Public access to nature is more important now than ever. As “55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas”, projected to “increase to 68% by 2050” (UN, 2018), cities should be ensuring nature is easily accessible to people living nearby. This can be achieved by creating new green spaces such as parks, woods and wetlands (WHO, n.d.) and blue spaces which includes rivers, ponds and lakes (Tang, 2017) as well as improving existing ones. Both are valuable as they each provide environmental, economic and social benefits which can ultimately lead to a better quality of life for residents of those areas.
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Living in cities can often bring problems that do not apply in rural areas. One of these issues is air pollution which is damaging to the environment and has also been linked to health problems including asthma, strokes and heart disease. Green space has been proven to be a valuable resource for dealing with pollution. A 2015 survey showed that London’s 8 million trees removed 2241 tonnes of pollution from the air every year, a benefit which was valued at £126 million (London City Hall, 2015). The Mayor of London is developing a “major tree planting programme” and hopes for London to be the “world’s first National Park City by 2050” where over “half its area is green” (London Assembly, 2018).
Parks and green open spaces have been connected to both mental wellbeing and physical health and there are plenty of studies to show positive correlation (Wood et al., 2017; Akpinar, 2016). A case study was carried out in Beijing that implied more green space in a city promoted physical activity which in turn improved the health of the residents (Liu et al., 2017). Park users were shown to be more active than non-users. However it should be noted this data cannot be taken as being representative of all cities as walking was already a widespread mode of transport in Beijing. Mental health has also been shown to improve in areas where people have close access to green spaces. An Australian study showed that this relationship can be due to the promotion of physical activity and its health benefits but also as a result of the social interactions that come from visiting parks and other green spaces (Astell-Burt, Feng and Kolt, 2013).
The health benefits also indirectly bring monetary benefits for both the residents and government. The Natural Capital Account for London reported that Londoners saved “£950 million per year in health costs due to public green space” (London Assembly, 2018). The report also stated that services provided by public green spaces were valued at £5 billion a year including £926 million in recreational activities annually. The London Environment Strategy claimed that for every £1 spent on public green space, locals experience at least £27 in value. Unfortunately many cities, including London, are cutting funding for public parks and green spaces believing it to be a “false economy” without realising the value they bring in. While the short term costs may seem like a waste of money, the value is in the long term investment.
As blue space in cities is generally smaller in area than urban green space, less research has been undertaken into its value. However, there is plenty more evidence on the benefits of coastal blue space and the analysis can be used to infer the importance of urban blue space (de Bell et al., 2017). These studies have shown that living near the coast increases the amount of physical activity (e.g. walking on beaches and swimming) and social interaction people engage in which in turn can improve their physical and mental health (Dempsey et al., 2018).
- UN DESA | United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. (2019). 68% of the world population projected to live in urban areas by 2050, says UN | UN DESA | United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. [online] Available at: https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html [Accessed 25 Oct. 2019].
- World Health Organization. (2019). Urban green spaces. [online] Available at: https://www.who.int/sustainable-development/cities/health-risks/urban-green-space/en/ [Accessed 25 Oct. 2019].
- Tang, K. (2017). Urban Design and Public Health - What is Blue Space? - Urban Design. [online] Urban Design. Available at: https://2016-2017.nclurbandesign.org/2017/01/urban-design-public-health-blue-space/ [Accessed 25 Oct. 2019].
- London City Hall. (2015). London’s pollution-busting trees valued at £6.1 billion in new survey. [online] Available at: https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/londons-pollution-busting-trees-valued-at-61bn [Accessed 28 Oct. 2019].
- London Assembly (2018). London Environment Strategy. London, pp.25, 167, 194.
- Wood, L., Hooper, P., Foster, S. and Bull, F. (2017). Public green spaces and positive mental health – investigating the relationship between access, quantity and types of parks and mental wellbeing. Health & Place, 48, pp.63-71.
- Akpinar, A. (2016). How is quality of urban green spaces associated with physical activity and health?. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 16, pp.76-83.
- Liu, H., Li, F., Li, J. and Zhang, Y. (2017). The relationships between urban parks, residents' physical activity, and mental health benefits: A case study from Beijing, China. Journal of Environmental Management, 190, pp.223-230.
- Astell-Burt, T., Feng, X. and Kolt, G. (2013). Mental health benefits of neighbourhood green space are stronger among physically active adults in middle-to-older age: Evidence from 260,061 Australians. Preventive Medicine, 57(5), pp.601-606.
- de Bell, S., Graham, H., Jarvis, S. and White, P. (2017). The importance of nature in mediating social and psychological benefits associated with visits to freshwater blue space. Landscape and Urban Planning, 167, pp.118-127.
- Dempsey, S., Devine, M., Gillespie, T., Lyons, S. and Nolan, A. (2018). Coastal blue space and depression in older adults. Health & Place, 54, pp.110-117.
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