Urban green space

(Redirected from Urban open space)

In land-use planning, urban green space is open-space areas reserved for parks and other "green spaces", including plant life, water features - also referred to as blue spaces - and other kinds of natural environment.[3] Most urban open spaces are green spaces, but occasionally include other kinds of open areas. The landscape of urban open spaces can range from playing fields to highly maintained environments to relatively natural landscapes.

Kupittaa Park [fi] (Kupittaanpuisto) is a large urban open space area in Turku, Southwest Finland. At the same time, it is also the largest and oldest park in Finland.[1][2]
Asramam Maidan in Kollam city, India. It is the largest open space available in any of the city limits in Kerala state.
A grassy area with tall trees leaving shadows from the sun above. In the distance are small rowhouses, and a street is at the right.
Washington Park in Troy, NY, U.S., an example of privately owned urban open space

Generally considered open to the public, urban green spaces are sometimes privately owned, such as higher education campuses, neighborhood/community parks/gardens, and institutional or corporate grounds. Areas outside city boundaries, such as state and national parks as well as open space in the countryside, are not considered urban open space. Streets, piazzas, plazas and urban squares are not always defined as urban open space in land use planning. Urban green spaces have wide reaching positive impacts on the health of individuals and communities near the green space.[3]

Urban greening policies are important for revitalizing communities, reducing financial burdens of healthcare and increasing quality of life. Most policies focus on community benefits, and reducing negative effects of urban development, such as surface runoff and the urban heat island effect.[4] Historically, access to green space has favored wealthier, and more privileged communities, thus recent focus in urban greening has increasingly focused on environmental justice concerns, and community engagement in the greening process.[5] In particular, in cities with economic decline, such as the Rust Belt in the United States, urban greening has broad community revitalization impacts.[5]

Urban areas have greatly expanded, resulting in over half of the world's population being located in urban locations.[6] As the population continues to grow, this number is predicted to be at two-thirds of people living in urban areas by 2050.[6]

Definitions and concepts


People living in cities and towns generally have weaker mental health in comparison to people living in less crowded areas. Urban green spaces are pieces of nature in the cities designed to try to solve the problem.[7]

Most research on the topic focus on urban green spaces. The WHO defined this as "all urban land covered by vegation of any kind".[3]

When doing research, some experts use "urban open space" to describe a broader range of open areas. One definition holds that, "As the counterpart of development, urban open space is a natural and cultural resource, synonymous with neither 'unused land' nor 'park and recreation areas'." Another is "Open space is land and/or water area with its surface open to the sky, consciously acquired or publicly regulated to serve conservation and urban shaping function in addition to providing recreational opportunities."[8] In almost all instances, the space referred to by the term is, in fact, green space, focused on natural areas.[9]

These spaces are part of "public space" broadly construed, which include meeting or gathering places that exist outside the home and workplace, and which foster resident interaction and opportunities for contact and proximity.[10] This definition implies a higher level of community interaction and places a focus on public involvement rather than public ownership or stewardship.



The benefits that urban open space provides to citizens can be broken into four basic forms; recreation, ecology, aesthetic value, and positive health impacts. Psychological research shows that benefits gained by visitors to urban green spaces increased with their biodiversity,[11][12][13] indicating that 'green' alone is not sufficient; the quality of that green is important as well.


Sad Janka Kráľa park in Bratislava (Slovakia)

Urban open space is often appreciated for the recreational opportunities it provides. Recreation in urban open space may include active recreation (such as organized sports and individual exercise) or passive recreation. Research shows that when open spaces are attractive and accessible, people are more likely to engage in physical activity.[14] Time spent in an urban open space for recreation offers a reprieve from the urban environment and a break from over-stimulation.[15] Studies done on physically active adults middle aged and older show there are amplified benefits when the physical activities are coupled with green space environments. Such coupling leads to decreased levels of stress, lowers the risk for depression as well as increase the frequency of participation in exercise.[16]


Blackstone Park Conservation District, an urban conservation area in Providence, Rhode Island.

