Green public spaces for health and well-being

by Sebastiaan van Herk, Sofia Aivalioti, Karlien Sambell, Gregor Giannella & Kees Joosten

Cities are starting to apply more nature-based solutions (NBS), aiming to enhance health, well-being, climate resilience and biodiversity. Urban planners and researchers are advancing in designing and valuing NBS, but with limited understanding of the actual positive impacts. NBS can mean much more for communities and contribute to the economic situation, strengthening the community and lowering costs of healthcare. Green spaces contribute to socialisation, physical activity, gardening and create more climate adaptive cities and resilient communities.

With this in mind, the city of Bradford is building dementia-friendly gardens and the Enfield Council has transformed the Firs Farm Wetlands and Pymmes Park Wetlands into social green spaces as a pilot within the BEGIN project. The areas not only protect the homes around them from flooding and create havens for wildlife, but they are vibrant social hubs for sport and other activities.

Based on the insights and results of NBS pilots, Bax & Company advocates to explicitly design for, monitor and value the positive social, environmental, climate adaption and health and well-being impacts of NBS.

Green spaces improve air quality, provide a stress-free environment, and have many positive impacts on multiple physical and mental health issues. But just improving the  green spaces is unlikely to increase their use and reach the potential benefits for citizens, the city, hospitals and other stakeholders. The design of the space has to include interactive elements to invite people to use it. For every 10,000 people that are encouraged to exercise through access to good quality green space, an estimated €1M in healthcare costs are saved. An inactive person spends 37% more days in hospital and visits the doctor 5,5% more often.

Nature-based solutions to improve health

To scale up these activities, it is important to monitor the effectiveness of various options and link them to specific public green spaces. This requires a collaborative co-creative planning process that involves the city, health providers, social welfare organisations, designers and, of course, citizens.

Several cities across Europe have already set up or are looking into the possibilities of setting up these green spaces. Since all cities face similar challenges, they can inspire and help each other with their experience. At Bax & Company, we have over 10 years’ experience promoting and facilitating City-2-City peer-learning as an effective method to accelerate learning. If you are interested in joining one of these City-2-City learning programmes or want to learn more about NBS to stimulate sustainable lifestyles in your city, contact us!

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