Recommended Reading: Environmental Design and Research on Human Health Effects of Open Spaces in Urban Areas

“Increasingly, human-environment interactions are recognized as a key determinant of human health and well-being,”  according to a recent article in the Human Ecology Review.   The article reviews the academic literature pertaining to the human health effects of spending time in nearby nature in cities, assessing the growing evidence base around experiencing nature in an urban setting and its subsequent impact on the individual, home and workplace; creating environments conducive to physical activity in cities; and smart growth practices in urban planning.  Of note, the authors identify several gaps in the evidence and recognize a general “lack of focus on health outcomes and a tendency to analyze at the neighborhood and community scale rather than on specific open spaces and the design elements within those spaces.”  Deeper understanding of the critical relationship of these aspects can better inform the development and creation of public greenspaces in cities that promote human health and healing.

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6 key design criteria that contribute to creating urban greenspaces conducive to health and healing include:

  • Make spaces compatible with and encourage human activities
  • Construct a setting for sensory stimulation
  • Develop the space for safety and security
  • Encourage awareness of the present moment
  • Consider the culture of the population using the space
  • Use nature as a metaphor for healing

3 overarching design characteristics within the environmental setting of urban open space were identified:

  • Existing site characteristics
  • Hierarchal level of space
  • Built landscape features

Advancing a better understanding of the relationship between environmental design and human health impacts will assist planners and designers in creating new greenspaces which promote increased health benefits to visitors and allow policymakers to increasingly support equitable access to nature for all in cites.  To read the literature review, click here.

Pleasant, A., M.M. Scanlon, and M. Pereira-Leon. 2013. Literature Review: Environmental Design and Research on the Human Health Effects of Open Spaces in Urban Areas. Human Ecology Review 20, 1: 36-49.


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