Research Topic

Historical Legacies of Land Use in Cities; Parks, Open Spaces and Potential for Green Infrastructure- Ideas of City Nature in an Urbanizing Planet

About this Research Topic

The desire for urban greening and green infrastructure has swept across cities from Bahrain, to New York and Seoul. This issue examines the history of land use, parks and open spaces, emanating especially from the west, and the linkage to contemporary green infrastructure as a perceived mechanism to improve the quality of life in cities and to remediate environmental impacts. It explores how this concept has found such resonance and its historical origins. It assesses the emergence of urban greening/green infrastructure, and the idea of parks, from a particular time and place in the Euro-American urbanized era. Investigations of how can, and does, city nature function, given that it resides in human-made morphology and remade geologies and hydrologies, are part of this issue.

For ecologists, the city has been, historically, where nature was not- a place in many ways anathema to nature and natural systems. But today, urban ecologists study 'urban forests' - often legacies of unutilized land in mesic cities - assessing their structure and function, and the role of such phenomenon as urban forest patches. Ecologists are interested in green infrastructure as a means to remediate pollution, increase urban biodiversity and maximize ecosystem services, with a general interest in how outdoor vegetation functions in cities. This is certainly an extraordinary turn and may reflect ambivalence about humans now, in majority, living in cities. That is, this motivation may be propelled by a sense that nature is important to people and needs to be provided in cities, that it is 'useful' to instrumentally satisfy urban human needs. Simultaneously, this urban nature, paradoxically, while implemented to provide humans a range of services, can also be studied in the same manner and with the same assumptions and methods as ex-urban ecosystems. If indeed, humans for the first time are urban dwellers, then the question of nature in the city, or city nature, encompasses many different strands of interest.

It is important to recall that in the 19th century, urban landscape designers such as Frederick Law Olmsted created parks for leisure and respite from urban pollution as well as for water filtration and purification. Olmsted's park plans were contested by real estate interests at the time, as reserving land for parks in many cities was. The Romantics of the period extolled the virtues of nature for the human spirit, from Western poets and painters, and urban landscapes were designed to be picturesque and natural. While the 20th century seemed dominated by 'wild' land preservation and the creation of national forests and parks even in Europe, cities were of less interest, the domain of public health experts who rallied around pollution reduction.

The historical evolution of urban land use and park development, the rise of urban ecology and the coincident idea of ecosystem services in cities, seem important to unravel and contemplate. It is particularly so as ideas of greening - often conflated with ecosystem services - have arisen across the globe, even in North Africa where culture, climate, and soils are radically different than the more mesic climates in which these concepts have arisen. Thus, there is a historical and cultural dimension to these topics that is important to recognize as well.

We welcome contributions from urban ecologists grappling with how nature in the city functions and from social scientists working to understand the cultural, political and ethical dimensions of urban nature. Urban planners and landscape architects would have substantial contributions to make to this issue, and we welcome critical theorists who are engaged in examining the potentially colonial aspects of urban greening today and how it is associated with expressions of power. Finally, there is a public health aspect to this movement in the 21st century, with those advocating a need for urban greening for human well-being, and others who might question that linkage when so many other factors may confound the effect of access to green space.


Keywords: green infrastructure, urbanization, cities, urban greening, parks


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

The desire for urban greening and green infrastructure has swept across cities from Bahrain, to New York and Seoul. This issue examines the history of land use, parks and open spaces, emanating especially from the west, and the linkage to contemporary green infrastructure as a perceived mechanism to improve the quality of life in cities and to remediate environmental impacts. It explores how this concept has found such resonance and its historical origins. It assesses the emergence of urban greening/green infrastructure, and the idea of parks, from a particular time and place in the Euro-American urbanized era. Investigations of how can, and does, city nature function, given that it resides in human-made morphology and remade geologies and hydrologies, are part of this issue.

For ecologists, the city has been, historically, where nature was not- a place in many ways anathema to nature and natural systems. But today, urban ecologists study 'urban forests' - often legacies of unutilized land in mesic cities - assessing their structure and function, and the role of such phenomenon as urban forest patches. Ecologists are interested in green infrastructure as a means to remediate pollution, increase urban biodiversity and maximize ecosystem services, with a general interest in how outdoor vegetation functions in cities. This is certainly an extraordinary turn and may reflect ambivalence about humans now, in majority, living in cities. That is, this motivation may be propelled by a sense that nature is important to people and needs to be provided in cities, that it is 'useful' to instrumentally satisfy urban human needs. Simultaneously, this urban nature, paradoxically, while implemented to provide humans a range of services, can also be studied in the same manner and with the same assumptions and methods as ex-urban ecosystems. If indeed, humans for the first time are urban dwellers, then the question of nature in the city, or city nature, encompasses many different strands of interest.

It is important to recall that in the 19th century, urban landscape designers such as Frederick Law Olmsted created parks for leisure and respite from urban pollution as well as for water filtration and purification. Olmsted's park plans were contested by real estate interests at the time, as reserving land for parks in many cities was. The Romantics of the period extolled the virtues of nature for the human spirit, from Western poets and painters, and urban landscapes were designed to be picturesque and natural. While the 20th century seemed dominated by 'wild' land preservation and the creation of national forests and parks even in Europe, cities were of less interest, the domain of public health experts who rallied around pollution reduction.

The historical evolution of urban land use and park development, the rise of urban ecology and the coincident idea of ecosystem services in cities, seem important to unravel and contemplate. It is particularly so as ideas of greening - often conflated with ecosystem services - have arisen across the globe, even in North Africa where culture, climate, and soils are radically different than the more mesic climates in which these concepts have arisen. Thus, there is a historical and cultural dimension to these topics that is important to recognize as well.

We welcome contributions from urban ecologists grappling with how nature in the city functions and from social scientists working to understand the cultural, political and ethical dimensions of urban nature. Urban planners and landscape architects would have substantial contributions to make to this issue, and we welcome critical theorists who are engaged in examining the potentially colonial aspects of urban greening today and how it is associated with expressions of power. Finally, there is a public health aspect to this movement in the 21st century, with those advocating a need for urban greening for human well-being, and others who might question that linkage when so many other factors may confound the effect of access to green space.


Keywords: green infrastructure, urbanization, cities, urban greening, parks


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

16 September 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

16 September 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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