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Category: Open space and recreation areas

national, state and local parks; state forests; rivers and reservoirs; coastal waters and beaches; public parks and gardens; community gardens; botanic gardens; arboreta

Westgate Park, Melbourne

The following account of this modern park is adapted from a Victorian Government website:

Oscar Meyer, chair of the West Gate Bridge Authority, is credited with the inspiration for the establishment of Westgate Park. He wanted to create “a beautiful park straddling the Yarra River to complement his sculptural bridge”. He developed this vision soon after the completion of the bridge in the late 1970s. The federal Government funded the development of Westgate Park to mark Victoria’s sesquicentenary in 1984-85.

The area under the bridge had seen a variety of uses, including sand extraction, an aerodrome and car-racing. Much earlier, the area was part of the lower Yarra wetlands, with extensive saltmarsh, swamps, vegetation and bird life. During the construction of the bridge, the area was the base for building works and was the site of a large works depot. In 1979, the Age described the land seen from the newly opened bridge as “scrofulous scenery indeed … dead water, swamp, sick factories, dead wood, haze, gasping barges, wretched refineries, wheezing chimneys, dead grass, institutional putrefaction”.

Following the completion of the bridge, the future Westgate Park site was cleaned up and a former sand mine was converted to a salt water lake.

Consultants Loder & Bayly and landscape architect Bruce Mackenzie, won a competition with an ambitious design relying on a constructed landscape of hills and access tracks which framed and created views of the West Gate Bridge as the central sculptural feature, and with fresh and saltwater lakes as focal points. Planned features included an island visitors’ centre, as well as “the planting of Australian flora, improvement of bird habitat and the incorporation of a narrow-gauge railway, a sound shell and sculptures”.

The then Victorian Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands carried out the initial work in forming the park, creating mounds between two lakes using building waste, with help from participants in a government works program for the unemployed. A modest realisation of the original design, with several features deferred or removed, was opened and dedicated to the people of Victoria on 7 November 1985.

The following year, Westgate Park became the responsibility of the MMBW Parks Division, but was largely neglected over the following decade. During this period, sculptural work (Earth Series, 1990) by Lyn Moore was added to the park. In 1996 Melbourne Parks and Waterways announced an extension of the park to meet the river. The intention was to transform it from a ‘derelict wasteland’. A new design plan was developed but was not fully realised.

The Friends of Westgate Park was formed in 1999 and this volunteer group became pivotal to the management, development, and expansion of the site. The Friends undertook the installation of infrastructure and extensive planting, with the objective of gradually converting the vegetation to what was typical of pre-settlement Melbourne.

Through the efforts of the Friends, extra land was acquired from 2003-2016. Parks Victoria is now responsible for Westgate Park. The Friends group continues to improve the park and acts as an advocate for its development. A large number of bird species now inhabit the park, including cormorants, black swans and pelicans. The area is again becoming a wetland haven.

Dr Geoff Edwards, Secretary of PaRC, writes:

Early in my time as an officer of the Department of Crown Lands and Survey, about 1975, a senior land administration officer took me on an inspection of part of the wasteland now known as Westgate Park. Noticing foul-smelling smoke rising out of the ground, I stepped closer to investigate, but beat a hasty retreat as the soles of my shoes became very, very hot. I was informed that the site was used as a sand quarry for building materials for early Melbourne. Later it was backfilled with garbage. At some time the rotting mass caught fire. The fire brigade regularly turned out to grass fires.

Although the Department had recently established a new Division of Crown Land Management to upgrade the standard of management of Crown lands and reserves, the remediation and development of Westgate was too ambitious for the nascent group with its shoestring budget to take on. The task required a body with the capacity of Melbourne Parks and Waterways.

 

Review Status: Pending

Regional Open Space System team 1994-95

 

 

This is the group within the Department of Lands charged with establishing and administering the Regional Open Space System. This photo was taken by a departmental photographer in 1995 prior to the appointment in the middle of the year of Steve MacDonald as Manager.

 

From left to right:

Geoff Edwards, Director, Land Planning

Bob Skitch

Jan Seto (deceased)

Mark Laurie

Tony Prineas

John Madden.

 

Review Status: Pending

Werribee Park and Point Cook Visitor Leaflets

PaRC does not usually save ephemera, such as visitor leaflets, but we have come across a batch of material from the pre-digitisation era and have decided to post them here as part of the historical record. However, readers are urged not to rely upon the information here without checking against modern material.

