Bell, Simon, Val Hamilton, Alicia Montarzino, Helen Rothnie, Penny Travlou and Susana Alves, 2008, Greenspace and quality of life: a critical literature review, Greenspace Scotand; 12 Alpha Centre
Stirling University Innovation Park
- Author : Bell, Simon, Val Hamilton, Alicia Montarzino, Helen Rothnie, Penny Travlou and Susana Alves
- Year : 2008
- Title English : Greenspace and quality of life: a critical literature review
- Pages : 75
- Publisher : Greenspace Scotand; 12 Alpha Centre
Stirling University Innovation Park
- Abstract in English : Executive summary
This report presents the findings of a major literature review relating to greenspace and a number of different themes. The review was commissioned by greenspace scotland in partnership with SNIFFER and Scottish Natural Heritage and was carried out by staff at the OPENspace Research Centre, Edinburgh College of Art/Heriot Watt University. It forms part of a wider research programme managed by the Quality of Life partnership (greenspace scotland, SNH, NHS Health Scotland, Scottish Government, Forestry Commission Scotland and SNIFFER). The literature review is intended to inform future project development and policy advocacy, as well as providing a resource for a range of audiences interested in greenspace.
The brief asked for a review of recent and current research relating to the links between greenspace and a range of quality of life issues. The reviews were broken down by theme, and aimed to identify gaps in knowledge where relevant. As the review was built on the existing ‘Making the Links’ study, greenspace scotland wanted to see an emphasis on critical review of evidence quality, and highlighting of research gaps.
In accordance with the brief, a specific number of areas were included in the review:
• Health and wellbeing
• Social and community value of greenspaces
• Economic value/impacts of greenspaces
• Environmental value of greenspaces
• Planning and design
The review considers material from sources that include peer-reviewed literature and also so-called ‘grey literature’ which meets certain criteria. Slightly different standards were applied to material included in the section on health and wellbeing where specific evidence of outcomes was desired. This is easier to identify for the field of health and wellbeing compared with some of the other subjects examined in the review. The search for this review covered the last 10 years 1997 to 2007 (with some additional material from 2008).
Greenspace and health
The review expanded on but did not repeat another review undertaken by Croucher et al at the University of York (Croucher et al, 2007 – hereafter referred to as ‘the York review’).
The key findings are as follows:
• The proximity and accessibility of greenspaces in relation to residential areas appears to affect the overall levels of physical activity/exercise. This is true of children and young people (the subject of one sub-section), older people (receiving special study at present) as well as generally for all age groups. Some studies show stronger associations than others.
• Many of the studies are based on self-reported data, which limits the value; although some of the studies on adolescent girls use objective data.
• Although not especially relevant to Scotland, greenspaces reduce the heat island effect which can help in turn to reduce heat stress among vulnerable people, such as older people, during the summer.
• Physical exercise in greenspaces is generally positively associated with promoting wellbeing and recovery from stress. However, only limited numbers of studies use objective measurements, such as blood pressure monitoring, to assess this: the rest use self-reported data.
• There is evidence that some behavioural or emotional problems in children, such as attention deficit disorder, can be improved by exposure to greenspace.
• Being able to view greenspaces also seems to have positive effects, especially on stress reduction or restoration. The studies also include some carried out using pictures rather than real landscapes, so that the evidence may be contradictory and needs strengthening.
• Promoting active exercise of a specific type in at-risk groups such as sedentary men is strongly supported by the evidence from one robust study. This relates to golf, a very pertinent subject in Scotland. This is potentially an interesting approach if it could be applied to other at risk groups.
• Health benefits and social/community benefits may be linked when people participate in communal or group activities in greenspace. Whether there is something specific about performing such activities in greenspace, or whether it is the group activity itself, regardless of where it takes place, is not fully tested but potentially of great interest.
• Safety aspects of greenspace covered here (as opposed to those reviewed in the York report) relate to children’s play, where the need for safety has to be balanced against the need for challenging environments to stimulate children and to help them develop motor skills. This is a subject that is becoming more important but lacks any research on the challenge side of the equation.
Social and community values of greenspace
The findings for this section are as follows:
• Many studies examined the link between greenspace and people’s health and wellbeing. Disadvantaged urban places, such as public housing settings, have received special attention. Social aspects such as social cohesion are associated with an overall sense of wellbeing for certain sections of society who may feel excluded for one reason or another. Greenspace plays a role in providing places for social interaction.
• Individuals who have some nearby vegetation or live closer to greenspace seem be more effective in managing major life issues, coping with poverty and performing better in cognitive tasks. This applies to both adults and children, especially those living in difficult social or economic circumstances.
