The recently published report ‘Walking in urban parks and green spaces’, written and researched by the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) and funded by the Ramblers, looks at Britain’s attitudes to walking in open spaces. The report, ‘Urban Parks and Green Spaces’ has been developed to support the encouragement and protection of the benefits that come from being outdoors on foot. 1000 respondents from across England, Scotland and Wales were asked how often they use their parks and green spaces and what would encourage them to walk in these areas more frequently.
The research reveals that different groups of people are put off walking through parks for different reasons, therefore to encourage everyone to use parks we need to focus investment carefully. The report includes research into how people are using their local parks and green spaces and how – at a time when many councils have had to cut their parks’ budgets – money and resources can be found from a wide range of sources to improve parks, green spaces and green routes through urban areas.
People instinctively appreciate that time spent in parks and green spaces is beneficial; with 98% of respondents saying that walking through green spaces helps improve mental health, with a similar percentage reporting that walking in parks improves physical health. The report refers to the research paper published in The Lancet, by Mitchell and Popham, ‘Effect of exposure to natural environment on health inequalities: an observational population study’, that indicates that parks and green spaces have an important part to play in reducing health inequalities. The research suggests that people with the poorest health tend to benefit most from access to good green spaces. Parks and green spaces need to be designed and managed with this in mind to ensure that they are accessible and welcoming for everyone.
The report concludes that despite the current difficulties of generating funding for green spaces, throughout Britain there are examples of projects that have successfully improved green spaces, encouraged much greater use of them by all sections of the community, and so contributed to local health and wellbeing. The report includes a number of case studies illustrating what can be achieved and a number of recommendations:
- When planning improvements to green paths or spaces, think about the needs of a wide range of potential users. Enough benches, level paths, good signposting, clear sightlines and good maintenance will all help to encourage more use by a wide range of different people.
- It is often not enough just to create good paths to and through green spaces: you also need to encourage people to use them. Holding an opening ceremony or party, or organising guided walks, can be good ways of helping people to discover a transformed green space or new route.
- Successful projects to improve walking through green spaces usually require a wide range of people and organisations to collaborate and many different sources of funding. Making this happen can take many years – but the results can transform an area for the better.
- Communication is a vital part of successful projects. The many people and partners involved in a project need to be kept up to date with progress; local communities need opportunities to contribute their ideas and to be made aware of plans and progress.
- People are far more likely to walk in green spaces if they are well maintained; but funding this is difficult. When planning improvements to green spaces, think about how much it will cost to maintain them in the future and, if at all possible, secure a long-term income stream to pay for future upkeep.