02:10am Sunday 15 December 2019

Parks can boost health

The research, which was recently published in the journal EcoHealth, surveyed residents from four Perth suburbs: Ashby, Wanneroo, Subiaco and Subiaco Centro.

It found residents in newer, outer suburbs with less ‘useable’ green space reported feeling less healthy than those in greener, established city suburbs.

In each of the four suburbs surveyed, more than 90 per cent of residents lived within 500 meters of a green space. However, the research found it was the quality of that space rather than its proximity which had the biggest impact on residents’ health and wellbeing.

This was demonstrated in how often residents surveyed visited parks with those living in the established suburbs of Subiaco and Wanneroo almost 50 per cent more likely to visit a local park on a weekly basis than residents of Ashby, a newer suburb in Perth’s north.

ECU School of Natural Sciences Adjunct Senior Lecturer and lead researcher Dr May Carter said the useability of green space was hugely important.

“Residents who perceived nearby green space to be useable were twice as likely to report better general health as those who did not,” Dr Carter said.

“There are a variety of things which make a park useable but by and large they will be obvious to most people,” she said.

Green space should be:

  • Properly maintained and looked after;
  • Well-equipped for visiting;
  • Include places where people can relax and meet others;
  • Meet the needs of multiple users with amenities and facilities;
  • Connected to the neighbourhood; and
  • A place where people feel safe.

Dr Carter said these criteria apply differently to different kinds of green space.

“A bushland or wetland space might only need to have a walking trail and places to sit while a recreation space should have playgrounds, picnic or barbecue facilities and a walking or cycle path,” she said.

“It’s important that green spaces meet the needs of different users so they can be used by different people for different purposes at different times of day.”

Residents in some areas indicated they would rather drive somewhere more interesting in another suburb than to visit parks in their own areas.

Professor Pierre Horwitz from ECU’s School of Natural Sciences co-authored the report. He said there were some simple changes which could improve the layouts and planning of new suburbs in the future.

“There is a change that could be made very quickly: to avoid the sanitised approach to developing a suburb,” he said.

“In order to make housing development and sales easier the idiosyncratic features are removed from this piece of land first — hills are smoothed, depressions are filled in, bush cleared and older larger trees are taken away.

“It makes more sense to build into a landscape and by doing that you provide a long term benefit because you avoid the sense that ‘this is boring’, and the visits to green spaces are able to provide a health benefit.”

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