• Greenspace and vegetation provide different benefits to urban dwellers in diverse ways. For children, the research findings show a clear pattern of cognitive and social benefits. For older people, there is a connection with place attachment. Some of the findings relate to specific locations, mainly non-UK and there may be problems in transferring the application of the results to places with different social and environmental conditions, such as Scotland.
• Amount of vegetation (e.g., tree density) is not necessarily correlated with lack of safety or crime, as has been previously stated in some studies. The whole area of safety and design of greenspace is still open for much more research as the evidence to date is contradictory and may depend on many local factors, given the way the research has been conducted to date, with small groups of respondents in specific local areas.
• In terms of research methods, most studies are based on correlational designs and the findings cannot support cause-and-effect conclusions. Several studies are descriptive and based on case-studies. This opens up the scope for further work with more attention to cause and effect relationships.
• In theoretical terms, the concept of affordances has been used to guide some of the empirical studies. This is noted when there is a concern in determining how greenspaces can affect wellbeing in a wider sense. There is scope to develop this approach in further research
• In relation to practice and application – many studies tried to link research and design by showing how the research findings could inform design. However, this is not done in a systematic way and the guidance may be location specific. There is scope for more research and development in this area.
• Issues of gender, ethnicity, ageing and disability have received limited attention and some of the studies undertaken do not have a strong methodology. This needs to be improved if further research is to be robust and taken seriously.
• Greenspaces are perceived differently by different age groups (see comments on Gross and Lane’s study) but this is not considered in practice to any large extent. As people move from one life stage to another and use greenspaces differently then their needs will change but so far this has not been considered.
• Some studies which are methodologically quite robust may not be transferable due to the specific social or economic situation of the study location.
• There is some evidence that greenspaces do actually promote social cohesion amongst and between different groups in different places, such as parks and gardens. In a multicultural society of increasing demographic complexity this is worth further exploration.
Economic impacts and benefits of greenspace
This section shows that there are a number of established approaches that have demonstrated that greenspace can have a direct impact on property prices.
• They also show that different econometric approaches provide measures of other economic values of greenspace when recreational use, for example, is a public good not traded in the market.
• What is significant from this review is the fact that the available evidence is very limited to the two main areas noted above. Several aspects where there might be expected to be economic impacts, such as inward investment to an area in part as a result of environmental quality, the values for tourism or savings to the economy as a result of lower absenteeism by employees as a result of better health effects are missing from the research base.
• Some reports can be found claiming an impact on inward investment but these do not place numbers on this impact, nor are they based on research that could meet the inclusion criteria.
• Savings to employers from lower rates of absenteeism is likely to be extremely difficult to calculate, given that the evidence for health benefits is not yet fully conclusive and that the contribution of this to the total picture of absenteeism is probably unknown.
• These issues noted above are key areas where some idea of the economic impact would add greatly to the policy importance attached to providing greenspace.
Environment and greenspace
These are the main findings on environment and greenspace:
• Greening urban areas improves air quality and there is some evidence about what types of plants perform best but more is needed.
• Green areas also improve the climate and reduce the heat island effect but this is not so relevant for Scotland, where wind may be more of a factor.
• Green areas can reduce noise pollution and the visual intrusion from traffic, although more specific evidence on how this should be done in order to inform better design guidance could be useful.
• The risk of flooding is lower where there is plenty of urban vegetation to intercept and absorb storm water. Beyond the use of SUDS the wider impact of sealing urban surfaces in wetter or more flood-prone regions of Scotland needs further work.
• Urban green areas provide a diverse habitat for mainly common bird and animal species. Golf courses seem to be an underused resource in Scotland, where more research could be targeted, especially in how to manage golf courses to increase their biodiversity value.
• The long term planning of urban green areas is necessary for their development and continued functioning. Maintaining the continuity of greenspace over time is important, not only maintaining the total amount and type at a given time. This has implications for the long term management of greenspaces.
• There is an increasing availability of tools for evaluating the environmental values of green areas. These are very useful for planning and demonstrating values but need to be more widely available.
Planning and design of greenspace
These are the findings for planning and design in greenspace:
• Naturalness is the principal physical attribute of greenspace appreciated by stakeholders. Understandings of naturalness, however, vary across as well as within different societies, and do not necessarily accord with ecological complexity of greenspace habitats. This suggests that there is a need for a Scottish study of perceptions and preferences of urban greenspaces to inform planners and designers.
• Greenspace projects should be embedded in their landscape, ecological and social context. This varies from place to place so knowledge needs to be developed about this.
• Greenspace design should aim at enhancing the ecological functions of greenspace habitats. Different models can be adopted and tools are potentially available to help evaluate how well they function.
