Aliveable city in Africa is almost wholly associated with physical infrastructure. Yet, urban green infrastructures are increasingly being recognised worldwide as integral to life-supporting systems in cities.
‘Urban green infrastructure’ is a relatively new term which loosely refers to a network of natural and designed vegetation elements within cities and towns—in both public and private domains.
It includes all the green components, such as parks and green spaces, woodlands, natural habitats, river corridors and lakes, street trees, incidental pockets of green spaces, public and private gardens, vegetable patches, croplands, plantations and open spaces.
It can exist as both planned and managed areas, as well as more natural, sporadic and informal components.
Internationally, increasing evidence asserts that urban green infrastructures offer cities multiple functions and benefits to both the physical environment and the well-being of people.
In the pursuit of sustainable cities amid rapid urbanisation and other social and environmental challenges, today urban green infrastructures are perceived as crucial natural-based solution.
As such, cities are now acknowledged as agents of change in addressing challenges at city level.
Research worldwide confirm that the green infrastructure provides cities with fuel wood, food, building materials, fodder and medicines. They also offer cultural benefits, including: spiritual and religious significance, symbolic values, educational values, recreational values, property value improvement and place identity.
Green infrastructures are also credited with regulating local weather, improving air quality by removing impurities like dust, reducing surface water run-off thus reducing flash floods, conserving biodiversity and sequestering and storing carbon.
Access to nature is also distinctly correlated with improved physical and mental health of urbanites.
These benefits reveals inextricable and intricate link between people and nature in cities. They demonstrate that although humanity is growingly becoming more urban today than ever before, people continuously depend on nature for survival.
Whilst some benefits are site-specific, most of them can be harnessed in almost every city, including the cities of Malawi.
Despite being hidden or overlooked by both academia and policymakers, personal observations in the country attest that green infrastructure are supporting and improving the livelihood of many, particularly but not solely the poor.
For instance, it is not uncommon to see women collecting and carrying firewood in cities. When the sun is scorching, it is typical to see people trees in roadsides.
Though sometimes unnoticed, people do also collect fruits in their homestead and other green spaces in the cities.
Moreover, it is not unusual to see urbanites hanging around and spending time in parks.
Regardless of these benefits, it is sad that issues of urban green infrastructure are given a blind eye by authorities in the country. This is a major challenge urban green infrastructure are encountering across the continent.
Other challenges include weak or no legal frameworks supporting urban green infrastructure, poor implementation of urban land use plans, increase in land pressure due to population growth and inadequate funding.
No wonder, green spaces in Africa are dwindling and being replaced by physical developments.
Given the above background, it is evident that cities in Malawi and the rest of the continent need green infrastructure just as much as they need physical infrastructure, to make them liveable and attractive to both residents and visitors.
It is therefore necessary to consider restoring and creating green infrastructures within our urban areas.
Besides government efforts, the private sector can also make a move by establishing private recreational centres as well as funding activities to improve urban green infrastructure in Malawian cities.
Collaborative efforts therefore ought to be explored to transform our cities to be liveable and attractive. n