Green Public Spaces and Sustainable Cities in South and Southeast Asia: Integrating Needs and Societal Wellbeing

How do green public spaces meet the human needs and contribute to the societal wellbeing in urban settings and according to cultural context and across social groups?

Project Summary

The significance of green public spaces towards sustainability is well documented in relation to both social inclusiveness and environmental promotion. Yet the relation between green public spaces, societal wellbeing, and sustainable city development is less understood. This research assumes that green public spaces can act as synergic satisfiers towards human wellbeing, in that they provide satisfaction for a diversity of needs, but how this plays out in practice may differ according to the cultural context and across social groups. With a focus on four coastal mega-cities of South and Southeast Asia, this proposal seeks to understand human needs in relation to green public spaces as a satisfier towards societal wellbeing in relation to three main questions:

  • How do people practice green public spaces in daily life, in relation to material arrangements, dispositions, and social norms?
  • Towards what needs and for whom do green public spaces act as satisfiers?
  • What are the implications for the management of green public spaces and urban planning, at the local and cross-regional level?

Inter- and trans-disciplinary methods will be applied to field research in: Chennai (Republic of India), Metro Manila (Republic of the Philippines), Shanghai (People’s Republic of China) and Singapore (Republic of Singapore). The timing is critical: in emerging economies, green public spaces are increasingly being encroached upon by commercial and state interests, posing direct threats to sustainability. By uncovering opportunities for promoting more sustainable urban development and societal flourishing, this research proposal is relevant to cities in the region and beyond.

Academic Output

Executive Summary

This research project set out to demonstrate how and in what way green public spaces are synergic satisfiers towards human wellbeing, with a focus on four coastal mega-cities in Asia. The starting point for this project was that public spaces are integral to sustainability, as they not only harbor biological and microclimate diversity, but also promote individual need satisfaction as well as societal benefits such as: social inclusion, democratic engagement, and opportunities for leisure and livelihood generation. As such, they are potential satisfiers for a variety of human needs, including living in an environment that is worth living in, or being part of a community, or realizing one’s own conception of daily life. At the same time, green public spaces are a limited resource, both in relation to space allocation and types of usages. How public spaces are used to satisfy needs by one segment of society can compete with need satisfaction by other segments of the same society, creating tensions around the usage of green public spaces. The bigger and more diverse the city, the more this issue gains in importance.



Working Paper

Green Public Spaces in the Cities of South and Southeast Asia. Protecting Needs Towards Sustainable Well-being

The significance of green public spaces is well documented in relation to social inclusiveness, human health, and biodiversity, yet how green public spaces achieve what Gough (2017) has termed ‘sustainable wellbeing’ is less understood. This contribution presents preliminary results from a study of green public spaces in four mega-cities of South and Southeast Asia: Chennai (the Republic of India), Metro Manila (the Republic of the Philippines), Singapore (the Republic of Singapore), and Shanghai (the People’s Republic of China), cities that have climates ranging from tropical, to subtropical and temperate. The conceptual framework brings together social practice theories with human development theories, methodological implications for the study of park usage, and Protected Needs. This study sets out to understand how parks satisfy human needs by uncovering practices in relation to activities and material arrangements. Central to the research design and sampling strategy is a desire to understand park-related practices in all of their diversity, and accounting for how different activities are carried out by diverse groups of people. The paper presents exemplary results showing that parks provide a space in which a multitude of needs are satisfied and that parks cannot be substituted by other settings such as commercialized spaces. The paper will conclude by discussing tensions between types of park usage, and in relation to commercial encroachments on public space.


Spatialising degrowth in Southern cities: Everyday park-making for (un)commoning

Answering the call in this special issue to spatialise degrowth studies beyond the Global North, this paper examines practices of ‘park-making’ in Chennai and Metro Manila as a potential degrowth pathway. Parks in the coastal mega cities of Metro Manila and Chennai can be seen as relics of a colonial era, and spaces coherent with capitalist, growth-oriented and consumerist logics. At the same time, however, they become spaces that prefigure alternative ways of organising social life in the city based upon values of conviviality, care and sharing. Using qualitative methods of analysis, this paper examines what practices people engage with to satisfy their everyday needs in parks, but also the dynamics of exclusion and contestation that play out in these spaces. In doing so, we evaluate when and under what conditions park-making supports practices of de-growth and commoning beyond consumerist culture. Both commoning and uncommoning practices are detailed, revealing the role of provisioning systems that lead to the satisfaction of needs for some at the expense of others. Further, writing from cities that are highly unequal, and where the basic needs of many are yet to be met, we assert that understanding how degrowth manifests in these contexts can only be revealed through a situated urban political ecology approach. Spatialising degrowth in cities of the Global South should start with a focus on everyday practices, study power relationally and explore the scope for a radical incrementalism.


How the consumption of green public spaces contributes to quality of life: evidence from four Asian cities

While green public spaces have been studied in relation to biodiversity and climate change, and in relation to health and social inclusion, there is a need to further understand how they relate to a broader understanding of human wellbeing. Evidence suggests that public spaces play an important role with a view to happiness and mental health, but further evidence is needed on how people actually use such spaces and how human needs are met – and how this might compare across different contexts. This necessitates to linking conceptually, empirically and practically the consumption of such spaces, the notion of the good life, and the management of such spaces. Towards this aim, this article explores quality of life in relation to green public spaces in four cities of South and Southeast Asia: Chennai, Metro Manila, Shanghai and Singapore. Based on empirical research in these cities, we engage in a comparative analysis to discuss how and in what way ‘going to the park’ as a form of consumption is a satisfier towards meeting ‘Protected Needs’ () such as to live in a livable environment, to develop as a person or to be part of a community. The analysis shows that the practice ‘going to the park’ is linked to the practice ‘making the park’, leading to a discussion on how public policies can further support quality of life in cities. On a theoretical note, the article contributes to the debate about how to conceptually link human needs and social practices.

Research Team

Marlyne Sahakian
Université de Genève

Antonietta Di Giulio
Universität Basel

Czarina Saloma Akpedonu
Principal Member
Ateneo de Manila University – Quezon City

Srikanth Narasimalu
Principal Member
Nanyang Technological University

Dunfu Zhang
Principal Member
Shanghai University

Manisha Anantharaman
Principal Member
Saint Mary’s College of California

Janet Salem
Associated Member
UNEP United Nations Environment Programme

Garrette Clark
Associated Member
UNEP United Nations Environment Programme

Regula Von Büren
Associated Member
Nanyang Technological University





Policy domains



China, India, Philippines, Singapore

Host Institution