Supersize city parks to benefit people, say researchers

Cities should supersize their parks if they want to maximise the benefits to people, new research has found. A project by the University of Exeter has concluded that cities should feature compact development alongside large, contiguous green spaces to give people the greatest benefits of urban ecosystems.

Research has already shown how urban green spaces and trees benefit people in numerous ways, ranging from increased happiness and health to absorbing surface water run-off and storing carbon. This project considered whether it is better to build compact developments with large parks, as often found in Europe and Japan, or sprawling suburbs with many small parks and gardens, as found in many North American and Australian cities.

The team at the University of Exeter, working with Japan’s Hokkaido University in Japan, analysed nine case studies of cities worldwide, which considered how urbanisation patterns affect the functioning of urban ecosystems. The research, published in Frontiers in ecology and environment and supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), concluded that high-density cities featuring large parks or nature reserves yield the most benefits – although they stress that smaller parks and gardens should not be sacrificed and still play a positive role.

Lead author Dr Iain Stott, from the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) said: “Our research finds that compact developments that include large green spaces are essential for the delivery of ecosystem services. For humans to get the most benefit however, combining this approach with greening of built land using street trees and some small parks and gardens is the best method.”

Senior author Professor Kevin Gaston, also from the ESI, said: “Future urban development must be carefully planned and policy-led, at whole-city scales, to yield the best result.”

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