The Roots of the Global Water Crisis

The Roots of the Global Water Crisis


The above-featured image is for illustration and is of World Atlas


castellino1SAM PANTHAKYAFP via Getty Images_water

SAM PANTHAKY/AFP via Getty Images


The Roots of the Global Water Crisis

25 September 2023
Every country in the world faces water-related challenges, underscoring our collective dependence on the planet’s most vital resource. But instead of pursuing the systemic changes needed to address this crisis, the world’s governments are bowing to corporate interests and settling for insufficient incremental reforms.

LONDON – In March 1977, representatives from 116 countries gathered in Mar del Plata, Argentina, for the inaugural United Nations Water Conference. At the time, the event received very little attention. Global politics was dominated by a handful of powerful countries, most of them in temperate regions where water scarcity, severe pollution, and flooding were not considered major issues.

The atmosphere at this year’s UN Water Conference, which took place in New York in March, was markedly different. Instead of apathy, there was a palpable sense that the water crisis is a global problem. Today, every country in the world faces water-related challenges, underscoring our collective vulnerability as the planet’s most vital natural resource is increasingly threatened. The robust engagement of the scientific community and civil society was also instrumental in shedding light on the far-reaching consequences of this crisis.

Unsurprisingly, the countries that were most at risk in 1977 are even more vulnerable today. The reckless exploitation of the planet has accelerated humanity’s breach of planetary boundaries. The long-anticipated sea-level rise is now submerging vast areas, while deserts are expanding at an alarming rate as water sources diminish and aquifers become depleted. Meanwhile, pollutants from human waste, along with the byproducts of industrial activities, contaminate our rivers, lakes, and oceans. At a time of growing scarcity, our seemingly insatiable thirst for consumption has aggravated these trends.

The fact that some remain unaffected by this crisis attests to their privilege. While many experience environmental degradation on a spiritual level, some of the world’s poorest populations face immediate and tangible consequences as they try to adapt to rapidly changing conditions.

Much like the response to the climate crisis, the response to the water crisis suffers from a lack of global coordination and opposition from entrenched interests seeking to prevent crucial reforms. As the Indian environmental activist Vandana Shivaputs it, “When the rich, powerful, and dominant economic forces of society” exceed their fair share of Earth’s resources, “indigenous communities and minority groups are deprived of their share of water for life and livelihoods.” This, she writes, forces entire communities “to carry the heavy burden of water poverty.”

A recent petition proposed by prominent water-rights activist Rajendra Singh offers a potential path forward. Singh, chairman of the People’s World Commission on Drought and Flood, outlines ten critical transformations required to restore water harmony. By transcending anthropocentrism, his proposed pledge aims to rejuvenate the global water cycle and harness its immense power to promote the well-being of all living things.

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At the heart of Singh’s pledge lies the bedrock principle of climate-oriented thinking: a complete system overhaul. This perspective views humanity as part of a much larger whole that encompasses the diverse species with which we share our planet. Instead of commodifying natural resources for profit and relentless consumption, this ethos encourages people to be mindful of the potential consequences of their actions and commit to repairing any damage they cause.

This raises three fundamental questions. First, what actions are required to address the global water crisis? Second, which key stakeholders must step up? Third, how can we ensure that these stakeholders implement vital systemic changes?

For too long, policymakers have emphasized minor changes in household consumption habits, thereby unfairly shifting the burden to families and communities whose contributions to the water crisis have been negligible. The root causes of water scarcity are large-scale industrial production, lack of attention to quality, and the failure to address rampant pollution. At the macro level, extractive industries and an economic system centered on profit maximization drive the increase in global temperatures, further disrupting water cycles.

While reducing household consumption is important, it pales in comparison to the potential impact of forcing corporations to adopt sustainable practices. But the increasingly symbiotic relationship between politics and big-business interests complicates this task. Instead of pursuing systemic changes, the world’s most powerful governments have opted for incremental reforms to create the appearance of commitment.

