11th May 2020

Over the last two months, the UK’s urban green infrastructure has provided an essential resource for millions of adults and children living in our towns and cities. Especially those with no outdoor space or limited private space, as they search for a break from the indoors and a location for their daily exercise or a ‘dose’ of green.

In tandem however, we have seen parks such as Victoria and Brockwell Park in London and Stewart’s Park in Middlesborough subject to closures by Local Authorities, fearful of people not adhering to social distancing rules. Faced with such a real, immediate health threat, it is easy to see how Local Authorities and Mayor’s such as Andy Preston believe these steps were necessary. But would they have still made this decision if they had a greater quantified understanding of the physical health and wellbeing value these public greenspaces offer?

For the last two years, a team of economic analysts, urban development specialists and academics have been exploring and developing a tool to better understand the role greenspaces play in our urban lives. GreenkeeperUK is the result and is set to launch later this month. It has been developed to better understand the value of these spaces; informing their future management and enhancement; and informing the debate around urban intensification and the type and volume of greenspace needed to best support existing and proposed additions to communities.

The research behind the tool proves and indeed quantifies the significant wellbeing benefits anyone who ‘gets into green’ gains, as well as the physical health benefits for those who are moderately and highly active.

What does the data tell us?

Brockwell Park for example, receives a predicted 3.6m visitors per year from across immediate local communities and south London more widely. Over 90% of these visitors are active – be this moderately or highly, and as a result, GreenkeeperUK estimates that this one greenspace delivers over £82m in wellbeing and physical health value to visitors every year. This accounts for over 98% of the greenspace’s complete value to the community (see breakdown in figure 1). From playgrounds and cafes, to wooded areas and bodies of water, the park offers a diversity of landscape for visitors, many of whom live at relatively high density.  Yes there remains room for improvement, but pandemic aside, Brockwell clearly plays a hugely significant role in everyday life for people locally, from a wide variety of housing, as well as a diverse range of cultures and socio-economic groups.

Brockwell Park - a community hub
Brockwell Park serves as a key hub of the Brixton and wider south London community in which it resides

Likewise, Stewart’s Park in Middlesborough, alongside Albert Park to the north, is a vital greenspace for the town. Securing only a tenth of the annual visitors to Brockwell, in normal circumstances it still offers local communities over £9m worth of wellbeing and physical health value every year. But while closed, at a time when people need those benefits more than ever, none of this value could be realised.

Drone footage of Stewarts Park in Middlesborough
Moving beyond COVID-19

Of course social distancing is a central premise in the UK and worldwide strategy to flatten the curve and these closure decisions were completely understandable given this situation. But as we exit, by using tools like GreenkeeperUK to recognise and actually quantify the social value of greenspace, as well as its economic and environmental contributions, we can all better understand the role it plays in urban living.

We must use this information and current experience to fuel greater debate and evaluation around greenspace performance as we exit our homes. We need to rebuild a society and lifestyle that learns from this and drives resilience. What greenspaces we provide and where, will be critical to this. Alongside ensuring we maximise the value they deliver to everyone in urban society, for the long term. The GreenkeeperUK team firmly believe our new tool has a huge role to play in this and look forward to introducing you to it.

Author : John Haxworth

John Haxworth, Landscape Design Partner, Barton Willmore


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