Parks are for life, not just for picnics

Neil Manthorpe | 05 Dec 2016 | Comments

The Houses of Parliament Office of Science and Technology has found that areas with more accessible green space are associated with communities with better mental and physical health. They also found a clear correlation between the risk of mortality caused by cardiovascular disease and the level of ‘greenness’ of a residential area.

With green space and public health so closely entwined, we must focus more funding towards increasing the quantity and accessibility of our green spaces.

If we don’t act on this then public health is likely to worsen. Lack of movement is now the fourth leading risk factor for death according to the World Health Organisation and while we’re all familiar with the recommended 30 minutes of exercise five times a week, 37 per cent of men and 45 per cent of women aren’t achieving this.

I believe this is mainly due to lack of opportunity, and that if more cycle routes and walkways were in place people would find it easier to incorporate their recommended daily amount of activity into their lives. With the incorporation of this regular exercise able to directly reduce the risk of strokes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, some cancers and type 2 diabetes, investing in green infrastructure (GI) and green space is an extremely worthwhile effort and gives us returns far greater than the investment it requires. 

Atkins has been at the forefront of delivering GI for the past 30 years, opening up access to all the benefits that green space and connections can provide. A project I’m proud to be involved in is the creation of a network of cycle routes across the London Borough of Kingston. These routes will drastically improve connectivity across the borough for cyclists and provide a safe alternative to driving, benefiting residents and improving the liveability of Kingston. 

While GI needs to be a country wide priority, it is particularly important that in urban areas the local authorities take a close look at green space provision within less affluent areas and communities. All too often, residential areas with high levels of ‘greenness’ are accessible only to the wealthy. With such a clear link between the provision of GI and public health, it is the responsibility of local authorities to ensure the wellbeing needs of lower income residents are considered and cared for.

Our work on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park opened up access to over 100 hectares of new parklands, waterways and playgrounds for a large urban population of east London, previously surrounded by heavily polluted industrial land. The creation of the park has encouraged the local community to walk and cycle on a regular basis and, perhaps the most positive outcome for me, provided a clean and safe space for families to socialise and play. 

As our population and cities continue to grow, our green spaces and connections are under increasing pressure. Greater value needs to be placed on green space and the multiple benefits it can bring. Key to this is recognising the long-term and holistic returns on investments, such as potential NHS savings resulting from a healthier population and employees needing fewer sickness absences from work. 

Access to green space and encouraging people to live a more active lifestyle is an achievable aspiration and one we must all work towards.