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The transitionary role of the greenbelt

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The idea of the greenbelt is a long-standing landscape planning practice inherited in part by our British counterparts as a means to maintain the rural character of the countryside, while containing the growth from the urban centers. In more recent times these areas are thought to help contain urban and suburban sprawl, encourage renovation within the existing urban footprint and serve as a space for recreation. However this element has been eroded by current urban demands and has been slowly adapted to serve a multitude of issues beyond its original conception.

Greenbelts have been inserted into the planning efforts in cities across the world such as Melbourne, Ottawa and London. However each of these cities has overgrown their original allotted space and have continued to grow beyond the boundaries of the greenbelt. The greenbelt has become a static feature within the urban realm, to a certain extent encouraging sprawl outside of its limits and increasing commuting times. [1]

Within an era of scarcity of affordable urban land, critics such as those presented by Rowan Moore have turned to greenbelts as a constraint on the urban form, leading to high demand for affordable land and housing. He presents examples within the British countryside where greenbelts are composed of derelict vacant lands, abandoned lands or far from the major population centers and not serving the roles initial intentioned for these lands.

The original purpose of greenbelts was to maintain a certain character of a location and provide residents within the city an opportunity to be close to nature. As cities begin to address issues of sprawl, manage growth, particularly in mid-sized growing cities, the concept of the greenbelt can be truly be a multifunctional landscape. Greenbelt land can be used for climate change adaptation (for example, areas of bioretention and flood mitigation), areas for urban food production, areas of recreation and tourism and can help protect the original character of a region. When designed appropriately and managed adequately through proper planning instruments these zones can serve as ecological connections between protected or natural lands. These areas are not virgin strips of land that need to be sheltered and isolated from all planning efforts. On the contrary, greenbelts should be managed zones that work in coordination with urban systems for they form part of the city. These zones should be fully incorporated into planning efforts and not treated as independent protected lands – that is not to say that there will not be natural features that will require protection, however that is not the sole identity of these lands. Greenbelts are complex working lands within the urban system, they have a significant and direct landscape agenda and should serve both an active and passive role within regional urban planning efforts.

[1] Moore, Rowan (18 October 2014). Is it time to rethink Britain’s green belt? The Observer. Retrieved from