The recent UN Water Conference underscored the urgency of today’s crisis. If governments are unwilling or unable to pursue the necessary structural reforms, they must be replaced by political leaders with the vision and determination to overhaul the systems that jeopardize the natural resource sustaining all life on Earth.

Growing up in India, I observed the country’s relentless drive to catch up with wealthier economies. By investing in higher education, building roads and hospitals, and boosting economic growth through consumption and increased production, the thinking went, India could become richer and eliminate poverty. The mainstream education system frequently championed the commodification of nature, anthropocentric dominance, and extractivism. It revered the architects of our flawed economic system, treating their words as sacrosanct.

Indigenous communities have long warned that such “progress” was misguided, but they were dismissed as hidebound and out of touch with reality. As climate change disrupts water and food systems around the world, many now recognize the prescience of these warnings. Given that we might be the last generation capable of mitigating the worst effects of the water crisis, it is our responsibility to hold accountable those who are exploiting the planet for personal gain.

Deep sea mining and killing the seas so you can build

Deep sea mining and killing the seas so you can build

As it bakes, Egypt looks to the cooling power of the sea for help.  It is not only countries but we all look at the seaside for some freshness. Not only that; seasides are bordered by sandy beaches amongst many other types of seashores and these are in such demand because of the availability and inexhaustibility of the modern times material that is sand. Deep sea mining and killing the seas so you can build your concrete dream home.
The above-featured image is for illustration and is credit to Science.howstuffworks

Deep sea mining and killing the seas so you can build your concrete dream home

Deep sea mining and killing the seas so you can build Sand mining in the Czech Republic

Sand mining in the Czech Republic

The excellent article on Green Prophet: Deep sea mining and killing the seas so you can drive an electric car was timely and extremely relevant. Deep sea mining is not only taking place for minerals and metals, but also for a very basic element found on the sea bed: sand.

One of the most common uses of beach or sea sand in general, is in construction. Sand is one of the ingredients in the production of concrete and other building materials. Concrete is made up of a mixture of water, cement, and aggregate, which is composed of crushed rock, gravel and sand. Sea sand is also used as a raw material in the glass, silicon and ceramic industries and for land restoration.



The construction industry consumes about 4 billion tons of cement every year and 40 billion tons of sand for construction. The total use of sand worldwide is estimated at 50 billion tons annually. The dredging industry for sand is active in South China Sea, the North Sea and the East Coast of the United States, according to the University of Geneva, with China, the Netherlands, the United States and Belgium being the most active countries in this field. Interestingly enough, although deserts have plenty of sand, the desert sand is unsuitable for construction. Its rounded faces and high dust content, give concrete of very low quality, that does not comply with the industry standards.

Regulating sand mining from the seas

Illegal sand mining activities linked to Spain are devastating Moroccan beaches. Image via the ISS

Sand is one of the world’s most consumed natural resource on the planet, after water. But, despite the damage it causes, it is still unregulated. According to the UN the practice is unsustainable and could irreparably affect marine life. Pascal Penducci, director of UNEP’s Global Resources Database, described the marine sand dredging as a “giant vacuum cleaner”, draining the seabed by removing all the micro-organisms that support sea life.

Consider, what the ISS reports: “state developments in Morocco require an estimated 30 million tons of sand every year. Coastal sand along the western seaboard and Mediterranean is increasingly extracted, legally and illegally, by both registered companies and traffickers. The result is a series of lunar-like landscapes along Morocco’s coastline, which damages fragile ecosystems and increases the vulnerability of infrastructure to storms and rising sea levels.”



The ECOWEEK week of lectures, films and design workshops address design and construction practices and promote sustainable design and circular practices primarily among graduate and undergraduate students of architecture and design in 17 countries.

In 2018, ECOWEEK hosted the Today Tomorrow project of EUNIC (European Union National Institutes for Culture) in Tel Aviv. Within this collaboration the film “Sand Wars” was screened. Released in 2013 it is directed by Denis Delestrac.

