Escaping the concrete jungle to walk off the mince pies
When recently deciding where to buy a house, one of the key considerations I had in mind was the availability of open space. As an outdoorsy person I am always more content when I live near to green spaces that enable me to get out of the house and stretch my legs, avoiding the treadmill in the gym! Particularly at this time of year when over-indulgence on the mince pies and chocolate are an almost daily occurrence.
Research into green spaces highlights numerous lifestyle and environmental benefits, and advocate them as crucial aspects of urban planning. The use of parks and green spaces can significantly improve both physical and mental health, encourage community cohesion and improve air quality. Given the far-reaching benefits, deeper knowledge of the green spaces in local areas could be a powerful tool to inform policy decisions.
We have recently added Greenspace data into our community mapping and reporting tool, Community Insight, to sit alongside a further 800 local level datasets, matched to the areas you care about.
How can I use Greenspace data?
The data by itself is fascinating, and its primary purpose is to enable members of the public to find and access green spaces near them for exercise and recreation. Above and beyond this, the data can be used alongside other demographic and contextual data about a local area, to inform decision making.
Research into green spaces and health has shown that having access can reduce health inequalities, improve well-being and aid in the treatment of mental illness. For example, research carried out by Mitchell & Popham found that the presence of green space is associated with reduced mortality regardless of income level. Within Community Insight it is possible to create a dashboard, which includes the green spaces data and many health-related indicators to highlight areas where for example, there is a large amount of green space and negative correlation with health indicators. Redbridge is an example of an area which has a large amount of greenspace available and an average level of participation in regular exercise but also has high proportions of obese adults and children.
Research has found less green space in people’s living environment coincides with feelings of loneliness and a perceived shortage of social support. Green spaces provide a platform to run events and activities such as urban farming or competitions, which draw in the local community. Promotion of the use of, and access to, local green space has been linked to improvements in community cohesion as well as self-expression, increased skills (e.g. in gardening) and confidence. Given recent headlines that loneliness is as bad for health as long-term illness, better use of green spaces could help to tackle social isolation issues.
Overlaying indicators within Community Insight (such as green spaces, prevalence of loneliness or community dynamics) with an organisation’s own data, can provide some interesting insights into service provision balanced against service need.
Living in a clean and healthy environment is everyone’s right. Globally, certain groups of people (often the most vulnerable people with the least power and money) see these rights denied on a daily basis. Addressing these inequalities is part of what makes up environmental justice.
When looking at the UK context, research shows that if you live in a deprived inner-city area, you have access to five times fewer public parks and good-quality general green space than people in more affluent areas. Furthermore, in areas where more than 40% of residents are from BAME backgrounds, there is 11 times less green space than in areas where residents are largely white.
Above, we have looked at the positive impact access to quality green space can have upon health, wellbeing and social relationships. Therefore, addressing the disparity in access to green spaces could be instrumental in helping to address inequalities in other areas. Indeed, the Mitchell & Popham research referenced earlier indicates the role of green space in helping to reduce health inequalities between rich and poor.
The data has been taken from Ordnance Survey’s Open Greenspace data. The data depicts the location and extent of spaces such as parks and sports facilities that are likely to be accessible to the public. The data is already being put to good use, for example in a project that identifies clear air for city cycling and walking.
OCSI used this data and converted it into a dataset that is more compatible with Community Insight, showing the percentage of a geography’s area that is greenspace.
Converting the data involved a little bit of data magic. The Ordnance Survey data comes in the form of shapefiles – records of the latitudes and longitudes of the boundaries of the greenspaces in the UK. We overlaid this data with the boundaries of Output Areas, also available as shapefiles. To illustrate this process, we have plotted the green spaces and Output Areas in Oxford, using Open Street Map as a background.
By overlaying the two sets of shape files on top of one another, we get a new set of shapes that are the intersection between the Output Areas and the green spaces. The area of the new set of shapes give the area of green space per Output Area. From there, it is simply a question of aggregating this data to higher geographies and dividing by the total area to get the percentage.
There are now two greenspace datasets in Community Insight showing:
- Greenspace coverage, total: The percentage of an area that is covered by green space (allotments or community growing spaces, bowling greens, cemeteries, religious grounds, golf courses, other sports facilities, play spaces, playing fields, public parks or gardens and tennis courts)
- Greenspace coverage, public parks and gardens: The percentage of an area that is covered by public parks and gardens
Are there other specific breakdowns of the green spaces data that you are interested in? Get in touch with OCSI or HACT and we will see what we can do.
Explore Community Insight and Greenspaces for yourself
The data is available within Community Insight, alongside more than 800 other datasets. To find this data don’t forget to look under the unassigned data sets within Group Admin > Manage your indicators, and search for Greenspace.
Don’t have access to Community Insight? Request your free demo of Community Insight today by clicking here. A member of the HACT team will be in touch.
Urban green nation: building the evidence base CABE, 2010