Plants and Green Spaces – their unique contribution to Local Communities

This leaflet outlines some of the research into the beneficial effects of plants and green spaces on community cohesion, climate change, health and business. Local authority budgets may be under pressure, but cutting funds for planting, parks and green spaces could be counter-productive in the mid to long term. Greening the UK is calling for an imaginative approach to maintaining planting and greenery in local communities:

Community Cohesion/Big Society
• Parks, gardens, allotments and other green activities provide social capital and foster community engagement1. Volunteer groups and other local residents could be more involved in maintenance with support from Councils’ parks departments. This is low cost and sustainable; • Involving local residents in decisions on where trees should be planted also encourages community engagement and liaison and less likelihood of vandalism to newly planted trees so reducing costs; • If parks and gardens are not maintained regularly they could incur long-term costs to rebuild them; • Buildings with high levels of greenery have experienced 32% fewer crimes2; lower crime means less expenditure on policing and community liaison in the longer term.

Climate Change & Energy Consumption
• A 10% increase in urban tree coverage will counteract climate change by reducing urban “heat island” temperatures by 40C over the next 100 years3; • Plants around buildings save energy, reducing the requirement for air conditioning in summer by 20-40% and improving insulation in winter4 .

• Providing green space in which to exercise is fundamental to the nation’s health; it promotes physical fitness and psychological well-being5. An increase in fitness in just 1% of the UK population is estimated to deliver a social benefit of up to £1.44bn per year6; • Significant relief from stress and anxiety can be achieved within 5 minutes when viewing green landscapes, with positive changes to blood pressure, heart activity, muscle tension, and brain electrical activity7; • 20 minutes spent in green settings such as gardens or parks reduces ADHD symptoms8; • Green space can reduce the incidence and aid the recovery from severe mental health problems such as depression9,10, perhaps even more effectively than drugs11; • Air pollution is a significant factor in reducing life expectancy, possibly by as much as 2-3 years12. Increasing urban vegetation is considered to be a key mechanism in improving urban air quality13.

Economy & Business
• More attractive green space and woodlands improve business prosperity14; • Green areas reduce employee sick leave by 23%15, improve attention span16, reduce staff turnover and help attract higher calibre employees17; • Attractive gardens and the presence of trees increase property values by 5.7%18.

1. Alaimo, K. Reischl T.M. and Allen J. (2010). Community gardening, neighbourhood meetings and social capital. Journal of Community Psychology, 38:497-514. 2. Kuo, F.E. and Sullivan, W.C. (2001). Environment and crime in the inner city: does vegetation reduce crime? Environment and Behaviour, 33: 343-367. 3. Gill, S. E., Handley, J.F., Ennos, A.R. and Pauleit, S. (2007). Adapting cities for climate change: The role of the green infrastructure. Journal of Built Environment. 33:115-133. 4. Akbari, H. Pomerantz, M. and Taha, H. (2001) Cool surfaces and shade trees to reduce energy use and improve air quality in urban areas. Solar Energy, 70:295310. 5. Maller, C., Townsend, M., Pryor, A., Brown, P. and St Leger, L. (2005). Healthy nature healthy people: ‘contact with nature’ as an upstream health promotion intervention for populations. Health Promotion International, 21: 45-54. 6. Crabtree, R., Willis, K. and Osman, L. (2005). Economic benefits of accessible green spaces for physical and mental health: Scoping study. Final Report for the Forestry Commission. pp56. pdf/$FILE/FChealth10-2final.pdf 7. Ulrich, R. S., Simons, R. F., Losito, B. D., Fiorito, E., Miles, M. A., and Zelson, M. (1991). Stress recovery during exposure to natural and urban environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 11: 201-230. 8. Faber-Taylor, A., Kuo, F.E. and Sullivan W.C. (2001). Coping with ADD: the surprising connection to green play settings. Environment and Behaviour, 33: 54-77. 9. Kaplan, R and Kaplan, S. (1989). The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. 10. Kaplan, R. (2001). The nature of the view from home: Psychological benefits. Environment & Behavior, 33: 507-542. 11. Peacock, J., Hine, R. and Pretty, J. (2007). The mental health benefits of green exercise activities and green care. report/ 12. Künzli, N., Kaiser, R., Medina, S., Studnicka, M., Chanel, O., Filliger, P., Herry, M. Horak, F., Puybonnieux-Texier, V., Quénel, P., Schneider, J., Seethaler, R., Vergnaud, J.C. and Sommer H. (2000). Publichealth impact of outdoor and traffic-related air pollution: a European assessment. The Lancet, 356: 795801. Greening the UK is the HTA led campaign to promote the role of plants and open green spaces in creating environmentally and socially sustainable communities 13. Nowak, D.J., Crane, D.E. and Stevens, J.C. (2006). Air pollution removal by urban trees and shrubs in the United States Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 4: 115123. 14. Wolf, K. (2003) “Public responses to the urban forest in inner-city business district”, Journal of Arboriculture, 29: 117-126. 15. Bergs, J. (2002). The effect of healthy workplaces on the well-being and productivity of office workers. Plants for People Symposium, Reducing Health Complaints at Work, Amsterdam, Netherlands 2002. 16. Wells, N.M. (2000). At home with nature: effects of “greenness” on children’s cognitive functioning. Environment and Behavior, 32:775-795. 17. Whitehouse, S., Varni, J. W., Seid, M., Cooper-Marcus, C., Ensberg, M. J., Jacobs, J. J. and R. S. Mehlenbeck (2001). Evaluating a children’s hospital garden environment: Utilization and consumer satisfaction. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 21: 301-314. 18. Tajima, K (2003). New estimates of the demand for urban Green space: implications for valuing the environmental benefits of Boston’s Big dig project. Journal of Urban Affairs, 25: 641-655.

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