In the contemporary townscape, we see new-build apartments and houses surrounded by green areas with consideration for ecology. The objective is to create a place where people can enjoy nature right in the middle of town. Peter Swyngedauw and Tompy Hoedelmans of the design agency OMGEVING have noticed a promising trend: “Undeveloped spaces are gaining more interest, which brings only advantages.”
Real estate developers increasingly see public spaces as essential parts of their designs. This contrasts sharply with fifteen years ago when they just planted a few trees here and there once their designs had been more or less completed. Today, undeveloped green spaces are considered almost equally important and are central from the project’s outset.
“The fact that green public spaces are receiving more attention is a positive trend,” says Peter Swyngedauw, Spatial Planner at OMGEVING. “It enhances residential quality, adds balance to the environment, and creates attractive residential neighborhoods. It’s another example of where we see economics and ecology going hand in hand. Ecological parks are much more low-maintenance than manicured lawns. It’s a win-win situation for the towns and town councils. There are lower development and maintenance costs and more opportunities for biodiversity and climate adaptation.”
Although the social factor is undoubtedly a significant advantage, this type of design is also necessitated by climate change. Tompy Hoedelmans, Landscape Architect at OMGEVING, explains: “By arranging public spaces intelligently, we can start unpaving larger areas or keep them unpaved. In doing so, we allow the sun’s heat to be absorbed rather than reflected. Trees provide shade for people to sit in or to effectively shade homes to keep out the heat. These large unpaved areas are also useful during heavy rainstorms. By letting the soil absorb all the water, we avoid overflowing sewers and the risk of flooding. The water can drain away naturally.”
Excess water is no longer considered a problem, but an added value. Today’s integrated water infiltration systems can easily stand dry during dry periods but can collect rainwater during wet periods. The residents use the collected water for various purposes, such as for taps on the rooftop gardens or for watering shared vegetable gardens.
Undeveloped spaces serve as a gift to bio- diversity and offer great advantages for children, also because people are increasingly going for underground parking spaces. “Without all the cars, there’s less of a divide between the private gardens and the public spaces. It’s a safe place for children to play and for residents to meet,” Peter concludes.