In 2014 the Department of Sport and Recreation and Dr May Carter wrote (DRAFT) "Urban Parkland: Local Luxury or Neighbourhood Necessity" as a literature review and research synthesis on the topic of the impact of public open space on community health and wellbeing.
The following text is a synthesis of this and work completed since, written in a way to allow for easy use for advocacy purposes - key messages and catch phrases. All the information here is supported by evidence and can be used for advocacy campaigns or to provide support where required.
Please do not edit the wording without requesting permission and always reference ParklandWA, 2015 "Advocacy Resource" when making use of the messages.
The numbers in brackets refer to the references which you can find at the end of the list.
Top line messages to highlight the value of urban parkland
- The benefits public open space provides are vast and include environmental, health, cultural and community impacts.
- Researchers have found that access to diverse, quality parklands and green spaces will help sustain the future health of our cities.
- Parks support local biodiversity and conservation of ecological, cultural and historical sites.
- Public open space brings nature back into our cities. (76)
- Parks can revitalise people and places within our communities.
- Parks improve community health and wellbeing.
- They help create healthier individuals and healthier communities.
- They help build stronger, greener communities.
- They breathe life into our cities.
- They can generate income for local economies.
- Good quality parkland should be considered a social necessity.
- They are a community asset that can help make people healthier. (31)
- They enrich our quality of life.
- People can meet and mingle in a park at no cost.
- Easy access to parks promotes exercise.
Providing access to parklands and other green spaces is critical to conservation management and the future health of our children.
We can’t lose sight of the fact that green spaces will become increasingly important in the future as our urban environments become busier, more polluted and people become less active.
They are a highly valued community asset that generates multiple benefits to both individuals and communities.
Beyond making our suburbs more attractive and providing a venue for sport and recreation, public open space plays a vital role in building healthier and more vibrant communities. Evidence tells us they have the potential to improve physical and mental health which can save on health costs.(31)
With so much focus on the increasing risks presented by a less active, more obese community, public open space is crucial in helping to bridge a growing dis-connect between people and nature. (65,66)
Finding a way to ‘activate’ our green spaces is a challenge for planners and developers. We need to ensure our public open spaces are valued, accessed and used by local residents in order to generate benefits for individuals and communities.
Researchers at UWA have found the quality, attractiveness and size of parklands are all key factors in determining how they are used and the extent to which they’re making people healthier. (31,34,35)
The extent of health benefits parks deliver depends on the extent to which they’re used. (Alternative: A park must be well used if it is to foster mental and physical well-being. (41)
They act as a local ‘activation’ centre, providing a destination for people to walk to and be active in.
Parks make suburbs more ‘liveable’ and ‘walkable’. We know from UWA research that people who live in more walkable suburbs tend to be more physically active and they in turn, are less of a burden on our health care system. (Alternative statement: Residents who live in more walkable suburbs walk more). (97)
UK researchers have shown people living in greener neighbourhoods are more likely to live longer and less likely to suffer from lifestyle based diseases such as stroke and heart disease.(38)
In 2009 US researchers calculated the economic savings gained through the use of parks for exercise. In a survey spanning seven US states, they estimated that individuals who exercised in parkland regularly saved US$250 in annual health care costs. The value doubled for people aged over 65 years. (30)
Mental health messages
Parks can provide a welcome reprieve from the everyday stress of life and enrich our quality of life because they provide an opportunity to rest, relax and re-charge.
There is a significant relationship between mental health and ‘greenness’.(60,61)
A number of studies have highlighted the mental health benefits of green spaces and shown how contact with nature is ‘good for the soul’. (3, 43,44)
Research has shown contact with ‘green nature’ can foster wellbeing, reduce stress, enhance productivity and promote healing. (2)
Parks promote social interaction which benefits mental health.(47)
A UWA study in 2012 found that the quality of parkland is more important than the quantity in terms of delivering mental health benefits. (Alternative statement: The quality of parks is critical in determining the extent of mental health benefits they can generate according to UWA research.) (46)
Beyond the more obvious health and environmental benefits, parks can help create vibrant communities. They provide a hub for community activity and opportunities for neighbours to interact. (49)
‘Greenness’ can also help people feel ‘connected’ to a place which researchers have found has the potential to improve health. (58,59)
Parks play a multi-functional role in communities because they are used for a variety of purposes by different people and groups at different times of the day, week and year. (42)
Interacting with all types of people in parks helps foster cultural connections and build bridges within communities.
Cultural connections to and historical landmarks within parks can add to their significance.
Parks provide a place to celebrate cultural traditions and rituals and they may also provide a space for food production. (62)
They can help promote a culture of caring for the environment by involving community in the maintenance of a park or a conservation project for example. This is another way public open spaces can help sustain individual and community wellbeing.
Regular contact with nature can help people develop stronger ‘emotional’ connections and be more inclined to take responsibility for the care of natural environments. (24)
A WA study in 2009 (35) found people who lived close to parks and green spaces reported feeling happier and more satisfied with their neighbourhood.
