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Benefits of Urban Parks A systematic review - A Report for IFPRA

Benefits of Urban Parks
A systematic review
A Report for IFPRA
Cecil C. Konijnendijk
Matilda Annerstedt
Anders Busse Nielsen
Sreetheran Maruthaveeran
Copenhagen & Alnarp, January 2013
The International Federation of Parks and Recreation Administration (Ifpra, is the
unique international organisation that represents parks, recreation, amenity, cultural, leisure and
related services. Among the federation’s aims are the advancement of parks, recreation, cultural
and leisure services through representation and the dissemination of information; and the
promotion of relevant research. During the past few years, Ifpra has refocused its activities more
towards urban parks, which e.g., led to the establishment of a World Urban Parks Initative
together with a range of other national and international organisations. Moreover, Ifpra
strengthened its scientific base by setting up as Science Task Force at the Ifpra World Congress in
Hong Kong (autumn 2010), under the coordination of the new Ifpra Vice President for Science,
Cecil Konijnendijk.
At the end of 2011, the Executive Committee of Ifpra decided to assign a review study of
urban park benefits. This work was to be coordinated by the Science TF. In response, a research
team of four, representing three different institutions, three different disciplines, and four
different nationalities was set up. The research team carried out a systematic review of the
scientific evidence for urban park benefits during most of 2012.
Copenhagen and Alnarp, January 2013
Prof. Dr Ir Cecil C. Konijnendijk
University of Copenhagen and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (chair)
Dr Matilda Annerstedt, MD
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Sreetheran Maruthaveeran, M.Sc.
University of Copenhagen and Forest Research Institute Malaysia
Dr Anders B. Nielsen
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Table of contents
Table of contents ................................................................................................................................. 1
Introduction ......................................................................................................................................... 2
Methodology ........................................................................................................................................ 5
Urban parks and direct and indirect health effects ............................................................................. 8
Urban parks and social cohesion ....................................................................................................... 14
Urban parks and tourism ................................................................................................................... 17
Urban parks and house prices ........................................................................................................... 20
Urban parks and biodiversity ............................................................................................................. 24
Urban parks, air quality and carbon sequestration ........................................................................... 31
Urban parks and water management ................................................................................................ 35
Urban parks and cooling .................................................................................................................... 38
Conclusions ........................................................................................................................................ 40
Appendix ............................................................................................................................................ 42
What do we know about urban park benefits?
Many scientific studies on urban green space start with stressing the multiple benefits of parks
and other green areas (Lyytimäki and Sipilä, 2009). There is general agreement, at least within the
green space sector, that urban parks are essential for liveable and sustainable cities and towns.
But how much do we really know about these benefits? How strong is the scientific evidence for
the different benefits of urban parks? Many of the assumptions used regarding decision-making
involving urban parks are not stated clearly and are often based on limited or poor scientific
evidence on the potential evidence (e.g., Pataki et al., 2011). This is a problem, as we live in a
world where the demand for evidence-based decisions is increasing.
In order to provide a more qualified base for the International Federation of Parks and
Recreation Administration’s (Ifpra) activities in terms of promoting urban parks and their benefits,
the present systematic review sets out to answer the question: What is the scientific evidence for
different benefits of urban parks?
What is an urban park?
Urban green structures include a wide range of different components. Apart from parks, these
include woodland, street tree and square plantings, cemeteries, private gardens, green roofs,
community and allotment gardens, sports complexes, and so forth. For the purpose of this review,
we defined ‘urban park’ as follows:
Urban parks are defined as delineated open space areas, mostly dominated by vegetation and
water, and generally reserved for public use. Urban parks are mostly larger, but can also have the
shape of smaller ‘pocket parks’. Urban parks are usually locally defined (by authorities) as ‘parks’.
Study limitations
Extensive literature exists on the various benefits of urban green spaces in general, but not all of
the studies have particularly addressed urban parks, even though parks are central components to
urban green structures. Moreover, there seems to be tendency of study findings to be published
at the local or national level, in reports or even ‘grey’ literature, rather than in publications that
have undergone scientific scrutiny through the peer-review system. We could have decided to
include all available evidence on urban park benefits, but the characteristic of systematic reviews
is that only best available evidence published according to good scientific practice is considered.
We realise that this will mean that we have missed a number of interesting studies and reports on
urban park benefits, but this has meant less concessions to maintain the highest scientific
standards. Moreover, the evidence emerging from this more rigid systematic review provides a
much stronger case for promoting urban parks that is, at least for those benefits for which
sufficient scientific evidence exists.
We could also have included a wider range of green spaces, and not only urban parks. But
we decided to exclude for example urban woodland or street trees in order to make the study
more focused, and to adhere to Ifpra’s mandate for specifically urban parks.
Finally, we decided to only consider articles published in the period 1 January 2000 through
1 April 2010. This choice could also be criticised, as relevant studies were published prior to this.
We decided to focus on ‘most current evidence’, basing ourselves on our own knowledge and
initial literature studies that showed an increase in ‘urban park benefit studies’ during the last
decade or so.
Nature of the report
The present report has one clear focus: documentation of the current scientific evidence for urban
park benefits. Thus it will be possible to say, after reading each of the results section for individual
benefits, if the best available, most current scientific evidence for the benefit is weak, moderate or
strong. The report provides some insight in specific subthemes and individual studies, but this is
not its main focus. For details we refer to the individual papers, which are all listed after each of
the results sections.
Categories of urban park benefits
In the frame of this report, ‘benefit’ is defined as something that promotes wellbeing (Merriam-
Webster’s, 2012). Thus in the case of urban park benefits, we are concerned with the services
provided by the park that promote human or societal wellbeing, either directly or indirectly.
According to Defra (2007), wellbeing is defined as a “positive, social and mental state; it is not just
the absence of pain, discomfort and incapacity. It requires that basic needs are met, that
individuals have a sense of purpose, that they feel able to achieve important personal goals and
participate in society. It is enhanced by conditions that include supportive personal relationships,
strong and inclusive communities, good health, financial and personal security, rewarding
employment, and a healthy and attractive environment”.
The author group agreed upon focusing on the major park benefit groups, considered to have the
highest impact to society. Those were also derived from an initial literature search for general
topics. The following potential benefits of urban parks were included:
Human health and wellbeing, i.e. positive impacts of parks and park use on human health
(both mental and physical) and wellbeing, either through direct or indirect effects such as
recreation and leisure activities.
Social cohesion / identity: the role of urban parks in strengthening social ties, relations and
Tourism: leisure visits outside of the own living or working environment, typically longer-
term stays. Apart from potentially promoting the health and wellbeing of visitors, tourism
is also of interest due to its contributions to the local economy.
House prices: the value of urban parks as part of the living environment as reflected in
higher real estate prices (for both houses and apartments).
Biodiversity: the role of parks in harbouring and promoting biodiversity, and species
diversity in particular. Biodiversity has a direct link to human wellbeing (e.g., through
nature experience), while it also provides an important base for ecosystem functioning and
thus a range of ecosystem services (e.g., Hooper at al., 2005).
Air quality and carbon sequestration: positive impacts of urban parks in terms of reducing
air pollutant levels and carbon sequestration.
Water management: contributions of parks to stormwater / run off regulation.
Cooling: the role of parks in the cooling of urban areas? (For this benefit category, we base
ourselves on a recent systematic review by other authors).
For all of these benefits, we are especially interested to find out whether parks promote the
respective benefit more as compared to other urban land use, as well as other types of green
In the terminology of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA, 2005), the first four
benefits fall under the group of ‘cultural ecosystem services’, while the final four are ‘regulating
ecosystem services’. Provisioning services, such as for example food and timber production, are
not covered, partly as we evaluated these as less relevant in an urban park context.
Additional benefits could have been specifically addressed, for example relating to cultural-
historical aspects, aesthetics and education. However the literature on these topics is not vast, and
most of the aspects of these are covered under human health and social cohesion impacts.
DEFRA, 2007. Common Understanding of Wellbeing for Policy. Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs,
London. Retrieved on October 1st, 2012 from
Hooper, D.U., Chapin III, F.S., Ewel, J.J., Hector, A., Inchausti, P., Lavorel, S., Lawton, J.H., Logde, D.M., Loreau, M.,
Naeem, S., Schmid, B., La Seta, H., Symstad, A.J., Vandermeer, J., Wardle, D.A., 2005. Effects of biodiversity on
ecosystem functioning: a consensus on current knowledge. Ecological Monographs 75(1), 3-35.
Lyytimäki, J., Sipilä, M., 2009. Hopping on one leg The challenge of ecosystem disservices for urban green
management. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 8, 309-315.
Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary, 2012. Retrieved on November 10th, 2012 from http://www.merriam-
MEA (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment), 2005. United Nations, New York.
Pataki, D.E., Carreiro, M.M., Cherrier, J., Grulke, N.E., Jennings, V., Pincetl, S., Pouyat, R.V., Whitlow, T.H., Zipperer,
W.C. Coupling biogeochemical cycles in urban environments: ecosystem services, green solutions, and
misconceptions. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 9(1), 27-36.
Systematic review
This report is based on the results from a systematic review of selected peer-reviewed literature. A
systematic review attempts to collate all empirical evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility
criteria to answer a specific research question. It uses explicit, systematic methods that are
selected in order to minimizing bias, thus providing reliable findings from which conclusions can be
drawn and decisions made. The key characteristics of a systematic review are: (a) a clearly stated
set of objectives with an explicit, reproducible methodology; (b) a systematic search that attempts
to identify all studies that would meet the eligibility criteria; (c) an assessment of the validity of
the findings of the included studies, for example through an evaluation of research methodology
and assessment of risk of bias; and (d) systematic presentation, and synthesis, of the
characteristics and findings of the included studies (Khan et al., 2003; Pullin and Stewart, 2006;
Bowler et al., 2010)
The choice for a systematic review of the evidence implies that the study should be made as
transparent as possible. It should be more or less replicable following our methods (i.e. same
definitions, same search terms etc.). This increases the validity of the study (and consequently
usefulness). All phases of the search process are documented for the sake of transparency.
The central research question for the systematic review was: what is the current scientific
evidence for different benefits of urban parks?
Search process and inclusion criteria
Two widely recognised databases of peer-reviewed scientific publications were used, namely Web
of Science and Scopus. These databases should cover all relevant literature on the topic. The
search terms were considered among the categories ‘Title, abstract, keywords’ (Scopus)
respectively ‘Topic’ (Web of Science).
After the initial search, two rounds of selection were undertaken. Firstly articles were
included or excluded based on their title and abstract. The remaining papers were subsequently
reviewed and evaluated for their relevance. In order for a publication to be included in the final
dataset, it had to meet the following inclusion criteria:
Featured in one or both of the selected databases (Scopus and Web of Science), or added
through ‘snowballing’. Snowballing means that relevant papers that did not feature in
the original search could be found in the references of identified papers, and
subsequently added. Snowballing has been applied very conservatively and only articles
that could subsequently also be found in Scopus and/or Web of Science were included.
Published in the period January 2000 31 March 2012. Clear focus was on the most
current state of evidence.
Presenting scientific evidence on one or several pre-defined urban park benefits. The
benefit categories included are listed in the Introduction. For each respective benefit,
specific secondary search terms were used and combined (by denoting ‘AND’ in the
database search engine) with the primary search terms. The respective secondary search
terms for each benefit are provided in the results section. For a few benefits, two sets of
secondary search terms were combined to make a more targeted search possible.
Specifically looking at urban parks. This means that green spaces studied had to fall
within the definition of urban parks as given in the Introduction. In order to find relevant
papers in the two databases, a number of primary search terms were used, namely:
“urban park*1
Published in English.
”, “city park*”, “green space*” and “green area*”).
Presenting a (preferably) systematic review, meta-analysis or an original scientific study.
This means that, in principle, more conceptual papers and thematic reviews were
excluded in order to meet the requirement that only best evidence and studies with
appropriate scientific rigour were considered.
The protocol for the systematic review was developed jointly by the four researchers. We
used a standardized data extraction sheet to ensure a controlled analysis and data-retrieve across
the different benefits. In case of doubts and queries regarding whether to include an article or not
this was resolved by consultancy from the other authors for consensus and decision.
Analysis of the results
The data registered and analysed for each of the selected publications is provided in Table 1. Apart
from basic information about the publication and its authors, as well as the database(s) in which
the publication was found, information was registered on study design, the benefits documented
by the paper and the so-called primary end point variables (what was measured as an indicator for
the benefit). The main relevant results (i.e. as pertaining to the specific benefit in focus) were
listed, as was the geographical scope of the study (e.g., study undertaken at the level of one or
more parks, one or more cities, countries, etc.). In addition we registered the number of sites or
cases studied. Finally the strength of the evidence was assessed, and information was included
about limitations of the studies and possible additional remarks.
Table 1. Overview of the data extraction sheet.
Title Documented benefits
Authors Primary end point variables
Journal Main relevant results
Year Geographic scope
Volume Number of cases / sites studied
Issue Single time or longitudinal study
Pages Strength of the evidence
Found through Scopus, Web of Science, both (or snowballing) Limitations of the study
Cites in Scopus resp. Web of Science Other remarks
Study design
Quality assessment
Quality grading of included studies indicates that every article is judged in accordance with a pre-
defined protocol. This specifies the quality of the evidence by providing a numerical estimate of
high, moderate, or low research quality studies for each outcome. Through this procedure a final
average score of evidence is delivered. By such consequent and precise information across the
outcomes the usefulness and implications of the material convert into valuable and useful
measures for practitioners, decision-makers, and policies. This enables scientifically informed
recommendations and a generic basis for guidelines.
Our protocol was inspired by the six quality assessment questions suggested by Bowler et al.
(2010) as a main frame for assessing the strength of the evidence:
1 ‘*’ indicating “wild card”, i.e. any ending of the word possible.
1) Did the study identify its target population or give sufficient information on the types of
individuals/species? This determines the extent to which the study findings can be
placed in context of the type of participant.
2) How did studies recruit participants? To make it a yes or no question: was self-selection
bias controlled for in the study? ‘Referred by a third party’ was considered superior to
‘self-referral’ due to the possibility of self-selection bias, which affects the
representativeness of the sample of the population.
3) Was randomisation used to allocate participants to groups, or in the case of a crossover
trial, to decide the order of treatments? This affects whether there were any
systematic differences between participants of intervention and comparator groups.
4) Were studies shown to be similar at base-line or were base-line differences accounted
for in the analysis? This is important to be able to attribute measurable differences to
the intervention.
5) Was the method of collecting data described and likely to be reliable and valid? This
affects the confidence we can have in the results reflecting the intended measurement.
N.B. here we also look at e.g., the issue of multiple cases/sites studied, single-moment
or longitudinal studies, etc.
6) Were there any other differences between intervention and comparator groups that
might explain differences in the data being measured? For example, if there were any
differences between groups apart from environmental setting, this might explain any
differences in the outcome rather than the effect of parks.
This review of benefits of urban parks analyses a wide range of benefits and studies
represent a wide range of disciplines and methods. Humans are in focus, but studies also look at
e.g., diversity of flora and fauna species. Therefore the above questions were not always easily
applicable, for example because the large majority of the studies included were of observational
rather than experimental nature. Moreover, where needed additional quality assessment criteria
were added for specific benefits. These are specified in the respective benefit texts, under
‘strength of the evidence’.
Bowler, D.E., Buyung-Ali, L.M., Knight, T.M., Pullin, A.S., 2010. A systematic review of evidence for the added benefits
to health of exposure to natural environments. BMC Public Health 10(456). Retrieved on January 15th, 2012
Khan, K.S., Kunz, R., Kleijnen, J., Antes, G., 2003. Systematic reviews to support evidence-based medicine. London,
Royal Society of Medicine Press Ltd, London.
Pullin, A.S., Stewart, G.B., 2006. Guidelines for systematic review in conservation and environmental management.
Conservation Biology 20, 1647-1656.
Urban parks and direct and indirect health effects
Introduction to the benefit
Nature and green spaces contribute directly to public health by reducing stress and mental
disorders (Ward Thompson et al., 2012; Annerstedt et al., 2012), increasing the effect of physical
activity (Mitchell, 2012), reducing health inequalities (Mitchell and Popham, 2008), and increasing
perception of life quality and self-reported general health (Maas et al., 2006; Stigsdotter et al.,
2010). Indirect health effects are conveyed by providing arenas and opportunities for physical
activity (Coombes et al., 2010), increasing satisfaction of living environment and social interactions
(Björk et al., 2008; Maas et al., 2009), and by different modes of recreation (Weber and Anderson,
All these indicators correspond well to the definition of health established by the World
Health Organization (WHO) (1946), including both physical, mental, and social components in the
health concept. In addition the definition of public health (Winslow, 1920) even further
emphasizes the efforts by society and communities for promoting health and preventing diseases.
Thus, to support and improve public health varied actions are required by local administrators and
policy makers. Within this field creating healthy urban environments is an important contribution.