The conservation of nature in an urban environment has direct impact on people for another reason as well. A Toronto civic affairs bulletin entitled Urban Open Space: Luxury or Necessity makes the claim that "popular awareness of the balance of nature, of natural processes and of man's place in and effect on nature – i.e., "ecological awareness" – is important. As humans live more and more in man-made surroundings – i.e., cities – he risks harming himself by building and acting in ignorance of natural processes." Beyond this man-nature benefit, urban open spaces also serve as islands of nature, promoting biodiversity and providing a home for natural species in environments that are otherwise uninhabitable due to city development.

By having the opportunity to be within an urban green space, people gain a higher appreciation for the nature around them. As Bill McKibben mentions in his book The End of Nature, people will only truly understand nature if they are immersed within it. He follows in Henry David Thoreau's footsteps when he isolated himself in the Adirondack Mountains in order to get away from society and the overwhelming ideals it carries. Even there he writes how society and human impact follows him as he sees airplanes buzzing overhead or hears the roar of motorboats in the distance.



The aesthetic value of urban open spaces is self-evident. People enjoy viewing nature, especially when it is otherwise extensively deprived, as is the case in urban environments. Therefore, open space offers the value of "substituting gray infrastructure."[17] One researcher states how attractive neighborhoods contribute to positive attitudes and social norms that encourage walking and community values.[18] Properties near urban open space tend to have a higher value. One study was able to demonstrate that, "a pleasant view can lead to a considerable increase in house price, particularly if the house overlooks water (8–10%) or open space (6–12%)."[19] Certain benefits may be derived from exposure to virtual versions of the natural environment, too. For example, people who were shown pictures of scenic, natural environments had increased brain activity in the region associated with recalling happy memories, compared to people that were shown pictures of urban landscapes.[20]

Impact on health


The World Health Organization considers urban green spaces as important to human health. These areas have a positive impact on mental and physical health.[21] Urban open spaces often include trees or other shrubbery that contribute to moderating temperatures and decreasing air pollution.[22][23] Perceived general health is higher in populations with a higher percentage of green space in their environments.[24] Urban open space access has also been directly related to reductions in the prevalence and severity of chronic diseases resulting from sedentary lifestyles, to improvements in mental well-being, and to reductions in population-wide health impacts from climate change.[25]

Mechanism of urban open space health effects


Access to urban open space encourages physical activity and reduces ambient air pollution, heat, traffic noise and emissions.[26] All are factors which contribute to the risks of chronic disease and mental illness. Individuals and families who lived closer to ‘formal’ parks or open space were more likely to achieve the recommended amounts of physical activity.[27] Better respiratory health is associated with cleaner air quality.[28] Cleaner air quality affects rates of chronic disease in populations exposed. “High concentrations of ambient particles can trigger the onset of acute myocardial infarction and increase hospitalization for cardiovascular disease”.[29] Besides an association with lower BMI/obesity rates, this physical activity can increase lung function and be a protective factor against respiratory disease.[30] Exposure to nature improves the immune system. The contact of the human body with soil, turf, forest floor, exposes it to many microorganisms which boost the immune system.[31]

Reductions in chronic disease rates


Improved access to green space is associated with reductions in cardiovascular disease symptoms, improved rates of physical activity, lower incidence of obesity, and improved respiratory health. Lower rates of cardiovascular biomarkers are associated with access to green space, showing a reduction in cardiovascular disease risk in populations living within 1 km of green space. Not only does access to urban green space reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, but increased access has been shown to improve recovery from major adverse cardiovascular events and lower all-cause mortality.[26] Relationships have been found between increased access to green space, improved rates of physical activity, and reduced BMI.[27] The percentage of sedentary and moderately active persons making use of an urban park increased when access to the park was improved.[32]

Reductions in mental illness rates and improvement of social cohesion


Mental illness has been a major taboo and concern in the current fast-paced world in which time to relax is undervalued.  Globally, mental illness is linked to eight million deaths each year.[33] In urban areas, limited access to green space and poor quality of green spaces available may contribute to poor mental health outcomes. The distance an individual lives from a green space or park and the proportion of land designated as open space/parks has been shown to be inversely related to anxiety/mood disorder treatment counts in the community. Improved mental health may therefore be related to both measures - to distance from open space and proportion of open space within a neighborhood.[34] Even when physical activity rates are not shown to increase with greater access to green space, greater access to green space has been shown to decrease stress and improve social cohesion.[35]

