This report documents a systematic review of the current scientific evidence for the benefits of urban parks, using peer-reviewed studies from 2000-10. While there is general agreement within the green space sector that urban parks are essential for liveable and sustainable cities and towns, their benefits are not always stated clearly and some are based on limited or poor scientific research.
The International Federation of Parks and Recreation Administration (www.ifpra.org) initiated the research to provide a sounder basis for decision-making about the planning and management of parks. Researchers reviewed over 200 papers, assessing both the quality of the research methodology and the strength of the evidence for benefits in eight areas: human health and wellbeing, social cohesion, tourism, house prices, biodiversity, air quality and carbon sequestration, water management and cooling.
Benefits of Urban Parks establishes that there is sound scientific evidence that parks contribute to human and social wellbeing in four of these areas and makes some recommendations for implementation or further study.
- Evidence is moderate to strong that urban parks have a positive impact on physical activity and reduced obesity; property prices; local cooling and biodiversity (as measured through species richness). These benefits thus provide the strongest, scientifically supported arguments in favour of urban parks.
- In addition, there is moderate evidence for indirect health benefits such as reducing stress; improving self-reported health and mental health; the effects of reduced noise and cooling; and increased longevity.
- Aside from cooling, the regulating ecosystem services of urban parks are not yet well documented. The evidence for their contributions to air pollution reduction and water regulation is weak to moderate.
- Sound scientific work addressing the role of urban parks in contributing to the cultural services of tourism and social cohesion is very limited.
- Given the strong evidence of their health benefits, urban parks could be used as a planning tool to reduce health inequalities. High quality parks are especially important for ethnic minorities and in deprived communities, where green spaces are often scarce and poorly maintained.
- More thought should be given to planning parks with good amenities for physical activity, such as walking and biking.
- Urban parks are biodiversity hotspots, holding potential for leisure, tourism, nature education and interpretation, as well as being crucial for ecosystem functionality.
- The diversity of habitats and microhabitat heterogeneity in parks appear to be the decisive factor in overall species richness and composition. The habitat design and management of urban parks could therefore be used to develop innovative ways to conserve and promote biodiversity in urban areas, not least because this lies within the control of park designers and managers.
- With regard to further research, adopting multi-species group approaches or coordinating study sites between studies of individual species groups would advance the evidence for the overall biodiversity of urban parks.