Considering the high level of global urbanization urban parks are imperative for maintaining and
improving public health. This section demonstrates the scientific evidence for health effects, direct
or indirect, from urban parks.
Search information
We included search terms on recreation or leisure activities since these were considered
important to covering indirect health benefits. The secondary search terms were (as combined
with the primary terms defining urban environment): leisure* OR recreat* OR visit* OR health* OR
well-being OR wellbeing OR disease* OR disorder* OR morbidit* OR mortalit* OR illness* OR
rehabilit* OR heal* OR “physical activit*”. The number of articles identified from the electronic
search was 1285 in Web of Science and 709 in Scopus. The total number of initial hits is difficult to
determine due to overlap between the two databases, but the titles and/or abstracts of at least
1000 or more articles were scanned. This resulted in 290 potentially eligible articles. After
scrutinizing these papers we finally included 86 articles in the review that all fulfilled the inclusion
criteria (see Appendix, Table A1). Papers on botanic gardens were not included, as these were
considered special purpose green areas where botanical objectives often override public access
and recreation. Neither were papers on specific items or qualities of parks included, only if they
reported specified benefits of the park as such.
Key findings
The majority of the included studies used an observational cross-sectional research design,
implying either survey- or register (n=10) data. The sample was either a cohort (n=6) or randomly
or non-randomly selected participants for the specific study. Only a limited number of studies
were longitudinal (n=3) with baseline and follow-up values and just one study was a single-blind
randomized controlled trial. The number of participants varied much between the studies (ranging
from 59 to 28.6 millions) as did the definition of environment, which was either subjectively or
objectively assessed, something that usually infers some discrepancy (De Jong et al., 2011; Leslie
et al., 2010). Nine studies were based on data from interviews and five studies used physiological
health measures. Regarding specific populations nine studies addressed children or adolescents
specifically, four studies were concerned with ethnic differences or particularly vulnerable
populations, and two studies treated the issue of elderly people. The statistical analyses and
adjustment for confounders showed varied degree of complexity and appropriateness. Studies
containing specific biomarkers for evaluating health effects practiced for example
Electroencephalography (EEG), Electromyography (EMG), heart-rate, cortisol, Body Mass Index
(BMI) or growth curves. Subjective health measures or non-experimental studies used either
register-data or national public health data; study-developed scales, questionnaires, observations
or interviews; or frequently used, validated and reliable scales, such as General Health
Questionnaire (GHQ-12) and Medical Outcomes Study Short Form (MOS SF-20). Physical measures
to appraise physical activity, population distribution, or environment encompassed:
accelerometers, System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC), Behavioural
Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), census tract data, General Position System (GPS), GIS,
governmental-, national- or community- land cover data, self-ratings, or data sampling and
Several studies reported on more than one health indicator. The direct health benefits for
which we found evidence on positive effects included psychological wellbeing( Tinsley et al., 2002;
Hung and Cromption, 2006; Fuller et al., 2007; Gidlöf-Gunnarsson and Öhrström, 2007; Lafortezza
et al., 2009; Abkar et al., 2010; Lee and Maheswaran, 2011; Stodolska et al., 2011; ), reduced
obesity (Nielsen and Hansen, 2007; Bell et al., 2008; Lovasi et al., 2011; Wolch et al., 2011;
Toftager et al., 2011), reduced stress (Grahn and Stigsdotter, 2003; Hung and Chang, 2004; Nielsen
and Hansen, 2007; Hansmann et al., 2010; Hussain et al., 2010; Korpela et al., 2010; Fan et al.,
2011, Ward Thompson et al., 2012), self-perceived health ( Hung and Chang, 2004; Payne et al.,
2005; Maas et al., 2006, 2009; Lafortezza et al., 2009; Van Dillen et al., 2011), reduced headache
(Hansmann et al., 2007), better mental health (Payne et al., 2005; Guite et al., 2006; Van Dillen et
al., 2011), stroke mortality (Hu et al., 2008), concentration capacity (Hussain et al., 2010), quality
of life (Hussain et al., 2010), reduced Attention Disorder Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
symptoms (Taylor and Kuo, 2009), reduced cardiovascular symptoms and reduced mortality for
respiratory disorders (Richardson and Mitchell, 2010), reduced health complaints (Van Dillen et al.,
2011, Maas et al., 2009), overall mortality (Takano et al., 2002a), longevity (Takano et al., 2002b),
birth weight and gestational age in low socioeconomic population (Dadvand et al., 2012), post-
disaster recovery (Rung et al., 2011), and reduced cortisol levels (Ward Thompson et al., 2012).
Health effects of parks on lung cancer or diabetes were studied in a few cases (Richardson et al.,
2010, Richardson et al., 2011), but without finding any associations. The effect on reduced obesity
also seems indeterminate with five articles reporting significant positive results, while seven
articles report no effect.
The indirect health benefits were dominated by evidence for associations between access to
parks or park use and increased physical activity (n=35), for reviews see for example Babey et al.
(2008) or Kaczynski and Henderson (2007). Of the 35 studies eight could not demonstrate any
significant relationship. Other indirect health effects for which evidence was found were: reduced
levels of the air pollutants NO₂ and PO₂.₅ (Su et al., 2011), reduced noise ( Gidlöf-Gunnarsson and
Öhrström, 2007; González-Oreja et al., 2010, Yang et al., 2011), increased recreation, community
attachment, and social support (Elmqvist et al., 2004; Chen and Jim, 2008; Maas et al., 2009;
Seeland et al., 2009; Ahmad et al., 2011, Arnberger and Eder, 2011; Arnberger and Eder, 2012;
linked to the findings for the benefits of parks for promoting social cohesion provided in the next
section) and cooling or thermal comfort to mitigate health consequences by exaggerated heat
(Bowler et al., 2010, Mahmoud, 2011; see also the separate results for cooling benefits).
Only a few studies included comparative environments for controlled studies. These
environments consisted of recreation centres, exercise facilities, and sports facilities (Kaczynski
and Henderson, 2007), where parks were found to be more efficient in stimulating or promoting
physical activity. However, another study showed a better effect on stress levels and restorative
experiences by exercise and activity outdoor areas, waterside areas and urban woodlands
compared to parks (Krenichyn, 2006). The latter study was of qualitative design though, while the
former is a review study and hence providing stronger evidence for the suggested difference.
Other examples were: non-park green neighbourhoods, where parks demonstrated higher levels
of both social support and physical activity (Fan et al., 2011); two well-kept urban settings, more
or less built, were relatively less efficient compared to a park setting to alleviating ADHD-
symptoms (Taylor and Kuo, 2009); streetscape greenery showed the same positive effect on
general health, health-related complaints, and general mental as parks (Van Dillen et al., 2011) as
well as on longevity (Takano et al., 2002b) and obesity (Lovasi et al., 2011); proportion of gardens
and green areas per total land area indicated similar effects on age-adjusted mortality as parks
(Takano et al., 2002a).
Other variables that determined health related park use and activities were for example
distance, facilities and amenities, general quality, park size and total tree canopy, species richness,
time spent and frequency of visits to the park. There were also several studies suggesting a
particular importance for ethnic minorities and immigrants as well as for adolescents (Cohen et al.,
2007; Babey et al., 2008; Stodolska et al., 2011).
Conclusion and strength of the evidence
The quality assessment of the evidence for each output was made in accordance with the protocol
described in the Method chapter of this report. Every outcome is evaluated respectively in a
weighted analysis of the evidence, where also the number of studies on each benefit is considered
in the concluding value.
Increased physical activity. Most of the included studies on indirect health benefits related
to associations between urban parks and physical activity. Taking this into consideration
the evidence for this association should be valued as strong, in spite of the fact that also a
few studies could not prove any effect.
Reduced obesity. Taking all the factors into account, number of studies and quality of
those, the evidence is moderate to strong for this outcome. This reflects, to some extent,
the evidence for physical activity considering that those outcomes are related
Reduced stress. Although several studies are addressing this outcome the evidence is only
Improved self-reported health and mental health. The evidence for these aspects is
Opportunities for recreation, psychological wellbeing, and social support. For these indirect
outcomes the evidence is weak to moderate.
Reduced noise and cooling, and increased longevity. The current evidence is moderate, but
not enough controlled studies are made on the topic, why more research on these effects
is needed before any certain conclusions can be drawn.
Reduced stroke mortality, reduction of ADHD-symptoms, and reduced
cardiovascular/respiratory morbidity. As each of these outcomes is represented by one
high-quality study respectively, it is difficult to draw any conclusions on strength of the
evidence. However, the findings to date suggest a potentially good effect, but more studies
are needed in order to draw any conclusions or make any evidence grading.
