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Feb 15 2016

Maximising the Benefits of Urban Green Spaces

Study finds larger city parks more beneficial to humans than many smaller parks and gardens, but both play a positive role.

In order for urban ecosystems to provide maximum benefits to human inhabitants, cities should incorporate large green spaces into their urban design plans, according to the findings of a recent study led by researchers for the University of Exeter.

With over half the global population now residing in cities, and these populations rising steadily, decision-makers the world over are pondering how to cope with ever increasing urban population growth while at the same time maintaining the ecological integrity of urban natural areas. Previous studies have shown that trees and urban green spaces provide human inhabitants with far-reaching benefits, including improved health, happiness and well-being, as well as ecological services such as absorbing carbon dioxide and surface water run-off. Researchers studying urban areas have deliberated long and hard over whether compact urban developments interspersed with large nature reserves or green parks, common in European and Japanese cities, are a better choice than sprawling urban areas comprised of large leafy suburbs that contain many small gardens and parks, typical of cities in North America and Australia.

Now, researchers from the University of Exeter in collaboration with colleagues from Hokkaido University in Japan, have analysed 9 case-studies of cities located around the world, taking into account how urbanisation patterns have affected urban ecosystem functioning. The results of the study, which received support from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), were recently published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Environment. The researchers conclude that high-density compact cities featuring large natural areas or green parks offer the most benefits, but stress that smaller parks and gardens also contribute positively to the wellbeing of urban inhabitants and should therefore not be sacrificed.

Lead author Dr Iain Stott, from the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) on the Penryn Campus in Cornwall, said: “As populations continue to grow, it’s vital that we expand our cities and build new ones in a way that is most sustainable for ecosystems, and which provides the greatest benefits to urban residents. Our research finds that compact developments that include large green spaces are essential for the delivery of ecosystem services. For humans to get the most benefit however, combining this approach with greening of built land using street trees and some small parks and gardens is the best method.”

According to co-author, Professor Kevin Gaston, who also hails from the University of Exeter’s ESI: “Future urban development must be carefully planned and policy-led, at whole-city scales, to yield the best result.”

Journal Reference:

Kevin Gaston et al. Land sparing is crucial for urban ecosystem services. Frontiers in Ecology and Environment, September 2015 DOI: 10.1890/140286

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