• Greenspace planning and design should aim at producing spaces attractive and accessible to people, which is confirming evidence from previous sections but guidance is needed on how best to do this, which is where good tools are needed.
• Greening projects should be evaluated with clearly defined criteria for their ecological and recreational benefits, once again, needing a good set of tools.
• Planning should be as participatory as possible – there is increasing evidence that places developed with the active participation of local people meet their needs better and help people develop place attachment as borne out by the evidence presented under the section on social and community aspects.
Gaps in research
The review concluded with the identification of gaps in research and some ideas of how these might be filled.
Greenspace and health
• A need to test more widely the issue of proximity, accessibility and type of greenspace for different age, social, economic and ethnic groups. This suggests a large-scale project using mixed methods including recording activity levels and a conjoint-type choice experiment to test the trade-offs amongst different factors, similar to work being undertaken in the I’DGO project at OPENspace.
• Some work of an applied nature to target key at-risk groups, similar to the project on sedentary middle-aged men and golf could be carried out. Given the significance of golf in Scotland this subject could be an important area for exploration as part of such work.
• The impact of views to greenspace could be significant but more work in a range of locations could be needed to be able to capture enough data to form a definitive view of the evidence.
• More work on the role of greenspaces in promoting increased health and wellbeing through community activity is needed, in order to be able to isolate the role of greenspace itself from other aspects, such as social integration.
• More research is needed on how to design play areas which, while being safe enough, contain more challenge and play value. This could include exploring attitudes to risk, measuring the different benefits of play for different ages and in different environments and play with natural materials and elements. This is a complex and challenging area but an extremely valuable one.
Social and community values
The gaps in research which could fruitfully be pursued are as follows:
• Since the potential social benefits of greenspace appear potentially quite large, there could be merit in undertaking studies in particular deprived areas of Scottish towns and cities could be undertaken, perhaps alongside or integrated into planning and design projects aimed at improving the environmental quality of deprived areas. The methods could be borrowed from the robust American studies or else specific methodologies could be developed.
• More work on the relationship between fear, safety, crime and greenspace is needed. This could involve using a large sample from different areas, combining both qualitative and quantitative approaches, with correlation between perceptions and data from crime reporting etc, and linked to different measurable characteristics of greenspace.
• Since greenspaces are used differently by people as they move from one life stage to another, a means of assessing this – “life-stage analysis” – could be developed as a valuable, practical tool for planners and designers.
• Transferring research findings into practical design guidelines is also an area that needs a lot more work, although it is not original research per se.
• Gardens are an under researched subject. More research could be undertaken on how they function as private or public/community spaces in different areas, such as private gardens in suburbs, shared private gardens in cities or community gardens and allotments elsewhere. This would suit an action-research approach.
Economic impacts/values of greenspace
Research gaps here include:
• Valuation of the effect of greenspace on property prices in the UK and Scotland – probably a complex subject, given the functioning of the property market but an important one. This might include surveys of prices or properties geographically related to the proximity of greenspace as well as information from surveys of estate agents and solicitors, willingness to pay by prospective purchasers and the characteristics of greenspace that may also have an effect.
• Broader studies of the economic value combining different economic models such as some suggested in para 7.4.2, perhaps attempting to put a global valuation on greenspace in its many dimensions. This may include the use of cost benefit analysis.
• There are large gaps in evidence for the effect of greenspace on inward investment values. This is likely to be a difficult area to research because of the wide range of factors that affect business decisions, for example, as well as problems over sources of data and their commercial sensitivity.
• Absenteeism rates, their costs and the reduction of this by people obtaining health benefits from greenspace is also a gap with further challenges in developing a robust research methodology.
Environment and greenspace
The following gaps were identified:
• Comprehensive research on the effect of greenspace on pollution, air quality, shelter (in the Scottish context), noise, energy consumption and flood mitigation, perhaps tied into a wide-ranging cost benefit analysis (see para 7.4.4).
• More comprehensive assessment of biodiversity values of different types of urban greenspace, especially golf courses, perhaps leading to better planning and design guidance.
• The development, refinement or technology transfer of practical tools for long term evaluation and monitoring of the condition of urban greenspace for biodiversity conservation.
• In relation with the above point, there is potential for developing participatory methodologies for monitoring urban greenspace biodiversity. These could take the form of biodiversity surveys that could involve greenspace users and the wider community. Possibly linked with environmental education and community empowerment programmes, such projects could turn urban greenspaces into focal points for community involvement with the public sphere and promote social inclusion and participation.
