Mashhad reverses environmental impact by transforming highway to ‘green belt’

Responding to urban growth and development is a challenge for cities around the world. Over time, green spaces have become neglected as funding is channelled into grey projects. The latest AIPH Green City Briefing presented two cities that have taken the initiative to address their lack of nature-filled spaces and transform grey to green.

Organised by the International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH) in collaboration with the Worshipful Company of Gardeners (WCoG) and sponsor Expo 2023 Doha Qatar, the AIPH Green City Briefings 2022/23 are a series of one-hour webinars focussing on cities around the world that can demonstrate significant progress in including plants and nature in their city’s form and function.

The feature city for this Briefing was Mashhad, Iran. Last year, the city was a finalist in the inaugural AIPH World Green City Awards for their initiative of transforming the “Southern Transport Belt” into a “Green Belt”.

The city began construction of a 27km highway in 1990, which has had a negative impact on the surrounding environment. Despite having made significant investments into this project, construction was halted and in 2018 the transformation of this highway into a recreational green belt began. Dr Mahdi Jalili Mehrabani, Project Manager for Development of West of Mashhad, presented the multiple projects involved in this transformation in the Briefing.

Mahdi said: “This is the first time a grey belt has been transformed into a recreational area in Mashhad, and even in Iran. We coordinated with experts to persuade the government to change the usage of this place to a recreational area for citizens.”

One of the goals of this project was to provide citizens with a space to connect with cultural, nomadic and rural ecosystems. Multiple parks within the naturally mountainous area have been designed to provide a safe space for families to get in touch with nature. As the project progresses, these parks can be connected together to form a continuous green belt.

Read the full case study.

Considering accessibility in the design of urban green spaces is an important part of Julian Dobson’s work, who also joined the Briefing. As a Senior Research Fellow at Sheffield Hallam University, Julian’s studies are focussed on environmental justice, a subject that deals with accessibility to quality green spaces.

“Research shows that access to green and blue spaces is not equal,” Julian explained. “Even when poorer communities have green spaces nearby, they are often of poorer quality. How do we ensure that public parks are accessible to people who will benefit from them?”

To illustrate environmental justice in action, Julian presented the example of Birmingham, UK’s revitalisation of public green spaces. Birmingham was selected to be part of the ‘Future Parks Accelerator’ programme, which investigated how quality green spaces were distributed across the city. They found that half of the parks needed improvement to meet their desired standards and that 200 new parks needed to be created to equalise the distribution more fairly. Work has begun to bring these goals to reality.

Watch the Briefing on-demand

This was the ninth in a series of twelve AIPH Green City Briefings. For more information and to register for upcoming Briefings, visit the Event Page.


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