Effects on respiratory health


Adequate urban green space access can be associated with better respiratory health outcomes, as long as green space areas meet certain requirements.  A new study showed that mortality due to pneumonia and chronic lower respiratory diseases could be reduced by minimizing fragmentation of green spaces and increasing the largest patch percentage of green space.[36] Vegetation type (trees, shrubs and herbaceous layers) and lack of management (pruning, irrigation and fertilization) has been shown to affect a higher capacity to provide the ecosystem services of air purification and climate regulation within green urban spaces.[37] The types of plants and shrubs are important because areas with large tree canopies can actually contribute to asthma and allergic sensitization.[38]

Impacts on high temperatures


Urban areas tend to have higher temperatures than their surrounding undeveloped areas because of Urban Heat Islands, UHIs. Urban heat islands are areas with man-made infrastructure that contribute to the increased temperatures.[23][39] The average temperature during the day in cities can be 18-27 degrees Fahrenheit higher than in the surrounding rural regions.[23] This is an example of one type of UHI, surface heat islands. Surface heat islands encompass the area from the ground to the top of the tree-line. It is usually higher during the day when direct sunlight reaches urban structures (often with darker materials than natural areas) including the main contributor, pavement. The other type of UHI, atmospheric heat islands, are from above the tree-line to the level in the atmosphere where the urban area no longer has an effect. This type of heat island has increased heat at night due to the release of heat from infrastructure that built up throughout the day.[23]

Green spaces within urban areas can help reduce these increased temperatures through shading and evapotranspiration.[39][40] Shading comes from the taller plants, such as trees, planted in green spaces that can contribute to lowering the surface heat island effect. The shade provides protection from the sun for vulnerable populations, such as children, during periods of increased temperature, during the summer months or during a heat wave. Tree cover prevents some solar radiation from reaching the ground with its leaves and branches.[22][23] This reduces the effect of surface urban heat islands. Open spaces that include any type of vegetation help offset the high temperatures through the natural process of evapotranspiration. Evapotranspiration releases water into the air therefore dissipating heat.[22] There are many elements of an urban open space that can contribute to the mitigation of urban heat islands including the type of open space (park or nature reserve), type of plant species, and the density of vegetation.[22] Green spaces contribute to the reduction of local heat, decreasing the overall effect of UHIs. The larger the distribution of green spaces, the bigger the area of heat reduction. Green spaces that are clustered together will have an additive heat reduction resulting in a greater decrease in temperature in the local area compared to surrounding areas.[40]

Impacts on air quality


Human activity has increased air pollution in the Earth's atmosphere and trees play an essential role in removing human-made pollutants from the air, aka particulate matter (PM). Trees produce oxygen and absorb CO2. In urban green spaces, trees filter out man-made pollutants. Air quality data collected on cities with and without urban green space has shown that areas with an abundance of trees have considerably less air pollutants, i.e. O3, PM10, NO2, SO2, and CO.[41] As air pollutants accumulate in the atmosphere, vulnerable populations, such as children, may suffer from increased incidences[spelling?] of respiratory disease.[41] Particulate matter or particle pollution with a diameter of 10 microns (PM10) or 2.5 microns (PM2.5) is associated with heart diseases and respiratory diseases including lung cancer.[42]

Globally, particulate matter has increased over 28% in indoor air and 35% in outdoor air. Children spend most of their time at school, around 10 hours daily, and the indoor and outdoor air has a large impact on their health. Schools located in urban areas have higher particulate matter than schools in rural areas. Compared with children in schools located in rural areas, children who attend schools located in industrial areas and urban cities have higher levels of urinary PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) metabolites, which is linked to air pollution.[43]

There are two different ways that green spaces can reduce the pollution of particulate matter including preventing distribution of particulate from pollutants or by reducing the particulate matter from traveling to other places.[42] There is a disagreement about the association of living near green spaces or having high exposure to greenness and illness such as allergies, rhinitis, and eye and nose symptoms.[44] Higher exposure to tree canopy and pollen was associated with a high risk of prevalence rhinitis, allergic sensitization, wheezing, and asthma among children 7 years-old.[38] More studies are needed to explain the effect of urban green spaces on children relating to air quality. These studies should take into consideration the interconnectedness of tree species, geographic areas, temperature, and other pollutant-like traffic.[44]

