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Green Belt/Greenway

Green belt/greenway

A green belt is an area of land that usually surrounds a town or city, and is kept open by government restrictions on further development. Often it comprises both public and private land.

Green belts provide both recreational areas and landscape, but their main purpose is to contain cities, diverting future growth, and preventing cities and towns from merging.

It grew out of Sir Ebenezer Howard's "Garden City" approach to town planning, which aimed to provide natural areas for residents of cities. Garden cities were surrounded by countryside; city expansion was only to take place by developing new garden cities on the other side of the green belt. The result would be clusters of cities grouped around a central city. Several garden cities (e.g., Welwyn in England) were built in Britain.

In the 1920s, London's government called for study of an "agricultural belt," although the farming function was considered incidental. Its key purpose was to act as a barrier to growth. Ultimately, these were to serve as open spaces. Sir Raymond Unwin proposed a "green girdle" of spaces easily accessible to towns and cities. This plan led to the 1938 Green Belt Act, and about 38,000 acres (15,580 ha) were purchased. After World War II, green belts were again proposed as a means to limit development. A green belt about 5 mi deep (8 km) separated the inner city and the suburbs from the outer countryside. Land was both purchased and controlled through zoning compensation and by purchasing development rights. Typically, farming was allowed, but housing was not. By 1959, 840 mi2 (2,175 km2) had been secured. The green belt was not considered completely successful, as it did not halt London's growth, and residents' use of the lands was not high, as they were not easily accessible.

Other difficulties, according to William H. Whyte, author of The Last Landscape, were the time and expense of controlling land and maintaining it, arbitrary placement of the green belt areas (not following natural boundaries) and lack of function attached to the land.

Green belts today emphasize the landscape and recreational values of open areas. Containment is negative and it does not work, a conclusion the Japanese came to in 1965 when they abandoned a proposed London-type green belt to contain Tokyo.

The green belt concept came to the United States much later, and many would say that it grew into the greenways concept, which have the specific purpose of providing open space and recreational areas. In the United States, the term is often used interchangeably with the term greenway, although the meaning is somewhat different.

Greenways, according to Jennifer Howard, author of Greenways: A Citizen's Guide, are linear corridors of land and water and the natural, cultural, and recreational resources they link together. They help conserve a variety of resources and create recreational opportunities.

Greenways were inspired both by green belts and by the work of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, who, in the late 1800s, designed a number of urban park systems he called "parkways." One of his most notable is the Emerald Necklace, a string of park areas around Boston.

They may take the form of a riverfront walkway, a bicycle path, an urban walking trail connecting historic sites and neighborhood parks, a wildlife migration corridor, among others. Greenways are typically categorized as river greenways, paths and trails, cultural and historic greenways, wildlife corridors. They are typically comprising both public and private lands, and can include trails, riverways, habitat and resource conservation areas, notable natural features, scenic roads, historic structures, vacant urban lands, forestland, and farm fieldsbasically any resource that is significant to a community. Greenways help make these resources accessible to residents without need for a car. Four categories of land and water resources can be incorporated into a greenway system: resource-conservation areas, parks and open spaces, cultural and historic resources, and the corridors of land and water which connect these other elements together.

In the last 20 years, the greenway concept has increased in recognition and popularity. Today, hundreds are underway. In 1987, The President's Commission on Americans Outdoors focused national attention on greenways, and recommended their establishment "to link together the rural and urban spaces in the American landscape."

In Massachusetts, several greenways exist. The Connecticut River Greenway State Park in Massachusetts comprises about 3,500 acres (14,350 ha) of land owned or controlled by the Department of Environmental Management along a 70-mi (113-km) stretch of the Connecticut River. Much of the land is in private ownership and includes farms and woodlots.

The Massachusetts Bay Circuit encircles the entire Boston Metropolitan area; within Boston, the Emerald Necklace, a string of parkways, was planned by Frederick Law Olmsted. Other notable green belts exist in Portland, Oregon; Vienna; and Tokyo.

[Carol Steinfeld ]



Howard, J., Creating Greenways: A Citizen's Guide. The Department of Environmental Management, 1997.

Whyte, W. H. The Last Landscape. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1968.

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