College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

Landscape expert affirms why people need parks

Health benefits associated with living near urban green spaces are highlighted by an Edinburgh researcher in a landmark scientific report.

Professor of Landscape Architecture Catharine Ward Thompson outlines how proximity to natural places can boost wellbeing in a study by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

The Director of the OPENspace research centre says ready access to parks and open spaces can help reduce the health inequalities that exist between different population groups.

The Living Planet Report, which is published by WWF every two years, seeks to provide a comprehensive overview of the state of our natural world.

It documents the state of the planet—including its biodiversity, ecosystems and demand on natural resources—and what it means for people and wildlife.

Closely linked

A key focus of the 2020 report is how the wellbeing of the planet and the health of its inhabitants are intertwined.

Professor Ward Thompson, who is based in Edinburgh College of Art, is one of 20 experts invited by WWF to write an essay that shares their vision of a healthier planet.

Other contributors include the pioneer of nature documentary film-making and WWF ambassador, Sir David Attenborough.

Fresh insights

The OPENspace director says new research techniques are shedding light on the long-established association between access to urban greenery and people’s wellbeing.

Rigorous scientific methods are revealing a range of health benefits, including lower probabilities of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, asthma hospitalisation and mental distress.

More green space in city neighbourhoods is linked to better self-reported health and subjective wellbeing. It is also associated with improved cognitive development in children and birth outcomes, including healthier birth weights and reduced risk of preterm birth.

Global perspective

Although current evidence linking green space to health is predominantly drawn from the Global North, there are opportunities for benefit worldwide, says Professor Ward Thompson.

Despite potential challenges associated with natural environments—such as spread of disease and problematic interactions with wildlife – more greenery could improve the quality of city life in the Global South

Increasing the amount of easily accessible urban green – in both North and South – has the potential to enhance city life and support better and more equitable human health.

Crucial timing

The Living Planet Report 2020 launches less than a week before the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

Leaders are expected to review the progress made on the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement to combat climate change and the Convention on Biological Diversity.

WWF is one of the world’s largest independent conservation organizations, with more than 5 million supporters and a global network active in more than 100 countries and territories.

Its mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature,

A growing body of evidence confirms that it is good for everyone’s health and wellbeing to engage with green and natural spaces near to home.

Catharine Ward ThompsonProfessor of Landscape Architecture

Related links

Living Planet Report

Edinburgh College of Art

Picture Credit - GitoTrevisan via Getty images