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.

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