International cities compared for best models of green space

Exeter research favours large parks over urban sprawl

What’s the best way to plan green spaces into our cities: large areas of parkland serving compact housing, or sprawling residential areas peppered with smaller parks and gardens?

According to research led by the University of Exeter, working with Hokkaido University in Japan, the former model wins.

Previous research has shown that urban green spaces and trees yield far-reaching benefits to humans – from increasing happiness and health to absorbing surface water run-off and storing carbon. Here the team analysed nine very different cities around the world, including Portland, Oregon; Glasgow, UK; Auckland, New Zealand; Taipei, Taiwan; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – considering how urbanisation patterns affect the functioning of urban ecosystems.

Although the researchers concluded that high-density cities featuring large parks and nature reserves yield the most benefits, they stressed that smaller parks and gardens should not be sacrificed and can still play a positive role.

Lead author Dr Iain Stott, from the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) in Cornwall, said: ‘As populations continue to grow, it’s vital that we expand our cities and build new ones in a way that is most sustainable for ecosystems, and which provides the greatest benefits to urban residents. 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 University of Exeter’s ESI, added: ‘Future urban development must be carefully planned and policy-led, at whole-city scales, to yield the best result.’

The report is published in Frontiers in Ecology and Environment and supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) .

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