Green spaces, healthier cities

“Tackling the anxiety associated with living in cities is an issue becoming only more pressing.” Green Party Deputy Leader Amelia Womack makes the case for more green spaces in cities, so that everyone has access to nature within 500 metres of their home.

Amelia Womack

Green spaces improve our lives and cities – but for too many they’re out of reach.

They cut pollution. They reduce the strain on the NHS. They give us space to breathe, run, play, reflect and explore. Public green spaces enrich the lives of people in multiple ways. But too many people are living too far from a public green space.

This week the charity Fields in Trust has launched the biggest-ever assessment of access to green spaces in the UK, called the Green Space Index, using Ordnance Survey data to map the parks and spaces available to people.

Fields in Trust found that 2.6 million people live more than 10 minutes’ walk from a public green space. With our increasingly busy lives, living that distance away from a green space can easily result in never visiting one at all.

This is a clear message that planning of urban areas needs to be better at including these incredibly important features. We must challenge the narrative that public green spaces work against the function of cities, and are an inconvenience and a cost burden, and instead frame them as absolutely integral to human life and enjoyment of our cities.

Green spaces are natural classrooms, places for people to gather and improve our mood and mental health

I am really proud that it’s Green Party policy that everyone in urban areas should have a public green space within 500 metres of their home – about a five-minute walk.

The health benefits of having a green space nearby are many. And these go beyond the obvious benefits of the encouragement to take the modest exercise that a stroll to a green space might deliver.

They are natural classrooms – teaching us about ecosystems, British wildlife and conservation. They can also be sources of fresh healthy food, and information on how to grow it. Incredible Edible, founded in Todmorden, has done wonders on that score.

Natural spaces also improve our mood and mental health – the United Nations’ Healthy Urban Microbiome Project, launched last year, acknowledges the importance of green spaces and greenery in general to healthy immune systems in humans, and even better mental health.

And they are places for people to gather, in a society increasingly marked by loneliness, where pubs and other community spaces are all too often closing down, or require money to be spent that too many people do not have.

They can also be important places for community memories to be held, and for ceremonies that bring people together to be conducted. Sackville Gardens, in the heart of Manchester, home to the Alan Turing memorial, contains information about the father of modern codebreaking and information technology, and is the location of the Manchester LGBT community’s annual candlelight vigil for LGBT people affected by AIDS.

More than half the global population already lives in cities and this figure is expected to rise to nearly 70 per cent by 2050. This means that tackling the anxiety and misery associated with living in cities is an issue becoming only more pressing.

A policy like this can only be enacted with the right investment – investment in existing green spaces, and also in making new spaces.

Pocket parks – small parks created out of empty patches of land – are a great new trend delivering public green spaces to urban areas that might otherwise be without them.

In London, the newly renovated Brixton Orchard is home to 35 trees, and is open to volunteers to come and learn about the rich variety of European fruit trees and gain gardening skills.

The diversity of what green spaces can offer community members is inspiring, life-saving and makes our cities worth living in.