Not only about the plants: green placemaking as redistributive justice

Spatial analysis can help policymakers understand how nature-based solutions must first respond to a community’s needs for the benefits of nature, rather than just wave an ‘aesthetic’ wand at urban centres of high population density. 

Dr. Mario Balzan. Photo credit: Lourdes Photography. Source:

In his presentation to the MICAS conference ‘Connecting with Nature: Placemaking and the Urban Garden’, Dr. Mario Balzan, a senior MCAST lecturer and founder of Ecostack Innovations, asks: who gets to benefit from nature, especially in urban centres with high population density?

The short answer is: not everyone.

Balzan finds this discrimination in scientific findings showing how private gardens and urban trees are four times more effective per unit area in terms of “regulating ecosystem service capacities per unit area” – that is, providing the benefits of nature that regulate the local environment quality. Public gardens, in contrast, tend to be less effective but are most strongly associated with cultural ecosystem services, and like watercourses, garrigue, or beaches are widely enjoyed for recreation, tourism, nature, or for spiritual, heritage, inspirational and aesthetic values.

“If private gardens are more effective than public green spaces… probably, if you are well off, have a degree, have a better paid job, then you probably have more access to nature and its benefits.”

In areas of disadvantage that are not provided with public spaces that offer the benefits of nature, it will often be the unemployed, those with disability or with illness, and those in elementary occupations, who will have reduced access. “This is an important aspect, showing how ‘green’ is not about plants – but a social and economic issue,” Balzan says.

This is an excerpt from an article produced and published by the Malta International Contemporary Art Space on its blog. Read the full article here.