REAL ESTATE MINUTE With Cyril Nii Ayitey Tetteh: Accra’s green spaces and quality of life: an underrated relationship

Re-imagining livable cities
Cyril Nii Ayitey Tetteh:

Abu, Baba’s grandson had just returned from school looking pensive and a bit unsettled. As soon as he dropped his bag, he made for Baba’s room. With little time for niceties, Abu posed his question even before the traditional “good afternoon”. ‘Baba please tell me about Accra in 2050’. Baba realized he had just been unceremoniously ushered into a very important meeting. Baba shifted, sat up and as Ghanaians do, answered with his own question. ‘Abu what about the future so concerns you and why did you come to me?’ Baba, we had a lesson on climate change today and our teacher painted a very gloomy picture of the future.

She said the rate at which trees are being felled and the forest lost, there is going to be severe consequences for our generation when she and you are long gone. ‘I see’ Baba responded. ‘Yes Baba, and I came to you because, I have heard whispers that you can predict the future, a seer they call you Baba, so please tell me Teacher Esum is wrong. Haha Abu, a seer I am not, a scientist maybe, some of my predictions have checked out only because they were purely based on science not signs.  But I can see you are really concerned so I will help you, but I can only do so if you share Teacher Esum’s predictions.

Ok Baba, Abu heaved a slightly uncomfortable sigh of relief. So, Teacher Esum as I mentioned earlier, is predicting that if we do not stop depleting our green spaces or tackle climate change in general, we will experience shrinking productivity of harvests, prices of basic foodstuff rising, spread of diseases, shortage in fresh water supply, increased poverty, rising sea levels and complete wipe out of communities and migration, loss of capacity to work due to excessive heatwaves, security issues – more wars to gain access to limited resources.

That’s very dire Baba! She even told us about Day Zero in certain countries, a day when the taps dry out which even happened in South Africa a couple of years back. But Baba! Yes Abu! I am finding it difficult to connect how all these looming disasters are connected to simply cutting down of trees Baba. Ah Abu, this is where I educate on “almighty” carbon dioxide (CO2)

The Matter of Carbon Emissions

A very long time ago, despite natural fluctuations in the climate, the earth had its natural cycle of keeping the cold and hot temperature balanced and comfortable to live in.  Light from the sun passes through the atmosphere and is absorbed by the Earth’s surface, warming it. At night the cool temperature ensures that heat is emitted from the surface of the earth.

These heat emissions are however trapped by certain gasses like carbon dioxide, which act like a blanket to prevent complete evaporation of heat, thereby raising the earth’s temperature. This natural process warms both the lower atmosphere and the surface of the planet and without this effect; the earth would be about 30C colder and hostile to life. This is how it worked until the industrial revolution interrupted the natural cycle mainly through human activities.

Human activities in the form of deforestation to make way for cities and farms, industrial innovations, like the widespread use of electricity and transportation (cars, trucks and planes), transformed the way we live. These innovations demanded energy which was created by burning fossil fuels — coal, oil, and natural gas. Burning of fossil fuels however releases more carbon dioxide than required in the normal cycle; hence these excess CO2s only go to further heat up the earth and raise the temperature beyond required safe levels.  This is what is known as climate change or global warming, with carbon dioxide emissions a major contributory factor.

So, without even being conscious, many of our daily activities increase the carbon footprint. From the moment you wake up and step into a hot bath (increased energy from boiler) to stepping into your car to travel to work alone by yourself in the car, as opposed to carpooling or using public transportation, have steak for lunch with a fruit juice imported via plane, to the time your grab some groceries packed in a plastic bag on your way home, you have in one single day contributed to increased CO2 emissions.

Even the buildings we live in account for more than 40% of the world’s total primary energy consumption and 24% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Indeed the effects of climate change are dire- longer, more intense allergy seasons; foods you love are becoming less nutritious and cost more at the grocery store;  more common, more severe, and more long-lasting heat waves; wildfires causing damage to our landscapes and our communities – as well as our health and diseases are spreading more easily. Going green or living sustainably to reduce CO2 emissions is thus a no brainer. While we may not fully control industrial activity, one way of reducing carbon emissions is to plant more trees, it’s quite a simple formula.

Trees produce oxygen while eating up excess CO2s in the atmosphere. So you see, trees are a key cog in the wheel to mop up excess CO2s and that can be achieved if we stop cutting down trees as well as preserving our forest cover , this is very much very much in our hands and if we all make a conscious effort we can preserve the environment for you and your generation Abu. Wow Baba I can now make the connection, I can see clearer now all because of you “Baba the Seer”, Abu teased as his tension eventually gave.

Increased Public Health and Productivity

So Abu we are half way through solving the problem, you know identifying the problem is half of the solution. When we begin to reduce carbon emissions or decarbonize our activities or simply create more green spaces, the benefits thereof are countless but I will share a few, after all I have to let you do a little homework right? Below are a few benefits from a University of Delaware study, that will inure to us if we create more green spaces including parks, gardens, playing fields playgrounds, water features, walkable squares and even rooftop gardens and vertical gardens.

Stress and violence reduction– Studies have shown a correlation between heightened stress and being prone to violent activity. Green spaces are known to provide a calming effect, effectively reducing the stress of our daily lives by invoking a feeling of tranquility once we are exposed to natural scenes.

Improved concentration – exposure to green spaces also increase our concentration levels while also cutting out distractions. Studies have shown offices that have greenery also witness increased employee concentration as focusing on natural scenes gives voluntary attention a rest and allows involuntary attention to take over and recharge the human psyche.

Enhanced health – Recent studies in the Netherlands and Japan show that people with easy access to green space boasted better health and lower mortality rates. Even relatively passive contact with nature—such as viewing it from a window—lowers blood pressure and anxiety levels.

Crime reduction – This is a curious one as the popular assumption is that Most people assume that increased vegetation translates to an increase of crime by offering hiding places for criminals and their criminal acts. Open mowed areas are generally considered safest, while densely vegetated areas are the most feared. Contrary to these common beliefs, maintained green spaces actually reduce crime. A study of 98 vegetated and un-vegetated apartment buildings in Chicago showed that vegetated spaces cut crime by half, in addition to inspiring pride for surroundings that translated into less litter and less graffiti. Besides mitigating psychological precursors to violence by reducing stress and anxiety, green spaces increase a neighborhood’s collective surveillance: Vegetated landscapes invite more people to use them, ensuring more eyes on the watch to prevent crime in outdoor spaces.

Economic stimulation – Studies have shown that street trees and other greenery add value to real estate developments, be it residential, commercial or retail. In landscaped shopping districts, surveyed consumers were willing to spend 9- 12% more than they would spend in an un-landscaped district.

The writer is the Executive director of Yecham Property Consult

 & Founder of Ghana Green Building Summit.

Email: [email protected]

LinkedIn: Cyril Nii Ayitey Tetteh

Leave a Reply