As cities demolish vacant buildings in an effort to combat blight, many people are embracing these new green spaces, and some groups are even converting them into lush community gardens.
Now, a new study from British researchers at the University of Exeter´s Medical School suggests that people living in urban areas with nearby green spaces have better mental health and an improved overall sense of well-being compared to urbanites who do not have parks or gardens nearby.
Previous studies have shown that urban green spaces can provide a mental health boost to nearby residents, but those studies did not account for the socioeconomic factors of those living near a civic park, researchers said. According to the study, which was recently published in the journal Psychological Science, the UK team accounted for socioeconomic factors using data collected annually from over 10,000 people between 1991 and 2008 in a national survey.
“Basically, what we´ve found is — in years when (participants) lived closest to parks and woodlands, their mental health was higher than in years when they lived in more urban areas with more built up environments,” said study co-author Mathew White from the University of Exeter in a web video.
The survey asked participants two simple but important questions with respect to their well-being: how satisfied are they with their life in general, and whether they were suffering from symptoms of depression or anxiety. To quantify the amount of green space in an area, the team referred to the Generalised Land Use Database, which classifies land use at high geographical resolution across the UK.
After analyzing the data, the team found that as green space increased within a 2.5-mile radius of a particular household, the residents reported higher levels of well-being.
The researchers also compared the impact of green space availability to other major life events that are associated with happiness or satisfaction.
“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,” White said. Another comparison indicated that the presence of green spaces improved a person´s sense of well being by an amount roughly equivalent to one tenth that of being employed versus being unemployed.
“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” White said.
The researchers noted that while simply moving to a greener area may not necessarily cause increased happiness, the study results do fit with findings from previous research that shows time spent in a green space can improve people’s mood and cognitive function.
In a statement, the University of Exeter researchers suggested that the establishment and maintenance of urban green spaces could be a way to mitigate some of the negative effects of urbanization.
“This research could be important for psychologists, public health officials and urban planners who are interested in learning about the effects that urbanization and city planning can have on population health and wellbeing” White concluded.