Point Cook leaflet

A compilation of visitor materials including trail guides and teachers’ materials (compressed to reduce download time at the expense of resolution). Readers who can demonstrate a need to have the original scanned file at 41.8 MB should contact PaRC). (to come)

Review Status: Pending

Parkland surrendered at time of subdivision

In the late 1990s, the planning profession in Australia became enthusiastic about performance-based planning, by which applicants for development were supposed to justify their projects in terms of satisfaction of idealised principles, as distinct from the prescriptive planning by which applicants hitherto were required to satisfy detailed or at least specified standards. Whether by design or as an unintended consequence, this shift has been beneficial to the property industry as it placed local government officers and public servants on the defensive in attempting to condition developments so that ample public space is brought into public ownership to cater for the needs of new residents.

Practice between local governments and between states has long been disparate. In Victoria, the legislation specified a minimum charge and some local governments used the provision to extract large tracts of open space. For example, the  Shire of Sherbrooke negotiated sometimes as much as 90% open space contribution, in steep or fire-prone localities of the Dandenong Ranges (such as became the Selby Bushland Reserve). By contrast, in Queensland prior to 1997, legislation specified a maximum statutory charge, reflecting the state’s pro-development ethos.

In developing localities, it’s vital that sufficiently large corridors of land are reserved for public purposes and it’s particularly important that floodplains, wetlands and ridgelines be reserved from incompatible development and (in the case of watercourses) to allow space for soft engineering works to manage stormwater.

The Land Planning Branch of the Queensland Department of Natural Resources sought to draft some guidelines for planning officers in local governments and departmental staff in dealing with development applications. The intention was to provide an authoritative benchmark to fortify officers in negotiations with developers and even perhaps in court. Jeremy Addison, a qualified planner and an officer of the Department, produced a draft working paper that was not considered finalised and was not published by the Department. It is replete with references to the statutory planning and land tenure legislation in operation in Queensland in the late 1990s-early 2000s, after the passage of the (now superseded) Integrated Planning Act 1997. It is included here because there are few known similar guidelines in public circulation and so the paper has contemporary value beyond historical interest. Its shortcomings should not be attributed to Mr Addison.

 

The “Parkland Surrender” paper addresses how much land should be offered up for public purposes in new subdivisions like this site of a proposed estate at Caboolture West, South East Queensland.

 

Surrender by developers is not the only method and perhaps not the most effective method of securing public open space. Melbourne’s metropolitan parks system, including Petty’s demonstration orchard at Templestowe, was funded by a general “metropolitan improvement” rate.

 

Some notes

In Queensland, performance-based planning was introduced in the Integrated Planning Act 1997, modelled on the Resource Management Act of New Zealand, although without any provisions for allocating (privatising) state land or mineral assets.

Previous legislation had specified that land taken at subdivision was to be surrendered to the Crown and then (usually) reserved for public purposes with the local government being invited to serve as trustee. Local governments objected to this safety net provision which provided a brake against disposal of the parkland, because (they argued) it was easier to rationalise their park holdings and sell isolated pockets if held as freehold. Yes, small pockets of land are inherently more expensive to maintain than a comparable acreage added to a large district park, but they are serving a different clientele.

It has been argued that land surrendered at subdivision is a tax upon the future residents, so only land of benefit to them should be taken; in other words government has no right to levy developers on behalf of users in a regional or or remote catchment. However, subdivision is a privilege, not a right, and a district- or regional-scale surrender is appropriate, so long as the levy is for a public interest purpose and is permitted by the legislation. (The precise wording of the legislation is critical).

Invitation to planners and landscape designers

Critical feedback is invited from any person with survey or planning expertise and who would like to collaborate with PaRC in building the working paper Parkland Surrender at Time of Subdivision into a modern guideline applicable across Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands. Please contact parc@parcaustralia.com.au. PaRC would also like to know of other comparable current or historical guidelines that can be re-published here.

 

Review Status: Pending

Roma St Parklands, Brisbane

Shunting yards adjoining Roma St railway terminus, on the fringe of Brisbane’s CBD, were shunted out of this prime location and a political decision was taken to develop the vacant public land as a public park. Submissions were invited and reviewed by a steering committee convened by the Department of Public Works. This leaflet outlines the strategic intention and the submission process.

