Deliver Benefits to the Public

Researching links between urban nature and health

Located one mile from downtown Atlanta, Piedmont Park includes 185 acres of green space, trails, and a lake for fishing and boating. Photo courtesy of Tim Dorr.

GEORGIA - Urban green spaces like parks, urban forests, and greenways are often not equally available to everyone.

“My research focuses on the nexus between urban nature, social justice, and health as it relates to factors such as income, race, and socioeconomic status,” says USDA Forest service biological scientist Viniece Jennings.

Existing research has described the benefits of urban green space on environmental conditions like stormwater management and heat hazard reduction. Jennings has extended that work to include physical activity, social cohesion, and stress reduction

In many urban areas, population growth and development are projected to continue. This will put greater demands on existing — or shrinking — green space over the coming decades.

To explore this topic, Jennings and her colleagues reviewed studies that focused on emerging issues in urban ecology and connected the findings to different types of urban green spaces and human health. Their review article was published in Population and Environment.

Observations can vary by the quality, location and type of green space, along with the health outcome. For example, it can be difficult to tell whether exposure to green space and its amenities improves health and well-being or if healthy people tend to seek out neighborhoods with these conditions.

The review noted that green space initiatives can increase property values but can also lead to concerns about gentrification. Urban residents may not be aware of the positive effects of tree cover — and sometimes even remove trees due to fears of storm damage or concerns about public safety.

Fully engaging local communities about green space designs and access can help all residents benefit from these public investments.