Altogether the conclusion of this review is that there is sufficient evidence for parks as
promoting health indirectly, particularly through increased physical activity. Another result of the
review is that obesity, a main global problem, can probably also be reduced by access to parks.
This seems to be particularly relevant for children. For the remaining promoted health benefits the
tendency is positive and may form a basis for preliminary suggestions, but more research is
needed before evidence-based recommendations can be applied.
Abkar, M., Mustafa Kamal, M.S., Mariapan, M., Maulan, S., Sheybani, M., 2010. The role of urban green spaces in
mood change. Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences 4, 5352-5361.
Ahmad, H., Maulan, S.B., Mariapan, M., Habib, S., 2011. Users' preferences of usability and sustainability of old urban
park in Tabriz, Iran. Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences 5, 1899-1905.
Annerstedt, M., Ostergren, P.-O., Bjork, J., Grahn, P., Skarback, E., Wahrborg, P., 2012. Green qualities in the
neighbourhood and mental health - results from a longitudinal cohort study in Southern Sweden. BMC Public
Health 12, 337.
Arnberger, A., Eder, R., 2011. The influence of age on recreational trail preferences of urban green-space visitors: a
discrete choice experiment with digitally calibrated images. Journal of Environmental Planning and
Management 54, 891-908.
Arnberger, A., Eder, R., 2012. The influence of green space on community attachment of urban and suburban
residents. Urban Forestry and Urban Greening 11, 41-49.
Babey, S.H., Hastert, T.A., Yu, H., Brown, E.R., 2008. Physical activity among adolescents: when do parks matter?
American Journal of Preventive Medicine 34, 345-348.
Bell, J.F., Wilson, J.S., Liu, G.C., 2008. Neighborhood greenness and 2-year changes in body mass index of children and
youth. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 35, 547.
Björk, J., Albin, M., Grahn, P., Jacobsson, H., Ardö, J., Wadbro, J., Östergren, P., Skärbäck, E., 2008. Recreational values
of the natural environment in relation to neighbourhood satisfaction, physical activity, obesity and wellbeing.
Journal of epidemiology and community health 62, e2.
Bowler, D.E., Buyung-Ali, L., Knight, T.M., Pullin, A.S., 2010. Urban greening to cool towns and cities: A systematic
review of the empirical evidence. Landscape and Urban Planning 97, 147-155.
Chen, W.Y., Jim, C.Y., 2008. Cost-benefit analysis of the leisure value of urban greening in the new Chinese city of
Zhuhai. Cities 25, 298-309.
Cohen, D.A., Mckenzie, T.L., Sehgal, A., Williamson, S., Golinelli, D., Lurie, N., 2007. Contribution of public parks to
physical activity. American Journal of Public Health 97, 509-514.
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Urban parks and social cohesion
Introduction to the benefit
Urban parks have been viewed as an important part of urban and community development rather
than just as settings for recreation and leisure. Urban parks have been suggested to facilitate
social cohesion by creating space for social interactions (e.g., Coley et al., 1997; Kuo et al., 1998;
Van Herzele and Wiedemann, 2003; Parr, 2007; Maas et al., 2009).
Social cohesion is defined as the extent to which a geographical place achieves ‘community’
in the sense of shared values, cooperation and interaction (Beckley, 1995). Public spaces such as
urban parks are potentially of importance because they cater the opportunities for high levels of
interaction between persons of different social and ethnic background (Lofland, 1998; Fainstein,
2005). For the development of local communities and social ties people have to be able to meet to
establish relationship (Völker et al., 2007). In addition, interacting with others helps people to
participate in society and to create feelings of acceptance (Putnam, 2000).
Globalization has resulted in increasing levels of migration over the past decades. This
means some of the old, formerly rather homogenous nations are becoming more and more
multicultural (Kærgård, 2010). This has raised political questions related to integration and social
Most of the contacts between people will occur in places like local recreation facilities,
schools, churches and parks (Kuo et al., 1998; Völker et al., 2007). The presence of trees (and
shade) and grass in common spaces compared to barren spaces may attract residents to outdoor
spaces, which enhances opportunities for the people to get connected (Coley et al., 1997).
Although several authors have highlighted the role of urban parks in social cohesion, not
many of these claims have been supported by empirical evidence. This part of the systematic
review therefore assesses articles presenting empirical evidence for the social cohesion benefits of
urban parks.
Search information
In the search, the primary search terms as introduced in the Method chapter were combined with
the following secondary search terms: “social ties” OR “social cohesion” OR “social capital” OR
“social inclusion”. This search generated 16 hits in Scopus and 3 in Web of Science. Evaluation of
these 19 articles resulted in 4 articles to be included after omitting duplicates. To these, 1 article
was added through snowballing (Ravenscroft and Markwell, 2000), leading to a total dataset of 5
articles (see Appendix, Table A2).
Key findings
Background information
Out of the five papers reviewed, two of the studies were undertaken in the Netherlands (Peters
2010, Peters et al., 2010), and one article each originated from Switzerland (Seeland et al., 2009),
the UK (Ravenscroft and Markwell, 2010) and the USA (Fan et al., 2011). Four of the articles had
the general public as their respondents, while two of the studies specifically focused on teenagers.
Two other studies looked at teenagers. Four of the studies looked into the function of urban parks
regarding social cohesion or integration among different ethnic groups and autochthones. In terms
of methodology, most studied applied mixed methods, with one study taking a purely qualitative
Urban parks as contributors to social inclusion and cohesion
Majority of the studies agreed that urban parks have more potential for social inclusion to occur
than anywhere else because the easy access compared to other places in a city. Urban parks also
provide facilities for leisure activities which attracts people to come. Social cohesion is enhanced
when the people are engaged in an activity which connects them together e.g., organising an
event, cycling, football.
Nevertheless, the social interaction which stimulates social cohesion among the people is
mainly cursory and comprises informal interactions. Most of the people in the park have only a
short chat with or just greet strangers, or they do not talk at all. Most of the time people visit the
park with someone they know beforehand, e.g., friends or family members.
Most of the studies were based on observations of how people interact in urban parks, or
on interviews which are focusing on finding out about the intention of social interaction and the
meaning of the behaviour towards other people in the park. Only one study (Fan et al., 2011) used
some form of indicators for measuring social cohesion, such as loneliness, feeling disliked and
people being unfriendly, and subsequently generated models to explain the relationship between
physical activity, social support and stress. However, none of the reviewed articles proved on the
base of conclusive evidence that urban parks can enhance social cohesion.
Conclusion and strength of the evidence
The strength of the evidence of the respective papers was assessed based on e.g., the type of
paper (with e.g., meta-analysis and systematic reviews representing the strongest evidence),
rigidity of the scientific approach and the quality of the dataset e.g., in terms of number of
respondents and randomization (as outlined in the quality assessment criteria presented in the
Method chapter of this report). Four of the studies were evaluated as weak in terms of strength of
the evidence provided, while only one was regarded as providing moderate evidence. Overall, it
seems that the topic of how urban parks impact social cohesion has not been given much
attention in the scientific literature, at least not since the year 2000.
In conclusion, there are some indications that parks promote social cohesion, but the
strength of the evidence is weak due to the very small number of studies as well as the quality of
those studies found.
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urban public housing. Environment & Behavior 29, 468-494.
Fan, Y., Das, K.V., Chen, Q., 2011. Neighborhood green, special support, physical activity and stress: assessing the
cumulative impact. Health & Place, 17: 1202-1211.
Fainstein, S.S., 2005. Cities and diversity. Urban Affairs Review 41, 3-19.
Kærgård, N., 2010. Social cohesion and the transformation from ethnic to multicultural society: The case of Denmark.
Ethnicities 10(4), 470-487.
Lofland, L.H., 1998. In: The Public Realm: Exploring the City’s Quintessential Social Territory. Aldine de Gruyter, New
Maas, J., van Dillen, S.M.E., Verheij, R.A., Groenewegen, P.P. 2009. Social contacts as a possible mechanism behind the
relation between green space and health. Health & Place 15, 586-595.
Parr, H., 2007. Mental health, nature work and social inclusion. Environment & Planning D: Society & Space 25(3), 537-
Peters, K., 2010. Being together in urban parks: connecting public space, leisure and diversity. Leisure Sciences 32,
Peters, K., Elands, B., Buijs, A., 2010. Social interactions in urban parks: stimulating social cohesion? Urban Forestry &
Urban Greening 9, 93-100.
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Putnam, R., 2000. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Simon and Schuster, NY.
Ravenscroft, N., Markwell, S., 2000. Ethnicity and the integration and exclusion of young people through urban park
and recreation provision. Managing Leisure 5, 135-150.
