World Health Organization Brief for action about the relevance for Urban Green Spaces

Urbanization results in an increasing proportion of the population living in cities. In Europe it is expected that around three quarters of the population will live in urban settings by 2020. Urban living limits access to nature and can increase exposure to certain environmental hazards, such as air and noise pollution. Many urban areas face increasing pressure from expanding populations, limited resources and growing impacts of climate change. These challenges must be addressed in order for cities to provide healthy and sustainable living environments. Green spaces and other nature-based solutions offer innovative approaches to increase the quality of urban settings, enhance local resilience and promote sustainable lifestyles, improving both the health and the well-being of urban residents. Parks, playgrounds or vegetation in public and private places are a central component of these approaches and can help to ensure that:

  • urban residents have adequate opportunities for exposure to nature;
  • urban biodiversity is maintained and protected;
  • environmental hazards such as air pollution or noise are reduced;
  • the impacts of extreme weather events (heatwaves, extreme rainfall or flooding) are mitigated;
  • the quality of urban living is enhanced;
  • the health and well-being of residents is improved.

Urban green space is a component of “green infrastructure”. It is an important part of public open spaces and common services provided by a city and can serve as a health-promoting setting for all members of the urban community. It is therefore necessary to ensure that public green spaces are easily accessible for all population groups and distributed equitably within the city.

Purpose and structure of this brief for action

The links between green space and health have been summarized in many publications (Hartig et al., 2014; WHO Regional Office for Europe, 2016). The information in this brief is based on the conclusions of an expert meeting convened by WHO, which brought together an international team of urban health and green space experts to discuss the practical side of urban green space interventions. This brief aims to support urban policy-makers and practitioners by translating the key findings of a review of research evidence and practical case studies on urban green space interventions into implications for practice. It presents lessons learned and highlights aspects to consider when designing urban green spaces to maximize social and health benefits. The brief provides information about urban green spaces and their benefits; general considerations on planning and design, involving the community and stakeholders and promoting use; and lessons learned on monitoring and evaluation. Also the brief describes potential risks and challenges to be considered and avoided, a set of key messages is provided and followed by a short list of references, further reading and helpful tools.

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