The Department of Natural Resources submitted an innovative proposal for a learning centre, called “Living Waters”. A copy of this report has surfaced from the cellars where government reports go after they have served their purpose at the time and will be attached. The submission did not find favour and the committee opted for a more traditional city park. The park subsequently won design awards.

Review Status: Pending

Moolap Wetlands Park – Cheetham Saltworks

This page is under construction and is not to be quoted or cited.

A well-argued case for a major new public park in the locality of Moolap, City of Greater Geelong, has been published by the Geelong Environment Council. The case is presented in:

an explanatory leaflet and fact sheet;

a submission, Moolap Salt Fields: A Wetland Of International Significance;

a biodiversity survey, Vegetation, Biodiversity and Social Values of the Former Cheetham Saltworks, Moolap .

 

Review Status: Pending

Childhood exposure to ‘blue spaces’ and subsequent well-being

Much has been researched and published over the past two decades into the health benefits of contact with nature. But these have largely focused on green space or natural spaces. ‘Blue spaces’ also have unique sensory qualities and facilitate a distinct range of leisure activities. Of course they also pose a number of hazards, particularly for children, and this may increase parental concerns.

Even if green and blue spaces can be conceptualised as separate entities, they cannot be distinctly separated from each other. Terrestrial attributes around blue spaces, such as paths and easily accessible watersides, usually contain green vegetation and many green spaces also contain or border on water bodies such as rivers, wetlands, ponds and the coast. Blue and green space experiences are frequently bound together and childhood exposure to blue spaces is likely to be predictive of the future frequency of green space visits as well.

A new extensive study by researchers from the University of Exeter in the UK has investigated those benefits relating to days at the beach. Their report entitled “Mechanisms underlying childhood exposure to blue spaces and adult subjective well-being: An 18-country analysis” (Australia was one of those countries) was published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology Volume 84 December 2022, https://www.sciencedirect.com/journal/journal-of-environmental-psychology/vol/84.

The researchers point out: “We know far less about the benefits of blue spaces, or the role childhood contact has in these relationships in later life”.

Their new report is based on data from the BlueHealth International Survey (BIS), a cross-sectional survey co-ordinated by the University of Exeter’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health. The analysis took in 15,000 people from 14 European countries and four non-European countries/states: Hong Kong, Canada, Australia and California.

Respondents were asked to recall their blue space experiences between the ages of 0-16 years. These included how local were these blue spaces: Were they close by to where the participant lived as a child, or were they some distance away? How often did they visit these spaces? How comfortable were their parents or guardians with their playing in these settings?

They were also asked about “more recent contact with green and blue spaces over the last four weeks, and mental health over the last two weeks”. So the assessment of a participant’s mental health was based on how they’d been feeling of late, rather than on a clinical evaluation. For many people, some of the happiest memories from childhood were those days spent at the beach, or fishing, swimming and sailing or on a river. Such family holidays where when the family was at its most relaxed.

When talking to people who grew up on or near a beach or a lake – or even on a farm – it was common to find that memories of childhood happiness are tied to those places, where they could roam freely and soak up the diverse beauties of nature. On that basis, it’s no stretch to wonder if an abundance of such memories has a positive impact on one’s mental health in adulthood.

The researchers concluded that “adults with better mental health are more likely to report having spent time playing in and around coastal and inland waters, such as rivers and lakes (also known collectively as blue spaces) as children”. The finding was replicated in each of the countries studied.

This recent evidence suggests that growing up near blue spaces is associated with a lower prevalence of a variety of mental health disorders during adulthood, even after accounting for concurrent green space exposure. These findings place exposure to blue spaces during childhood as a potentially important predictor of adult mental well-being in its own right.

Valeria Vitale, lead author and PhD candidate at Sapienza University of Rome, said: “Our findings suggest that building familiarity and confidence in and around blue spaces during childhood may stimulate an inherent joy of nature and encourage people to seek out recreational nature experiences, with beneficial consequences for adult mental health.”

Dr Leanne Martin, co-author and a postdoctoral research associate at Exeter, said: “Water settings can be dangerous for children, and parents are right to be cautious. This research suggests though that supporting children to feel comfortable in these settings and developing skills such as swimming at an early age can have previously unrecognised life-long benefits.”

This is probably the most significant finding in the study. The main point is: teach your children to swim, and give them practical guidance on how to stay safe at the beach or on the river, which can be tricky. On that basis, if young beach-goers do grow up with greater resilience – a more than reasonable suggestion, if not a conclusion in this study – it’s because they enjoyed their parents’ confidence.

