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Greenspace and quality of life: a critical literature review

Key Message

Greenspaces provide significant health, social, community and environmental benefits and the literature which reports these benefits is growing.

Source

Bell, Simon et al. (2008). Greenspace and quality of life: a critical literature review: Research report. Stirling, Scotland: Greenspace Scotland.

Purpose

This report presents the findings of a major literature review relating to greenspace and a number of different themes. 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.
Areas reviewed

  • 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).

Evidence

Health:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Social & Community:

  • 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. 
  • 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.

Environment:

  • 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.

Benefit Statements / Outcomes

Leadership Provided By:

  • Leisure Information Network (LIN)
  • Alberta Recreation and Parks Association

On Behalf Of:

  • Canadian Parks and Recreation Association (CPRAA)

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