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Open Space Access in Reading (2010)

Open Space Access in Reading (2010)

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Published by: Ramiro Aznar Ballarín on Feb 21, 2011
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Open Space Access in Reading by Ramiro Aznar Ballarín
This study analyses the provision of accessible urban green space in Reading(Berkshire, UK) in relation to the socioeconomic characteristics of its inhabitants. Accessing tonatural areas within cities has become a very important issue due to the fact that urbanresidents are progressively isolating from nature in all its form, thus living in a concrete andglass world (
Spirn, 1984
). In this respect, there is an increasing academic body of literatureindicating that contact with nature has a positive effect on urban dwellers. Urban parks,gardens, allotments and other green spaces can play an important role promoting the quality oflife of urban communities (
Burgess et al., 1988; Chiesura, 2004
).First, it has been argued that access to these conspicuous elements of the urbanlandscape is associated with health and psychological benefits (
Jackson, 2003
). Among these,it can be included aiding recovery from surgery, inducing positive states of mind and stressreduction (
Ulrich, 1984; Hull, 1992; Parsons et al., 1998; Harting & Fransson, 2009
).Secondly, the presence of nature in cities may also offer social benefits such as promotingsocial integration and enhancing community cohesion (
Taylor et al., 1998; Coley et al., 1997
).Many of these positive effects come from the so-called “ecosystem services” (
Bolund &Hunhammar, 1999
inter alia 
, urban green areas are known for improving their urbanmicroclimate (
Oke, 1989
), reducing noise and pollution (
Gidlöf-Gunnarsson & Ohrström,2007; Scott et al., 1999
), and allowing people to enjoy the essential values of biodiversity(
Jorgensen et al., 2002
). In contrast, it has been stated that urban greenspaces do not alwaysplay the role of “gateway” for urban societies. Indeed, they are dynamic and complex systems(
Ward Thompson, 2002
), which depend on their inherent nature as well as their spatial,temporal and social context (
Jacobs, 1961
).Nowadays regulatory agencies are recognizing the importance of providing green spacein urban areas (
Barbosa et al., 2007
). In Europe, the European Environment Agency (EEA)recommends that people should have access to green space within 15 minutes walking
distance. More rigidly, English Nature (now Natural England) thought the Accessible NaturalGreenspace Standards (ANGSt) advocates that “no person should live more than 300 m fromtheir nearest area of natural green space of at least 2 ha in size” (
Handley et al., 2003
). InReading, the guidelines of the Reading Open Spaces Strategy states that “at least some openspace […], whether publicly or privately owned, be available within 100-200 m” (
ReadingBorough Council, 2007
).Reading, the 17
largest settlement in England, is located at the confluence of the RiverThames and River Kennet, some 64 Km west of London. The borough has a population of145,100 in an area of 4,040 ha (
Reading Borough Council, 2006a
). On the one hand,Reading has a balanced population. The 65% of the population falls within the economicallyactive age range of 16-65 years, representing a large pool of economically active people.Moreover, Reading has a higher than average level of professional, managerial, supervisoryand skilled employees, with 41% in these categories compared to 17% nationally (
ReadingBorough Council, 2006b
). Reading has also a high proportion of full-time students, namelymore than the 8% of its population are full time university students or school children (
ReadingBorough Council, 2006a
). On the other hand, according to the Index of Multiple Deprivation(IMD), it has 8 SOAS (Super Output Areas, these have a mean population of 1,500 people)within the most deprived 20% in England, although none of these are within the 10% mostdeprived areas in England (
Reading Borough Council, 2006a
). In regard to accessibility topublic green areas, the Reading Open Spaces Strategy (
Reading Borough Council, 2007
)states that although Reading’s total amount of open space is broadly in line with nationalstandards, but it is unequally distributed across the town. The report goes on by arguing that theperception of quality of public green space in Reading varies notably, especially in terms ofcleanliness, maintenance, size and facilities. Nevertheless, there is a general accord that greenspaces make Reading a good place in which to live.As mentioned above, the purpose of the present work was to examine access to urbangreenspace in Reading and analyze how it is related to socio-economic status. The hypothesisherein was that, in the Reading Borough, there were asymmetries in accessing urban greenspace based on differences of classes.
The first stage of the project was to produce a
Normalised Difference Vegetation Index 
 (NDVI) map of Reading Borough from an ASTER image. This index is calculated as thedifference between near-infrared (NIR) and visible red (R) reflectance values normalized overthe sum of the two:1'9,
1,5±51,55 The NDVI is based on the steep rise in reflectance between the R and NIR, namely, the “rededge point” (
Lillesand & Kiefer, 2000
), and varies between -1.0 and +1.0. The physiologicalfoundations of the index are built on the fact that plants strongly absorb red (and blue) energy,the so called “photosynthetically active radiation”, but highly reflect near infrared (and green)energy (
Mather, 2004
). Therefore, vegetated areas will generally yield high values because oftheir relatively high NIR reflectance and low visible reflectance. In contrast, clouds, water andsnow have larger visible reflectance than NIR, thus, these features yield negative index values.Buildings, roads, rocks and bare soil areas have similar reflectances in the two bands and resultin vegetation indices near zero (
Lillesand & Kiefer, 2000
).Two major changes were undertaken to the NDVI map in order to apply the ANGStgreen space criterion (
Handley et al., 2003
): recoding and simplifying. On the one hand, it hasdecided that the threshold value of NDVI to separate green space from non-green space was0.5, and hence, any pixel with value higher than this limit was considered greenspace and anypixel with value smaller were considered no-greenspace. On the other hand, the map was alsosimplified, leaving only green spaces greater than 2 ha. Therefore, the final greenspace mapwas based on polygons of vegetated areas greater than 2 ha in size and with NDVI valueshigher than 0.5.In the second stage, the distribution of the green areas was compared to thesocioeconomic characteristics of Reading Borough population. The socioeconomic data wasbased on the information provided by the 2001 population Census Output Areas (COAs). The464 Output area polygons are constructed from clusters of adjacent postcodes. They weredesigned to have similar population sizes and to be as socially homogenous as possible, based

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