the use and management of open spaces in low income residential neighbourhoods in imo state communities

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Open spaces are an essential component in any urban settlement. Urban public open spaces are quite important in enhancing the quality of life and urban environment while offering social, health, environmental and economic benefits to a city and its residents. This research investigates the relationship between the quality of public open space and the well-being of the community in urban residential areas a case study of Low income residential neighbourhoods in imo state. The study therefore, assesses the indicators of the quality of public open spaces vis-a-vis the quality of open spaces within Low income residential neighbourhoods in imo state with an overall objective of proposing opportunities for improving the quality of open spaces in residential neighbourhoods while looking at the perspective of the vulnerable users such as the elderly and children who every so often depend on easily accessible open spaces in close proximity to their homes.

The research employed three methodological phases which consist of mapping out existing open spaces, behavioural observation of the users and the use of open spaces and the resident opinion survey which helped in assessing the quality of the open space in the study area. It also used both primary and secondary data to facilitate bringing forth knowledge on indicators of quality in open spaces, needs and benefits of open spaces as well as the concepts and theories of neighbourhood open spaces planning. Therefore, tools such as questionnaires, interview schedules, observation checklist as well as mapping of existing open spaces were used. Secondary data was sourced from published journals, documents, past research document and other books relevant to this study.

The study found out the deficiencies to the comprehensive planning for quality open spaces and building sectors more so where it actually fails. This fails of a functional open spaces are a result of shortage of facilities and amenities on the open spaces, lack of amusing sites, poor linkages and connectivity to the spaces, security issues and poor management the landscape and facilities.

The study provides measures to help improve on condition of open spaces such as improvement and upgrading of the existing amenities and facilities to aid usability, improving walkability and accessibility and effective management would be key in fostering their quality, which will have spread effects to the social realm and economic realm, more so, will be able to attract activities onto them.


Chapter One: Introduction

              Background of the Study

Open spaces are one of the land uses that are provided for in the planning of urban centres. They form the precincts of the interaction between man, land and built form. Globally, open spaces play a major role in the life, form and experience of towns and cities. The need for urban open spaces present social benefits, opportunities for health benefits, opportunities for environmental benefits as well as opportunities for economic benefits. Contiguity of open space, such as parks, gardens and other green spaces has considerable health benefits, and people have been shown to be more likely to use such space for physical activity if it is of high quality. (Beheshti, 2010) For open spaces to attract people, architectural proportions of the surrounding buildings that enclose the space, form and typology of the public space, human scale, and pleasant landscape design with the aim of meeting the needs of the local community in terms of their quantity, quality and accessibility.


When open spaces are successful they will tend to increase opportunities to participate in communal activity. This comradeship in the open spaces nurtures the growth of public life, which is inhibited by the social isolation of ghettos and suburbs. In the parks, plazas, markets, waterfronts, and natural areas of our cities, people from different cultural groups can come together in a supportive context of mutual enjoyment. As these experiences are repeated, open spaces become vessels to carry positive communal meaning (Zhong, 2015).


Grey, green, blue and other shared open spaces have been seen as symbols of shared well-being and possibility, expressions of achievement and desire by urban planners and designers. These

locations form spaces of political deliberation and agonistic struggle as well as places for collective achievement across time and space which often have strong relationship between urban public space, civic culture, and political formation (Amin, 2008). One such great space is Owerri Park (plate 1) which carries the memories of major political liberations in Nigeria and the city Imo.

Open spaces should therefore be preserved and allowed to fulfil their traditional role as spaces for recreation, and political partaking promoting liveable communities, well-being and civic engagement. If interfered with, it will eradicate the last remaining spaces for democratic practices, places where a wide variety of people from different gender, class, culture, nationality and ethnicity intermingle peacefully. Therefore, planners should make sure that our urban public open spaces where we all come together, remain public in the sense of providing a place for everyone to relax, learn, recreate, and open so that we have places where interpersonal and intergroup cooperation can be enhanced.


              Statement of the Problem


As the city of Imo experiences rapid population growth, significant infrastructure to support urbanization and enhance the residents’ quality of life, such as the provision of public open spaces, has not been provided at equivalent rates (Obudho & Mhlanga, 1988). Expansion of urban centres, especially with regard to increase in population, leads to change in patterns of utilization of open spaces (Makworo, 2011). Historically, the population of the city increased from 11,500 in 1900 to 3.2 million by 2009. At present, the city’s population is estimated to be over 4 million. The city has also expanded geographically with the boundary being extended from 18 km2 in 1900 to 690 km2 in 1963 (Oyugi & K’Akumu, 2007). Most of the population living in the city of Imo is housed in the Eastlands area of the city which constitute of low to middle income strata of the population. Low income residential neighbourhoods in imo state is one of the major residential area which houses a population of 20,000 comprising of middle class.


Factors of increase in population, increase demand of affordable housing, and land grabbing have contributed to the lack of adequate number of open spaces more so, some of the existing open spaces are poorly designed while most of them lack recreational amenities to support a good quality, pleasant social life that an urban open space is envisioned to. Recreational amenities such as places to walk on, places to seat or stand are either lacking or uncomfortable to use and in most cases, incapable of meeting the demand from the population. These open spaces end up lacking element that attract users onto them. In addition, insecurity caused by the lack of amenities such as suitable lighting, lack of monitoring of the open spaces, inaccessibility, poor or lack of maintenance of the open spaces and the perceived unfriendly form nature and greenery in some of these open spaces towards their user makes them unattractive psychologically uncomfortable and unusable for social use and recreation at certain times.


