The social role of green space - health, education and enjoyment of life

There is growing awareness of the social importance of the presence of green space in the urban environment. The following are some notes relating to specific aspect that relate to Stocksbridge - here there is the possibility of improving:

  • general levels of health through the encouragement of a higher level of use of the oudoor spaces - particularly those easily accessible green spaces near homes.
  • educational opportunity through enabling access to green spaces for all school children - so the spaces can be used as part of the teaching programmes
  • general well-being through the provision of high quality, attractive, usable green spaces

Green spaces and health

One of the most important social functions of green spaces may be the one related to health. The results of a large survey in the Netherlands showed that the amount of green space in the residential environment was positively related to the health condition people said they experienced in their daily life (de Vries - Alterra, Wageningen).

This positive relationship between nature and health, has been identified in several countries (Takano, et al in Japan, de Vries, et al in the Netherlands and Ullrich in the USA). The studies have shown the importance for human well-being of daily contact with nature.

Research has indicated that the positive effects are caused by:

  • Relief of stress
  • Increase in walking and involvement in other physical activities
  • Increased opportunity for social contacts (for instance, being able to recognise at least some of the other users of local outdoor spaces is an important aspect of feeling comfortable in any public space; there is also the need for an easy opportunity for newcomers to an area to get to know the neighbours casually)

Stress relief:
A positive effect on stress levels has been measured in those able to use green spaces regularly and so have contact with nature. The positive effects have been noticed by children and adults, even after only a short period of being in a green space.
Nature in this context consists of urban nature (parks and gardens as well as small local green spaces and woodlands) and the countryside beyond. A view of nature can be sufficient for a response to occur - it is not always necessary to be in a green space.

Physical activities:
Inhabitants who undertake low levels of physical activities are less healthy than those who are more active. Low activity is linked to illnesses, overweight, etc.
Research has indicated that a green urban environment promotes physical activities and so improves health levels; this is particularly so when the green spaces are next to houses and working places and allow free access by all.

Social contacts
In Chicago a positive relationship has been found between the presence of green in the city and the social integration of poorer people. It should be noted that in the British context it is the characteristics and qualities of the green spaces rather than just its presence which is important.

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Green spaces and education

Educating the public about the green spaces close to their homes is essential if such spaces are to be well used and looked after by their local communities. Awareness of the resource and of the opportunities inherent in nearby green spaces can be fostered through education. Understanding the benefits that participation in the design and management of local green areas can give members of a local community is crucial to the success of projects to enhance local green spaces. The satisfaction of being able to interact effectively among a group of local residents and with local agencies can do much to foster a feeling of 'community'.

Since its foundation the Steel Valley Project has developed a close relationship with local schools. As a result the local green spaces are becoming a well-used educational resource. Staff from the Steel Valley Project team regularly give presentations in the local schools, both about green spaces and about the nature they support. Many leaflets have been prepared by the team and are available for the children and their teachers to use in the classroom or out on site.

The team run a series of educational summer walks round the local green spaces open to all age groups.

Data about every green space in Stocksbridge is on this website, with very detailed data on the most ecologically interesting sites - these are available for schools to access as well as for community groups to use as a basis for their decision making.

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Green spaces and well-being

The recent MORI publication "Liveability - Physical Capital in 2005", which ranks local authority areas on the basis of a physical capital index, has once more shown the importance of a well-maintained local environment to the level of satisfaction that inhabitants experience in the residential environment. This large-scale survey has shown that visual quality is the most crucial factor in the way people define the quality of their lives. This is an important piece of ammunition for those arguing for resources to enhance degraded urban green spaces.

If people are to experience a feeling of well-being in their daily life it needs to be recognised that a major part of this reflects how the local green spaces are designed and managed. The local community groups need to consider, therefore, what will be seen from the windows of homes as well as what the experience will be like of walking along the streets when deciding how best to plan and design the enhancement of local green spaces.

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People place - ideas sheets

  1. Background information

  2. Special needs of:

Role of greenspace in

  1. health
  2. education
  3. well-being

Greenspaces which support particular recreational activities

  1. informal activities
  2. formal activities

How to start projects

Making change happen


WWW Stocksbridge - Steel Valley

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Web pages by Map21 Ltd - latest update 11 August 2005