The film “Sand Wars” tracks the contractors, smugglers and property developers hoarding sand from legal or illegal mining on sea shores and sea bed dredging. It presents the unsuccessful efforts by Municipalities, draining municipal budgets, to replenish seashores with sand. Only to be washed away, due to the voids created by deep sea mining. The film also presents the struggle of local communities to protect their sea shore residences from coastal erosion and damage and the loss of coastal shorelines, caused by sand extraction from the sea and shores.

If electric cars are a luxury – as compared to other modes of sustainable transportation, such as, public buses, light rail, bicycles and walking – mining sand for concrete is essential for construction. Especially, when trying to cope with destruction caused by earthquakes or floods. Building in concrete seems like an inevitable choice for relative resilience. However, the increasing use of concrete, and sand mining, makes cities more vulnerable and destroys ecosystems that support life. Read about this Israeli desert sand dunes being cleared for concrete.



Like in every story, there may be a happy end in this story too: recycled glass. Recycled glass is obtained from recycling old and waste glass. Glass can be recycled endlessly without affecting quality and purity, through crashing, melting and blending with other materials. Unlike desert sand, recycling glass is an acceptable replacement to sea sand for construction.

How much of this dome house in Santorini is built from sand?

The recycled glass market is estimated at $1.1B USD. It is low carbon, requires lower energy consumption, lower melting temperature, and less wear and tear on the manufacturing furnace. In terms of volume it is estimated at about 40,000 tons annually.

From grassroots initiatives like the recycling program “Glass Half Full” in Louisiana, to major industries, recycled glass is widely used in the food and beverages, automotive, healthcare, aerospace and defense industries. It is also used in construction. To provide more recycled glass for construction, an increase in the practice of glass recycling, is needed. More government and municipal initiatives and regulations in waste management are needed, raising public awareness and encouraging more initiatives in that direction by local industries.



Many cities today are engaged in urban renewal. This involves extensive demolition of existing buildings. Yet, with a disappointingly low rate of recycling and reclaiming of old materials, such as glass. Regulating demolition – and increasing refurbishment and retrofit, would considerably reduce construction waste, and wisely utilize the embodied carbon from producing these products in the first place. Less demolition would also reduce the need for new construction and use of concrete and sand.

Related: Peak sand

There is no doubt that the debate is relevant and urgent today. Not only, among architects and designers. But, among municipalities as well. With recycling rates ranging from 10 to 90%, there is a long way to go to reach 50% reduction in carbon by 2030 and zero carbon by 2050. And to reduce waste, particularly construction waste, estimated at one third of total waste.

A Superuse Studio project reusing waste wood in new creative uses

Architectural practices, such as the Dutch Superuse Studio and architect Thomas Rau, are leading the way on circular design in small and large scale projects, materials passports for buildings and reuse of waste, from wood to wind turbines at the end of their lifetime (20 years).

A Super Reuse studio circular economy project using CNC waste as building façade

It is time for other architects and designers to take the lead too. To seriously reconsider the impact of design and construction on the planet. To consider only specifying construction methods that are local, low-carbon, low-impact and circular. Even start putting a cap on construction, densifying and utilizing existing buildings and reducing the floor area of modern apartments, as alternative construction methods and materials are becoming limited and the need to reduce the carbon footprint of construction is becoming imperative.

Thomas Rau: Triodos Bank Headquarters | Photography: Bert Rietberg

The debate on the impact of the construction industry is complex yet essential. It certainly must engage professionals more than just designing planters on the balconies or the roofs, or specifying recycled wood for façade facing. These are nice gestures, but view them more like a “greenwash”. And compare them to the unregulated and unprecedented destruction of life and ecosystems taking place with every single new concrete formwork.

Elias Messinas

Elias Messinas is a Yale-educated architect and urban planner, creator of ECOWEEK and Senior Lecturer at HIT. He completed this year the interior restoration of an historic synagogue in Greece, based on circular practices. Although small in scale, it reduced waste, new raw materials and the budget by nearly 50%.