The study raises questions about how outdoorsy are today’s children? Dr Mathew White, co-author and Senior Scientist at the University of Vienna, said: “The current study is adding to our growing awareness of the need for urban planners and local bodies responsible for managing our green and blue spaces to provide safe, accessible access to natural settings for the healthy mental and physical development of our children.”

Review Status: Pending

Green Spaces Resources Hub

As an element of the ‘Knowledge Day’ explained in the Narrative on the Green Flag award and National Park Cities, many speakers provided reference documents to be uploaded free onto the Green Spaces Resources Hub, which was launched at the 2020 World Parks Congress, as a comprehensive library curated from all over the world. Database platforms like this that are made publicly available, help foster and enhance knowledge worldwide on the environmental challenges still facing park management, but can also be used as a forum to celebrate and recognise the continued professionalism of urban landscape management and maintenance. The Hub has also allowed public access to the latest park-related research findings, events and collaboration opportunities from academic and research organisations across the globe. Following on from that success, and in partnership with the Universities of Leeds and Sheffield it was announced during the congress that the Green Flag Award will be launching the next stage of knowledge exchange – The Parks and Green Spaces Research Portal.

The Hub and the Portal are fulfilling a function on an international scale that PaRC aims to fulfil for Australian and Western Pacific resources.

 


Review Status: Pending

Green Flag Awards and National Park Cities

The Green Flag Award Scheme

Parks and open spaces are at the heart of communities. The Green Flag Award Scheme is an accreditation given to publicly accessible parks and open spaces, that seeks to promote standards of good management and best practice among the green space sectors. In 1997, when the first Green Flag was awarded, the green space sector in the United Kingdom was in a parlous state.  Decades of underfunding had left many once proud and beautiful historic city-centre parks derelict, dangerous, no-go areas, and many other green spaces were neglected or barely maintained.  Experts with a shared interest in promoting natural spaces from a range of backgrounds came together in response to this decline.

Today, the Green Flag Award is managed under licence from the UK Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government by ‘Keep Britain Tidy’; a not-for-profit environmental charity which also administers the scheme in England.  Keep Britain Tidy also sub-licenses the scheme in other countries. The Green Flag Award Scheme recognises and rewards well-managed parks and green spaces, setting the benchmark standard for management of recreational outdoor spaces across the United Kingdom and around the world. As highlighted in the report, Celebrating Amazing Spaces (2016), the scheme has delivered change not only in the green spaces sector, but also for university campuses, cemeteries and crematoria, housing associations, hospitals and canals and waterways. A report by the Heritage Lottery Fund (2016), titled State of UK’s Public Parks, indicates that 34 million people visit a park regularly in the UK. To put this into context, more people visited a park each year than voted in the 2015 UK general election.

Each year parks, reserves and green spaces are nominated for the Green Flag Award. To be a successful Green Flag Award winner, industry experts assess the nominated parks against 27 different criteria divided into eight sections. This includes a ‘welcoming place’, ‘healthy, safe and secure’, ‘well maintained and clean’, ‘environmental management’, ‘biodiversity, landscape and heritage’, ‘community involvement, ‘marketing and communication’ and finally, ‘overall management’.

Green Flag Awards Australia

On 24 November 2021, the Australian 2021 award recipients at the Parks and Leisure Australia Awards of Excellence were announced. Across Australia, City Parklands (Qld) (Roma Street and South Bank Parklands), Western Down Regional Council (Qld), Queanbeyan Palerang Regional Council (NSW) (Queanbeyan and Queen Elizabeth II Park), City of Greater Bendigo (Vic) and City of Campbelltown (SA) were recognised as nation-leading examples of the eight criterion sections of the Green Flag Award. Winning a Green Flag Award brings with it a wealth of benefits, from the status of being affiliated with a prestigious awards programme through to tangible benefits such as boosting tourism and creating revenue opportunities. Upgrading a site to achieve Green Flag status can, for example, bring about improvements to health and education, reduce crime and improve the general cleanliness of an area, whilst at the same time providing a boost to its profile. Additionally, improving facilities at a park/green space and engaging more with the local community can have a knock-on effect to the regeneration of an area.

Movements like the Green Flag Award are needed if parks and open spaces are to raise the standard of achievement for the environment and well-being of communities.

