Why do green spaces matter? Think quality and not just size, says ESRI

Planners ‘might reasonably ask how much green space is enough’

As pressure comes on urban areas for ever-dwindling green spaces, planners need to consider the quality of these areas, not just their size, when making planning decisions and setting policy, according to the Economic and Social Research Institute.

While availability of green space is important, it concludes urban green spaces also need to be of high quality, when it comes to cleanliness, safety and quality of services, to be perceived as being adequate by local residents.

Basing planning on metrics that use objective measures of accessible green space "is unlikely to fully capture public perceptions of the adequacy of these spaces", the study by Peter Barlow, Seán Lyons and Anne Nolan finds.

Having access to green space has been shown to offer a range of positive health benefits.


“In urban areas with valuable land and many competing uses for space, planners and other policymakers might reasonably ask how much green space is enough to confer a given type and level of benefits, and what other attributes of green spaces might be necessary for health-promoting behaviours,” they say.

There is ongoing debate about how best to measure the quality, quantity, and accessibility of green space. Subjective measures (asking people to assess whether green spaces are adequate), and objective measures (directly measuring types of green space in an individual’s local area) are used.

The team used statistical methods to explore factors associated with whether a person reported that green space was adequate in their area and captured views about other potential problems in their neighbourhood.

“These additional metrics focused on cleanliness (rubbish, graffiti and vandalism), safety (people being drunk, racism and house break-ins), and quality of services (poor public transport and lack of food shops or supermarkets that are easy to get to).”

Respondents were significantly more likely to report that local green space was adequate when they also gave favourable scores to other aspects of their local areas.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times