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Can Urban Spaces Create Emerald Cities in Uzbekistan?

Caught between rapid urban growth and dwindling natural resources, Uzbekistan’s solution lies within its own urban landscapes – researchers reveal.

In recent research by Young-Jin Ahn and Zuhriddin Juraev, the authors delved into the role of green spaces within urban landscapes in Uzbekistan. Their research, published in Nature-Based Solutions, takes an interdisciplinary approach to study the design, management, and significant role of such spaces in contributing to sustainable development. This research isn’t a trivial matter of urban aesthetics but a pressing issue with global consequences. Green spaces, as is becoming increasingly clear, have a direct and positive impact on both our planet’s health and our own well-being.

At the heart of Ahn and Juraev’s study lies the understanding that green spaces – forests, parks, gardens, street trees, riparian plantings, and riparian groves – are vital in countering rapid urbanisation and environmental issues. They act as lung spots for cities, offering respite from the summer heat, improving air quality, reducing noise pollution, and enhancing biodiversity. The city dwellers who spend time in these spaces also benefit through improved physical and mental health. However, there lies a challenge – a rapid pace of urbanisation that threatens to shrink these green spaces, potentially negating these benefits.

A grave concern globally, this issue has been largely overlooked in Uzbekistan, rendering a significant research gap. Ahn and Juraev underline geography’s pivotal role in managing green spaces. Introducing various theoretical perspectives and interdisciplinary approaches, their study highlights the role of ‘urban green network theory‘, encompassing greenways, green corridors, and wildlife corridors, which can nurture biodiversity while promoting environmental sustainability.

In their study, Ahn and Juraev investigate how Uzbekistan’s population distribution, agricultural practices, and fertile land availability influence where green spaces exist. They use ‘central place theory’ to identify where these spaces are lacking and provide guidance for creating green-filled hubs in cities. The study also delves into how environmental geography and urban ecology can inform forest management practices. The approach aids in spotting areas for potential expansion or green space restoration. Regarding climate change, the research emphasises the importance of understanding local climatic patterns and creating green spaces catering to the diverse needs of local communities.

Green arcs of dense vegetation neatly trimmed above a wide path. The arcs dip in the middle, so that they look like the top half of an outline of a Valentine heart.
Tashkent City park. Image: Canva.

The authors note that Uzbekistan is wrestling with the problem of illegal logging, particularly threatening its desert and riparian forest regions. The situation is complicated by the scarcity of the region’s forest and tree resources, which many depend on for firewood and timber. A downward spiral has emerged as continuous fuelwood extraction degrades natural saxaul forests, and illegal logging erodes the poplar forests of riparian areas. In the eastern mountainous zones, unregulated charcoal production and illicit logging threaten the native juniper forests. 

To tackle this looming crisis, researchers propose a three-pronged approach melding effective law enforcement, promoting sustainable practices for fuelwood and charcoal production, and exploring alternative energy sources. This is particularly important outside Uzbekistan’s cities. Ahn and Juraev write in the paper:

In rural areas, where regular power outages pose a risk, households rely partially on firewood for cooking and heating. The official data indicate that 72 per cent of total wood production is used as firewood. However, the actual demand and consumption of fuelwood and charcoal are likely higher, potentially exceeding 1–2 million m3. Unrecorded logging for fuelwood and charcoal is widespread across all biomes of the country.

Ahn and Juraev 2023

Ahn and Juraev explore the importance of protected areas, using ‘conservation geography’ to discuss establishment and maintenance strategies. The researchers link illegal logging to the concepts of ‘resource geography’, ‘urban ecology’, and ‘political economy’. All these factors together create a systematic, interdisciplinary approach to analysing and understanding how to foster sustainable urban development in Uzbekistan.

Ahn and Juraev say that integrating nature within the urban landscape can mitigate pollution and improve overall quality of life, meeting the World Health Organization’s recommended minimum of “50 m2 per person” of green space. The researchers propose positioning green spaces near transportation hubs, creating accessible and interconnected networks that enhance urban life quality while promoting sustainable transportation. 

Chimgan, Uzbekistan. Image: Canva.

The authors emphasise the partnership between the top-down direction of policy and bottom-up community ownership of the environment. For this reason, Ahn and Juraev highlight the importance of local urban planning policies are essential. They conclude in their paper: 

Policymakers addressing green space concerns in Uzbekistan must consider key solutions from a geographic standpoint. Strategic integration of green spaces, guided by central place and urban ecology theories, ensures equitable access for all residents. By considering population density and proximity to residential areas, policymakers can foster a spatial distribution of green spaces that enhances well-being and quality of life in cities. Preserving and restoring natural urban habitats based on the principles of urban ecology should be a priority, encompassing the protection of existing green spaces, restoration of degraded areas, and creation of linkages between green corridors to promote biodiversity and ecosystem services. Involving local communities in the planning and design of green spaces, guided by humanistic geography principles, fosters a sense of ownership, community pride, and social cohesion. This participatory approach ensures that green spaces meet the specific needs and desires of residents, resulting in an inclusive and vibrant urban environment.

Ahn and Juraev 2023

Ahn, Y.-J. and Juraev, Z. (2023) “Green spaces in Uzbekistan: Historical heritage and challenges for urban environment,” Nature-Based Solutions, 4(100077), p. 100077. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nbsj.2023.100077.

Cover: Tashkent. Image: Canva.

Dale Maylea

Dale Maylea was a system for adding value to press releases. Then he was a manual algorithm for blogging any papers that Alun Salt thinks are interesting. Now he's an AI-assisted pen name. The idea being telling people about an interesting paper NOW beats telling people about an interesting paper at some time in the future, when there's time to sit down and take things slowly. We use the pen name to keep track of what is being written and how. You can read more about our relationship with AI.

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