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Neighbourhood essentials: open spaces

Guest Speakers:

  • Ms Michelle Borg - Unit Manager at the Planning Authority
  • Dr Elisabeth Conrad - Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Earth Systems
  • Perit Sandro Valentino - Architect at Valentino Architect


This webinar focused on the topic of open spaces and green infrastructure in Malta. The panel consisted of Ms Michelle Borg, Unit Manager at the Planning Authority; Dr Elisabeth Conrad, Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Earth Systems at the University of Malta as well as an Adjunct Assistant Professor at James Madison University Virginia; and Perit Sandro Valentino, an Architect based in Valletta.


During this session, it was highlighted that the pandemic brought about by Covid-19 led people to visit open spaces more frequently during their recreational time, with 79% stating that they feel comfortable visiting public spaces. Dr Conrad remarked that while this does not necessarily imply a newfound relationship between people and nature, it does give rise to a topic of discussion, and highlights the need to maintain a balance between economic growth and the quality of life.


Dr Conrad stated that a connection with nature represents various benefits, including physical, mental, and emotional health. In fact, Ms Borg expressed how the period of rapid development in Malta increased anxiety and stress in people. All the panellists agreed that there is a need for more access to open spaces, with pressures emanating both internally and externally to increase access to such spaces. Multinational bodies such as the EU constantly push towards green infrastructure in general. However, the main challenge in Malta remains the limited space available. Still, it is not an impossible task to achieve, as foreign densely populated cities have managed to strike a balance between open spaces and construction.


Ms Borg remarked that it is crucial to look at the multiple functions of open spaces, and to consider means by which such open spaces could attract various community groups during different periods of the day. Perit Valentino expressed the importance of incorporating multifunctionality in any design, including that of roads and open spaces.  He highlighted that roads were very much designed to accommodate cars and as a result, failed to consider alternative modes of transport. He stated that having “green roads” would bring about various benefits, such as shade and shielding from dust.


Citing Perit Valentino, “We need to integrate the natural landscape within our built environment.” He mentioned how we need to start assessing places and the way we design them on performative aspects, rather than the income we expect to derive from them.


In light of this, Ms Borg pointed out the challenge that would be faced when property is privately owned, as very often, investors would tend to value more the income derived from the property, rather than its green credentials. Thus, it might be difficult to convince an investor that s/he would be better off incorporating green spaces into the built environment.


Throughout the session, it was evident that when it comes to striking a balance between green infrastructure and the built environment, there is a tendency for the relevant parties to work with a silo mentality. All the panellists called for a systemic approach when addressing this challenge. This can be achieved if the technical people, entrepreneurs, and the community work together and listen in to each other’s views. Dr Conrad noted that better land use planning, to harvest the quality of the living environment is optimal. Ultimately, it is our responsibility to leave a better world to future generations and as stated by Perit Valentino, we all need to “start thinking a bit more selflessly”.