Seeland, K., Dübendorfer, S., Hansmann, R., 2009. Making friends in Zurich’s urban forests and parks: The role of
public green space for social inclusion of youths from different cultures. Forest Policy & Economics 11, 10-17.
Van Herzele, A., Wiedemann, T., 2003. A monitoring tool for the provision of accessible and attractive urban green
spaces. Landscape & Urban Planning 63, 109-126.
Völker, B., Flap, H.D. & Lindenberg, S. 2007. When are neighborhoods communities? Community in Dutch
neighborhoods. European Sociological Review 23, 99-114.
Urban parks and tourism
Introduction to the benefit
Urban parks do not only provide recreational settings to local residents. Also visitors from out-of-
town will use these green spaces. In some cases, especially high-profile parks such as Central Park
in New York are even major tourist attractions in their own right.
This section reviews articles that have looked at the role of urban parks in tourism. Authors
have stated that green spaces, such an urban forest, can play an important role in attracting
tourists to urban areas, e.g., by enhancing the attractiveness of cities and as a complement to
other urban attractions (Majumdar et al., 2011). Wu et al. (2010) mention that within the field of
eco-tourism, defined as responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and
improves the well-being of local people (TIES, 1990), there has been increasing attention to urban
ecotourism, defined by the Urban Ecotourism Conference in 2004 as nature travel and
conservation in a city environment. Probably due to their land limitations, especially many Asian
island regions, including Singapore and Hong Kong, have promoted urban ecotourism actively, and
have mixed it with urban tourism.
Search information
For the review of literature on the tourism aspect, the primary search terms as referring to urban
parks were combined with the following secondary search terms: “touris*” OR “holiday*” OR
“vacation*”, in order to find articles that specifically addressed non-resident leisure use of parks.
The Scopus search resulted in 49 articles, of which 9 were considered to be (possibly)
relevant based on an evaluation of titles and abstracts. The Web of Science search led to 33
articles, with 6 identified as (possibly) relevant. All of these were overlapping with the earlier
Scopus search, thus leaving 9 articles for further analysis. Reading through these 9 articles led to a
further exclusion of 2 papers, two of which dealt with the impacts of ‘grey’, inner-city living on
leisure travel. Through snowballing, another relevant article was found (Deng et al., 2010). Thus, in
all 8 articles were included (see Appendix, Table A3).
Key findings
Very few studies to date have specifically looked at how attractive urban parks are to tourists
and whether parks play a role in tourists’ decision to travel to certain cities. For the case of the
Indian city of Chandigarh, Chaudhry and Tewari (2010) interviewed 904 domestic tourists. More
than 1/4th of these considered urban parks and gardens as they main factor in making the city
attractive, surpassing e.g., architecture and culture. The large majority of the tourists (89%)
considered urban greenery very important from a tourism perspective. In a small-scale study of a
Hong Kong park (Wong and Domroes, 2004), 28% of the interviewed tourists stressed that they
enjoyed the parks of Hong Kong ‘very much’. In a study of visitors to Savannah, Georgia, USA,
Deng et al. (2010) found that the 306 respondents considered urban forests (including parks) as
being the major contributor to the city’s beauty, image, attractiveness and visitors’ tourism
experience, although for example historical attractions and amusement facilities ranked higher.
In their Delphi-study amongst 25 experts on ecotourism in Taiwan, Wu et al. (2010) found
that ‘environmental factors’ were considered crucial to successful ecotourism.
Villella et al. (2006) studied visitation of the new Thames Barrier Park in London, which had
tourism among its initial objectives. Nine percent of all visitors to the park came from outside
London, and 2% from outside the UK, showing that local residents were by far the largest user
One could wonder whether tourists have different expectations from urban parks than local
residents. Work on this topic was carried out in Kowloon Park of Hong Kong by Wong and
Domroes (2004, 2005). In these studies, a rather small number of 36 tourists (61% of whom turned
out to be first time visitors) were enrolled and their use and preferences were compared with
those of local users. Tourist preferences were not that different from those of local users, for
example in terms of liking open spaces, water, shady places, as well as places for strolling and
sitting. Differences were noted in e.g., ways of getting to the park. Moreover, tourists were
generally more satisfied with the park than local residents (Wong and Domroes, 2004). The
authors also compared scores for visual qualities of the park, as well as so-called likeability indices
(Wong and Domroes, 2005). Here differences between residents and tourists were noted, with
tourists for example stating a higher preference for Chinese garden landscapes. With regards to
the most-disliked scenes local residents were more sensitive to the utility aspect of the scenes and
tourists to the overall upkeep of the park. Both groups expressed general preferences for greenery
and water, and a dislike of built surfaces.
A study by LIaghati et al. (2010) showed that tourists to ‘green’ sites (including urban parks)
in Tehran, Iran had different landscape preferences according to e.g., age and gender. However,
this study has major weaknesses in terms of methodology at least judging from the paper.
The study by Majumdar et al. (2011) in Savannah, Georgia, USA attempted to address the
possible economic impacts of green spaces on urban tourism. In the study, tourists’ willingness to
pay for the city’s urban forest (exemplified through for example parks, but also through e.g., street
trees) was assessed. The study estimated the annual value of Savannah’s urban forests to tourists
to be in the range of 81 to 167 million USD, with a 95% confidence interval. The study also noted
large differences in tourists’ willingness to pay, with loyal and better off tourists being willing to
pay more.
Conclusion and strength of the evidence
The strength of the evidence of the respective papers was assessed based on e.g., the type of
paper (with e.g., meta-analysis and systematic reviews representing the strongest evidence),
rigidity of the scientific approach and the quality of the dataset e.g., in terms of number of
respondents and randomization (as outlined in the quality assessment criteria presented in the
Method chapter of this report). Five of the studies were evaluated as weak in terms of strength of
the evidence provides, while only two (Deng et al., 2010; Majumdar et al., 2011; both studies
addressing green spaces in Savannah, Georgia) were regarded as providing moderate evidence.
Overall, the topic of how urban parks impact tourism has not been given much attention in the
scientific literature, at least not since the year 2000.
In conclusion, there are some indications that parks have touristic benefits, but the strength
of the evidence is weak, due to the very small number of studies as well as the quality of those
studies found. The study in Hong Kong, for example, had a very small and non-representative
sample of tourists. The economic impact of parks on tourism was only addressed in the work by
Majumdar et al. (2011) Savannah, Georgia. Although the evidence provided by this study outranks
that of the other studies, the problem is that findings were not specifically related to urban parks,
but rather to the city’s entire ‘urban forest’. This type of contingent valuation studies is also highly
dependent on the local (economic) context.
Chaudhry, P., Tewari, V.P., 2010. Role of public parks/gardens in attracting domestic tourists: An example from city
Beautiful of India. Tourismos 5(1), 101-110.
Liaghati, H., Khoshbakht, K., Mahmodi, H., Koucakzade, M., Omidvar, P., 2010. Exploring characteristics and profile of
urban ecotourism (a case study from Tehran). Journal of Environmental Studies 36(55), 25-36.
Majumdar, S., Deng, J., Zhang, Y., Pierskalla, C., 2011. Using contingent valuation to estimate the willingness of tourists
to pay for urban forests: A study in Savannah, Georgia. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 10(4), 275-280.
TIES (The International Ecotourism Society), 1990. Definition of ecotourism. Retrieved on October 18, 2012 from
Villella, J., Sellers, G., Moffat, A.J., Hutchings, T.R., 2006. From contaminated site to premier urban greenspace:
Investigating the success of Thames Barrier Park, London. WIT Transactions on Ecology and the Environment
94, 153-162.
Wong, K.-K., Domroes, M., 2004. Users' perception of Kowloon Park, Hong Kong: Visiting patterns and scenic aspects.
Chinese Geographical Science 14(3), 269-275
Wong, K.-K. , Domroes, M., 2005. The visual quality of urban park scenes of Kowloon Park, Hong Kong: Likeability,
affective appraisal, and cross-cultural perspectives. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 32(4),
Wu, Y.-Y., Wang, H.-L., Ho, Y.-F., 2010. Urban ecotourism: Defining and assessing dimensions using fuzzy number
construction. Tourism Management 31(6), 739-743.
Urban parks and house prices
Introduction to the benefit
Different ways of estimating the economic value of nature have been explored over time.
Especially in an urban setting, a way of indirectly assessing the economic value of green spaces is
to study the impact of these spaces on house prices. If for example parks are valued by property
buyers, this would be reflected in the premium they are willing to pay for the house or apartment.
Quite a number of studies carried out, especially during 1990s.
