The Benefits of Green Spaces in Communities

Our first in a series of four articles is going to explore the association between urban green spaces and the social dimensions of health.

Modern urban life has its challenges. Turn the page in a newspaper, browse the latest headlines, tune in to the nightly news and we are surrounded by stress and despair… Urban green spaces, such as parks and playgrounds, where the built and the natural environments are interwoven, provide a wide range of ecosystem services, health and wellness benefits, increased overall value and social cohesion.

“Social cohesion is defined as the willingness of members of a society to cooperate with each other in order to survive and prosper.” – D.Stanley, Canadian Journal of Sociology 2003

Some of the most sought benefits of green spaces in a city are the social and psychological benefits. Urban green spaces provide golden opportunities for relaxation and recreation. Developing green space in the urban landscape can promote and inspire a better relationship with the environment as well as strengthen relationships within the community. Urban green space coverage has been linked with less stress along with the perception that green spaces provide a sense of belonging and minimize social isolation in ways that mitigate stress.  Green spaces help us calm down and chill out!

Green spaces encourage interaction, mutual understanding, shared values, a sense of community and supportive behavior. Green spaces play an important role in social interactions as well as strengthening a sense of community that is essential for social cohesion and human health. To illustrate, gardens cultivate an environment for people to socially connect (while tending their plots); parks provide opportunities to engage in athletic activities, play, and exercise; and urban forests serve as outdoor classrooms. Some researchers suggest that areas where people feel safe and comfortable to walk are conducive to positive perceptions of social cohesion. For example, a review article on parental factors involved in outdoor play found that a parent’s perceived level of neighborhood social cohesion is positively correlated with a child’s amount of outdoor play. Green spaces help create safe and healthy communities.

In conclusion, urban green spaces support and potentially influence the social fabric of urban and suburban areas in a variety of ways: social engagement, social support, social influence, and increased contact with others. 
Urban green spaces can support social aspects of health that are essential to the way a neighborhood functions and a city thrives. The quality of cities depends on how the urban green spaces are designed, managed and protected. Overall, cities and communities that build and maintain well-connected, attractive green spaces are likely to have healthier, wealthier, happier and more productive citizens.

1 Kathleen L. Wolf, Ph.D. (April 3, 2017) The Health Benefits of Small Parks and Green Spaces,  NRPA
2 Riham Nady (2015) A Challenge to Cities: How Can We Incorporate Green Spaces?, Arch20
3 Braubach M., Egorov A., Mudu P., Wolf T., Ward Thompson C., Martuzzi M. (2017) Effects of Urban Green Space on Environmental Health, Equity and Resilience. In: Kabisch N., Korn H., Stadler J., Bonn A. (eds) Nature-Based Solutions to Climate Change Adaptation in Urban Areas. Theory and Practice of Urban Sustainability Transitions. Springer, Cham
4 Viniece Jennings and Omoshalewa Bamkole, (February 16, 2019) The Relationship between Social Cohesion and Urban Green Space: An Avenue for Health Promotion, Int J Environ Res Public Health

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