Applying the evidence: Health benefits within Greenkeeper

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Increasing recognition of the benefits of green infrastructure can be seen in policy and planning regarding natural spaces. Within our cities and national planning policy there are clear policies emerging to maintain and enhance our urban greenspace (as identified in Barton Willmore’s comprehensive review), however, there remains much debate over whether these plans or documents go far enough. As an academic this seems surprising, as every day I hear of more and more research being published, which support  the health benefits of green infrastructure for both mental and physical health. But on meeting with our team and more recently the wider pilot group it has become evident to me how little of this is known or understood outside of my field of research, and even more so how little of this evidence is in a suitable format to support the development industry.

We face a number of issues in providing evidence on the health benefits of green infrastructure that planners and developers can use to justify its inclusion in urban areas. Some of these relate to unanswered questions, for example, is it possible to substitute different types of green space for one another or if a garden owner visits communal green spaces less frequently than non-garden owners, does this have implications for greenspace provision? Others are methodological, regarding the links between different benefits and uses of green space. People might use green space for active travel and this could also result in benefits for physical health, we need to ensure we don’t end up double counting benefits. Some health benefits do not necessarily depend on visiting green space but are derived simply from living in a greener neighbourhood. Here, a solution might be to calculate the overall benefits derived from a space and a breakdown of individual benefits alongside these use and non-use values.

Communicating these values clearly requires great care, as they would need to be considered separately, so this is an issue which we continue to debate and consider among the project team and with our pilot group.

How we communicate the multiple benefits of green infrastructure is also important. Benefits with the largest values are not necessarily those which have highest priority for different users of Greenkeeper. The uplift in property prices associated with green space for example, may be higher in monetary terms but health is more important in the day-to-day life of people living in these neighbourhoods. We therefore need to think carefully about how Greenkeeper can display these values in a way that allows their comparison.

Overarching all these issues is the need for transparency. We must show where these values have come from, in terms of the data sets we have used, and the methods utilised to calculate them. By being clear about how we have obtained the values we assign to different spaces, we can ensure that users of Greenkeeper are confident in their accuracy and reliability.

I firmly believe that these challenges are solvable, and that by reaching a solution, Greenkeeper will allow us all to calculate location specific values for the health benefits of green spaces,  support our proposals and decision making with robust evidence and thereby finally begin properly planning health and well-being into our towns and cities.

Author: Sian de Bell 

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