In a (non-systematic) review of 30 studies that addressed the impact of parks on property
prices, Crompton (2001) went as far back as the 1940s, while also looking at e.g., the property
price increases due to the establishment of Central Park in New York. Among the 30 studies, the
author found only 5 not supporting the proximity principle i.e. that having a park nearby raises
property prices. He even mentions that a price increase of 20% seems a reasonable starting point.
Other studies, such as the work by Luttik (2000) in the Netherlands found that overlooking
attractive landscapes and water resulted in a price premium of 8-12 respectively 6-12%. Cho et al.
(2008) studied the impact of forests on property prices in Knoxville City, USA and also found a
positive impact on property prices caused by proximity of green spaces.
Here we only look at studies that have specifically included urban parks, rather than other
types of green space.
Search information
The primary keywords were combined with two sets of secondary keywords: 1) “hous*” OR
“dwelling*” OR “residen*” OR “propert*” as combined (‘AND’) with “hedonic*” OR “pric*” OR
“valu*” OR “market*”. A search for these terms resulted in 173 articles in Scopus, and 86 in Web
of Science. In both of these sets, 19 articles were evaluated as relevant based on title and abstract,
while 14 articles were overlapping. Evaluation of the 24 articles led to the further exclusion of 4 (3
not relevant, 1 not available online). Through snowballing, 3 articles were added, resulting in a
total of 23 articles studying the impact of urban parks on property prices (houses, apartments,
residential plots) (see Appendix, Table A4).
Key findings
Background information
In terms of article authorship, 10 of the papers are written by experts from North America, 8
in Asia (China, Japan and Hong Kong), 6 in Europe (including the mentioned meta-analysis) and 1
in Australia.
The large majority of the studies included (n=19) applied a hedonic pricing approach to
assess the impact of nearby parks on house prices. In hedonic pricing, sales data for properties are
used and a model is built to disaggregate an observed price into a set of unobserved marginal
implicit prices. Parts of the property value are related to different characteristics of the property
and its surroundings. Typical property characteristics to include are, e.g., size, number of rooms,
age of the property, while environmental characteristics can include location, proximity of
important facilities such as schools and shops, but also green spaces. GIS modelling is used to
assess the distance to for example the nearest park. Other methods applied by the studies include
contingent valuation (e.g., willingness to pay and stated preference of homeowners) (n=4). One
article, by Brander and Koetse (2011) comprised a meta-analysis of the economic value of open
space. This meta-study assessed 20 contingent valuation studies (of which 3 on parks and green
space) and 12 hedonic pricing studies (with 8 including parks).
The number of property sales included in the datasets ranged from 112 to 24862. Typically
house prices were only studied in one city or city region, and only at one moment in time / time
interval, rather than compared over time.
Parks mostly have a positive impact on property prices
The meta-analysis by Brander and Koetse (2011) concluded that open spaces in general, as well as
specifically parks generally raise the value of nearby properties, be it houses or apartments. The
large majority of the other articles and studied confirm these picture, although the precise impact
on property value ranges widely among cities and countries. Therefore caution is needed when
transferring results. The same study also compared urban parks with other types of green spaces
and concludes that urban parks are more highly valued than for example forests and agricultural
Not only property owners but also renters are affected, as Hoshino and Kuriyama (2010)
found for one of Tokyo’s wards. Their study of 2370 dwellings found a positive price effect (i.e.
higher rents) when a nearby park was situated within 450 m. Medium-sized parks in particular led
to higher increases. Park size is a factor, but studies indicate that even smaller green patches can
have a positive influence. Kumagai and Yamada (2012) found a positive impact on land prices also
for smaller green patches, although land prices increased proportionally with larger green patch
coverage ratios.
Proximity is a key factor, as the price impact of nearby parks falls with increasing distance to
the property. In their meta-analysis, Brander and Koetse (2011) found a 0.1% increase in house
price with a 10 m decrease in distance from the park. Studies from Asia, Europe and North
America confirm the principle that the value impact of parks increases with proximity. Kong et al.
(2007) found higher house values for those properties with green space within a 300 m radius. In a
study involving a large dataset of 16,000 property house sales, Tajima (2003) noted that a doubling
of distance to parks led to a 6% drop in property price. A much cited study by Morancho (2003) of
810 residential dwellings in the Spanish city of Castellón found a drop in house price of 1800 EUR
when moving 100 m away from the nearest green space. It has to be noted that the methodology
for this study was not very well explained in the paper, so the findings need to be seen in the light
of this. Sander and Polasky (2009) noted that a decreasing distance to the nearest open space,
including parks, increases house sale prices in Ramsey County, Minnesota, USA.
Although Dehring and Dunse (2006) found proximity to parks raised prices of houses and
flats in Aberdeen, they did not find an effect for lower density type housing. This could be due to
e.g., the higher amount of private gardens in this type of housing.
Proximity to parks means that it is convenient to use the park for recreation purposes, but
also that it possibly is visible from the house or apartment. Studied in the Chinese cities of
Guangzhou and Shenzhen by Jim and Chen (2006, 2007; and Chen and Jim, 2010) showed that the
visibility of urban parks is generally valued positively by property owners. A survey among 358
households in Shenzhen indicated an increase of close to 5% of house sale prices due to park
visibility, with increased distance leading for a decrease in the price premium. In Guangzhou, the
price increase found was 7.1%, with only water bodies scoring higher than parks. The positive
impact of a green view was also found in central Melbourne, Australia, where building and
industry led to negative impacts on property values (Bishop et al., 2004). In a study in Greece, the
authors came to similar findings using a different methodology, namely a Fuzzy Delphi Approach
involving rankings by local real estate experts. View to an urban park was expected to attract a
price premium on property ranging from 8 to 30% (Damigos and Anyfantis, 2011).
Incidentally parks have a negative impact on property values
Several of the studies found some contradicting results and state that some factors can ‘pull down’
the positive effect of parks on property values. Troy and Grove (2008), for example, mention that
crime rates in the neighbourhood are an important factor. In their study in Baltimore, Maryland,
USA, they found that combined robbery and rape rates for a neighbourhood need to be below a
certain threshold level (i.e. between 406 and 484% of the national average for these crimes). Chen
and Jim (2010) found in their study in Shenzen, China that parks within 500 metres from the
property did not have a significant impact on property prices, and highlighted potential negative
effects such as noise by users, unruly behaviour, as well as crime. Kong et al. (2007) came to
similar conclusions for Jinan, China, referring to negative impacts of parks in terms of noise and
neon lights. In another Chinese city, Wuhan, while city level parks had a positive effect on house
price, larger district level parks had not (Jiao and Liu, 2010). Noise is also mentioned as an
explanation for some negative findings for larger-sized parks in Tokyo (Hoshino and Kuriyama,
2010). Cho et al. (2006) noted negative price effects of some parks in Knox County, Tennessee.
Conclusion and strength of the evidence
The strength of the evidence of the respective papers was assessed based on e.g., the type of
paper (with e.g., meta-analysis and systematic reviews representing the strongest evidence),
rigidity of the scientific approach and the quality of the dataset (as outlined in the quality
assessment criteria presented in the Method chapter of this report). Most studies involved
hedonic pricing, which means that ‘proxy’ values are used. Moreover, the sophistication of the
explanatory model can differ. It was seen as strength if studies included data from multiple sites
and not just one city. None of the studies had repeated measurements. A specific focus on urban
parks and especially a comparison between the impact of parks and other types of green space
was also seen as strength. Based on these criteria, one study as evaluated as strong, namely the
meta-analysis by Brander and Koetse (2011), while 11 studies presented moderate to strong
evidence and a further 6 moderate evidence that nearby parks provide benefits as reflected by
higher property prices. The final six studies were evaluated as weak to moderately weak, e.g., due
to unclear methodology or lack of scientific rigor.
Based on this quality assessment, there is moderate to strong evidence that urban parks
have a positive impact on the value of nearby property (houses, apartments, land), although it is
important to keep the limitations of the hedonic pricing methods applied in the large majority of
the studies - in mind. Parks have a greater impact on property values than other types of green
spaces. The positive impact relates to both possibilities for recreational use and views over the
parks. Positive impacts increase with proximity to the park and drops quite rapidly with increasing
distance to the park. However, there are cases when parks do not have a positive impact, for
example due to crime, noise and light pollution. Moreover, due to large differences in local
conditions it is very difficult to generalise specific price increases as e.g., related to distance.
Amrusch, P., Feilmayr, W., 2009. Nonmarket valuation of inner-city ecological values. Ecosystems and Sustainable
Development II 122, 415-424.
