Greener Cities, Healthier Lives project update

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

The Greener Cities, Healthier Lives’ (GC15005) project has provided Australian evidence on the benefits of green space from birth to older age.

Led by the University of Wollongong and funded by Hort Innovation as part of the Green Cities Fund, the project commenced in 2017 and has supplied industry and policy makers with a range of internationally significant studies that have strengthened the case for investing in urban greening strategies in Australian cities.

The Hort Frontiers Green Cities fund brings together a range of partners to research and demonstrate the benefits of increased urban greening and inform urban development business decisions.

Most recently, the project has reported links between greening and potential prevention of loneliness, reduced risk of dementia and diabetes, and has revealed the vital roles that green spaces have played in helping people to cope, connect and keep active during COVID-19 lockdowns.

Key findings to date include:

  • Restoring tree canopy cover from <10% to at least 30% is associated with reduced risks (or odds) of developing dementia, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, psychological distress, insufficient sleep, and poor health in general among Australian adults living in cities.
  • Adults in neighbourhoods where at least 30% of nearby land was parks, reserves, or woodlands, had 26% lower odds of becoming lonely compared to their peers in areas with less than 10% green space. For people living on their own, the associations were even stronger, with areas that have 30% or more green space nearby halving the odds of adults developing loneliness.
  • People who were able to work from home regularly during COVID-19 lockdowns accrued greater benefits from contact with green spaces, especially in terms of respite and exercise.
  • Rather than being disadvantaged by the experience of ‘lockdown’ with respect to visiting natural settings, residents of Melbourne tended to visit green spaces more frequently and reap greater benefits from those visits in Oct 2020, compared with people in Sydney who weren’t in lockdown.
  • Higher levels of green space are associated with healthier birthweight.
  • Higher quality green space is associated with better health, fewer depressive symptoms, and more prosocial behaviour in children as they grow up.
  • More green space is associated with better child health in general, regardless of whether the children are growing up in affluent or disadvantaged suburbs.
  • Higher quality green space is associated with lower odds of post-partum psychological distress in young mothers, whereas more green space overall is associated with healthier body mass index.
  • Socioeconomically disadvantaged communities tend to have less green space overall, less tree canopy, and where there is green space, it tends to be perceived as lower in quality.
  • Australians born overseas tend to live in areas with less green space in general and less tree canopy in particular.

Read more on the current findings here.

These project findings have helped to inform multiple urban greening strategies developed by the City of Sydney and Wollongong City Council, and have been used by NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (NSW DPIE) to guide decision-making on implementing the Premier’s Priorities for ‘Great Public Spaces’ and ‘Greening Our City’.

Through research consistently pointing to the benefits of greenspace, it’s expected that the nursery industry will see demand for plants grow as councils, government departments and town planners develop areas with the health of its population in mind.

The final research report will be released at the conclusion of the project in 2022.

For more information, contact project co-leads Professor Thomas Astell-Burt here and Associate Professor Xiaoqi Feng here.