The progressing urbanization process is strongly connected with the transformation of the natural environment. Along with the increase of the population in cities, an intensive process of development of residential, service and production construction is taking place at the expense of undeveloped areas (Jakubowski 2013) which often include valuable nature areas. The zones of natural communities character are somehow ‘pushed’ from city centers to peripheral areas, while the greenery accompanying urban areas are becoming more and more organized. This perception of green areas in the city is in line with the definition functioning in the Polish legal system, according to which green areas should be understood as ‘areas designed along with technical infrastructure and buildings functionally related to them, covered with vegetation, performing public functions, in particular: parks, green areas, promenades, boulevards, botanical, zoological, Jordan and historic gardens, cemeteries, greenery accompanying roads in development areas, squares, historic fortifications, buildings, storage yards, airports, railway stations and industrial facilities’ (Nature Protection Act 20041).
However, the city’s nature system created by green areas cannot be considered solely in the context of an arranged collection of greenery interwoven with the urban fabric of the city. Its integral parts are also nature areas (Warczewska 2016), somehow surrounding the city, located on its periphery, right next to administrative borders.
Green areas are also clearly identified as an important element of the city’s public space system2. They are public places where inhabitants can perform various activities (Sutkowska 2006). ‘Green areas are an important element of public space, affecting living conditions in the city. That is why it is important to maintain green areas in the best condition and to develop them so that the largest number of inhabitants can use them in accordance with their needs and interests’ (Najwyższa Izba Kontroli 2017). Green public spaces have a positive impact on the image of the place of residence, affecting the level of its attractiveness, as well as the health and comfort of people’s lives. They shape the city’s aesthetics, minimize the arduousness of life in the city and fulfill many other important functions necessary for the proper functioning of the natural environment in urban areas (Chojecka 2014).
The aim of this article is to present the possibilities of using the nature potential of peripheral urban green areas as public spaces of educational and recreational character on the example of projects implemented in Stary Sącz, Nowy Targ and Kraków. In addition, the article can serve as a source of knowledge and inspiration when thinking about peripheral green areas in the city.
The potential of green public areas
‘The potential of the natural environment lies in all the resources which a man is interested in exploiting’ (Solon 2004 under Neef 1984; Sudra 2015 under Neef 1984). It depends on the structure and functioning of a given natural unit, the impact of neighboring areas, as well as the form and intensity of anthropogenic influence (Solon 2004). Therefore, the potential of the environment is ‘the total of natural resources and natural conditions assessed from the point of view of their usefulness for humans’ (Sudra 2015). This should be understood as both the possibility of natural space to meet human social needs, as well as the ability of the area to provide resources or energy to man (Nowak 2017). It is worth noticing that all attempts to explain the nature potential encountered in literature emphasize the role of man ‘as an entity making use of natural resources’ (Piętak 2011). Therefore, analyzing the nature potential should be embedded in the context of a specific use (Sudra 2015).
The natural environment of the city consists of both arranged and unorganized green areas with features of natural or semi-natural communities. These are mainly forests and woods, areas covered with grass and vegetation clusters at reservoirs and watercourses. The benefits resulting from the functions performed by the urban natural environment are referred to as ecosystem services. Based on the classification developed in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report (Reid et al. 2005), four groups of ecosystem services can be distinguished:
- –provisioning services,
- –regulating services,
- –supporting services,
- –cultural services.
Among the groups mentioned above, the most closely related to the urban environment are ‘regulating services which are responsible for the ecological functioning of the urbanized area, as well as cultural services, affecting the perception of the city’s landscape, its natural and cultural qualities and recreational values’ (Sudra 2015). The natural system in urban areas performs regulatory functions, generating social and economic benefits. Green areas improve the city’s climate by preventing an abnormal increase in temperature (urban heat island) (Lhomme-Duchadeuil 2018 under Yu & Hien 2006), they reduce air pollution, the level of perceptible noise, contributing at the same time to the greater comfort of living in the city. Social benefits are associated with the impact on the physical and mental health of the population (Szczepanowska 2007).
In the context of green areas in the city, the special attention should be paid to cultural services. They depend directly on human perceptive capabilities and point to elements of the environment that are not related to the acquisition of material goods, ‘e.g. aesthetic values of the landscape, recreational values, resources of cultural and spiritual importance, educational values’ (Sudra 2015).
Green areas are therefore one of the most important elements of the city’s spatial structure, necessary for proper human development and functioning (Chojecka 2014).
