A greenbelt is a swath of land around a city which is protected from development and construction. The land in a greenbelt may be used in various ways, ranging from farming to the construction of urban wetlands. Greenbelts are typically established through mandate in the form of a city plan, restrictive covenant, or land use designation, and many communities have placed a priority on the installation of greenbelts, encouraging people to think about the natural environment while engaging in city planning.
The concept of a greenbelt is ancient; primitive versions are mentioned in the Bible, and as far back as the seventh century in the Middle East, city leaders were mandating various forms of a greenbelt, such as forested regions which could not be logged. In the 20th century, cities began including greenbelts in their city plans in a variety of ways, ranging from mandating specific greenbelts to asking developers to include plans for greenbelts in their projects.
There are a number of benefits to a greenbelt. Many communities like to mandate greenbelts to preserve their character, and to create a pleasant natural space for people to recreate in, or to enjoy from a distance. The creation of a greenbelt can dramatically change the look and feel of a city, as dedicated open space can make a city seem less close and suffocating.
Greenbelts also have environmental benefits. They can help to regulate the temperature, preventing radical fluctuations, and they also conserve water, sequestering storm runoff and preventing water loss through evaporation. Greenbelts also provide habitat for animals, and because a greenbelt is made from a large swatch of land, the space encourages more diversity than isolated patches of greenspace, allowing animals to move freely.
A related concept is the greenway, a swatch of land which goes through a city, rather than around it. Greenways are often equipped with hiking and biking paths, making them useful to human residents of the city, and they also provide shelter and habitat to animal residents of cities. Like greenbelts, greenways can be landscaped with a variety of native plants, turned into wetlands, or forested, and they may include recreation facilities which range from stables to picnic tables.
Some critics feel that greenbelts may actually encourage urban sprawl, by forcing people to build out, rather than clustering construction. Furthermore, greenbelts obviously have a positive effect on property values, for people fortunate enough to own land located along a greenbelt, and some critics have suggested that greenbelts simply benefit the rich while using land in an inefficient way. However, the value of greenspace in a city cannot be understated, and many supporters feel that greenbelts are a very important part of sustainable design for a city despite these criticisms.