How MENA’s economic and climate crises add fuel to wildfires

Arid climates, deforestation, and urbanisation have each aggravated the risk of wildfires in the MENA region. Countries have scrambled to find strategies to mitigate this, however, without resources, they remain at the mercy of the climate crisis.

Researchers said that July 2023 would be the hottest month on Earth in history. According to the World Meteorological Organization, the global average temperature for July was 16.95 °C, exceeding the previous record set in 2019 by a third of a degree Celsius.

In the Arab region, temperatures soared to unprecedented levels with Egypt and Algeria experiencing temperatures exceeding 45 °C, while some cities in Iraq recorded temperatures close to boiling point.

The world has experienced intense heatwaves in the past six weeks, which led to numerous forest fires in various countries, including those in the Middle East and North Africa region. Countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon have suffered casualties and significant losses in vegetation and animal life due to these fires.

“Drought is a perfect condition for fires. It is not the only reason for wildfires in the MENA region however as human activities such as deforestation and burning rubbish or agricultural waste close to the forest also cause wildfires”

Perfect conditions

The eastern Mediterranean countries of Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, and Palestine, as well as the northwest African countries of Algeria and Morocco, are among the most vulnerable to wildfires in the MENA region.

It is anticipated that heatwaves can have negative effects on wildfires in the MENA region. A simple explanation is that vegetation can dry out during unusual heat events, making it more flammable. Excessive evaporation of soil moisture during these prolonged heat events also stresses vegetation and makes it more prone to fire, according to Ahmed Kenawy, professor of climatology at Mansoura University, Egypt.

Ahmed told The New Arab that some of the common plant species in the region’s drier areas, particularly those that have adapted to the dry climate, contain oils and resins that can be very combustible, especially during heat waves. However, depending on the prevailing weather conditions, these effects can vary greatly from one region to another.

Hotter temperatures dries out crops and increases the risk of wildfires [Getty Images]

Professor Ahmed Kenawy also pointed out that increased humidity during these heat events may reduce the likelihood of wildfires in coastal areas.

Lower humidity accelerates the drying process of vegetation and decreases the moisture level of lifeless organic matter, such as leaves, twigs, and grass, which makes them more prone to burning in interior regions. In certain parts of North Africa, like Egypt, local hot winds, such as the Khamisin, can rapidly spread wildfires, particularly in late spring.

Hesham Eissa, an environmental expert, told The New Arab that winds can rapidly spread wildfires, making them difficult to contain and control.

Also, human activities in the extreme heat during heatwaves may lead to increased use of fire-related activities, such as outdoor cooking or burning waste, which can inadvertently spark wildfires.

Hesham explained that climate change is also affecting wildfires by releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, further exacerbating global warming. “This, in turn, can lead to more frequent and intense heat waves, creating a vicious cycle that increases the risk of wildfires in the region.”

Regional struggle

Morocco is one of the countries in the region most affected by forest fires, and the authorities used Canadair (amphibious) planes to extinguish the fires while evacuating the residents of the areas near this forest. The temperature was recorded at 50.4 degrees Celsius in the city of Agadir, in the centre of the country.

At the end of last July, the National Agency for Water and Forests in Morocco announced that the number of fires registered from the beginning of January to the date of July 24, 2023, amounted to 222, in which the fires swept 10,000 square meters. Forests cover 12 percent of the country.

Since the start of this summer, numerous fires have erupted in various regions of Algeria, with the most intense one hitting the northeast of the country, causing the death of 34 individuals, including ten soldiers, in late July. Additionally, the Algerian authorities have disclosed that the fires that affected multiple states last month resulted in the damage of 11,500 people, 972 buildings, and 24,000 hectares of land.

In Libya, the National Center of Meteorology announced last week that temperatures had risen, touching 49 degrees Celsius in some internal areas. At the same time, fires continued to break out, causing no deaths or injuries, but palm trees were damaged in different parts of the country.

The same dangers extended to Tunisia, which witnessed the outbreak of seven fires that spread to some populated areas as well as the destruction of large areas of agricultural crops close to the Gall ranges. Fires of varying size and strength also broke out in Lebanon and Palestine.