Planning and design of greenspace
The research gaps are:
• Perception studies are important in understanding how different people view greenspace. They could expand and develop the methodological approach using innovative qualitative methods (such as ethnographic methodologies) and phenomenological perspectives to the lived experience of greenspace.
• The planning literature is dominated by top-down approaches; there is an obvious gap in the field of well-researched examples of participatory approaches. Methods of evaluating individual projects so as to obtain high quality evidence are needed before this can be satisfactorily achieved, for example, better methods of action research.
• More research is needed to develop practical planning tools, decision support systems and the like for a range of aspects – health and wellbeing assessment, social and community benefits, an economic dimension and application of sets of indicators suited to the Scottish situation, for example quality of life and environmental services, for example,.
This review has covered an extensive area of literature and, taken together with the York report, provides a fairly comprehensive picture of the research evidence for the range of aspects of greenspace covered in the brief. It is clear that the evidence base in all areas is increasing, with a particular focus on health and wellbeing which has significantly accelerated in recent years and is likely to produce much more in the near future.
There are also some surprising gaps in the evidence that found its way through the search and screening process used here. Three areas stand out: community capacity and greenspace, biodiversity values of greenspace and ecological connectivity in urban greenspace. The absence in UK evidence is all the more marked. This may not be as a result of a lack of evidence per se, but possibly robust evidence, published in reputable sources and available through the search techniques used here.
- Outline in English : Executive summary 5
1.0 Introduction 11
1.1 Areas reviewed 11
1.2 Methods 11
1.3 Structure of the report 13
2.0 Effect of greenspace on health and wellbeing 14
2.1 Introduction 14
2.2 Proximity and features of parks, school grounds and public
open spaces in relation to physical activity 15
2.2.3 Evidence collected in previous reviews 15
2.2.7 Children and young people 15
2.2.16 Older adults 17
2.2.20 Physical activity – walking 18
2.2.29 Dog-Walking 19
2.3 Greenness of neighbourhoods and association with heat stress 20
2.4 Restorative effects of green space 20
2.4.1 Stress relief 20
2.4.6 Happiness and aggression 21
2.4.14 Children 22
2.4.20 Health effects of viewing landscapes 23
2.5 Health benefits of activities in green space settings 25
2.6 Hazards and risks associated with green space 26
2.6.2 Neighbourhood and park characteristics associated with
childhood injuries 26
2.7 Summary of key points – effects of greenspace on health and
3.0 Social and community values of greenspace 29
3.1 Introduction 29
3.2 Effects of the physical environment on the coping strategies
of people living in urban public housing 29
3.3 Gender differences related to public parks and recreation settings 30
3.4 Greenspace, children and young people: perceptions, uses and
3.4.2 Perceptions of greenspace and living environment 31
3.4.6 Environment and behaviour 31
3.4.12 Children’s play 32
3.5 Inequality and social cohesion 34
3.6 Perceptions of safety and danger in greenspaces 36
3.7 Gardens 37
3.8 Summary of key points – social and community values of
4.0 Economic value and impacts of greenspace 39
4.1 Introduction 39
4.2 General approaches to the use of economic valuation for
4.3 Meta-analysis 39
4.4 Property values and greenspace: hedonic pricing studies 40
4.4.2 North America 40
4.4.11 Europe 42
4.4.16 China 42
4.5 Value of greenspaces: contingent valuation studies 44
4.6 Local governance, economy and environment 46
4.7 Summary of key points - economic values and greenspace 46
5.0 Environment and greenspace 47
5.1 Introduction 47
5.2 Pollution mitigation and air quality 47
5.3 Microclimate and the heat island effect 48
5.4 Noise reduction and visual intrusion 49
5.5 Flood mitigation 49
5.6 Biodiversity conservation 49
5.7 Long-term changes in urban vegetation 51
5.8 Green space restoration 52
5.9 Methodological developments 52
5.10 Summary of key points – environment and greenspace 53
6.0 Planning and design of greenspace 54
6.1 Introduction 54
6.2 Perceptions of green space 54
6.3 Planning and designing urban green space 56
6.4 Methodological developments: decision making and monitoring
approaches and tools 59
6.5 Summary of key points – planning and design of greenspace 60
7.0 Summary, conclusions and identification of research gaps 61
7.1 Introduction 61
7.2 Effects of greenspace on health and wellbeing 61
7.3 Social and community values of greenspace 62
7.4 Economic impacts/values of greenspace 63
7.5 Environment and greenspace 64
7.6 Planning and design of greenspace 64
7.7 Conclusions 65
APPENDIX 1: Search terms used in the ODPM/DCLG database 66
APPENDIX 2: References
- Comments/Notes : Full publication can be downloaded from here: