While green spaces have numerous benefits that arise from passive use, like viewing it, from the effect is has on air quality or infiltration or through improving aesthetics – in short, benefits that arise without a human actually having to step into the space – there are a number of benefits that can only be gained by using green space actively. Even for some those benefits that can be gained through passive use – like mental health wellbeing from viewing green space – the space has to be visually accessible. Many of the services green infrastructure provides only turn into benefits when access to the space itself is granted. This is not only a question of putting in doors or pathways, but of making accessing a greenspace safe, attractive and easy and providing the right environment for people to enjoy benefits. This means, access is in a way also a question of design – especially as poor quality green space is often not used and can mean negative impacts rather than positive ones. This does not only apply to parks or general amenity spaces but also green roofs, pocket parks and similar, and these opportunities should not be underestimated in providing access to green spaces in a dense urban environment.
Here is a print version of the information on this page and the references used: Access Engagement
Benefits of Providing Access
One in four people in England experience poor mental health at any given time. Green spaces can contribute to improved mental wellbeing either by encouraging physical exercise and play, providing space for “escape” and have been shown to make significant contributions to an individual’s wellbeing in many different ways: Some of the mental health benefits do not necessarily need physical access to a green space but can already be increased by providing a view of them as it is the aesthetic experience that gives rise to the positive effects 1. There is evidence on the impact of quality of the green space at hand2. Having access to green space has been shown to improve mental health considerably and sustainably 3, and natural views can promote drops in blood pressure, increase focus and reduce feelings of stress, even if only short exposure (40 seconds) happens. 4. Children with ADD have been found to benefit from activity in public, especially green spaces5. Play in vegetated areas has been shown to inspire more imaginative activities and breaks during schooldays improve learning for children. Social development through play with others is also an important benefit of these areas1.
- Connection with nature and sense of place are important factors in an individual’s wellbeing and have been shown to be connected to greenspaces6.
- Parks and other green areas provide meeting spaces and venues for social events. This can increase social interaction over a neighbourhood and increase residents’ overall satisfaction with their area17.
The ability to exercise and travel actively has impacts on physical wellbeing. Green spaces have been shown to facilitate physical exercise for those living near them, and streets with trees show higher cycle traffic than those without. Examples of benefits are:
- Increased likelihood of physical activity and therefore lower obesity rates and lower rates of cardiovascular diseases. People who live furthest away from public green space are 27% more likely to suffer from obesity 81910.
- Lower overall mortality rates – although differences have been found between different demographic groups, overall a positive relationship between green space provision and health has been found 11.
Lower air temperatures during heatwaves – green spaces (where they are big enough) can provide shelter from hot temperatures during prolonged periods outside in the urban environment 17.
Attractive areas lead to higher business investment and more visitor spending. Additionally, jobs can be created in the maintenance and creation of green spaces57. While some of the benefits laid out below arise from improved mental and physical wellbeing, it is worth showing the contribution they can make to the economy:
- Obesity is an ever increasing strain on the NHS and is linked to physical inactivity1.
- Millions of working days are lost due to stress related employee absence12.
- NHS Scotland has been estimated to save £85 million per year if only 1 in 100 inactive people took adequate exercise5.
There are numerous opportunities to provide access to green spaces. When designing new interventions, this is a key aspect that should be taken into account – how can this intervention be used by people to improve their quality of life, other than through the benefits that are provided indirectly? But even where existing assets are available, small changes to their design can often provide better access and allow an increased, safer use to make people happier and healthier.
Below, you can find ways of enabling and improving access in existing and new assets.
For many people, but especially for groups like elderly or disabled, physical access and the state of the environment can inhibit use of a greenspace. Improve access with:
- Signs and maps close to and throughout the park
- Maintenance of footpaths
- Public transport connections
Visible lack of maintenance can have a negative impact on the use of green space. Be aware of:
- Litter removal and repair of damage/vandalism
- Overgrown vegetation and dog mess (Potential trade-off: overgrown, wild areas may be perceived as untidy but be important factors for wildlife. Make sure to designate specific wildlife areas and provide explanatory signs.)
Information on how and where damage should be reported and rapid response
Lack of information about existence or facilities available in a greenspace can be a barrier to its use.
- Make information about facilities and services and how they can be used easily accessible (e.g. online)
- Within the area, maps and signs help find important services and areas
introduce staff (e.g. rangers, gardeners, volunteers) into the area to provide a first point of contact and community interaction
Perceived safety risks are a key barrier to the use of green spaces. Improve access with:
- Sufficient lighting. Street lighting has been shown to reduce levels of crime, and increase levels of perceived safeness.
- Avoid dense wooded13 or shrubby areas, and maintain lines of sight and visibility of exits throughout the area, and take advantage of existing infrastructure and buildings for natural surveillance (e.g. visibility form cafes, offices…).
- Wide main paths to give pedestrians enough space to pass by.
While a greenspace consisting of only vegetation and pathways may provide a nice corridor to walk through, ensuring certain needs can be met locally can increase time spent in a space and its attractiveness to new groups.
