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Green public spaces in the cities of South and Southeast Asia: Addressing the challenges towards sustainable wellbeing
While open public spaces have been studied in relation to biodiversity, health, and social inclusion, there is a need to further understand how such spaces relate to “sustainable wellbeing” (Gough 2017), or connect personal wellbeing to broader issues of collective wellness and responsibility in a world of environmental limits. Rao and Min (2017) suggest that public spaces can “foster a sense of freedom, for the pursuit of leisure activities, and to congregate for political and social activities” (p. 20), but further empirical evidence is needed. Building on this research gap, this paper considers the concept of wellbeing in relation to green public spaces based on the preliminary results of the GRESPA project (Green public spaces in the cities of South and Southeast Asia), with empirical research underway in four cities: Chennai, Metro Manila, Shanghai, and Singapore. The conceptual framework seeks to uncover how such green public spaces – understood as publicly accessible spaces with a biodiversity offer – act as satisfiers towards meeting protected human needs (Di Giulio and Defila 2018), such as the need to perform activities that are valuable to people, or to engage collectively with others. Included in the paper is a consideration for the social and environmental implications of green public spaces, in relation to social inclusion/exclusion, as well as microclimate diversity (Roesler and Kobi 2018) and climate change. The paper’s approach to the green public spaces-sustainable wellbeing nexus makes three central contributions: 1) broadening the notion of ‘wellbeing’ to include human development in a world of environmental limits; 2) understanding space usage as a form of consumption, involving practice theoretical approaches; and 3) illustrating opportunities for achieving sustainable wellbeing through the promotion of green public spaces as alternatives to the hegemonic air-conditioned and commercial spaces in South and Southeast Asian cities. Inference will be drawn from the cross-case analysis to infer best practices towards green space planning in an urban design towards sustainable wellbeing. We conclude with a discussion on the relevance of such an approach to meeting the SDG Goals 12 and 11, reflecting the KAN working groups on “Social change beyond consumerism” and “SCP in cities”.