In Syria, the high temperatures caused fires to break out in agricultural and forested areas, especially on the Syrian coast, which witnessed widespread damage. The largest fires were in the countryside of Latakia Governorate, which lasted for five consecutive days in the coastal forest areas and required the intervention of Russian helicopters, along with Syrian ones, to extinguish them.

Professor Ahmed Kenawy believes that wildfires are common in these countries because of the typical Mediterranean climate: wet winters and dry, hot summers. “Symbolic cedar trees, for instance, are a common target of forest fires in Lebanon. The 2010 Carmel forest fire in Palestine was one of the deadliest in the country’s history. Importantly, the high rates of urbanization in these countries, especially in close proximity to forested areas, raise the danger of forest fires, especially those started by humans.”

Mitigation is a must

Theresa Wong, a geographer and Climate Change Officer in the FAO Regional Office for the Near East and North Africa, said that the region is highly vulnerable to climate change and that the climate is expected to be hotter and drier in the future. “Drought is a perfect condition for fires. It is not the only reason for wildfires in the region however as human activities such as deforestation and burning rubbish or agricultural waste close to the forest also cause wildfires.”

She explained to The New Arab that wildfires have significant environmental impacts, affecting various ecosystems and natural processes. Some of the major environmental impacts of wildfires include loss of biodiversity, soil degradation, maintaining the water cycle, and air pollution. It also makes the livelihoods of people who rely on these forests difficult.

Wong mentioned that the FAO supported the creation of a regional network on forests and wildland fires (Near East Network on Wildlands Forest Fire, NENFIRE). “We supported countries to have a fire management plan, such as Morocco, Lebanon, and Algeria. It is important for countries to include fire mitigation processes in their national strategies to combat climate change.”

The professor of climatology affirmed that since wildfires know no international boundaries, fighting them may be more effective if done at the regional level. “In the affected regions, it is also crucial to establish buffer zones between wilderness and populated areas. Community participation in fire prevention efforts is also encouraged through volunteer fire departments.

Mohammed El-Said is the Science Editor at Daily News Egypt. His work has appeared in Science Magazine, Nature Middle East, Scientific American Arabic Edition, SciDev and other prominent regional and international media outlets. Follow on Twitter: @MOHAMMED2SAID

Read more on The New Arab

Economic and Social Benefits of Sustainable Buildings

In a comprehensive review of the Economic and Social Benefits of Sustainable Buildings, the author confirms the veracity of these recently adopted alternatives to what we know so far.  The problem is the sheer size of the proposed task of greening all the present built environment.  In any case, here is :
The above-featured image is for illustration and is credit to Green Building Insider.

Exploring the Economic and Social Benefits of Sustainable Buildings

23 August 2023
Sustainable buildings are well-designed structures that consider the needs of the environment. The rapidly changing climate is resulting in substantial pollution, increased natural disasters, and an ever-growing endangered species list. It is necessary to consider research on how certain buildings impact the environment and what can be done to mitigate their environmental footprint. Here are six economic and social benefits of sustainable buildings to know about.

4 Elements of a Sustainable Building

Many things make a building sustainable and each plays a vital role in environmental preservation.

1. Stormwater Management

Stormwater runs down drains and into sewer systems, harming the natural water table. The right strategies can mitigate this issue. Stormwater management methods can capture runoff and slowly integrate it into the ground to replenish the water table, reducing the risk of flooding.

2. Native Landscaping 

Surrounding a building with local plants is a low-maintenance and sustainable way to landscape. Trees and plants from the surrounding area can already handle the climate, eliminating any extra care and maintenance. Native landscaping reduces fertilisation and irrigation needs, cutting water use and eliminating harmful chemicals from entering the atmosphere and water supply.

3. Renewable Energy

Using renewable energy whenever possible can reduce emissions and excess energy use.