- Especially in bigger areas, having well maintained facilities addressing different target groups like cafes and public toilets can increase use by existing user groups and attract new groups.
- Providing specific areas for dogs (increase use by dog owners and make other user groups feel more comfortable)
Local communities often want to be involved of the management of ‘their’ space. This can work in multiple ways and be coordinated via existing groups (e.g. schools) or ones that are specifically set up for a particular space:
- Involving ‘problem groups’ can avoid single group dominance in public spaces and help increase use and make the space safer.
- Community lead green space management can address local needs differently and possibly allow better maintenance without increased budget
Working with other communities or groups with similar remits and aims opens opportunities for collaboration and knowledge transfer
- BOP Consulting. Green Spaces : The Benefits for London Green Spaces : The Benefits for London. Topical Interest Paper (2013).
- Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. Decent parks? Decent behaviour?: The link between the quality of parks and user behaviour Contents Foreword. 1–17 (2005).
- Alcock, I., White, M. P., Wheeler, B. W., Fleming, L. E. & Depledge, M. H. Longitudinal effects on mental health of moving to greener and less green urban areas. Environ. Sci. Technol. 48, 1247–55 (2014).
- Lee, K. E., Williams, K. J. H., Sargent, L. D., Williams, N. S. G. & Johnson, K. A. 40-second green roof views sustain attention: The role of micro-breaks in attention restoration. J. Environ. Psychol. 42, 182–189 (2015).
- Woolley, H., Rose, S., Carmona, M. & Freedman, J. The Value of Public Space. Exchange Organizational Behavior Teaching Journal (2004).
- Zelenski, J. M. & Nisbet, E. K. Happiness and Feeling Connected: The Distinct Role of Nature Relatedness. Environ. Behav. 46, 3–23 (2012).
- Forest Research. Benefits of Green Infrastructure. (2010).
- Coombes, E., Jones, A. P. & Hillsdon, M. The relationship of physical activity and overweight to objectively measured green space accessibility and use. Soc. Sci. Med. 70, 816–22 (2010).
- Faculty of Public Health. Great Outdoors : How Our Natural Health Service Uses Green Space To Improve Wellbeing. 1–8 (2010).
- Mitchell, R. & Popham, F. Greenspace, urbanity and health: relationships in England. J. Epidemiol. Community Health 61, 681–3 (2007).
- van den Berg, M. et al. Health benefits of green spaces in the living environment: A systematic review of epidemiological studies. Urban For. Urban Green. 14, 806–816 (2015).
- Sunderland, T. Microeconomic Evidence for the Benefits of Investment in the Environment – Review. Natural England Research Reports, Number 033 2, (2012).
- Milligan, C. & Bingley, A. Restorative places or scary spaces? The impact of woodland on the mental well-being of young adults. Health Place 13, 799–811 (2007).
- Nordh, H., Hartig, T., Hagerhall, C. M. & Fry, G. Components of small urban parks that predict the possibility for restoration. Urban For. Urban Green. 8, 225–235 (2009).
- White, M. et al. Blue space: The importance of water for preference, affect, and restorativeness ratings of natural and built scenes. J. Environ. Psychol. 30, 482–493 (2010).
- Völker, S. & Kistemann, T. ‘I’m always entirely happy when I’m here!’ Urban blue enhancing human health and well-being in Cologne and Düsseldorf, Germany. Soc. Sci. Med. 78, 113–24 (2013).
- Foley, R. & Kistemann, T. Blue space geographies: Enabling health in place. Health Place 35, 157–65 (2015).
References and Guidance on Giving Access
Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. Decent parks? Decent behaviour?: The link between the quality of parks and user behaviour Contents Foreword. 1–17 (2005).
Crime and Public Safety. How Trees and Vegetation Relate to Aggression and Violence (no date). Available at: https://depts.washington.edu/hhwb/datasheets/GCGH_datasheet.Crime.pdf
Kuo, F. E. and Sullivan, W. C. (2001) ‘Environment and Crime in the Inner City: Does Vegetation Reduce Crime?’, Environment and Behavior, 33(3), pp. 343–367.
McCormack, G. R., Rock, M., Toohey, A. M. and Hignell, D. (2010) ‘Characteristics of urban parks associated with park use and physical activity: a review of qualitative research.’, Health & place, 16(4), pp. 712–26.
National Audit Office (2006) ‘Enhancing Urban Green Space.’, Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (London).
Forestry Commission – Accessibility of Green Space http://www.forestry.gov.uk/fr/urgc-7eeggr
Enhancing Urban Greenspace: https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2006/03/0506935.pdf
National Recreation and Parks Association, US. Pocket Parks: https://www.nrpa.org/uploadedFiles/nrpaorg/Grants_and_Partners/Recreation_and_Health/Resources/Issue_Briefs/Pocket-Parks.pdf
PlacemakingResource – Maximising the use and benefits of public parks and spaces: http://www.placemakingresource.com/article/1364326/advice-maximising-use-benefits-public-parks-spaces