By Tayo Ogunbiyi

The benefits of parks and gardens, especially in a cosmopolitan city like Lagos, cannot be over- emphasised. From improving our physical and psychological health to making the environment and neighborhoods more beautiful places to live and work, the benefits of parks are endless. Parks and gardens provide a diverse and quantifiable range of benefits that immensely improve the quality of life of the people.

For one, parks offer opportunities to enrich the quality of life for diverse kinds of people. Research has shown that when people have access to parks, they relax and exercise more. Regular physical activity has been shown to increase health and reduce the risk of a wide range of diseases, including heart disease, hypertension, colon cancer, and diabetes. Physical activity also relieves symptoms of depression and anxiety, improves mood, and enhances psychological well-being. It has also been established that contact with natural habitat improves physical and psychological health. Older adults with access to recreational prospects profit from the social connections and interactions that are fundamental to their well-being.

Parks have long been recognized as key contributors to the aesthetic and physical quality of neighborhoods. Today, we realize that parks are more than recreation and visual assets to communities; they are valuable contributors to larger community policy objectives, such as public health, youth development, job opportunities, social and cultural exchange, and community building.

At the community level parks play a special role, they have something to offer everyone from young children and teens, to families, adults and the elderly; their presence can also be a cohesive force. They are more than places to recreate and relate to nature; parks can also offer a multitude of opportunities to engage in arts and music. A park can be a community focal point, a symbol of its vitality and character, adding to its overall health, well-being and quality of life.

From the ecological perspective, parks reduce energy use and storm water runoff, increase the value of neighboring property, and improve academic performance among teens. Studies have, equally, shown that crime is relatively lesser in places where parks exist. The availability of recreation opportunities and park amenities is also an important  factor for investors in deciding where to invest.

The world is presently faced with enormous challenges that constitute a great danger to the environment. The consequence of global warming has been conspicuous in our environment due to increased temperature, rising sea levels, destruction of forests, flooding, among others. The necessity for a new approach in addressing new environmental challenges has become urgent to the survival of the human race. The degree to which we embrace and maintain natural tendencies in our present world is critical to the survival of the whole world.

Lagos, being a coastal city, has peculiar environmental challenges such as flooding arising from its location on the banks of the Atlantic Ocean and the lagoons, which naturally overflow from time to time during the rainy season. The problem has been compounded by the erection of houses in flood-prone areas, including on the drainages, and further obstruction of water by the dumping of refuse into the drainages.

It is in an attempt to tackle some of these contemporary threats to the environment that the Lagos state government encouraging the establishment of parks and gardens across the state. Presently, there are over 32  parks across the state while work is in advanced stage to establish additional 17 at various locations across the state. The 17 new ones would bring the total number of parks and gardens in the state to 197. The gardens and parks have greatly improved the aesthetic appeal of the environment, contributed to the global war against climate change and boosted tourism as a major revenue earner. But, perhaps, more significantly, the beautification and landscaping of the state has created experienced professionals in the art of gardening, structural design, landscaping.

It is no longer news that Lagos has, in recent years, witnessed a massive landscaping and beautification programme that has literally changed the face of the mega city for the better. The government’s environmental renewal programme has led to the recovery of open spaces from garbage, illegal structures and miscreants who used them as launch pad to unleash terror on innocent citizens and make the state look like one big slum with haphazard development.

This initiative of the state government is meant to beautify and regenerate Lagos environment from the effect of climate change. This cannot be overemphasized as the intensity of global warming is real as a lot of damage is being done to animals, plants and human beings thereby, causing serious threat to the entire ecosystem.

The Lagos State government through its agency, Lagos State Parks and Gardens Agency, LASPARK, is committed to consolidating  on the great work done by the state government in changing the face of the environment. It is, principally, in order to sustain the effort that LASPARK was established. Government’s effort at putting in place gardens and parks across the state has placed upon her enormous responsibilities. It is pleasant to note that this effort was recognized when Lagos was mentioned alongside Johannesburg as one of the most improved and green compliant cities during the Environment Summit (RIO 20+) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2012.

It is, however, important that Lagosians support this government’s initiative by respecting trees, parks, garden, lawns and railings put in place across the state as they were provided with tax payers money. They should not be abused. Parks should not turned into market places, toilets, refuse dumps or places to where animals graze. Failure to control animals or allowing  their defecation or engaging in an unhygienic use of fountains, pools or water in the parks, gardens and open spaces would be counter- productive and as such must be discouraged.

With natural disasters occurring across the world, as a result of the abuse of the environment, this is the time for everyone to have a rethink about our attitude to the environment.  That we have not experienced monumental environmental tragedy should not be taken for granted as being immune from such . Thus, we must take our destiny into our hands and do all the needful to ward off avoidable natural calamities. Hence, the need for everyone to support the state government in protecting the parks and gardens across the state.

•Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.