It is also worth mentioning that the protection of green areas in the city is one of the statutory objectives of nature protection. It is implemented, among others, by covering nature resources with forms of protection and conducting educational, informational and promotional activities (Nature Protection Act 2004).
Green areas covered by legal forms of protection on the example of cities in the Lesser Poland voivodeship
Special green areas in the city are those covered by legal forms of protection. The most important elements of green areas resources include trees and wooded areas. They bring much more benefits than other types of greenery (Puzdrakiewicz 2018). They are the main and permanent component of green infrastructure. They should also be seen as a fixed asset in urban structures, a natural capital generating specific benefits. Trees not only counteract the hardship of life in the city, but also directly contribute to the better quality of life of its inhabitants (Szczepanowska 2007). Legal forms of nature protection concern the resources of the environment with the highest nature potential. They cover areas with special natural, scientific, social and cultural values. These areas are both important for maintaining biodiversity and they are valuable as they meet the needs of tourism and leisure.
In order to indicate common parts of green areas and territorial forms of environmental protection in the cities of the Lesser Poland voivodship (Województwo Małopolskie, in Polish), a spatial analysis was carried out with the help of the Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) using the following data:
- –the location of areas related to the presence of trees, i.e. land cover categories covering the class of forest and wooded areas (forests, groves, buffers) and the class of shrub vegetation (shrubs) –
- –based on the Topographic Object Database (baza danych obiektów topograficznych, in Polish) of the Main Office for Geodesy and Cartography (Główny Urząd Geodezji i Kartografii, in Polish),
- –territorial forms of environmental protection, which include: national parks, landscape parks, nature reserves with their buffer zones, protected landscape areas, Natura 2000 areas, nature and landscape units, documentation sites, areas of ecological utility – based on geospatial data of the General Directorate for Environmental Protection (Generalna Dyrekcja Ochrony Środowiska, in Polish).
Among the voivodship in which territorial forms of environment protection cover over 50% of the area, the małopolskie voivodship has the biggest surface of protected areas within the city limits – 3.3% of the voivodship area and 5.4% of protected areas in the voivodship (Fig. 1.).
Territorial forms of nature protection appear in 51 out of 62 cities of the Lesser Poland voivodship. These cities are characterized by forest, wooded and shrub areas in the range of 1.0–77.2% of the area. In 23 cases, more than 50% of the resources of the analyzed greenery are within the protected areas (in 15 cities it is 100%). In total, 48.4% of green areas located within the boundaries of the cities of the Lesser Poland voivodship are covered by a form of nature protection – thus constituting a valuable resource with significant nature potential. Very often these are areas located in the periphery, right next to the administrative borders of the city (Fig. 2.). In the remaining 11 cities, where there are no territorial forms of nature protection, the coverage of forest, wooded and shrub areas is in the range of 1.9–57.6% of the area.
Using the potential of peripheral green areas of cities for educational and recreational purposes on the example of projects implemented in Stary Sącz, Nowy Targ and Kraków
Peripheral urban green areas can be adapted to create attractive green public spaces, as exemplified by projects implemented in Stary Sącz Bobrowisko Nature Enclave (Enklawa Bobrowisko, in Polish), Nowy Targ Bór na Czerwonem Nature Reserve (Rezerwat Przyrody Bór na Czerwonem, in Polish) and Kraków Forest in Witkowice (Las w Witkowicach, in Polish). Forest, wooded and shrub green areas in the total area of these cities are 19.2% for Stary Sącz, 35.8% for Nowy Targ and 11.2% for Kraków. These cities have a significant part of the analyzed green areas covered by the territorial form of nature protection: 100%, 77.6% and 44.6% respectively. Protected areas are an integral part of the city (Girault 2017) and making them available to residents for educational and recreational purposes makes them special green publicspaces.
Based on the analysis of descriptive data of selected projects, conducted field visits and interviews with representatives of the city authorities, the authors concluded that the attempt to use their natural functions covers ranges of features characterized by occurring qualities:
- –green areas protected by law located on the outskirts of the city,
- –protection of valuable nature areas by a conscious decision to make them available to potential users: promotion of knowledge about the environment and the important role of valuable nature areas by creating educational paths equipped with resource descriptions using traditional information carriers (a board) or more modern forms of information transfer (e.g., a mobile application),
- –cooperation (partnership) in project implementation – the implementation of specific projects is often not possible without the substantive and financial cooperation of local government units of various levels, state and other public benefit organizations,
- –aesthetic value of introduced architectural solutions,
- –implementation of innovative solutions;
- –land use enabling recreation;
- –accessibility – understood both as the inclusion of the indicated areas despite the distance from the center in the system of urban public spaces, among others through the bicycle path system, but also their adaptation to the needs of people with mobility problems and the needs of the blind and visually impaired.
