in Marseille, so as to provide the local authorities with a framework for monitoring and analysing public use and needs of recreational space. I have found little concerning the classification of green space and the opinions of immigrants.


Similarly, it has not been easy to find green space information on Turin. Apart from a history of green space and a wealth of facts and figures on the city’s website, there are very few academic studies that have looked at any aspect of urban green space in English, especially anything that covers our particular aims. Fulvia Grandizio charts green space and sport in Italian cities, paying special reference to Turin in her 2009 study. One notable point uncovered here is that the provisioning of quality urban green space in Turin has increased in recent times, and plans and work are in place to improve the green space network. However, the industrial growth after the second world war caused much damage to the urban green space’s ecological resistance. Poggio and Vrščaj (2009) used GIS in their study of soil contamination in urban green space in Grugliasco, a part of the Turin metropolitan area. The study is, however, not very relevant to our aims. Otherwise, there have been some notable EU funded projects, for example the Corone Verde (Green Crown) project, which aims to improve ecological and hydrological connectivity, and historical cultural heritage though a master plan that includes enhancements to the green infrastructure. I have been in touch with a helpful architect who explains that there are few articles in English. This lack of academic studies is unfortunate from our perspective, since Turin appears to be a relatively green city, though I gather that private domestic gardens are few and far between.

Challenges and aims

My aims for the second half of the research project are to develop more contacts in the cities, to gather more general green space research for Marseille and Turin and ideally find studies that link to our specific research themes and aims of green space and classification, immigrants and private and domestic gardens. Realistically, Berlin and Dublin represent my best hope of finding studies that match our specific aims.

I do also have more information collected waiting to be reviewed and analysed.