It’s something we’ve been saying for years: people – especially urban dwellers – need vibrant green space for the good of their mental, physical and emotional health.
And it’s not just us making the point… new research from Exeter University shows that people living in urban areas with more green space tend to report greater wellbeing than city dwellers who do not have parks, gardens, or other green space nearby.
The latest research, published in the journal Psychological Science, comes just a few months after we joined other leading charities to warn that the health benefits of Britain’s green spaces are in danger of being lost unless politicians and professionals adopt imaginative approaches to their management.
Groundwork, Keep Britain Tidy, the Conservation Volunteers and the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens said that billions of pounds could be saved and thousands of lives transformed if public open spaces were made an integral part of health policy.
Some of the £5bn a year given to local councils to combat obesity, smoking and binge drinking should be used to protect and improve parks and other green spaces, they said.
A Groundwork report, Green Spaces: What Are They Worth? brought together research on the value of green spaces and the benefits their continued development and upkeep can bring to society and the economy. It focused on a number of key areas: physical health, mental well‐being, strong and safe communities and preparing for climate change.
The new research has been led by Dr Mathew White from the University of Exeter Medical School’s European Centre for Environment & Human Health.
The team examined data from a national survey that followed UK households over time and found that individuals reported less mental distress and higher life satisfaction when they were living in greener areas.
Importantly, this association held even after the researchers accounted for changes over time in participants’ income, employment, marital status, physical health, and housing type.
Life changing impact
Dr White and colleagues were surprised by the scale of the effects of living in a greener area in comparison to ‘big hitting’ life events, such as marriage: The results show that even when stacked up against other factors that contribute to life satisfaction, living in a greener area has a significant effect.
"We’ve found that living in an urban area with relatively high levels of green space can have a significantly positive impact on wellbeing, roughly equal to a third of the impact of being married", he said.
“These kinds of comparisons are important for policymakers when trying to decide how to invest scarce public resources, such as for park development or upkeep, and figuring out what ‘bang’ they’ll get for their buck” said Dr White.
A Groundwork report of 2012, Grey Places Need Green Spaces, issued a call to the public, private and voluntary sectors to use a variety of approaches to protect and improve publicly accessible parks and green spaces.
The Exeter research does not prove that moving to a greener area will necessarily cause increased happiness, but it does fit with findings from experimental studies showing that short bouts of time in a green space can have benefits.
While the effect for any one person might be small, Dr White points out that the potential positive effects of green space for society at large might be substantial.
“This research could be important for psychologists, public health officials and urban planners who are interested in learning about the effects that urbanisation and city planning can have on population health and wellbeing.”
For more on the Exeter research click here
To read the Groundwork report Grey Places Need Green Spaces click here