Stary Sącz – Bobrowisko Nature Enclave
An innovative project implemented in the years 2014–2018 by the municipality of Stary Sącz in consultation with the Landscape Park Complex of the Lesser Poland voivodship – the Bobrowisko Nature Enclave (Fig. 4.) is located near the northern border of Stary Sącz (Fig. 3.), at the bifurcation of two mountain rivers: Dunajec and Poprad.
The main goal of the project was to create a 400-meter footbridge and a covered 70-meter observation trail along with two hides adapted to discover existing fauna and flora. In the enclave, various species can be observed, e.g. European beaver (Castor fiber) or mute swan (Cygnus olor). The wooden path is equipped with information boards and an automatic tourist traffic counting sensor. Elements of so-called ‘Edutainment’ (education through play) were introduced in the hides. As part of this equipment, dioramas depicting scenes related to the history of the place were designed and made. An innovative element was also the creation of a mobile application dedicated to Bobrowisko. An additional value of the project is the architectural form of the completed objects, consistent with the natural landscape, thus enriching the functional and utility program. The total value of the project is over EUR 340,000, of which EU funding from the Regional Operational Program of the Małopolska Voivodship for the years 2014–2020 is EUR 295,000 (Urząd Marszałkowski Województwa Małopolskiego 2018).
The Bobrowisko Nature Enclave is located in the buffer zone of the Poprad Landscape Park. Efforts to create an ecological site in this area that would preserve its most valuable elements are underway. The enclave area is covered by the local plan (Local Spatial Development Plan for the Town of Stary Sącz 2017), with the indication as green and water areas (the area according to the indicated purpose is about 13.5 ha). In accordance with the plan’s provisions, a construction ban was introduced, including temporary and on-demand facilities, with the exception of: technical infrastructure construction facilities, small architecture facilities (benches, trash bins), facilities related to the location of the nature trail, including: bridges and footbridges, places for observing habitats and protected species, including cubature objects, educational boards.
Special project values:
- –a unique initiative – the Bobrowisko Nature Enclave in Stary Sącz won the 2019 Award of the Year of the Association of Polish Architects in the public space category (Stowarzyszenie Architektów Polskich 2019),
- –very good cooperation on the investor-contractor-architect line (during the implementation all entities were involved in the project, they began to identify with it and cooperate to achieve the best effect),
- –promoting spending free time in nature – nature education increasing the awareness of residents and tourists regarding the need to respect the natural environment,
- –development of infrastructure for environmental protection and promotion of valuable nature areas, including implementation of projects in the field of environmental education (considered as part of a broader infrastructure project).
Bobrowisko is a nature enclave which integrates environmental protection functions with the possibility of enjoying the unique values of this special place.
Nowy Targ – Bór na Czerwonem Nature Reserve
The adapted area of the Bór na Czerwonem nature reserve with a total area of 114.6 ha (Fig. 6.), located at the southern administrative boundaries of Nowy Targ (Fig. 5.) is an excellent example of a thoughtful management of a protected area. The system of nature and educational paths implemented in the years 2009–2010 and the viewing platform overlooking the Tatra Mountains, Gorce, and above all the extensive peat bogs allow to explore the reserve in a simple and pleasant way. The flora of the Bór na Czerwonem reserve has a characteristic layout for raised bogs and forest areas developing in wet and swampy habitats. The most valuable species in the reserve are, among others, dwarf mountain pine (Pinus mugo), wood-pine (Pinus rhaetica Brügger), spotted cuckoo (Dactylorhiza maculata), alpine coltsfoot (Homogyne alpina), goose fork (Lycopodium clavatum) (Urząd Miasta Nowy Targ 2011). The project was created with the cooperation of Nowy Targ Forestry Office Marshal of the Lesser Poland voivodship with financial support from the European Union as a part of the Lesser Poland Regional Operational Program for 2007–2013. The total value of the project was almost EUR 80,000.
With this type of investment, the reserve has become more accessible not only to the city’s inhabitants, but also to many tourists visiting the place.
Special project values:
- –making available an area covered by legal protection,
- –a route enabling sightseeing for people with reduced mobility,
- –great cooperation between the organizer and the project partners,
- –development of infrastructure for nature protection and promotion of valuable nature areas,
- –promotion of knowledge about a valuable place in terms of nature (information boards).
