The Grapevine

Cities Are Healthier For Us With Large Parks And Nature Reserves As Our Neighbors

Parks
The bigger the parks in our cities, the better, new research shows. Kazuki Koikeda, CC BY 2.0

Though it’s established among urban planners that a healthy city is undoubtedly a green city, it’s been more of a struggle deciding what kind of green environment a city and its residents should accommodate — larger parks and nature reserves that new residential and commercial buildings are created around or suburban-like neighborhoods with smaller patches of green space like gardens and parks instead.

According to research published Tuesday in Frontiers in Ecology and Environment, if city planners want to get the most bang for their buck, it’s better to go full out and choose the former option, though there’s certainly nothing wrong with picking all of the above.

The study authors took an in-depth look at nine cities across the world, each with varying patterns of green spacing. In the United States, it’s been common to build areas of greenery scattered around a city, whereas the opposite has generally been true west of the Atlantic.

“As populations continue to grow, it's vital that we expand our cities and build new ones in a way that is most sustainable for ecosystems, and which provides the greatest benefits to urban residents,” lead author Dr. Iain Stott, of the University of Exeter's Environment and Sustainability Institute, said in a statement. “Our research finds that compact developments that include large green spaces are essential for the delivery of ecosystem services.”

These services can include everything from reducing the environmental footprint of a city by storing carbon to leaving residents happier and more willing to go outside.

“Access and proximity to safe high quality parks results in increased physical activity levels and improved health outcomes,” concluded a July 2015 report released by Healthy Parks Healthy People, an advocacy organization which was originally based in Australia but has since expanded internationally. “In urban areas, parks foster social connections which are vital to community cohesion and contribute to social wellbeing.”

While the European model may be well-suited to provide these benefits, the authors emphasized that the best solution is one that allows for both environments to coexist within a city. “For humans to get the most benefit however, combining this approach with greening of built land using street trees and some small parks and gardens is the best method,“ Stott said.

That’s an approach that Leslie Knope would surely be proud of.

Source: Stott I, Gaston K, et al. Frontiers in Ecology and Environment. 2015.

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