People around the world are living longer than ever before, and the majority of us do so in urban areas. Half of the world’s population lives in cities today, and with current urbanization rates, by 2050 two-thirds of the world’s population will reside in cities. For that reason, the emphasis on quality of life and health in these areas cannot be stressed enough.

Longevity of life is nothing without quality of life and health, though cities around the world are struggling to provide efficient health care and solutions for addressing wellbeing of growing urban populations. One particularly simple, effective, and enjoyable method of improving health and wellbeing in urban areas is exposure to green spaces. There are a growing number of case studies demonstrating correlation between green urban spaces and better mental and physical health of its residents.

Take two examples: One study shows kids who live in urban areas with more biodiversity are less likely to suffer from asthma, and another study surveying 5,000 people over several years shows participants living on blocks with 10% fewer green areas than average were more likely to report stress and depression. There are far too many studies to list here that highlight benefits from urban greens spaces, but the common thread amongst them is that these studies demonstrate how people who use green spaces for physical, recreational, and social purposes have a lower risk of suffering from various mental and physical illnesses.

In order to achieve these positive effects on health and wellbeing from urban green spaces, two key components must be addressed: Accessibility and Engagement.

Accessibility to Benefits of Green Areas

Local authorities and city planners need to ensure that green areas are accessible and available for residents in all parts of the cities. It’s even more important to have urban greens spaces in less affluent areas, not just because of the positive effects on quality of life, but because green areas are linked to a reduction in crime, mitigated stress levels, contributions to greater happiness, and an improved sense of community ownership and belonging. Granted that green areas alone won’t solve a troubled area, but its an important step in creating more positive and viable environments, to support the improvement of lives and of communities in these places.

Engagement Is the Key to Unclocking Benefits

Furthermore, research also shows it’s not enough to just build the green areas, it’s also vital to engage and encourage people to use and enjoy these areas, and to make sure the areas serve their intended purposes and positively impact the life of the community. Therefore, authorities, local communities, and individuals would find it in their best interest to develop and maintain initiatives for engaging citizens in cultural and educational events, organizing sports and recreational activities, as well as encouraging usage of the green spaces as part of daily activities such as biking to work through green lanes. Such initiatives safeguard the ability to harvest the full potential of green urban areas, enhancing the positive impact they make on human health and wellbeing, while also creating more resilient and livable communities.

More Green Spaces = Happy and Healthy Communities

It is no wonder that cities at the top of “Best Cities to Live” lists are also those with the highest rate of green areas per capita. Cities such as Stockholm, Copenhagen, Vienna, Vancouver, and Auckland are known for their high quality of life, partly attributed to their vibrant communities, as well as for their vast green areas, including parks, urban forests, gardens, green paths, rooftop gardens, etc. There is also evidence that green, healthy, and sustainable environments within cities is closely connected with and has a positive impact on physical and mental health, resilient communities, social cohesion, and access to such things as recreational activities. As an an added benefit, urban greening efforts are also linked to an establishment of a positive self reinforcement cycle, which in turn benefits all parts of community.

  • Read also: Making Livable Cities: Civic Engagement Wanted
  • Read also: Nature's Solutions For Urban Dwellers - The URBES Project
  • Read also: URBIA - URban Biodiversity In Action - Project Update