Public Parks and Gardens
Public Parks and Gardens are important existing assets of an urban environment. While high land prices and pressure from different competing objectives often makes the development of a new park in an area unlikely (although not impossible – see case studies) it is all the more important to protect existing parks and manage them in a way that maximises the multiple benefits laid out below.
Parks have recorded increasing visitor numbers, showing that there is a demand for their use. Over 10% of people visit or pass through their local parks daily, and over 50% at least once per month. Parks and open space have been suggested to be the third most frequently used public service after GP surgeries and hospitals. However, budgets are being cut and staff numbers reduced, leading to increased user charges and potential deterioration of their condition.(8)
A greater quantity of urban green space is generally associated with better health. The “healthiest” areas in England (i.e. with the higher levels of activity and lowest levels of obesity) have 20% higher green spaces than the least healthy areas. Being exposed to park settings has also been linked to better attention performance, reduced cardiovascular morbidity in males and better recovery rates. However, even though a lot of evidence points to this positive link, there are diverse results in the literature – which possibly points to the importance of park design in enabling the provision of benefits. (2, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 20)
While research focusing on parks specifically is limited, it is clear that trees have a big impact on air quality. Air quality within parks is often better than outside, as are air temperatures. This is true for PM10 but also other pollutants like NOx and SOx. (2, 6, 10, 18, 20)
Due to high infiltration rates, grassed areas are able to nearly completely eliminate runoff, therefore having a positive impact on surface water flooding. A study in Manchester showed that areas with less green space are more susceptible to surface water flooding. The effect however depends on type of vegetation and intensity/duration or rainfall as well as factors like soil type and compaction.
(2, 9, 15, 16, 18)
To an extent, parks can provide flood storage if they are designed to do so, and this should be taken into account when designing new parks as well as when existing ones are restored or redeveloped. (18)
Parks, can act as carbon sinks and provide resilience against increasing temperatures and the UHI effect. Air temperatures in London have been shown to be 2-8 degrees lower in greenspaces. This could mean that the current provision on green space in London saves 16-22 lives per day during heatwaves. Parks can influence the air quality in surrounding areas as the temperature difference can lead to “park breeze” into surrounding built up areas. Air quality within parks can be better than the surrounding area. (1,2, 6, 7, 9, 18, 20)
Often, parks have been found to be the most biodiverse type of urban of green space. However, this can be due to exotic species. Larger, more diverse and less isolated parks harbour more native species. (2,3, 16, 17, 20, 22)
Parks have been shown to contribute significantly to groundwater recharge due to their high infiltration rates (over 30%). Grassed areas are able to nearly completely eliminate runoff. (9,16)
Through water infiltration, parks can prevent pollutants from reaching waterbodies and streams. Fertilization and pesticide use however can have a negative impact. (2, 16, 18)
The aesthetic value of parks can be very high and is for example shown through their impact on property values as well as stress and mental fatigue. A study in Zurich found parks and urban forests to be associated with an 87% recovery ration for stress and 40% enhancement of positive feelings. Some studies show these benefits even from just viewing green space (2, 19)
Many parks provide venues for annual festivals, meeting spaces for community groups and therefore add to the cultural service provision in an area. Parks, as accessible local green spaces, can give rise to cultural activities like bird watching, painting or photography. (2,4, 6, 20)
There are wide ranges between different cities and countries but parks almost always have a positive impact on property values. While park size is a factor, even small parks can have an impact. (e.g. a study in the Netherlands has shown an increase in 5-12% for houses overlooking attractive areas, and 6-12% for houses overlooking open spaces) (2, 11, 18, 20)
Due to their impact on surface water and their potential contribution to mitigating fluvial flooding, parks can reduce severity of flooding and the damage caused by it.
Considering the Bigger Picture
Parks have recorded increasing visitor numbers, showing that there is a demand for their use. Over 10% of people visit or pass through their local parks daily, and over 50% at least once per month. Especially for parents and households with children, parks are a significant resource, socially as well as culturally, with over 80% of people with children under 10 in the household using their local park at least monthly. Parks and open space have been suggested to be the third most frequently used public service after GP surgeries and hospitals. However, budgets are being cut and staff numbers reduced, leading to increased user charges and potential deterioration of their condition.