Kraków – Forest in Witkowice (reference to the URBAN GREEN BELTS project)
Municipal natural resources can be made available in a thoughtful way and this can be observed in the northern outskirts of the city of Kraków with the pilot project WITKOWICE GLL (Witkowice Green Living Lab). It is a part of a larger international project ‘UGB – Urban Green Belts’ (as a part of the Interreg Central Europe program), which includes ten European cities or regions from 7 countries, namely: Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Croatia, Italy, and Poland.
Kraków’s participation in the project resulted in, among others, revitalized tourist, recreational and educational infrastructure in the forest park Witkowice (Fig. 7.). It includes the ecological interest site ‘Forest in Witkowice’ with an area of over 15 ha (Ecological interest site ‘Forest in Witkowice’ Resolution 2010), which main purpose of protection is to preserve the ecosystem covered with oak-hornbeam stands of the Bibiczanka river valley, constituting a habitat of protected, rare and endangered species of plants, fungi and animals, including kingfisher (Alcedo atthis), common wren (Troglodytes troglodytes), green woodpecker (Picus viridis) (Urząd Miasta Krakowa 2016). The forest in Witkowice is a place of recreation and relaxation for the residents of the surrounding estates, but through a rich tourist and educational offer it also attracts people interested in valuable natural features. The main attraction is the educational route consisting of 6 educational pylons, which contain information and interesting facts about the resources of the natural environment (Fig. 8.). An important element of the project is the adaptation to the needs of the blind and visually impaired, including the information in Braille and plaster prints of leaves, insects and animals footprints. The length of the educational route is about 1000 m. The total value of the project for Krakow was over EUR 110,000, of which the co-financing value is approximately EUR 85,000 (Urząd Miasta Krakowa n.d.).
The functioning of the Forest in Witkowice in its present form is possible thanks to the local plan provisions (Local Spatial Development Plan for The Witkowice Area 2009), which for the designated forest area enabled to create a forest park, provided that the way the land development is subject to the protection of natural assets in accordance with separate provisions on forests.
Special project values:
- –effective cooperation between project partners, participation in an international project,
- –creating a platform for the exchange of experience, ideas and good practices between project partners,
- –implementing an innovative environment education system (among others, an educational path with a rich educational offer, a mobile application),
- –an opportunity to promote the city and urban green spaces internationally.
Green areas play very important roles in the cities. One of them is ecological, helping to protect natural resources, others include social and aesthetic ones. These are places of relaxation and active recreation for residents. Attractive development of recreational and leisure areas, which at the same time fulfill educational functions, becomes a guarantee of better conditions and a higher quality of life for urban residents (Piętak 2011; Szumacher & Malinowska 2013).
Urban development in accordance with the idea of sustainable development enforces economical space management. In shaping the urban environment, ensuring an appropriate balance between invested and natural areas is important (Chojecka 2014). Making available, in a conscious and attractive way, valuable nature areas, which very often are located on the outskirts of the city, means lower costs of adaptation to public green areas than when an organized green area has to be created from scratch in the center (e.g., purchase of land). From the point of view of rationality of space management, this is an great benefit.
The aim of the article was to indicate the possibility of using the nature potential of peripheral green areas as public spaces for educational and recreational purposes. The review of projects implemented in Stary Sącz, Nowy Targ and Kraków allowed for the identification of solutions characterized by the unique use of the nature potential in urban nature systems.
On the basis of the GIS spatial analysis, it was found that despite the presence of forest, wooded and shrub green areas in all cities of the Małopolska voivodship (which already shows some potential), some of them lack any areas covered by territorial forms of nature protection. This does not mean, however, that such areas cannot have special nature values and that they are deprived of any possibility of protection.
In order to preserve and consciously use the nature potential of green areas as green public spaces, city authorities could, among others:
- –establish local forms of nature protection by way of a resolution of the commune council, i.e. monuments of nature, documentary stands, ecological interest sites and natural and landscape complexes (Nature Protection Act 2004) (exmaples ecological site Forest in Witkowice),
- –limit the possibility of development by determining the appropriate purpose of the area and the relevant provisions regarding the principles of land use in the resolution on the local spatial development plan (Spatial Planning and Development Act 2003) (exmaples Forest in Witkowice, Bobrowisko Nature Enclave).
These activities should be preceded by identifying nature resources within the administrative boundaries of the city (in the opinion of the Supreme Audit Office an inventory of green areas is a tool that allows for effective and rational management of green areas in the city), this applies to both arranged green areas and natural areas located on the outskirts of the city. It could help to prepare a holistic concept of using the nature potential of green areas both in order to protect them and to make them available for residents.
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