A recent study by ISGlobal  on 1,000 European cities estimated that more than 60% of people in European cities live in areas with insufficient green space. The World Health Organisation recommendations that green spaces of at least 0.5 hectares should be at a linear distance of no more than 300 metres from every home. Urban planning that incorporates this recommendation could prevent up to 43,000 premature deaths each year.
Cognitive function has also been shown to benefit from green space. As Professor Nieuwenhuijsen notes, “research conducted in Barcelona found primary school children who went to schools in areas where there was good green space had 5% to 6% better cognitive development than pupils who didn’t”. On the other side of the spectrum, green space can help prevent Alzheimer’s, he adds. One of the biggest health benefits of green space and savings to health services is better mental health. Active commuters, for instance, who use greener routes have been shown to have better mental health than those commuting through grey space.
Less asphalt, greener streets
Asphalt is popular because it is cheap and lasts a long time, but we are now seeing a culture shift. This is not only because of climate change, but also because of the benefits of green space in our streets. In Los Angeles, a rising trend in asphalting school playgrounds was countered through an initiative by The Trust for Public Land and the LA Living Schoolyards Coalition. The initiative saw asphalt playgrounds turned into green spaces with natural play structures. These play spaces were also opened to the public after school hours, helping to address the park equity gap and provide shading from urban heat. In the US, heat is the number one weather-related killer. Urban greening can help reduce fatalities, for example, by creating areas of green space and the planting of trees of the correct species in the right places.
Developers and green space
Georgina Dowling is Director and Head of Impact Assessment at CBRE in the UK. She explains that an agenda change is also taking place in the private sector, so the onus is no longer just on the public sector. An example is developers looking to better their biodiversity scores through rewilding.
“If we want developers to provide more publicly accessible community green space, it needs to be enshrined in local plans, so the loss of developable footprint can be priced into the acquisition”, says Georgina Dowling. Otherwise, affordable housing is the primary area of contribution that a developer will look at, while greenspace can be an afterthought.
Community engagement is important: parks need to be representative of and welcoming to everyone. Parks are great melting pots for communities, states Georgina Dowling. If you design in collaboration with groups, you give them a sense of permission to use that space. This is particularly so for teenage groups, who are often and unfairly seen as intimidating. “One of the interesting things we are seeing”, says Linda Hwang, “is cities drawing ideas directly from their communities on where investments should be made in the parks system. Talking to people about what interests them in their parks, letting them daydream a little and giving them an opportunity to co-design are powerful mechanisms for addressing access to quality parks”.