Anderson, S.T., West, S.E., 2006. Open space, residential property values, and spatial context. Journal of Regional
Science and Urban Economics 36, 773-789.
Bark, R.H., Osgood, D.E., Colby, B.G., Halper, E.B., 2011. How Do Homebuyers Value Different Types of Green Space?
Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics 36(2), 395-415.
Bishop, I.D., Lange, E., Mahbubul, A.M., 2004. Estimation of the influence of view components on high-rise apartment
pricing using a public survey and GIS modeling. Environment and Planning B: Planning & Design 31(3), 439-452.
Bolitzer, B., Netusil, N.R., 2000. The impact of open spaces on property values in Portland, Oregon. Journal of
Environmental Management 59(3), 185-193.
Brander, L.M., Koetse, M.J., 2011. The value of urban open space: Meta-analyses of contingent valuation and hedonic
pricing results. Journal of Environmental Management 92(10), 2763-2773.
Chen, W.Y., Jim, C.Y., 2010. Amenities and disamenities: A hedonic analysis of the heterogeneous urban landscape in
Shenzhen (China). Geographical Journal 176(3), 227-240.
Cho, S.-H., Bowker, J.M., Park, W.M., 2006. Measuring the contribution of water and green space amenities to housing
values: An application and comparison of spatially weighted hedonic models. Journal of Agricultural and
Resource Economics 31(3), 485-507.
Cho, S., Poudyal, N.C., Roberts, R.K., 2008. Spatial analysis of the amenity value of green open space. Ecological
Economics 66, 403-416.
Crompton, J.L., 2001. The impact of parks on property values: a review of the empirical evidence. Journal of Leisure
Research 33(1), 1-31.
Damigos, D., Anyfantis, F., 2011. The value of view through the eyes of real estate experts: A Fuzzy Delphi Approach.
Landscape and Urban Planning 101(2), 171-178.
Dehring, C., Dunse, N., 2006. Housing density and the effect of proximity to public open space in Aberdeen,
Scotland. Real Estate Economics 34(4), 553-566.
Hoshino, T., Kuriyama, K., 2010. Measuring the benefits of neighbourhood park amenities: Application and
comparison of spatial hedonic approaches. Environmental & Resource Economics 45(3), 429-444.
Jiao, L., Liu, Y., 2010. Geographic Field Model based hedonic valuation of urban open spaces in Wuhan, China.
Landscape and Urban Planning 98(1), 47-55.
Jim, C.Y., Chen, W.Y., 2006. Impacts of urban environmental elements on residential housing prices in Guangzhou
(China). Landscape and Urban Planning 78(4), 422-434.
Jim, C.Y., Chen, W.Y., 2007. Consumption preferences and environmental externalities: A hedonic analysis of the
housing market in Guangzhou. Geoforum 38(2), 414-431.
Geoghegan, J., 2002. The value of open spaces in residential land use. Land Use Policy 19, 91-98. Lutzenhiser, M.,
Netusil, N., 2001. The effect of open spaces on a home’s sale price. Contemporary Economic Policy 19, 291-298.
Khorshiddoust, A.M., 2009. The application of hedonic pricing method in estimating the relationship between services
levels, the pollution and house prices in selected areas of Tabriz. Journal of Environmental Studies 35(51), 81-
Kong, F., Yin, H., Nakagoshi, N., 2007. Using GIS and landscape metrics in the hedonic price modeling of the amenity
value of urban green space: A case study in Jinan City, China. Landscape and Urban Planning 79(3-4), 240-252.
Kumagai, Y., Yamada, Y., 2008. Green space relations with residential values in downtown Tokyo - Implications for
urban biodiversity conservation. Local Environment 13(2), 141-157.
Luttik, J., 2000. The value of trees, water and open space as reflected by house prices in The Netherlands. Landscape
and Urban Planning 48, 161-167.
Morancho, A.B., 2003. A hedonic valuation of urban green areas. Landscape and Urban Planning 66(1), 35-41.
Qiu, Z., Prato, T., Boehm, G., 2006. Economic valuation of riparian buffer and open space in a suburban watershed.
Journal of the American Water Resources Association 42(6), 1583-1596.
Sander, H.A., Polasky, S., 2009. The value of views and open space: Estimates from a hedonic pricing model for
Ramsey County, Minnesota, USA. Land Use Policy 26(3), 837-845.
Tajima, K., 2003. New estimates of the demand for urban green space: Implications for valuing the environmental
benefits of Boston's big dig project. Journal of Urban Affairs 25(5), 641-655.
Troy, A., Grove, J.M., 2008. Property values, parks, and crime: A hedonic analysis in Baltimore, MD. Landscape and
Urban Planning 87(3), 233-245.
Urban parks and biodiversity
Introduction to the benefit
During the past decade research on urban biodiversity has become momentous - not only because
of the increasing impact of urbanization on natural ecosystems, but also because of the growing
recognition of urban areas as hosts for innovative ways to conserve and promote biodiversity
(Savard et al., 2000). The latter is illustrated by various global environmental conventions such as
the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, the 2007 Curitiba Declaration on Cities and
Biodiversity, and the Global Partnership on Cities and Biodiversity launched by among others the
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP 2012). Researchers have stated that urban parks,
due to their often high levels of habitat diversity and microhabitat heterogeneity, can constitute
particularly important hotspots for biodiversity in the cityscape, albeit their primary role is
recreational (e.g., Cornelis and Hermy, 2004).
This section reviews articles that have looked at the impact of urban parks on biodiversity in
the cityscape. While the concept of biodiversity embraces both the ecosystem, the species, and
the gene levels most research on urban biodiversity has focused on the species level, simply
because it is well defined, quantifiable, and easily monitored (Farinha-Marques et al., 2011).
Accordingly, we limit the review to this species dimension of biodiversity. We focus on species
richness and omit species abundance, because the studies where abundance is included in
diversity metrics tend to yield similar patterns (McKinney, 2008).
Search information
For the review of literature on aspects of species richness of urban parks, the primary search terms as
referring to urban parks were combined with the secondary search terms “biodiversity” OR “species
The search generated 266 hits in Scopus and 175 hits in Web of Science. After screening of
title and abstracts 66 potentially eligible papers were retrieved from Scopus and 56 from Web of
Sciences. However, several of the papers overlapped between the two databases. Eventually 62
papers were included in the review (see Appendix, Table A5).
Key findings
Background information
The articles reported empirical research from 25 different countries, representing Europe (n=20),
Asia (n=19), North America (n=13), South and Latin America (n=5), and Oceania (n=4), while one
article involved researchers from different continents. On average each study examined 24.7 sites
of which 17.7 were parks. As much as 76% of the studies examined one species group only (and
mostly one fauna group), while only four studies examined both flora and fauna groups, all of
which were conducted in Europe. Birds comprised the most examined species group, being
covered in 48.4% of the studies (n=30). Invertebrates and vascular plants were also fairly
commonly studied, included in 30.6% (n=19) respectively 27.4% (n=17) of the studies. In
comparison, studies of mammals, amphibians, reptiles and bryophytes were limited in numbers
(see Appendix, Table A5).
Parks often have higher species richness than other types of urban green space
In 14 studies the species richness levels of urban parks were compared to those in other types of
specified green space including urban and peri-urban woodlands, gardens, green roofs, plantings
along roadsides, residential areas, institutional grounds, derelict/ ruderal sites, seminatural
grassland and nature reserves in the urban hinterland. In 64.3% of these studies (n=9) urban parks
were the most species rich type of urban green spaces (see Appendix, Fig. A1). This was true in
two studies of birds (Kler, 2006; Carbo-Ramirez and Zuria, 2011) and one study of birds and
mammals (Sorace, 2001). For vascular plants Liang et al. (2008) found parks to be more species
rich than green belts and streets in Beijing, while Turner et al. (2005) concluded for Halifax,
Canada that vascular plant species richness was higher in residential neighbourhoods than in
forest plots within semi-natural urban parks, but this was due to a much higher representation of
exotic species in the residential areas. For woody plants two out of three studies of plants found
parks to be the more species rich than riverside green space and street niches (Jim and Chen,
2008, 2009). However, in a study of tree species diversity in Guangzhou, China institutional
grounds contained more species than parks (Jim and Liu, 2001). For invertebrates Pacheco and
Vasconcelos (2007) found parks to be the urban green space type that represented highest species
diversity of ants in the city of Uberlândia, Brazil, but the species richness in urban parks was lower
than in nature reserves. Tonietto et al. (2011) concluded that parks in Chicago, USA contained
more bee species than other types of urban green space, with species richness being nearly at the
same level as remnant of prairies. For isopod species in Budapest, the species richness in urban
parks was lower than in old gardens and urban woodlands (Vilisics and Hornung, 2009). For
butterflies, however, Koh and Sodhi (2004) found that those urban parks in Singapore that had
adjoining forest had a higher number of species and abundance than forest remnants, while
Öckinger et al. (2009) identified that both species richness and density of butterflies were higher in
ruderal sites within Malmö, Sweden than in traditional and semi-natural parks. For bryophytes,
Oishi (2012) concluded that species richness was higher in a Japanese garden compared to an
urban park in the city of Kanazawa, Japan.