For children and adolescents


Impacts on physical health


The adolescent years are extremely important for children due to it being a time of growth, development, and instillation of habits. When children are given the opportunity to be active, they typically take advantage of it. Children with a greater access to parks and recreational facilities through urban green space have been found to be more active than children who lack access.[45] The access to green spaces has shown an association with recreational walking, increased physical activity, and reduced sedentary time in all ages.[46] In coordination, it has been seen that higher residential green space is associated with lower BMI scores.[6] If children are given the opportunity to be active and maintain a healthy BMI in their adolescent years, they are less likely to be obese as adults.[45]

Impacts on mental health


Children exposed to urban green spaces have the opportunity to expend energy by interacting with their environment and other people through exercise. One study has shown that without access to urban green spaces, some children have problems with hyperactivity, peer interactions, and good conduct.[6] The important interactions with nature, animals, and peers have been positively influential in child development and reduction in behavioral issues such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).[45][46] Urban green spaces allow children to expel their extra energy and improve their ability to focus when needed both at school and home.

In addition to behavioral problems, and likely connected, access to urban green space has been proven to be helpful for cognitive development. With urban green space giving children the opportunity to get outside and expend energy, children are more focused in school and have a better working memory and reduced inattentiveness.[47]

Another facet of urban green space improving mental health is giving children access to a community. Recreational activities and playing at the park gives children opportunities to interact with other children and develop a social circle and social skills in general.[46] Children with a good social network feel socially included, promoting more confidence and well-being in their everyday lives. Overall, the bonding experiences that result from urban green spaces tie in with a child's cognitive and social development.[48]

Ocotal forest, Mexico City

A 2021 study found that higher exposure to woodland urban green spaces or urban forest but not grassland is associated with improved cognitive development and risks of mental problems for urban adolescents.[49][50]



Ancient Rome


The term "rus in urbe" meaning "country in the city" was used in Rome around the first century C.E.[51] Urban planning in Rome valued the natural landscape and took account for environmental factors. It was thought that by building a city with regard to the local countryside, the people living there would be healthier and happier.[52] English landscapes would later take inspiration from Roman urban planning concepts in their own open spaces.[53]


Aerial view of Hyde Park in London

London has a long history of urban open space, which has significantly influenced development of modern parks, and is still among the greenest capital cities in the world.[54]

The basis for many urban open spaces seen today across Europe and the West began its process of development in London in the 17th and 18th centuries. What would eventually become urban open green space began as paved public plazas. Though they were intended to be open to the public, these spaces began to be re-designated as private parks around the late eighteenth century. It was during this period that the areas became pockets of green in the urban environment, commonly modelled after the natural wild of the countryside.[55]

The first parks to reverse the trend of privatization and again be opened to the public were England's royal parks in the nineteenth century. This was done in response to the extensive and unexpected population movement from the country into cities. As a result, "the need for open space was socially and politically pressing… The problems, to which the provision of parks was expected to offer some relief, were easy to describe: overcrowding, poverty, squalor, ill-health, lack of morals and morale, and so on".[56]



China's Fourteenth Five-Year Plan's plan's Climate Change Special Plan emphasizes ecologically-oriented urban planning, including through the use of urban green rings.[57]: 114 


Segmentation of urban open spaces was particularly prominent in America during the twentieth century. Since the late 1800s romantic park systems, open space designers have been concerned with guiding, containing or separating urban growth, distributing recreation, and/or producing scenic amenity, mostly within the framework of geometric abstractions."[58] Such segmentation was especially prominent in the 1990s, when urban open spaces took a path similar to that of parks, following the modernization trend of segmentation and specialization of areas.[59] As modernity stressed "increased efficiency, quantifiablity, predictability, and control… In concert with the additional social divisions",[59] open spaces grew more specific in purpose. Perhaps this increase in division of social classes' use of open space, demonstrated by the segmentation of the spaces, displays a situation similar to the privatization of London parks in the eighteenth century, which displayed a desire to make classes more distinct.

