Science - August 13, 2012

A green street does you good

A green street is good for your health. Green neighbourhoods are associated with lower stress levels and more social bonding.

People who live near a park feel healthier. That correlation has been known for some time. Now it turns out the green space nearer home, in your own street, is at least as strongly related to wellbeing. This has been shown by new research done jointly by Wageningen UR, the University of Utrecht and the Dutch institute for health research NIVEL.
The study was carried out in 80 neighbourhoods in Rotterdam, Utrecht, Den Bosch and Arnhem. Besides the amount of vegetation in the street and the wider surroundings (parks), the quality of these green spaces was also measured. Quality meant in this case maintenance, how natural and how colourful the area is, and how much litter is lying around. All these data were correlated with the results of a survey of a total of 1640 residents.
No miracle cure
It is not just the quantity but also the quality of green space that is positively linked to health. This goes for small-scale green spaces too. 'A green-looking street is at least as important as a park, which is often located a bit further away', says researcher Sjerp de Vries of Alterra. But the effects are actually quite minor. De Vries: 'That is not surprising, actually. There are so many factors influencing health. Green space is not a miracle cure. But it does have the same effect on everyone in a green neighbourhood, and that adds up in the end.'
Relaxing and socializing
So a green environment is healthy. But why is that, actually? In follow-up research (not yet published) De Vries and his colleagues look at three possible explanations. Green space reduces stress, improves social cohesion or promotes physical exercise. The first two reasons seem to be the most important. Green space facilitates relaxation and provides a meeting place. The mental benefits of a green habitat seem to outweigh the physical ones, according to De Vries.
This confirms the idea that a green-looking street is good for people's health. 'You have to go to a park to experience it. If there is vegetation in your own street you see it every day.' It is good news that not just the quantity but also the quality of the green space matters. De Vries: 'For years people have been calling for more green space. But there is not much room for expansion. It is often possible to improve the quality though.'