    • Solar 

There are two types of solar energy — active and passive. Active solar uses panels to create a closed-loop renewable power source, while passive orients buildings to get the most sunlight possible. They can absorb, reflect and transmit thermal energy, insulating a building.

    • Wind 

Wind energy uses moving air to create electricity. Large turbines can benefit businesses and factories, and personal property owners can use individual turbines. It is best to design buildings where the wind will reach them the most for maximum benefits, like unsheltered flatlands or high elevations.

    • Hydropower

Hydroelectric energy comes from moving water. While significant sources such as the Hoover Dam can supply plenty of power through its facility, others can be small or even damless.

Check out our comprehensive guides on solarwind, and hydropower energy

4. Green Materials

Sustainable materials are another integral part of creating environmentally-friendly buildings. They can significantly reduce the carbon output of standing structures. The following are some of the most popular:

    • Bamboo: Bamboo is fast-growing and requires little processing, making it an excellent eco-friendly material. It is a strong and attractive material for interiors and exteriors.
    • Cement: Made from a mixture of leftover ingredients, different cement forms can be strong and sustainable.
    • Reclaimed wood: Reclaimed wood recycles old projects to create a solid structure instead of harming the environment by cutting down trees.
    • Recycled steel: Similar to reclaimed wood, recycled steel reuses already-available resources and prevents them from sitting in landfills to release more emissions.

These materials can prevent the environmental impacts of materials production, reducing emissions, deforestation, and more harmful practices.

More on the topic: 5 Ways the Construction Industry Is Getting Greener

Photo: Alexander Schimmeck/Unsplash.

Economic Benefits of Sustainable Buildings

Building sustainably can positively affect local, national, and global economies.

1. Reduced Emissions

As it enters the atmosphere, carbon dioxide supercharges the natural greenhouse effect, causing global temperature to rise. By implementing cleaner energy sources – such as renewables – and by incorporating more efficient systems through building design, builders can significantly cut carbon emissions.

Reducing the amount of emissions entering the atmosphere – and thus tackling the problem at its source – requires less money and resources to develop climate change mitigation strategies. When large facilities become sustainable, community members will not face as many health impacts caused by emissions, saving on care costs.

2. Increased Productivity

Employees surrounded by natural light and elements of nature are often less stressed and more productive. This plays a vital role in business competition and supply and demand. Businesses rely on their workers. Sustainably designed buildings can increase morale and energise them.

3. Reduced Building Costs

Though some costs may be higher, the overall costs of constructing and maintaining a sustainable building are lower than conventional construction methods. Many sustainable buildings can be partially or fully completed elsewhere, limiting the resources used on a job site. Sustainable buildings also have a greater value in the long term compared to traditional alternatives.

Social Benefits of Sustainable Buildings

Along with assisting the economy, sustainable buildings can do a lot for the social health of residents.

1. Physical Health

Nature can help people destress and sustainable building designs cater to that need. By incorporating natural landscaping, sunlight, and greenery inside, architects and designers can create environments that lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety-related rapid heart rate.

These environments can also increase pain tolerance and release muscle tension. Using sustainable materials keeps used options from ending up in landfills, which can contribute to public hazards.

2. Mental Health

Sustainable, natural materials like wood and stone can reduce the impact of many mental conditions, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. With so many people understanding the effects of climate change, knowing where they live and work support the environment can help put their minds at ease.

Less pollution in the air can help the population breathe easier and spend more time in sunlight. Doing so can boost their mood, energise them and help release stress.

3. Education

Sustainable buildings provide excellent opportunities for educating the public about caring for the environment. Having facilities with renewable energy resources, natural materials, and sustainable practices can inspire others to make their homes and businesses more environmentally friendly. It can create a ripple effect, helping to create a better world. Something as simple as an educational poster can go a long way.

Improving the Built Industry 

Construction causes around one-third of the world’s waste, making the design process a critical component of climate change reduction. Buildings contribute to 40% of worldwide carbon emissions. Humans need them, but they can work to make them better for the planet.

