Greening cities for public health

  • Greening is taking place in cities, primarily to adapt to climate change and its effects, like heat islands. This literature review describes the impacts of green spaces on health. Some observations are also put forward for optimal green space use and design.
  • Green spaces are beneficial for physical health, particularly because they provide opportunities for physical activity. Green spaces might also have positive effects for reducing numbers of obese and overweight people, linked to morbidity. Lastly, neighbourhood green spaces reduce the mortality associated with certain diseases.
  • Green spaces also provide benefits for mental health, such as reducing symptoms of depression and reducing stress. They can have positive effects on mental well-being, feeling of recovery, good humour and vitality.
  • For seniors, these green spaces are a better place for walking and reduce the risks of chronic health problems.
  • For children, they have a positive impact by reducing body mass index (BMI) and increasing outdoor physical activity. Green spaces also affect children’s mental health, by promoting calmness, attention and concentration at school, especially for children with an attention-deficit disorder, and promote stress reduction. In newborns, green areas in the mother’s environment have been associated with a decrease in perinatal risks.
  • Green spaces are also responsible for certain social benefits. They contribute to overcoming social isolation by creating meeting places, tend to decrease neighbourhood crime and offer biodiversity, which indirectly affects health.
  • Community gardening has a positive impact on mental health and social relationships, reduces stress and anxiety, increases gardeners’ sense of personal development and self-confidence. This activity offers an opportunity to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
  • Green spaces near home promotes usership, with the World Health Organization (WHO) recommending a maximum distance of 300 metres. Well-maintained, safe green spaces tend to be used more. In addition, green spaces that have sports equipment, walking paths, fountains or playgrounds, for example, are more likely to be used by individuals of all ages. Although large green spaces are recognized to have beneficial effects on health, the same is true for trees on the street and parkettes, increasing the density of neighbourhood vegetation and offering shady paths.
  • Generally, the benefits of green spaces are greater in more underprivileged areas.
  • Some courses of action are highlighted to find the best procedures, including considering users’ concerns and needs when designing green spaces, protecting wooded areas and limiting use of allergenic species. When researching, it is best to use common, standardized indicators. Various subjects related to green spaces should be studied further, including effects on morbidity, use by women and girls and their importance for productivity at work.
Mélanie Beaudoin
LL. B., M. Env., conseillère scientifique, Direction de la santé environnementale et de la toxicologie
Marie-Eve Levasseur
M. Sc., conseillère scientifique, Institut national de santé publique du Québec
Santecom Number
Publication date