National Park Cities

The Green Flag Award Scheme has led to other movements such as the National Park City Foundation, which was established as a registered charity in the UK to promote the idea of bringing ‘National Park Cities’ to life in London and internationally. According to the United Nations, two-thirds of people will live in urban areas by 2050. With 70% of the global population predicted to be living in cities by 2050, the need to have wildlife, nature and biodiversity in our cities has never been more crucial for our well-being and existence. The ambition by the international NGO World Urban Parks to establish 25 National Park Cities by 2025 worldwide is testament to this. In fact, Adelaide has already risen to the challenge.

In December 2021, a formal announcement was made by the  global National Park City Foundation that Adelaide had been named the world’s second National Park City, enhancing the city’s reputation as the most liveable in Australia. The South Australian Minister for Environment and Water remarked that, Adelaide National Park City status isn’t just another title for our city, it is a trigger to promote and connect people with on-ground action to look after our environment for everyone’s health and wellbeing, as well as boost our economy through increased tourism.”

(The title National Park City reflects the distinctive UK meaning of the term National Park which encompasses private land, unlike Australian usage which has traditionally been confined to public land. The UK national park is analogous to a zone within an Australian planning scheme).

The legacy of the Green Flag Award scheme has also sparked the establishment of the ‘Green Flag Award Knowledge Day’ as part of the World Parks Congress which took place in December 2021. The international online event was organised by World Urban Parks and hosted virtually by several major cities: Los Angeles (USA), San Pedro (Mexico) and Sydney (Australia). The Congress brought together city and community leaders, park professionals, partners, affiliates and engaged citizens under the shared goal of advancing parks through intentional successful strategies.

Review Status: Pending

Green space and public health – (2) Healthy parks, healthy people

Humans are deeply intertwined with nature, through both the conscious and subconscious minds as well as biophysically.

Whilst those perceptions are self-obvious, our decision-makers and funders (whether in politics or organisational management) demand evidence, not just intuition, to justify decisions about policy and budgets. Evidence is of course reliant on research and data but unfortunately for many years, parks and green space have been short on such information, in part because that research and data-gathering about human health and well-being have not been seen as core parks business. The doctrine of ‘individual responsibility’ for personal well-being has held sway, in tandem with the elevation of individual choice through markets as the dominant approach to economic policy. However, over the past two decades there have been concerted scholarly attempts to empirically examine this relationship, especially via advances the disciplines of biology, ecology, psychology and psychiatry.

Origin of ‘Healthy Parks Healthy People’

The term ‘Healthy Parks Healthy People’ was officially coined by Parks Victoria (Australia) at the beginning of this century, stimulated by its commissioned (but independent) review of the international literature, an accumulated body of evidence The Health Benefits of Contact with Nature – produced in 2002 by Deakin University. Parks Victoria progressively incorporated the concept into its strategic approach to park management. Remarkably, though the report found that there were many examples of such research, there had been no previous attempt to consolidate such work into a single benchmark official report.

The expression ‘Healthy Parks Healthy People’ is really a colloquial way of incorporating considerations of both biophilia and topophilia (see Definitions, later). The ‘Healthy Parks Healthy People’ concept has wide application. It is relevant to professionals and practitioners in public health and well-being, eco-tourism and park management generally (especially in urban areas), in both developed or developing countries, and irrespective of culture.

The approach has been introduced under a variety of names (including ‘Healthy by Nature’ and ‘Green Exercise’) by a number of park management authorities around the world – in Australia, the United States, Canada and Scotland, to name but a few. In other places the broad principles embodied by the phrase are understood and/or applied without labelling with a specific term.

The ‘Healthy Parks Healthy People’ approach is built on the understanding that the health and well-being of society depends on the health of ecosystems. Well-managed parks and green space ensure that ecosystems are healthy and resilient. Such healthy environments provide ecosystem goods and services that underpin human life, contribute to economic activity and support cohesive, vibrant and healthy societies. In particular contact with nature can improve human physical and mental health.

The ‘Healthy Parks Healthy People’ concept is underpinned by six key principles:

  1. Human health and well-being depend on healthy ecosystems.
  2. Parks conserve healthy ecosystems.
  3. Contact with nature can improve human health, both physical and mental.
  4. Parks contribute to economic activity and prosperity.
  5. Parks contribute to cohesive, vibrant and healthy societies.
  6. Conversely, promotion of human well-being will lead to greater appreciation of parks and ecosystems.