Parks – depending on their size and design – often constitute a combination of different types of green infrastructure type ‘interventions’ and their value to society and the environment depends on their different parts. To understand what different singular ‘modules’ in a park do (e.g. trees, ponds), or how these could be incorporated, please refer to additional factsheets. Parks have the additional benefit of bringing all these single modules together and potentially achieving an effect that is larger than the sum of its parts. (4, 8)
On the left, you can find an example of how different interventions can be incorporated into the urban landscape.
Parks – depending on their size and design – often constitute a combination of different types of green infrastructure type ‘interventions’ and their value to society and the environment depends on their different parts. To understand what different singular ‘modules’ in a park do (e.g. trees, ponds, ..), or how these could be incorporated, please refer to additional factsheets. Parks have the additional benefit of bringing all these single modules together and potentially achieving an effect that is larger than the sum of its parts.
Maintaining and Gaining
Average management costs of parks in 2013/14: £6,410/ha. (8) Often maintenance activities are already carried out by volunteer groups and this can provide a valuable opportunity to protect existing parks with the additional social benefits that volunteer groups provide.
Benefits from parks, as far as they have been monetised, are significant: Edinburgh, for example, has shown that its public parks show a SROI of on average £12 for every £1 invested, and Camley Street Park (London) alone has calculated a total of £2.8 million in ecosystem service benefits per year.
Trade-offs and Potential Dis-services
Parks provide important mental health benefits by offering somewhere to escape from daily life, exercise and build a connection with nature. 30% lower depression rates in areas with higher greenspace have been shown. Biodiversity has also been shown to impact on the psychological benefit of visiting parks, with the species richness being more important than the area of the green space. A study in Bristol has shown that children are more likely to engage in active play in areas with green spaces. A study in Greenwich showed that dissatisfaction with urban green space is related to poor mental health. (4, 8, 9)
Small businesses are more likely to settle in areas with good parks, open spaces and recreational areas. Visitor spending has been shown to be higher in attractive areas, and while this is not specific to parks, they are often connected to shopping trips in one way or another. (9, 18)
As with crime, poor quality green space can actually have the reverse effect of what it is meant to achieve and reduce values of properties where it is perceived to be an unsafe area.
Poor quality green space can actually enforce antisocial behaviour. Parks that are not maintained well can become hotspots for crime and vandalism, and lead to perceptions of unsafety.
Higher levels of high quality green space provision are correlated with lower crimes. Apart from the economic benefits, this means a positive impact on the community and the mental wellbeing of residents. Studies in the US have shown more than 25% reduced crime rates and aggressive behaviour in areas with green space provision than in those with less. This seems to be due to the environment deterring criminal activity by increasing use of the space and natural surveillance, but also to green space preventing mental fatigue. (4,9, 21)
Parks can act as buffers against noise. (9)
A study in Vienna has shown an increased “attachment” to an area in places with a perceived higher supply and quality of greenspace. There is evidence showing that particularly if teenagers are catered for with specific facilities and equipment, parks have the potential to cater for multiple ethnic groups, potentially improving social cohesion in the neighbourhood. (4,9,2)
- Armson, D., P. Stringer, and A.R. Ennos. 2012. “The Effect of Tree Shade and Grass on Surface and Globe Temperatures in an Urban Area.” Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 11 (3): 245–55.
- BOP Consulting. “Green Spaces: The Benefits for London.”
- Chamberlain, D.E., S. Gough, H. Vaughan, J.A. Vickery, and G.F. Appleton. 2007. “Determinants of Bird Species Richness in Public Green Spaces: Capsule Bird Species Richness Showed Consistent Positive Correlations with Site Area and Rough Grass.” Bird Study 54 (1). Taylor & Francis Group: 87–97.
- Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. “Decent Parks? Decent Behaviour? The Link between the Quality of Parks and User Behaviour” 1–17.
- Coombes, Emma, Andrew P Jones, and Melvyn Hillsdon. 2010. “The Relationship of Physical Activity and Overweight to Objectively Measured Green Space Accessibility and Use.” Social Science & Medicine (1982) 70 (6): 816–22.
- Faculty of Public Health. “Great Outdoors: How Our Natural Health Service Uses Green Space To Improve Wellbeing”.
- Forestry Commission. “Air Temperature Regulation by Urban Trees and Green Infrastructure.” Farnham.
- Heritage Lottery Fund. 2014. “State of UK Public Parks.” London.
- Konijnendijk, Cecil C, Matilda Annerstedt, Anders Busse Nielsen, and Sreetheran Maruthaveeran. 2013. “Benefits of Urban Parks. A Systematic Review.” Copenhagen&Alnarp.
- Lovasi, G S, J W Quinn, K M Neckerman, M S Perzanowski, and A Rundle. “Children Living in Areas with More Street Trees Have Lower Prevalence of Asthma.” Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 62 (7): 647–49.
- Luttik, Joke. “The Value of Trees, Water and Open Space as Reflected by House Prices in the Netherlands.” Landscape and Urban Planning 48 (3-4): 161–67.
- McCormack, Gavin R, Melanie Rock, Ann M Toohey, and Danica Hignell. “Characteristics of Urban Parks Associated with Park Use and Physical Activity: A Review of Qualitative Research.” Health & Place 16 (4): 712–26.
- Mitchell, Richard, and Frank Popham. “Greenspace, Urbanity and Health: Relationships in England.” Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 61 (8): 681–83.
- Richardson, Elizabeth A, and Richard Mitchell. 2010. “Gender Differences in Relationships between Urban Green Space and Health in the United Kingdom.” Social Science & Medicine (1982) 71 (3): 568–75.
- Rogers, K., Jaluzot, A. and Neilan, C. (2011) Green Benefits in Victoria Business Improvement District.
- Speak, A. F., Mizgajski, A. and Borysiak, J. (2015) ‘Allotment gardens and parks: Provision of ecosystem services with an emphasis on biodiversity’, Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 14(4), pp. 772–781.
- Stagoll, Karen, David B. Lindenmayer, Emma Knight, Joern Fischer, and Adrian D. Manning. “Large Trees Are Keystone Structures in Urban Parks.” Conservation Letters 5 (2): 115–22.
- Sunderland, T. “Microeconomic Evidence for the Benefits of Investment in the Environment – Review.” Natural England Research Reports, Number 033. Vol. 2.
- Tyrväinen, Liisa, Ann Ojala, Kalevi Korpela, Timo Lanki, Yuko Tsunetsugu, and Takahide Kagawa. 2014. “The Influence of Urban Green Environments on Stress Relief Measures: A Field Experiment.” Journal of Environmental Psychology 38 (June): 1–9.
- Woolley, Helen, Sian Rose, Matthew Carmona, and Jonathan Freedman. 2004. “The Value of Public Space.” Exchange Organizational Behavior Teaching Journal. London.
- 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.
- Forestry Commission. Benefits of Greenspace: Park and Garden Habitats. http://www.forestry.gov.uk/fr/urgc-7edjrw
Web references and useful weblinks:
American Planning Association: How Cities Use Parks for Green Infrastructure, Briefing Paper. https://www.planning.org/cityparks/briefingpapers/greeninfrastructure.htm
National Recreation and Park Association: Pocket Parks https://www.nrpa.org/uploadedFiles/nrpaorg/Grants_and_Partners/Recreation_and_Health/Resources/Issue_Briefs/Pocket-Parks.pdf
Forest Research: Greenspace initiatives. Urban Parks and Gardens: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/fr/urgc-7ekebr
Greenspace Scotland.: http://greenspacescotland.org.uk/
Big Lottery Fund. Parks for People Funding: https://www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/prog_parks_people