The trend towards considering parks as part of ‘green infrastructure’ underscores their importance environmentally.(73)
They contribute to the comfort and environmental health of our communities because of their capacity to moderate urban heat, improve air quality and manage stormwater. (78,79,80)
They increase biodiversity by providing a habitat for flora and fauna in local communities.
Researchers have found a link between the richness and diversity of vegetation and wildlife within green spaces and the health benefits they can deliver. For example a 2007 UK study found visitors to green spaces with greater biodiversity and species richness reported higher scores for positive feelings of reflection, restoration and emotional attachment. (81)
Walkable, green streets have been shown to deliver an economic benefit because they attract greater foot traffic which in turn increases retail spending.(89) Comfortable, shaded outdoor spaces are also known to promote public activity and interaction. (90)
Access to attractive and safe green spaces tends to dominate surveys of neighbourhood desirability. (85,88)
Several studies have highlighted the economic value of trees and green spaces;
Studies at Curtin University and Qld University (79&80) have highlighted the important role trees and green spaces play in climate control. For example, they save money on energy costs of cooling.
American researchers outlined how trees assist with air quality improvement and save money by removing air pollution. (30) They also identified how lawns and gardens in parklands reduce stormwater management costs by assisting with urban water management.
Parks and green spaces are delivering more than a ‘feel good’ factor. U.S. researchers have shown they generate substantial economic benefits through dollars spent at events held in the park or services associated with the park. They calculated there is a substantial return on investment in parklands and green spaces. (30)
Messages regarding future challenges
It’s vital the right balance is struck between quality versus the quantity of parklands.
Integrated approaches to planning and development of urban parklands will help achieve the right balance between sustainable development and healthy cities.
While green spaces add to the attractiveness and value of real estate, they also need to be accessible to all, not just to those who can afford them. The challenge is to encourage experts across different fields to work together to ensure people in all areas have access to public open space.
Reviews and upgrades of parks are important in order for them to keep up to date with social and environmental changes such as growing urban density.(92) Public access for multiple users should be an important consideration in any redesign of public open space to ensure there’s something on offer for any visitor, whether they’re participating in sport, walking or a recreational user.(31)
General design messages based on Dr Paula Hooper’s research - Centre for Built Environment and Health, University of Western Australia
- Easy access to a park promotes exercise.
- Parks play a vital role in encouraging exercise and improving mental health.
- A multi-functional mix of facilities and programs in parks will maximise their use at different times of the day and year.
- People with better access to larger, more attractive parks with a range of facilities are more likely to exercise.
- The interaction between footpaths and parks is a critical to encouraging use of parks.
UWA research has found new developments should ideally incorporate a range of safe and conveniently located parks to meet the different needs of residents.
We have to think beyond aesthetics. Beautiful parks are one thing but above all we want people to use them so we need to be incorporating features that attract people to use parks, like inter-connecting footpaths for instance.
Results from a UWA study found that the size of parks makes a difference to how often local residents walk. While we know bigger parks make people exercise more, any park, regardless of its size plays an important role in encouraging exercise.
Encouraging people to use parks needs to be a priority in their design but UWA research highlighted that surrounding footpaths are equally important to encouraging the use of parks. Researchers found people living in areas with a high number of footpaths and parks are far more likely to walk compared to people living in areas without these features. (Alternative statement: The design of parklands is fundamental to encouraging use of them but it’s the combination of parks and surrounding footpaths that promotes walking rather than parks alone.)
Parks should be overlooked rather than backed onto by development to enhance security. High visibility from surrounding houses adds to safety by encouraging more ‘eyes on the street’. A sense of safety in the park increases the extent to which it’s used.
Proximity and access
Living close to a park makes a difference to how often people walk. People with better access to parks, walk more frequently and for longer periods than residents with poorer access to parks.
The study showed a strong link between convenient access to parks and increased prospects of walking for 60 minutes or more per week. (Alternative statement: A UWA study found the amount of walking done by local residents was strongly related to how close they lived to a park, particularly one with grassed open space and sports facilities.)
Size of parks
A UWA study showed people were three times more likely to walk when they lived close (within 2.5km), to a large park with more facilities compared to people who lived further away.
People in developments with access to a number of parks of varying sizes along with a network of footpaths were three times more likely to walk compared to those without similar access. They were also likely to walk for longer periods of time.
A paper from researchers at UWA this year stated larger playing fields should be shared between neighbourhoods, to encourage both formal sports activities and recreational pursuits. The larger park should be an exercise ‘hot spot’ or a destination park for people to walk to, in and around. (96)
Hooper’s research found that both the larger, destination park as well as smaller areas of green space interspersed throughout the neighbourhood and connected with good footpath networks are important to increasing the likelihood of people exercising and walking around their neighbourhood.
(Alternative statement: Researchers at UWA found footpaths interspersed with good public open space resulted in more walking beyond having parks alone. So the interaction between footpaths, providing good access and parks is a critical planning element.)
Definition: Public open space includes all land reserved for green space and natural environments including parks, reserves and bushland which can be all be used for recreation by the general public at no cost. (97, p.144)
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