World Congress 2010

As a result of the success of its initiative Parks Victoria was encouraged to stage an international congress on the topic and this was held in Melbourne in April 2010, attracting more than 1200 delegates from 37 countries – a clear illustration of the global significance of the concept. The Congress concluded by producing The Melbourne Communiqué – a call to action!

The Chairperson, the Congress Committee and delegates of the inaugural International Healthy Parks Healthy People Congress 2010 call on:

  • The governments of the world;
  • The United Nations and its agencies (in particular UNESCO, the United Nations Environment Programme, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UN World Tourism Organization) together with the World Health Organization, and International Union for Conservation of Nature;
  • National and international philanthropic, environmental and health organizations to adopt Healthy Parks Healthy People and make the following commitment: We commit to further our understanding of, and strengthen the connection between, nature and people. Our success depends on interdisciplinary collaboration and alliances. We as leaders in our field commit to work together to strive for a healthy planet and healthy humanity, and continue to promote, facilitate and advance the health and vitality of the world’s parks and communities. We undertake to rethink our approach to improving human and environmental health and do all in our powers to reconnect people to nature. We adopt the Healthy Parks Healthy People philosophy to protect the earth’s two most important assets – nature and people.”

As a direct result of attending this event and realising the significance, the US National Park Service promptly established its own version (Healthy Parks Healthy People U.S.).

Since that time the NPS together with U.S. Forestry Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Pan American Health Organization have established joint and several fledgling initiatives to incorporate the ‘Health Parks Healthy People’ agenda.

 Europe

The European Cooperation Scientific & Technical Research (COST) report in its 2007 strategic workshop ‘Health and the Natural Outdoors’ had already stated:

There is a convincing but widely dispersed evidence base, confirming the benefits to human health and well-being of close contact with nature, animals and plants.

  • Access to nature should be considered in public health policy in Europe;
  • Access to nature and natural places can be a central theme in promoting contemporary lifestyle-based public health approaches; and
  • Health should be a central theme in urban and land-use planning, for example, in debates about urban densification. Effort spent in developing tools and strategies that integrate healthy lifestyles into urban planning and greenspace management will be well repaid.

Other ongoing global initiatives included the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), which initiated a special task force on Forests and Human Health in 2011, an effort that connects forestry and health science professionals; and the Cooperation on Health and Biodiversity (COHAB) initiative which links biodiversity with human health and well-being within the larger framework of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals.

 World Conservation Congress 2012

Impressed by the logic and value of the concept and the impact of the 2010 Congress, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) encouraged a consequential adopted Motion No 46 at the 2012 World Conservation Congress, which recommended:

 IUCN and its constituencies to adopt the Healthy Parks Healthy People philosophy and commit to further understanding of, and strengthen the connection between, nature and people. To work collaboratively with WHO, and other key global bodies, to implement initiatives that deliver both human health and biodiversity outcomes and continue to promote, facilitate and advance the health and vitality of the world’s parks and communities globally. To undertake research and analysis to better develop compelling rationale for the approach to all levels of policies. To forge partnerships and alliances with the health and medical care community to raise recognition of parks and protected areas as a healing tool and a vital source of health and well-being.

Ottawa Charter

The complementary source of direction for public health, the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion (WHO, Geneva, 1986) identifies three basic strategies for health promotion: advocacy for health to create the essential conditions for health indicated above; enabling all people to achieve their full health potential; and mediating between the different interests in society in the pursuit of health. These strategies are supported by five priority action areas as outlined in the Ottawa Charter:

  • build healthy public policy
  • create supportive environments for health
  • strengthen community action for health
  • develop personal skills, and
  • re-orient health services.

Wingspread Declaration

In the US, the Wingspread Declaration on Health and Nature, July 2014 stated:

 Nature and human well-being are connected: The connection between people and the natural world is fundamental to human health, well-being, spirit, and survival. Nature is a source of food, clean water, clean air, medicine, shelter, and economic opportunity. Moreover, in order to thrive, humans require direct access to nature. Whether a city park, a community garden, a tree-lined street, or wilderness – nature in people’s daily lives reduces stress, renews the spirit, connects people to each other and increases physical activity. In short, humans are part of nature, our connection with nature is a fundamental human need, and we believe access to nature is a basic right.

