What is an open space? These two little words have very powerful meaning in human settlements. The Concise Oxford English dictionary defines open, among others, as allowing access, passage or view, not closed, fastened or restricted; exposed to the air, or to view; not covered or protected, etc. The same dictionary defines space, among others, as a continuous area or expense, which is free or unoccupied. Thus an open space can be described as a continuous area which is not occupies that allows access, passage or view and is exposed to the air or to view. What have open spaces got to do with human settlements or villages, towns and cities? A lot.

Health Concerns when building

There are very good reasons why a developer cannot built on the entire plot of land that he or she acquired. One of these reasons is health. Any building would have to be able to facilitate and allow the free movement of air (natural ventilation) as well as carry away any foul odour. That is one reason why somebody from the health department sits on the Technical Sub-Committee that recommends the approval of building plans in the various districts, municipal and metropolitan assemblies. It is for same reason that setbacks or specified spaces are left from the walls of buildings to the fence wall and also from the front wall to the street. Such open spaces also include courtyards in individual houses.

The house can be regarded as a microcosm or a smaller version of a human settlements. In that respect, human settlements also need spaces to literally breathe. Such spaces can be open spaces. Open spaces can, therefore, be referred to as the lungs of human settlements to function effectively and come in different shapes and sizes. Even in the Western world such as New York, Frankfurt and London, large open spaces, which could be public parks with trees and landscaped areas, sometimes with water bodies, are found in ambulance. Golf courses also follow in the category of open spaces. These public parks also have furniture such as benches, paved walkways and beautiful sceneries where many inhabitants spend some time away from the daily stress of life.

Where are the open spaces/parks?

Interestingly, our former colonial masters left open spaces and/or public parks in some of our human settlements and some indigenous settlements across the country also had their versions of these open spaces. What has happened to these spaces? Many of them are non-existents in Ghana, plots of land earmarked for open spaces have been sold as plots to developers by chiefs in league with officials of the land originally assigned to the Parks and Gardens Department, the body responsible for seeing to the development and maintenance of these open spaces, have suffered the same fate. The story goes that after the June 4, 1979 revolution, the Kumasi Golf Club was nearly turned into a cassava farm to benefit the proletariat so that the bourgeois “rich men” who played golf would have to find their course elsewhere. Fortunately, that did not happen and the golf course is still existing. The city of Kumasi used to be known as the “Garden City of West Africa”, an accolade allegedly bestowed on the city by no other than the Queen of England when she visited the city. What do we see today? Road construction to service the ever growing number of vehicles has meant the felling of several trees which used to line the streets in the municipality. The so-called Children’s Park at Amakom is now a den for vagrants and criminals. Fortunately, the renovated Rattray Park in Kumasi has come to fill a huge void in the city, despite some residents.

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The Efua Sutherland Park in Accra is in no different shape and it looks like the place now performs better as funeral grounds on week-ends than as a place for children to spend quality time. The Monkey Hill Sanctuary next to the Paa Grant Circle in Takoradi, unfortunately, is a forest reserve that cannot be used by the public. Many more such parks as the Rattray Park in Kumasi, perhaps not on the same scale, are needed across the length and breadth of Ghana. This is because open spaces facilitate better health and afford places for relaxation, socialisation and human watching.

Sadly, many educated people do not seem to appreciate the need for open spaces in human settlements in Ghana. They, therefore, see nothing wrong with the huge concrete jungle that is being created in human settlements in Ghana. Many people have simply developed a routine of moving from their heavily barricaded houses to their work places in the mornings through heavy traffic and returning to the same way in the late evenings. Weekends are spent at so-called “spots” or pubs with alcoholic beverages and pork, guinea fowl or chicken and that is all that life is about. Coupled with rare medical check-ups, is there any wonder that many notices announcing the death of people and these days, many young people now scream “what a shock?” Yes, weekends walk is better than a sedentary life without any exercise but the presence of open spaces in Ghana’s human settlements will also go a long way in improving the health of Ghanaians. Can a Member of Parliament take this crusade up so that open spaces are mandatorily located in all the districts across the country?

Prof. George W.K.Intsiful
Past Dean, Faculty of Arhitecture and Building Technologhy,