Yet, within the same context, there are examples of what has been done right to improve the attractiveness of some of the open spaces in Low income residential neighbourhoods in imo state. The introduction of the clean-up and landscaping exercise has created a great node for public gatherings on some of the open spaces in Low income residential neighbourhoods in imo state (plate 2). This is evidence presents an opportunity for future design, that it gives feedback on what works and what does not work and can therefore be used as a tool for measurement of its own success.


This becomes the entry point to assess the quality of open spaces in Imo state by evaluating their quality based on a synthesis of guidelines which will be developed through critical literature review and draw lessons on how to make them sustainable, environmentally sound, economically viable, sociable, attractive, pedestrian- oriented centres that are the pulse of the City of Imo– and a suitable living room for its inhabitants.


    Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this research is examine the quality open spaces has had and is having effects on the socio-economic and environmental aspects for Low income residential neighbourhoods in imo states as well as to identify several ways to deal with these challenges, while also highlighting research gaps. The research will also try to find out as to how loss of open space in terms of quantity can be offset by increased urban open space quality.


    Objectives and Research Questions of the Study


This study will be guided by the following specific objectives:

  1. To identify the indicators of quality of open spaces in residential neighbourhoods
  2. To assess the quality of open spaces in Low income residential neighbourhoods in imo state
  3. To propose planning interventions for enhancing the quality of open spaces in Low income residential neighbourhoods in imo state


Research Questions

This study will seek to answer the following research questions:

  • What are the indicators of quality open spaces in residential neighbourhoods?
  • What are effects of the quality of open spaces on the well-being of the community in Low income residential neighbourhoods in imo state?
  • What are the planning interventions for enhancing the quality of open spaces in Low income residential neighbourhoods in imo state?

Assumptions of the study

Open spaces differ from one to the next. No open space is the same to the other. Open space may change rapidly or gradually by design, use or size and this may affect the usage patterns. For purposes of this research, it is assumed that:

  1. The design, shape and size of remaineed the same nor were there any infrastructural improvements made during the study period of October 2015-March
  2. The behavioral and usage patterns of the open spaces assessed throughout the research period reflect of the general patterns of use all through the year with the exception of periods of special

Not making these assumptions, some of the research findings might be significantly altered.


 Justification and Significance of the Study




Residential neighbourhoods ought to be provided with quality and adequate open spaces. A residential area built form alone cannot support the livability of its populace. Therefore, there is the need to provide for open spaces for use by its residents. More importantly, open spaces offer social, health, environmental and economic benefits for the residents of a residential neighbourhood.

If quality was measurable by a variable, it would not be by the greatness or brilliance of its buildings but rather by the richness of its voids or open spaces. If you design good open spaces and streets, you design a good city which are vibrant, livable, active, accessible, safe and scenic. It follows therefore, that a city as important as Imo, should not only have just open spaces its residential areas, but rather, should have quality open spaces that are deliberately designed to enrich social, environmental and economic benefits among its users. This need for quality


open spaces necessitates carrying out this research in the residential neighbourhood of Low income residential neighbourhoods in imo state, Imo.


This research is meant to study the open spaces of Low income residential neighbourhoods in imo state in lieu of open spaces approach: Placemaking, which aims at making open spaces more responsible to the social, economic and environmental aspects to promote quality and sustainability. This a relatively new concept and approach to planning and design of open spaces.

The information accrued from this research will be important to the Residential open space planning policies, the Imo County specifically the City Planning, Urban Design & Environmental Departments whose mandate fall into setting up and maintaining open spaces in the city of Imo, Nigeria. The research may also influence public policy on how provision, use and management may be undertaken in a bottom up approach. It can be a significant guideline to the provision of open space in residential areas which may change the way professionals do their jobs in a particular field, or may change the way people live. It may also benefit professionals in the fields of urban planning, landscape architecture and urban design as well as build up data and information on park and open space for the end user.


    Scope and Limitations of the Study


The research will be limited in both the subject matter and in spatial extent. It will focus on the spatial aspect of neighbourhood open spaces without ignoring the social aspect in the city of Imo. The case studies for the research are limited to geographic boundaries of the Imo city and focused on specific neighbourhood open spaces. Consequently, three cluster neighbourhood sites will be selected to conduct the research. These are Imo state phase 5, Imo state phase 4 and Imo state phase 3.


Limitations of the study

The researcher might encounter a number of limitations and shortcomings in the study that he cannot control. Time allocated to conduct this research may be limited to cover all open spaces and behavioral change of open space users and informants in the event they know they are being studied. In order to counter this probable occurrence as well as get unaltered results under the most natural conditions, it is necessary that the researcher uses a concealed camera to carry out his examinations. Creating rapport and establish a healthy relationship to create trust and

assure confidentiality in the information they will give on their experience with open spaces in their neighbourhood. To facilitate access to open spaces to be studied, the researcher will seek the necessary permissions to enable him to access the various open spaces and other spaces of interest by acquiring the necessary letters and identification to conduct the research.



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