Role of green space and well-designed landscape in public health highlighted

Environment, including green space and well-designed landscape is "one of the best hopes" of improving public health globally, academic and landscape architect Catherine Ward Thompson has said.

Catherine Ward Thompson: the "jury's out" on who will pay for parks and green space
Catherine Ward Thompson: the "jury's out" on who will pay for parks and green space

Professor of landscape Architecture at the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (ESALA) and director of the OPENspace research centre, Catharine Ward Thompson, will discuss the subject at the University of Sheffield tomorrow (7 March).

Her talk, 'How much green space is enough? Good Enough vs Best Practice' is part of University of Sheffield’s Health in Place seminar series.

Public green space is even more important to deprived communities, who do not have as much access to private gardens and live in challenging environments, she told Horticulture Week on the eve of her talk.  

She said there had been "a lot of work" including a World Health Organisation review, on the connection between access to public green space and mental and physical health and well-being, including reducing social isolation for the elderly.

"The importance of ‘place’ seems to be a policy agenda that’s going up. One of the challenges is that there a lot of things that we know are good but when councils are having their budgets cut and everyone’s spending in different areas. What’s hard to say is this is so good we can’t afford to not invest in it," she said.

"The challenge remains to demonstrate how good design can really make a difference to health and well-being in multiple ways and how we can get better designing and planning our landscapes."

Ward Thompson contributed to the recent Communities and Local Government Committee parks inquiry. She said the committee’s report was a good example of "lots of people producing lots of evidence about the value of parks" but the upshot was still "who’s going to pay for them? Oh we’re not sure about that".

However she said she was hopeful that policymakers would eventually realise the importance of parks and the environment in general to people’s health and well-being.

"I have colleagues who advise the World Health Organisation. Making the environment better does seem to be one of the best hopes we have got in improving public health globally.

"We’ve taken our eye off the environment in terms of medicine or public health, rather than the environment which was at the core of public health when it started. The only credible way you address these global burdens of disease is improving the environment to enhance health and support healthy behaviours."

A former practicing landscape architect in both the UK and Canada, Ward Thompson’s research focuses on inclusive access to outdoor environments, environment-behaviour interactions, landscape design for older people, children and teenagers, and environments which promote health and well-being. 

She also has expertise in the history and theory of urban park design and conservation, the history of landscape design, and landscape aesthetics and perception.

Current research projects include a study funded by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) on the effectiveness of Forestry Commission Scotland’s programme, ‘Woods In and Around Towns’ (WIAT), particularly on improving psychological wellbeing in deprived communities.

Ward Thompson, who is also associate dean for research, knowledge exchange and impact for the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, leads the £1.6m EPSRC-funded project, Mobility, Mood and Place (MMP), an interdisciplinary project working with psychologists, neuroscientists, health geographers and gerontologists, as well as engaging Masters-level students in developing co-design as a research tool. The project is the recipient of an ESRC Impact Acceleration Award.

The seminar takes place from 4pm to 5pm, in the ICOSS Conference Room, University of Sheffield,  Bookings:



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