'Urban nature' blueprint could help maximise mental health benefits for city dwellers


Scientists have created a new framework for maximising access to nature for people living in urban areas to help increase their physical and mental health.


The connection between wellbeing and our environment is well-established, with recent evidence from the Mental Health Foundation showing that 7 in 10 adults benefit mentally from being close to nature.


Unfortunately though, not everyone has access to natural areas – the same survey shows that 1 in 10 adults struggle to access nature when they want to, and almost 5 in 10 do not access nature enough to reap its wellbeing benefits.


Developed by researchers at Stanford University, the new framework sets out ways to include nature in the building and planning of cities, including where, how and for whom so-called 'urban nature' promotes wellbeing.


According to the researchers behind the framework, their model could even allow for 'tailored city-specific approaches' based on existing city infrastructures.


The model has been developed at a time when people around the world have relied on time outdoors to help with feelings of isolation and depression caused by lockdown.


“Over the past year of shelter-in-place restrictions, we’ve learned how valuable and fulfilling it can be to spend time indoors in nature, especially for city-dwellers," says Roy Remme, lead author of the study.


"We want to help city planners understand where green spaces might best support people's health, so everyone can receive nature's benefits."


Read more: Teenagers want safer, cleaner local nature to support their mental health

Some cities have already begun exploring the concept of greener cities: in Amsterdam, city planners have implemented a ‘green infrastructure plan’, as they aim to build and improve new parks.


Eventually, the new framework will feed into Stanford University's Natural Capital Project – software that can map the benefits nature can provide for people around the world.


The technology was recently used to assess the impact of improving access to nature-based solutions (such as parks, trees, and bodied of water) on climate change in almost 800 cities in Europe.


The framework is still a work in progress, but the study authors hope that as more detailed research into nature's benefits on wellbeing is published, the more useful the model will become.


"At this point the model remains in a conceptual phase, because data for different steps in the modelling approach are not readily available and accessible to apply broadly," say the authors.


"Therefore, both insights from new research and an iterative process of application are needed to build and refine models based on the presented framework.


"Such efforts will help improve the level of detail of modelling outputs, including understanding the importance of different types of urban nature, different subgroups of the population that will benefit, and different domains and intensities of [physical activity] that will change."


To read the full study, click here.


Written by Sylvie Ward

News reporter for Talking Mental Health