In Praise of Green Space

On a trip to London this past March, I looked around one day and exclaimed to my children “Look at all this green space! London is so lucky to have this green space.” The remark came as a result of living in metropolitan areas with no green space and no funds for developing or maintaining green space. In a city like Cairo you realize very quickly that green space is a luxury. A luxury that only the wealthy can afford. Take for instance the Gezirah Club on the island of Zamalek in Cairo. Developed in the 1880’s this club was frequented by “Anglo-Egyptians” and British colonialists. By 1929 it had a tea pavilion, squash courts, polo grounds, golf and croquet. The Gezirah Sporting Club has massive amounts of green space, 150 beautiful acres and all available for a price.

Desperate for green space in the early 90’s and with five children living in a 5th floor apartment in Cairo, we had the luxury of joining this club. It was an expensive mistake. While it gave us occasional relief from crowds and traffic, joining was only the first cost. Once inside the gates, every activity cost more money. I am quite certain my children remember me arguing passionately in 1st year Arabic that I was not going to pay extra for my children to swim in the pool. (Incidentally I won.) With around forty percent of Egyptians living on two dollars a day, the green space of the Gezirah Sporting Club, or any other club in Cairo, is not affordable. One study found that the amount of green space in Cairo was about one foot print per person.

Al Azhar park, 74 acres of lawns, gardens and restaurants, was developed in a historic area of Cairo in recent years and has provided more availability to green space. The park was given as a gift to Cairo from the Aga Khan, a gift born from an “Islamic belief that we are all trustees of God’s creation and therefore must seek to leave the world a better place than it was before us” (from Tour Egypt). The gift was presented in 1984 during a conference on coping with Cairo’s growth but fully developed only in the past 10 years. Though built for Cairenes, even this park has a price tag.

It was this that I was thinking about when I commented on London’s beautiful green spaces – the likes of Kensington Park and Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, St. James Park – too many parks to name. These spaces are beautiful, green, lush and free. A plane ride back to Boston and I was reminded that around the corner from where I work is Boston Common and bordering this, the Public Gardens. Beautiful, green, lush and free. As I walk in my neighborhood in Cambridge there is free green space on both banks of the Charles River. There are so many parks I haven’t seen them all. Within walking distance from my home are three parks, all varying in size, seating, and play space, but all free green space. This green space is a gift that is easy to take for granted.

My brother, Ed Brown, is someone who loves green space, loves to preserve green space as well as remind people that it is a gift and as such needs to be cared for. In his fifties he took a leap of faith (no, more like a sky dive of faith) and began an environmental missions organization called “Care of Creation”. It was a financial and career risk but it is his passion and a reflection of his faith in a God who creates. As is often true with siblings, we see them as our siblings, not as entrepreneurs or artists, visionaries or scholars. They are just Ed. Or Stan. Or Tom. Or Dan. They are my siblings. Because I am a sibling, I am slow to learn from the passion of my brother, but the more I look around, the more I see the benefit of caring in one place vs. the absence of care in another.

As our family has taken advantage of green space and beautiful beaches this summer with picnics in meadows and long walks watching the tide go out, I am grateful to my brother for increasing my awareness of green space, of outdoor beauty, of creation itself. And though I am a slow learner he has won me over in his passion to not only enjoy, but also care about green space and the world that God created.

Bloggers Note: Care of Creation (Madison, WI), has taken an active environmental role in the U.S as well as internationally. A seminar called Our Father’s World; Why Christians Should Care About the Environmental Crises, Care of Creation and led by Ed Brown helps the church learn about why caring for creation is important and a critical part of loving the world. Ed Brown has also written a book called “Our Father’s World: Mobilizing the Church to Care for Creation.”

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