 However, large numbers of people – many of them children – are now disconnected from nature. As a direct consequence, people around the world are suffering from substantial health challenges, many of them preventable. Likewise, the natural world faces increased pressures and vulnerability. The human, natural, and economic consequences of these challenges are already enormous.

 This situation calls for placing consideration of the nature-health connection at the center of research, design, and decision-making across multiple fields. Concerted, cooperative action from health, environmental, educational, governmental, and corporate actors is needed to reconnect people with nature and to secure commitment to protecting nature.

European COST

The European Cooperation Scientific & Technical Research (COST) report in its 2007 strategic workshop ‘Health and the Natural Outdoors’ had already stated:

There is a convincing but widely dispersed evidence base, confirming the benefits to human health and well-being of close contact with nature, animals and plants.

  • Access to nature should be considered in public health policy in Europe;
  • Access to nature and natural places can be a central theme in promoting contemporary lifestyle-based public health approaches; and
  • Health should be a central theme in urban and land-use planning, for example, in debates about urban densification. Effort spent in developing tools and strategies that integrate healthy lifestyles into urban planning and greenspace management will be well repaid.

City of London

Green Spaces: The Benefits for London, a report prepared for the City of London Corporation and published in July 2013 concluded:

 Returning to the question ‘What have green spaces ever done for London?’ the strongest evidence currently points to the positive impact they have on the environment and on people’s health and well-being. In addition to helping to counteract major urban sustainability challenges such as atmospheric heating, they provide space for exercise, play, events and ‘getting away from it all’. This is particularly pronounced in larger green spaces.

 It is also important to note that the far reaching environmental and health benefits created by large green spaces in and around London can be enjoyed by all of London’s residents and workers as they are public goods, and ones that contribute to London’s overall ecosystem.

Ecosystem services

Many researchers have come to the conclusion that humans are totally dependent on nature for psychological, emotional and spiritual needs as well as for material needs (food, water, shelter, etc.).

In 2013 the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard School of Public Health in the US produced a workshop report entitled The Natural Environments Initiative that explores how we can – and should – integrate natural elements into city plans to support public health while also providing ecosystem services, or the contributions of natural elements to the quality of human life. It envisions exposure to nature as part of a larger public health strategy captured by the acronym AIM: Advocate (access to nature for health), Invest (in equitable access), and Mediate (engage in translation between disciplines to build support beyond the health sector) – see The Natural Environments Initiative.

In Queensland, the Regional Landscape Strategy group of the State Government worked to include an ecosystem services chapter in the South East Queensland Regional Plan, which in due course gave the concept statutory force through the town planning regime. But this pioneering work was dropped from the subsequent iteration of the plan.

Nature is under threat – but has intrinsic and existence values

Climate change, of course, is altering the ‘outdoors’.

Biodiversity has been endangered for some time, with loss of significant species and consequent ecosystem impacts. Even to the less informed, the visual amenity of biodiversity that parks provide is an attraction verified by the significant popularity of ecotourism destinations, which of course in turn creates economic well-being through commercial activity. Yet perversely, biodiversity is itself under increasing threat with widespread clearing of native vegetation and urban development.

For far too long parks have been considered, even by park managers themselves, as ‘nice to have’ but not essential amenities! That situation is changing. More recently there has been a re-awakening to the value of nature. The large number of people using local public parks for exercise and enjoyment during the COVID-19 epidemic of 2020-22 demonstrated their desire to get outdoors, to meet others or to enjoy nature as part of their coping and healing needs.

We are all aware that nature – the presence of living things – makes us feel good. We marvel at how artists and photographers have captured images of landscapes and wildlife. Poets and writers have incorporated these in their highly praised works. We get a thrill out of unexpectedly sighting wildlife, we enjoy a relationship with pets and we are delighted by wonderful scenic views. We use expressions like ‘don’t forget to stop and smell the roses’, indeed we use flowers to celebrate, congratulate and commiserate – all related to emotional experiences. We recognise the need to get a ‘breath of fresh air’ meaning to escape the daily rat race of urban living. More recently the concept of ‘weekend escapes’ has become popular and most of these are to the countryside! These phrases are part of our inherited lexicon. We even get pleasure from just knowing that something natural – a wilderness area, a rare bird – exists, even if we may never experience it, except perhaps on the Discovery Channel or a Sir David Attenborough documentary!

 

Review Status: Pending