In a recent survey, 47% of global respondents said sustainability is at the top of their priority list. Governments are working to meet sustainability goals and everyone can play a part.

Sustainable buildings are a necessity to slow the devastating effects of climate change. By understanding the benefits of these structures, builders, designers, and owners can work to create a better future.

Featured image: Ricardo Gomez Angel/Unsplash 

You might also like: Built Areas and Infrastructure: Stretching the Boundaries of Sustainability


Sustainable transformation of our urban open spaces


The above-featured image is for illustration and is credit to Times of Malta.

Sustainable transformation of our urban open spaces

Access to nature and environments that provide a sense of refuge or relaxation are being sought.
By Sarah Scheiber
13 August 2023
Photo: Dawra Madwarna/Sarah Scheiber

Climate change, global warming and the exhaustion of fossil fuels have raised the sustainability agenda’s importance. In relation to urban design, sustainability refers to ways in which a city, community or development can meet economic, environmental, social and cultural needs.

Sustainability is not just about energy or resource efficiency but also about responding to community needs, that means, designing for people.

Open spaces are a central component of the urban landscape and, due to the impacts of climate change and demographic trends, are likely to become more, rather than less, important. How can we implement sustainability, and what does it mean in tangible terms when considering the planning and design of urban open spaces?

Numerous studies have shown that green open spaces in urban areas potentially provide several benefits concerning the three dimensions of sustainable development. These are social, environmental and economic aspects that should be considered in an integrated way. To achieve these benefits, various planning and design principles must be considered. Research on the planning and design of urban open spaces in Malta has shown that five principles require attention.

The first is creating recreational areas within urban areas. Recreational areas must be accessible to all – including those who do not drive. The closer we live to green open spaces, the more viable walking and using public transport is.



Research on the planning and design of urban open spaces in Malta has shown that five principles require attention



The second principle is thinking about a network and ensuring connectivity – improving street design for walking and cycling, and providing a network of high-quality public spaces facilitating public transport use. This can reduce many short car trips, making urban areas more accessible and attractive.

The third principle investigates maximising the presence of vegetation and its potential for multifunctionality. Integrating and increasing vegetation within urban open spaces improves air quality, creating comfortable microclimates and mitigating climate change impacts such as extreme flooding.

Local surveys have shown that access to nature and environments that provide a sense of refuge or relaxation are being sought in urban areas.

The fourth principle ensures socially inclusive processes and culturally responsive proposals. Engaging with local communities to respond to cultural preferences and create a sense of ownership for public spaces is essential for successful transformations.

The final principle calls for good governance: Creating a governance structure that ‘champions’ and drives the implementation of community participatory methodologies and cross-sectoral collaborations is an integral component.

Research has shown potential solutions to reclaim urban open spaces. All it takes is some re-thinking and being open to implementing innovative solutions.

Sarah Scheiber is an urban designer, spatial planner and a lecturer.

Sound Bites

  • Vegetation in urban areas improves air quality. Leaf surfaces absorb nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide, while particulate matter deposited on leaves is absorbed into the ground as they fall or are washed by rain. Urban canyons (high densities/tall buildings) create concentrated pollution. Research shows that increased planting (green roofs, trees, etc) increases deposition of nitrogen oxides and particulates.
  • Active lifestyles are essential for physical health. Neighbourhood parks are typically too small to support aerobic activity such as walking or jogging required for adults. Neighbourhood walkability is thus crucial for supporting daily physical activity.  One study showed that walkable green spaces, including tree-lined streets, in urban residential areas increased longevity for the elderly. Additionally, access to nature reduces stress and improves general well-being.

For more soundbites, click on


  • Trees/vegetation could result in shaded surfaces being 11-25°C cooler than peak temperatures of unshaded surfaces and reducing peak summer temperatures by 1 to 5°C.
  • Tree pits can be designed as stormwater catchments, thereby reducing rainwater run-off in dense urban areas.
  • Typically, streets makeup 80 per cent of public space in cities and thus also need to provide for social activity, not just transportation.

For more trivia, see: