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What is a Greenway?

By Nick Doniger
Updated May 21, 2024
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A greenway is a linear space, used by the public, linking parks and other areas through a town, city, or country. It consists of paths, trails, sidewalks, and vehicle-free roadside areas in which motor vehicles are not meant to be used. Runners, cyclists, and dog walkers often take advantage of these areas, as well as anyone who wishes to safely traverse through town without a car. Ambitious greenways are built all over the world, including one along the entire eastern border of the United States. Green belts, which may be compared to large-scale greenways, are prominent in the United Kingdom.

Often, greenways appear as long dirt paths, though this is not always the case. A greenway may simply be built along the side of a road, either as a sidewalk or as part of the road itself, where motor vehicles are not meant to travel. Greenways often go through wooded areas and promote activities such as bird watching and general nature watching.

Many advantages to human health can be linked to the presence of greenways in a town or city. Such paths encourage exercises such as biking, jogging, walking, rollerskating, and similar physical activities. Additionally, when used as a mode of transportation, greenways cut down on gasoline emissions from motor vehicles, thereby reducing air pollution.

A greenway also promotes public safety. As it provides an area for hobbies such as biking and skating, there is less incentive for such activities to be conducted in streets, parking lots, or trespassed areas. These trails also provide access for disabled citizens to move about town in wheelchairs, and for dog owners to safely walk their pets in a relatively car-free area.

In 1991, an urban trail project called the East Coast Greenway was launched in the United States to connect the entire eastern border of the country. This 3,000 mile path links northern Maine to southern Florida, making use of park paths, abandoned railroads, and other various trails. Most of this greenway, however, is still on the side of roads. Only about 20 percent of the East Coast Greenway is completely traffic-free. Further development is expected to raise this percentage.

Greenways often result from regional planning policies. Large areas that adhere to such policies, known colloquially as green belts, discourage urban sprawl and urban development in respective cities, counties, states, provinces, or even entire nations. While the word "green" is often associated with the concept of environmentalism, green belts are not always established out of simple environmental concern. They also conserve historical aspects of various areas and keep populations in check. The Metropolitan Green Belt in the United Kingdom, which circles the city of London, is one of the world's largest green gelts.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a greenway and what is its primary purpose?

A greenway is a strip of undeveloped land near an urban area, set aside for recreational use or environmental protection. Its primary purpose is to connect communities with natural spaces, providing corridors for wildlife movement and offering people recreational opportunities, such as walking, cycling, and observing nature.

How do greenways benefit local ecosystems?

Greenways serve as vital habitat corridors, allowing plants and animals to move and disperse. They help maintain biodiversity by connecting fragmented habitats, which is crucial for species survival. Additionally, greenways can improve water quality by filtering pollutants and providing flood mitigation through natural vegetation.

Can greenways impact the economy of a region?

Yes, greenways can positively impact a region's economy. They attract tourism, which boosts local businesses. According to the American Trails organization, trails can increase property values and improve the quality of life, making areas more attractive for investment and development.

What types of activities are typically allowed on greenways?

Greenways are designed for a variety of activities that promote health and enjoyment of the outdoors. These often include walking, jogging, cycling, bird watching, and educational programs. Some greenways may also accommodate horseback riding and water-based activities like canoeing or fishing, depending on their location and design.

How do greenways contribute to community health and well-being?

Greenways provide accessible spaces for physical activity, which is essential for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. They offer a natural escape from urban environments, reducing stress and promoting mental health. The presence of greenways can also encourage social interaction and community engagement, fostering a sense of belonging and community pride.

Are greenways protected areas, and how are they maintained?

Greenways are often protected through local, state, or federal designations, ensuring their preservation for future generations. Maintenance is typically managed by a combination of government agencies, non-profit organizations, and community volunteers. Regular upkeep includes trash removal, trail repair, and habitat restoration to ensure the greenway remains a safe and enjoyable space for all.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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