Academic report shows parks make people happy

A university study has proved what many already believed - that urban residents are happier when they live near parks.

The research looked at people’s happiness levels over an 18 year period and was published in the journal Psychological Science.

Led by Dr Mathew White from the University of Exeter Medical School’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health, the study tracked changes in wellbeing over time, using data from the annual British Household Panel Survey between 1991 and 2008.

The research team cross referenced this with a land use database and found that people reported a higher life satisfaction and less mental distress when they lived in greener areas, even after lifestyle changes were accounted for.

When the green space effect was compared to other factors, the study found that living near a park made people around a third as happy as being married and a tenth as happy as being employed rather than being unemployed.

Dr White said: "These kinds of comparisons are important for policymakers when trying to decide how to invest scarce public resources, such as for park development or upkeep, and figuring out what bang they’ll get for their buck.

"This research could be important for psychologists, public health officials and urban planners who are interested in learning about the effects that urbanisation and city planning can have on population health and wellbeing"

The study will be a boost to a sector disproportionately hit by budget cuts and the closure of the charity GreenSpace last month and follows a report b y Danish and Swedish academics for the International Federation of Parks and Recreation Administration, published in January.

Landscape consultant Peter Neal said there was "an ever-growing evidence base" for the "multiple benefits of urban parks" and this latest study was a valuable addition.

"The next challenge is to monetize these benefits and turn that money into targeted, joined-up and cost-effective investment. Particularly where issues of poor health and wellbeing are particularly prevalent."

Horticulture Week’s Make Parks A Priority campaign is calling for a fresh Parliamentary inquiry into urban parks. So far 43 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion supporting the move.

We are calling for our readers to lobby their MPs to sign Early Day Motion 219.

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