12. Green Infrastructure, Open Space and Recreation
The high levels of growth proposed in the National Planning Framework for Cork City place increased demand on the quantity and quality of our shared spaces, especially our parks. The challenge we face is how to manage our natural assets (which include our open spaces such as parks and greenways) whilst accommodating and meeting the recreational needs of our existing and growing population and improve the attractiveness of Cork City as a place to live.
12.2. What is meant by ‘Green and Blue Infrastructure’ ?
“It is important to consider the interrelationships between biodiversity, natural heritage, landscape and our green spaces.” (National Planning Framework, p.125)
Green and blue infrastructure means our natural assets. Green infrastructure is a term used to describe our agricultural land, green spaces, parks, amenity space, green belts, gardens, cemeteries, community allotments, woodland, trees, nature reserves, hedgerows and shrubs. Blue infrastructure refers to waterways and water bodies, including the harbour area, rivers, streams, reservoirs, lakes, floodplains, river banks, wetlands and ponds.
These natural assets provide us with important benefits including food production, wildlife habitats, sustainable drainage, filtering noise and air pollution, supporting biodiversity, carbon capture and helping to reduce impacts of man-made climate change. All forms of development have an impact or footprint. How significant the footprint is depends on how we manage development in relation to these natural assets. Cork City has a great range of natural assets and is home to Cork Harbour Special Protection Area, 10 Proposed Natural Heritage Areas, parks, woodland habitats, Beaumont Quarry, city trees, hedges and rivers including the Lee, Bride, Douglas and Glashaboy.
12.3. Open space, sport and recreation
Green and blue infrastructure is associated with our use of outdoor spaces. Cork City has a variety of public parks, sports pitches, playgrounds, walk and cycle ways and areas of open space on land and water. These assets have multiple uses throughout the year ranging from sport, recreation, leisure and play to music, drama, and special events such as ‘Summer events in the Park’, ‘Carnival of Science’, ‘Harbour Festival’, Patricks Day Festival, Jazz Festival and ‘SeaFest’. We need all of these for good physical and mental health. In terms of our indoor spaces, these are wide ranging and are provided by both public and private sectors. These are also necessary for good physical and mental health, for all age groups and abilities.
How we use these natural assets and open spaces must evolve to meet the changing and diverse needs of our growing city population. Some parts of Cork city have younger communities whilst other parts have older communities. The recreational and leisure needs will need to be bespoke to the respective needs of each community within our city.
12.4. Trends and achievements
Parks are crucial to the quality of life and well-being of people in Cork City. Recent and planned achievements include:
- The new Tramore Valley Park has opened and will be further improved on in coming years;
- Construction of the new Marina Park in the South Docklands has commenced and will be completed in 2021;
- Fitzgerald’s Park has been upgraded over recent years;
- The ‘Shaky Bridge’ to connect the northside of the city to Fitzgerald’s Park has been restored and reinstalled;
- A new playground has been provided in Bishopstown to meet the needs there;
- Ballingcollig Regional Park continues to be upgraded with a recent addition of a pedestrian and cycle path;
- All of these Parks have multiple activities ranging from ‘Summer in the Park’ events, music, Park runs, playgrounds, yoga etc.
Over the past 10 years there have been development of sports pitches and associated changing facilities, and various upgrades of public realm throughout Cork City. Our public realm spaces are evolving to better accommodate pedestrian and cycle routes, people with reduced mobility and play/ recreation and there is potential to do much more. For example, Marina road was closed to vehicles on Sundays last October to accommodate informal play and recreation and is now being closed again as part of the COVID-19 response.
12.5. Challenges and Opportunities
We need to manage our natural assets while at the same time meeting the recreational needs of our expanding population. Two strategies are planned to help address these challenges:
- ‘Green and Blue Infrastructure Strategy’ to identify our natural assets and provide recommendations of how best to accommodate development growth whilst complimenting nature, and
- ‘Open Space, Sports and Recreation Needs Strategy’ to bring up to date the different needs and demands of local communities and people of all abilities within Cork City. These studies will identify current strengths and shortfalls and offer recommendations to address current and future needs of a growing city.
There is a growing understanding and appreciation of the benefits of sustainable and active travel to business, the environment and human health. Proposed greenways, the Lee2Sea and Euro Velo, are opportunities to allow people to walk, jog or cycle to and from work, school, shops and for recreation.
Universal design represents an opportunity in the way we design our open spaces, public realm, parks, greenways to be open, accessible, welcoming, friendly and safe to everyone. Layout of spaces, equipment, facilities, landscaping, natural surveillance, appropriate lighting, quality seating in good locations, effective management are some key factors in designing and providing quality open spaces for all.
A further opportunity is the growing use of nature-based solutions in all types of development. Nature-based solutions provide better environments to live, work and visit and are frequently a cheaper design solution compared to more traditional approaches. They are multi-functional as they meet amenity and recreational needs but also help address drainage, wind tunnels, heat islands, climate change impacts and reduce noise and air pollutants whilst supporting biodiversity and improving public health.
12.6. Key Questions
- How do we provide additional high quality parks and open space whilst accommodating a larger city population and where should they be located?
- How do we design in measures which make our open spaces, parks, public realm etc inviting, welcoming and safe to citizens and visitors?
- How should our natural assets be managed in light of a more populated city?
- How do we integrate multi-functional nature-based solutions within compact urban development?
- What do you think are the most important natural assets in our city?
- What are the opportunities to connect our natural assets (land and water) to form corridors?
- What are the evolving demands of your local community in terms of sport, recreation, and leisure to meet the needs of people of all abilities? How do we integrate play opportunities in new developments?