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The Value of Green Spaces

Photo by Riley Nelson

Just a few days in London was enough to know that Londoners take their green space seriously. As a study abroad student who had never been to the UK before, I was amazed at how frequently this bustling city built itself around green spaces. Step out of any Tube station, walk a few blocks, and you run into a patch of grass and trees and benches (and invariably, someone sitting on them). The size of the trees—sometimes wider around than my arms could reach—clearly indicated that the city had preserved these nature spots, not built them in after urban development. That respect for nature and desire to incorporate it into the city landscape was inspiring. These green spaces weren’t just leftover scraps either. The crowning jewel of London’s green spaces, Hyde Park, merged with the adjoining Kensington Gardens provides approximately 625 acres of walkable green space. And London isn’t the only city like this. A survey published in The Guardian estimates that the 10 most populated cities in the UK still have considerable green space: Liverpool, in 10th place, is comprised of 16.4% green spaces and Edinburgh, in 1st, clocks in at 49.2%.

The UK’s history and culture around green space and time spent outside is old and multifaceted, but current research is showing just how beneficial that long-standing tradition is. Easy access to and regular time spent in green spaces has enormous benefits for individuals and communities. Studies from the UK Land Trust organization estimate that 9/10 individuals feel that “green spaces play a positive part in their happiness and wellbeing.” Most individuals also feel physically healthier, while communities benefit economically as neighborhoods with readily accessible green spaces are valued more highly. But how valuable really? How much is green space really worth? Because money talks, the UK Land Trust funded a number of studies and subsequent reports to financially represent the value of green spaces in various communities. Here are a few financial benefits they discovered from parks around the country:

  • £7.8 million ($9.64 million) in house value within a 500-meter (546-yard) radius of the park; approximately £8,674 ($10, 725) per property (Port Sunlight River Park, Liverpool)
  • £30 ($37) in health care provision for every £1 spent by the Land Trust—approximately £53.2 million for benefits total in the health sector
  • £40.9 million to “[save] society” in terms of social benefits that counter crime and anti-social behavior

These numbers show on a macro scale a handful of the financial benefits of providing designated green spaces in urban areas. What they can’t capture are the inevitable experiences that also occur at the micro level of the individual—feeling healthy and energized, experiencing relief from depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses, connecting with loved ones, finding the time to think and reflect on one’s personal life (you can read more about the benefits of spending time in nature in our previous blog post here).

I’ve reflected more and more on this way of life I saw in the UK since I’ve returned home to the United States. Fortunately, I have access to a few walking trails and other outdoor spaces in the community where I live. But as I walked along a canal trail the other day, it wasn’t long before the sound of power tools and construction workers penetrated the morning birdsong. New homes are under construction not 100 feet from the trail where I was walking. Signs posted along the road advertise several more lots, all of them sidling right up to the trail itself and the foot of the mountain to the east. I couldn’t help but wonder if one morning in the not-too-distant future, instead of walking through nature, I’d be walking through suburban landscapes.

The green space culture so predominant in the UK can teach us something invaluable as we construct homes and other private and public buildings. Making nature available to people isn’t just a nice thing; it’s not just an aesthetic thing. The micro- and macro-level benefits of green spaces in communities are tangible. They make a difference financially, physically, mentally, and emotionally, to communities and to individuals. Actualizing those differences—through preserving and incorporating accessible green spaces—in order to secure a high quality of life should be among our top priorities as we work to build and establish communities and their cultures. We all stand to benefit from inviting Mother Nature to be a more permanent, normal part of our everyday lives.