Experts say parks play role in reducing population’s stress, combating mild depression

By Abdul Rahman Bazian – Apr 01,2019

AMMAN — There are currently some 4.32 million people residing in Amman, of which 1.32 million are 18 years of age or younger, head of the Population Statistics Division Ahmad Momani has recently said.

“Urban parks and gardens play a critical role in cooling cities,” Professor Samer Bagaeen, of the University of Kent’s School of Architecture told The Jordan Times.

They also provide safe routes for walking and cycling for transport purposes as well as for physical activity, social interaction and recreation, he underlined.

“Recent estimates show that physical inactivity, linked to poor walkability and lack of access to recreational areas, accounts for 3.3 per cent of global deaths,” the specialist explained. “Having access to green spaces can reduce health inequalities, improve well-being and aid in treatment of mental illness as global research suggests that physical activity in a natural environment can help remedy mild depression and reduce physiological stress indicators,” he added.

The Greater Amman Municipality’s (GAM) area covers nearly 800 square kilometres out of the governorate’s total area of 1,688 square kilometres.

According to GAM Deputy City Manager for Health and Agriculture Affairs Mervat Mhirat, there are 11.72 square kilometres of green area in the GAM.

Those include parks, designated recreation areas, reserves, pavement landscapes (trees on the sidewalks) and other “green areas”, she further explained.

According to the GAM’s figures, there are 142 public parks, over a total area of some 8.694 square kilometres, within the GAM.

Divided by 4.32 million people, residents of Amman enjoy 2.5 square metres of park area per capita, Mhirat told The Jordan Times, which is 37.5 square metres short of the US standard.

According to former deputy city manager and current Vice Chairman of the Jordanian Engineers Association Fawzi Musaad, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) standard is 9 square metres per capita.

This still places Amman’s park space below the WHO’s international standard.

“The planning of the city predates the introduction of these concepts to the municipal discourse. Plus, the old land acquisition law allowed the municipality to acquire land for free to transform them into public parks. Now the GAM has to pay for the land it acquires,” he explained.

Future plans

When asked about their plans for expanding recreational areas and parks in Amman, the GAM said that they were currently renovating 73 parks of various landscapes.

The municipality is also working on building three new parks in different parts of the capital, including east Amman, Mhirat said.

She explained that there are challenges facing the GAM’s efforts to expand these areas, including a shortage of state owned land in certain parts of the capital, a lack of resources, a shortage of free lots and a shortage of security and maintenance capabilities.

“Amman suffers from a great shortage of park areas. The city is well below the WHO standard, and there are many issues that resulted in this, not only obsolete planning,” Musaad underlined. “Without security and supervision, some of these parks turn into havens of perversion and in some cases crime,” he noted.

The GAM has received complaints by residents in some areas about nuisances and disturbances taking place in parks, and demands that the authorities lock the parks down after a certain time or even permanently, Musaad added.

“Combined, the societal requirements, the acquisition and maintenance costs and the obsolete planning of the city make it difficult for the GAM to realise the optimal park area per capita,” he concluded.

When asked why the municipality has sold some of its parks over the past 15 years, in light of a shortage of recreational areas, Mhirat refused to elaborate, saying that “any such liquidation of GAM assets, if at all, would have gone through the proper channels; this includes ratifications and approvals from the municipal board and the government.” Four parks were sold off, an official source told The Jordan Times, including an area near Sixth Circle where two unfinished towers stand today.

The source, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that these parks were legally sold off to investors.

To that effect, Musaad stated that the Sixth Circle park was sold around 2005 in accordance to government directives at the time, not at the whims of municipality officials.

“There was an inclination by the government to turn the Umm Uthaina park into an investment project. The GAM did not sell the park of its own accord,” he explained.

“No other parks were sold as far as I can remember,” the source said. “Amman could use every square metre of park area.”