In the 20th century, places like Scandinavia saw a proliferation of urban open spaces and began adopting a lifestyle supported by the extra urban breathing room. An example of this can be seen in Copenhagen where an area closed to car traffic in 1962 developed, in just a few decades, a culture of public political gatherings and outdoor cafes emerged.[60]

Non-sustainable gardening, including mowing, use of chemical fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides harm green spaces.[61][62] Contrarywise, one of the conditions for good urban open space is sustainable gardening.[63]

At the beginning of the 21st century, studies began to show that living in areas near water (known as "blue spaces") considerably improved physical and mental health, increasing life longevity.[7]



Green space access is related to health inequality for minority populations.  Neighborhoods with higher percentages of minority residents often have lower access to open space and parks as the result of past red-lining policies and current inequities in funding priorities.[64] Urban open space is under strong pressure. Due to increasing urbanization, combined with a spatial planning policy of densification, more people face the prospect of living in less green residential environments, especially people from low economic strata. This may cause environmental inequality with regard to the distribution of (access) to public green space.[65] The parks that do exist in minority neighborhoods are often small (with lower acreage per person than parks in majority ethnicity neighborhoods), not well maintained, unsafe, or are otherwise ill-suited for community needs.[66] A large epidemiological study.[67] concluded that wealthier individuals were generally healthier than individuals with a lower income, explained by the pattern that wealthier individuals reside in areas more concentrated with green space. Urban open spaces in higher socioeconomic neighborhoods were also more likely to have trees that provided shade, a water feature (e.g. pond, lake and creek), walking and cycling paths, lighting, signage regarding dog access and signage restricting other activities as well.[68] This difference in access has been proven, however, further study is needed to evaluate the exact health impacts.

A study conducted in Australia provided insight into how there is a correlation between community development/community safety and natural open space within the community. Open areas allow community members to engage in highly social activities and facilitate the expansion of social networks and friendship development. As people become more social they decrease the perceptions of fear and mistrust allowing a sense of community bondage.[10] Distant or lack of adequate green space, therefore, may contribute to higher rates of inactivity and greater health effects among minority populations.[69]

Green gentrification

Environmental, ecological or green gentrification is a process in which cleaning up pollution or providing green amenities increases local property values and attracts wealthier residents to a previously polluted or disenfranchised neighbourhood.[70][71][72] Green amenities include green spaces, parks, green roofs, gardens and green and energy efficient building materials.[73] These initiatives can heal many environmental ills from industrialization and beautify urban landscapes. Additionally, greening is imperative for reaching a sustainable future. However, if accompanied by gentrification, these initiatives can have an ambiguous social impact.[74] For example, if the low income households are displaced or forced to pay higher housing costs.[72] First coined by Sieg et al. (2004),[75] environmental gentrification is a relatively new concept, although it can be considered as a new hybrid of the older and wider topics of gentrification and environmental justice. Social implications of greening projects specifically with regards to housing affordability and displacement of vulnerable citizens. Greening in cities can be both healthy and just.

See also

  • Open space reserve – Conserved land or water
  • Green belt – Largely undeveloped, wild, or agricultural land surrounding urban areas
  • Greenway (landscape) – Shared-use path or linear park with vegetation
    • Linear park – Long strip of naturally occurring land for recreation
    • Rail trail – Railroad bed converted to a recreational trail
  • Park – Area of naturally occurring land set aside for human enjoyment
  • Blue space – Areas dominated by surface waterbodies
  • Principles of Intelligent Urbanism – Theory of urban planning
  • Sustainable city – City designed with consideration for social, economic, environmental impact
  • Urban forest – Collection of trees within a city, town or a suburb
  • Urban vitality – Use intensity of a city space
  • Village green – Common open area within a settlement
  • Greening – Process of incorporating more environmentally friendly behaviors or systems
  • Particulates – Microscopic solid or liquid matter suspended in the Earth's atmosphere
  • Urban prairie – Vacant urban land reverted to green space
  • Urban reforestation – Planting of trees in urban environments


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