Planning for Green Spaces Has Never Been More Important
The pandemic didn’t renew green spaces—it merely stressed the urgency of them.
- By Sarah Butters
- Nov 18, 2020
The importance of green spaces, especially with social distancing measures, has never felt more relevant than it does now. During pandemic, the leading UK health institutions have become increasingly aware of both mental and physical wellbeing, as well as the importance of outdoor spaces. The beneficial role of green spaces is now being promoted by the construction industry. This industry is motivated by creating sustainable residential areas such as housing units and plots that sharply focus on green living.
The role of green spaces on public health has become paramount in recent times. Nowadays, government policy is advocating a healthier, happier lifestyle, which can be facilitated through green spaces and the great outdoors. Former UK Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson, has established plans to hatch a sustainable future for the UK, but this is not the first time. This plan centers on “fit towns,” which will encourage healthier living in the UK. Those in greener, more sustainable neighborhoods have been observed to experience notably lower levels of mental stress when compared to built-up urban areas. In fact, research has suggested that activities like gardening or time in an allotment can actually promote happiness.
Over the next decade, housebuilding in the UK will be guided more closely by regulations to meet sustainability quotas. Backed by financial incentives, especially for local communities, this move is being called a “housebuilding revolution.”
It would seem the construction industry is answering to tougher regulations to adopt sustainable building practices for good. But why, exactly, is green space so important?
Sustainable Housing In Stride
Plans as recent as 2019 have revealed a roadmap to sustainable building in the UK. Even though the idea has been around for a while, the push from UK officials is quite new. It is debuting to the public as a sweeping “green revolution."
It’s less about a revolution than it is about revelation. This promotion for green living claims to be achievable through sustainable energy sources and other eco-friendly features. As if to firm up these commitments, new policies have emerged with deadlines, funds and budgets. At the helm is a push behind environmental issues for the foreseeable future.
Housing is one of the key areas where we can limit damaging practice on the climate. “Greener housing” as an expression is about respecting a sustainable future vision for the UK housing sector. In some ways, it’s also about recovering from harmful past practices.
What, Exactly, Makes Green Space So Valuable?
The value of a green space shouldn’t be underestimated. Recent research suggests that green spaces may help remedy mental health issues. The COVID-19 pandemic has only stressed the critical importance of quality green spaces, not just the quantity of it.
Green spaces in new house-building projects need to balance the two. Many have suggested that quality green spaces can promote cleaner lifestyles. The features that set apart the more valuable green spaces might include access to water features or areas with better biodiversity.
Parks and other communal green spaces, such as natural reserves and woodlands, have shown to help better public health. In the context of COVID-19, these spaces, whether green parks and public or private gardens, have been able to help people remain proactive and safe during otherwise tough times.
The pandemic has brought awareness to this challenge. One of the solutions, even though it feels like an investment, is to introduce canopy coverage from trees or use green buffer zones in neighborhoods and residentials, spacing out homes within a natural setting.
Is Britain Going Outdoors?
Looking ahead, we are currently leaving a damaging footprint, and there are suggestions that the UK is getting warmer. With green space limited, it will make it even harder for the UK to keep healthy and happy. The lack of green space can actually create inequalities. One governmental study revealed that disadvantaged groups appeared to suffer less health inequalities and better special cohesion when there is an availability of local green space. The lack of green spaces, on the other hand, seems to create a disadvantage, or worsens health issues.
The pandemic didn’t renew green spaces—it merely stressed the urgency of them. The benefits of green spaces are well established—decreased anxiety, depression and fatigue are often associated with it. Green spaces have even been called “natural capital.” This suggests that the natural environment is only growing in value, especially in time and as it becomes harder to find.
Happiness, though important, is only part of it. Sustainability in housing will also focus on biodiversity both on and off site. As house-building projects become even more common and biodiversity drops off, the urgency for more sustainable construction is now formalized by biodiversity net gain (BNG) as outlined by the Environmental Bill of 2019. This key piece of environmental legislation establishes key deadlines, policies, plans and targets that all serve to enhance, rather than harm, the natural world.
For developers looking to deliver timely projects, being proactive and ambitious about biodiversity could empower outcomes rather than hinder them.
Green spaces are rising in popularity. This is partly owed to government policy, but also how public attitudes are shifting and developing favorably toward the natural world. The real protagonists, local communities, are able to create the kind of dramatic changes to shape the world and meet environment goals for the better.
Sarah Butters, Commercial Director at Thomson Environmental Consultants, a leading UK-based environmental agency.