Within a city, green spaces are vital for the urban balance. Not only do they help improve the lives of the residents, but they also contribute to tackling pollution and the urban heat island effect – the unnatural heat generated in big metropolises by general human activity, such as transport, shops and industry.
As with most factors regarding the climate, a chain reaction is easily set off. To put it simply, if a city’s temperature rises even only 3–4°C higher than the less populated surrounding areas there will be higher energy usage that causes greater fossil fuel consumption.
Various cities around the world have invested in projects and initiatives that entail a larger percentage of green spaces to combat these effects. But which cities have the biggest portions of parks, forests and trees? From Norway to China, we look at the percentages indicating how much of the cities’ surface area is covered by green space.
Oslo – 68%
The capital city of Norway, Oslo, leads the way as the metropolis with the highest percentage of green spaces. From a purely geographical point of view, Oslo is surrounded by green hills and has the 8.2km-long Akerselva River running through it.
Each inhabitant is less than ten minutes away from green space on average, thanks to numerous policies in favour of biodiversity and tactical landscaping. One of these initiatives was introduced in 2019 when all private motorised vehicles were banned from the city centre. This led to more than 700 parking lots being substituted with pedestrian zones, cycle routes and parks.
Based on three pillars – nature in the city, the circular city and the involvement of local communities – the group ByKuben also contributes to Oslo’s green reputation. Indeed, it organised group meetings and activities to raise awareness of the importance of green spaces in the city and of the balance between urbanisation and ecology.
This city is one of the greenest in Europe, not only because of the multitude of parks and forests but also because of its environmentally conscious initiatives. By the end of 2023, in addition, Oslo pledged to make all public transport electric, in order to be one step closer to the net-zero achievement set for 2030.
Vienna – 50%
Vienna is in second position in this list with green space taking up more than half of its surface area. The city is home to more than 990 municipal parks and its community made a real effort to fill the city with as much biodiversity as possible.
Alongside its parks, 95,000 trees line Vienna’s streets, along with almost 190,000 trees on private properties, and 1,900 on commercial property and it is even estimated that there are more than 200,000 forest trees throughout both the city and its suburbs.
A Resonance study from 2020 claimed that “The commitment comes from a history of methodical city planning that has given the world everything from the English garden-inspired City Park (opened in 1862) to an actual national park just outside of town (Nationalpark Donau Auen).”
One issue was how unevenly distributed the green spaces were until 2020, since most citizens had to travel either by vehicle or public transport in order to reach one.
Birgit Hebein, vice-mayor of Vienna, told Euronews: “That’s why during the pandemic we’re creating pop-up bike paths and opening up roads for pedestrians. I think that’s tremendously important. Not everyone is lucky to have a park right outside the door.”
The unfair distribution of green spaces is still an issue today, as some districts have more than others and there have not been any new landscaping projects, but with the introduction of more bicycle lanes and pedestrian paths, it has become easier for residents to navigate the many parks.
Singapore – 46.5%
Also referred to as “garden city” since 1967, Singapore has continued to expand its green vision by taking advantage of its humid and tropical climate.
Almost 47% of the city is green space, and over 30% of the area is covered by a tree canopy. The city also started investing in more sustainable public transport and the extension of walking and cycling paths, in line with its urban green space (UGS) development and protection policies, including the Singapore Green Plan 2030.
The Green Plan, specifically, has some key targets. For instance, it aims to plant one million more trees by 2030 and quadruple solar energy deployment by 2025. As part of the Green Plan, five main goals spread the focus across different areas: City in Nature, Energy Reset, Sustainable Living, Green Economy and Resilient Future.
- Expanding the Nature Park Network
- Planting more trees and flowers in gardens and parks
- Restoring and preserving nature in urban areas
- Strengthening the Park Connector Network
- Bettering animal and fauna management
The City of Nature initiative particularly focuses on five Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): SDG11, called Sustainable Cities and Communities; SDG13, Climate Action; 14, Life Below Water; 15, Life on Land; 17, Partnership for the Goals.
The Park Connector Network (PCN) is part of these policies and was first introduced in 1991. It is a collection of linear green corridors that connect parks and other green spaces across the city. These corridors are available to people travelling by foot, bicycle, rollerblades or skateboard. Citizens and tourists can choose from an array of routes with some of the best views of the area, such as the Central Urban Loop, which runs through the city’s green spaces or the Eastern Coastal Loop, located in the south part of Singapore and runs along the Marina Bay.
Sydney – 46%
In 2021, the city of Sydney in Australia shared its plans to go green. Indeed, it committed to covering at least an extra 40% of the city in green spaces by 2050.
“Trees and other urban greenery are as essential as roads and broadband internet. Effective and extensive canopy cover can help reduce temperatures on the ground by up to ten degrees,” Lord Mayor Clover Moore explained. “We will plant more trees, plants and shrubbery, and make sure they are species that are hardy and resilient to our changing climate.”
There are six main plans of action in the Greening Sydney initiative:
- Setting up more green roofs and developments, including walls and laneways
- Spreading green spaces in a fair way so that everyone in the city can benefit from them
- Introducing a Green Factor Score, which helps the city to quantify both the amount and the quality of urban greening; in addition, there will be a minimum score that new projects will have to meet
- Establishing a Greening Sydney Fund to support the unavoidable removal of trees to motivate residents to plant more
- Educating the residents and the communities on indigenous ecological knowledge
- Motivate the residents to participate and contribute to a community feel focused on green activities and education programmes
“Trees remove thousands of tonnes of pollution from our air, store carbon and help mitigate extreme weather, while also relieving stress, depression and anxiety. It is critical that we value everything our broad urban forest and greenery can do for us, and invest heavily in it,” the lord mayor shared.
Since the 2030 plan draws from both the 2008 and 2012 ones, there was already a solid foundation. Since 2008, Sydney has had a 24% increase in canopy cover and a 13% increase in parks and green spaces in general. The most positive figure regards the increase in expanded and restored native bushland since 2014, which corresponds to 180%.
Today, Sydney counts 155.4 square metres of green space per person, corresponding to 46% and putting it in fourth position.
Chengdu – 41%
One of China’s biggest cities – counting over 20 million residents – has also expressed its commitment to augment the percentage of green spaces across its surface. Today, almost 41% of areas are green already but, in 2018, it announced a bigger plan.
This entails building a very large system of interconnected parks and greenways, creating a “city within a park”, as the Park City plan describes. The starting point is located in the Longquan Mountain Urban Forest Park, which the city plans to extend for an extra 1,200km, making it one of the world’s largest parks.
Another example is the Tianfu Greenway, which is a collection of biking and walking trails that connect parks all over the city. The plan is to turn it into a 17,000km-long path. “If we want to increase our prosperity, we have to preserve the culture and environmental aspects that make our quality of life good,” Salvatore Fundarò, an urban planner who worked with the city of Chengdu for its urbanisation plan, said.
The Park City plan works on the basis that no one should live more than 300m away from a green area, not only for environmental reasons but also from a quality of life perspective.
Brand new areas have been developed since 2018, such as the district of Tianfu New Area, which houses a big park built around a lake which connects the various commercial district of tech companies, called Science City.
[Read more: Unlocking the power of green spaces in cities]