Although many large cities incorporate green spaces such as pocket parks or community gardens into their infrastructure, urban planning often fails to include the needs of youth and young adults between the ages of 15 and 24. As a result, this age demographic cannot take advantage of the well-known physical, mental, and social health benefits of these nature-based solutions.
Now, by analyzing data collected during visits to parks in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, a team of researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) has developed a new tool for evaluating green spaces for young adults.
According to the scientists, public urban greenspaces keep cities cool, improve mood, reduce stress, and promote activities such as physical exercise and social interactions. While these benefits are important for all age categories, they are even more so for young adults, since it is at this age that many chronic mental health disorders emerge.
“Exposure to the right sort of green space can promote strong social ties and a connection to nature during these critical years. Unfortunately, nature and health research, as well as urban planning, has tended to ignore this important demographic,” said study lead author Sara Barron, an expert in Urban Forestry at UBC.
“For example, we’re really good at providing playgrounds for younger children or including things like benches in parks for older adults. But when it comes to youth and young adults, there’s a noticeable lack of intentionally designed spaces where they can just be themselves.”
To solve this problem, the researchers introduced what they call “tolerant green spaces” – places that support young adults’ needs for physical and psychological restoration, as well as social interaction. “Such places provide order – they are natural, but they’re also well cared for and safe,” said study co-author Emily Rugel, a postdoctoral fellow in Forest Resources Management at UBC. “They show diversity, both in plant life and in the activities they enable. Lastly, they give youth a place to either seek solace in quiet solitude or spend time with their friends without adult supervision.”
For instance, laneways with vegetation placed neatly on both sides create a sense of order, while formal parks planted with more than three species of trees or offering equipment for at least three recreational activities provide diversity.
In future studies, the scientists aim to propose a framework that planners can use to evaluate the extent to which green spaces are tolerant, and to design future such spaces. “Some cities may struggle with incorporating green space in densifying areas. The good news is that you do not necessarily need abundant space for tolerant designs. Even small plots of land can be transformed into green spaces that meet the needs of youth and young adults,” Rugel concluded.
The study is published in the journal Environmental Science & Policy.
Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and Earth.com.