How far do people actually travel to visit urban green spaces?

This study across three European cities identified the actual distance people regularly travelled to visit an urban green space. Understanding how green spaces are used, desired and travelled to allows policymakers to integrate nature into the urban fabric more effectively.

Urban green spaces (UGS) provide many important benefits, from improving air quality through to contributing to mental and physical health. UGS are becoming an integral part of urban planning and policy. As demand for land in built up areas continues to increase, the value of accessible and desirable UGS is important to understand. A principle gathering support as guidance for green infrastructure recommend that residents can see 3 trees, live in a 30% green covered neighbourhood and within 300ms of a park. Recently published research developed on this ideal by examining the distance people actually travelled to the Urban Green Spaces (UGS) they visit most. Observing the transport method and location can help planners to understand where provision of UGS could be required or the mechanisms behind why one space is visited more than another.

The study across three European cities found some unpredicted results. In Luxembourg, many suburban residents actually used UGS near the centre, potentially as a break during their working day or combined with another activity such as shopping. The role of UGS as part of a chain of activities highlights the opportunity to integrate UGS into different aspects of urban developments such as shopping centres. The provision of quality UGS around homes appeared to reduce the travel distance along with car ownership and transport connectivity. The creation of UGS should look  beyond suggested policy targets of linear or buffer distance to consider the connectivity to public transport and other infrastructure (such as bicycle lanes) for those who do not have access to quality UGS around their home.

The researchers also discuss the importance of improving peoples’ perception of UGS and the benefits of use beyond the provision of UGS alone. This includes the implementation of facilities in line with the users’ needs and to promote vegetation that is sufficiently perceived as providing benefits rather than a focus on size and proximity. Understanding the differences in how urban green spaces are used, desired and travelled to allows policymakers to successfully integrate nature into the urban fabric.

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Francesca Boyd