Exotic species are a major component of species richness in parks
Species richness comprises both native and exotic species. Information about the relative
distribution between native and exotic species specifically in urban parks could be extracted from
15 studies (Appendix, Fig. A2). Seven of these concerned flora groups and nine examined fauna
groups. Synthesis of the studies of plants shows that exotics accounted for a mean of 41.8% of
woody species in urban parks (variation between 6.2% and 66.3% in three studies) and 42.6% of all
vascular plants in urban parks (variation between 17.2% and 66.0% in four studies). Studies of
fauna species groups generally reported exotics to account for lower shares compared to those
reported for plants. Six studies examined the relationships for birds. They reported between 3.1%
and 14% of the sighted bird species to be exotics, with an average of 8.1 %. For invertebrates,
Tonietto et al. (2011) found that 17% of the bee species observed in urban parks of Chicago were
exotics. Vilisics and Hornung (2009) reported 9.6% of the soil macrofauna in urban parks of
Budapest, Hungary, to be exotics, while urban parks within the city of Uberlândia, Brazil, were
apparently free of exotic ant species (Pacheco and Vaconcelos 2007).
Less urbanised, less isolated, larger and more diverse parks often harbour more native species
Several of the studies have looked into the reasons for certain green spaces harbouring higher
species diversity. Multiple scales and spatial attributes interact in shaping the overall richness of
species in urban parks, and many studies have adopted analyses and tests of confounding variables
at different levels of spatial resolution. Fourteen studies applied the urban-rural gradient approach
in analysis of confounding variables for species richness of urban parks. The results across these
studies echoes that increased level of urbanisation causes decreased species richness and changes
in the species assemblages of especially the fauna in urban parks towards more generalist species
(urban exploiters and urban adaptors) and exotics, while specialist species and other area sensitive
species (urban avoiders) fade out. This was true for birds, bees, ants, beetles, butterflies but also
vascular plants. (Atchison and Rodewald, 2006; Pacheco and Vasconcelos, 2007; Smith, 2007;
Murgui, 2009; Hernandez et al., 2009; Jim and Chen, 2009; Vignoli et al., 2009; Öckinger et al.,
2009; Magura et al., 2010; Biadun and Zmihorski, 2011; Lizeé et al., 2011; Konvika and Kadlec,
2011; MacGregor-Fors and Ortega-Àlvarez, 2011; Oliver et al., 2011). However, in many of the
studies the loss of native species was masked by influx of exotic species and generalist species
tolerating a wide range of habitat conditions, resulting in a stable number of species in parks along
the gradient (e.g., Magura et al., 2010). The urban-rural gradient can also be regarded as a habitat-
loss gradient (McKinney, 2002) where parks and other green space often feature as more or less
isolated ‘green islands’ in an ‘urban ocean’ of built up structure. Isolation effects occur when the
urban matrix is impermeable to dispersal (Garden et al., 2010). Of the papers reviewed, 20 studied
isolation effects. As much as 19 of these were restricted to one fauna species groups. Birds were
the most studied species group, with ten studies. Though research has been conducted in
different regions of the world (see Appendix, Table A1) it consistently concludes that isolation
influences urban bird species richness and assemblages negatively, but also that the effects of
park size and the parks’ habitat qualities override those of isolation in explaining bird species
richness. In a study of 25 parks in Madrid, Spain, Fernandez-Juricic (2000) found that this was
especially the case in older parks while isolation and urban matrix effects were more pronounced
in younger parks due to their lower habitat diversity and complexity.
However, for invertebrate species, results showed the opposite relationships between park
size and park isolation. Across eight studies the effects of isolation were exclusively found to
override park size as a predictor for species richness of ants, bees, and butterflies (Koh and Sodhi,
2004; Yamaguchi, 2004; McFrederick and LeBuhn, 2006; Pacheco and Vasconcelos, 2007;
Hernandez et al., 2009; Öckinger et al., 2009; Tonietto et al., 2011; Lizée et al., 2012). But, as for
birds habitat diversity and qualities were found to be more important than isolation in
determining overall species richness (McFrederick and LeBuhn, 2006; Tonietto et al., 2011). In fact,
all studies that tested the effect of habitat diversity and qualities, irrespectively of the species
group in focus, found a positive relationship between increased diversity of habitats and increased
species richness.
Conclusion and strength of the evidence
The strength of evidence for the overall species richness levels of urban parks, was assessed e.g.,
based on the species group(s) in focus. Here plant species were regarded as a better surrogate
species than individual fauna species groups (Bräuniger et al., 2010), and studies bridging both flora
and fauna groups as representing the strongest evidence. Other evaluation criteria were based on
those presented in the Method and for example related to the study’s methodological set-up, the
number of cities and parks and other green space types surveyed, and rigidity of the scientific
approach. Based on these criteria, eight studies were evaluated as strong in regards of assessing the
overall biodiversity of urban parks, and providing evidence for parks as biodiversity hotspots in urban
areas. In addition, 15 studies provided moderate evidence and had their main limitation in studying
only one fauna group. The limitation to one species group was also a main cause for 11 studies being
evaluated as providing weak to moderate evidence when it comes to assessing overall species
richness levels, and 28 studies being weak.
In conclusion, there is strong evidence that parks are biodiversity hotspots in the cityscape,
being among the most species rich types of urban green spaces for all species groups that have
been studied. When drawing results across the many studies, it is clear that substantial
components of native species can persist, but also that very large shares of the plants species
found in urban parks are exotics (often around 50%), while exotics constitute much less shares of
fauna species groups. The large number of parks investigated and the wide geographical coverage of
the studies, allows for generalisation of these conclusions at local as well as global scale.
As mentioned, many studies have adopted analyses and tests of confounding variables at
different levels of spatial resolution. While this is widely regarded as a methodological strength
(Savard et al., 2000; Angold et al., 2006; Werner and Zahner, 2010), the studies exclusively used an
observational design which involved inventory and analysis of existing species richness and
community attributes, rather than more controlled study designs such as experiments. This is not
surprising given the types of intervention needed, something which sets obvious limits to the
feasibility of conducting experimental work. Nevertheless, given the absence of experimental
research, drawing results across studies, as done in this review, is important to enable general
conclusions. The main constraint of research to date for assessment of the overall species richness
of urban parks and its drivers is the limitation of individual studies to one or a few species groups,
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Urban parks, air quality and carbon sequestration
Introduction to the benefit
Air pollution is generally considered as a major concern in urban areas, and as being among the
major risk factors contributing to the global burden of disease, with for example high levels of
particulate matter (PM) air pollution being associated with excess mortality and morbidity in the
urban population (Cavanagh et al., 2009). Air pollution relates to a wide range of pollutants, from
PM to SOx and NOx, but als COx (important in terms of climate change mitigation). Cavanagh et al.
(2009) state that various studies have identified the beneficial influence of urban vegetation on
ambient air quality, although most of these studies infer the impact of tree coverage on urban air
quality models rather than from experimental data (e.g., Yang et al., 2005; Nowak et al., 2006;
Escobedo and Nowak, 2009), an exception being Freiman et al. (2006).
Paoletti et al. (2011) mention that pollution removal varies among cities depending on e.g.,
the amount of tree cover, with increased tree cover leading to greater total removal, but also for
example the length of the in-leaf season and a range of meteorological variables that affect tree
transpiration and deposition velocities. Cavanagh et al. (2009) elaborate on the specific role of
urban trees in air pollution reduction, mentioning their effects in terms of intercepting
atmospheric particles and absorbing various gaseous pollutants (also Yin et al., 2011). But trees
can also lower air temperature through transpiration, which affects the photochemistry of ozone
and reduces ozone production. The authors mention, however, that trees can actually also
contribute to air pollution through the emission of so-called volatile organic compounds that can
react in the atmosphere to form ozone in the presence of nitrogen oxides.
Although the impacts of urban trees thus have been studied rather extensively, at least
through urban air quality models, there is indication that (experimental) research specifically on
urban parks has been limited so far (Pataki et al., 2011; Yin et al., 2011). Parks often have high tree
covers and can also have the character of woodland, which is relevant as the deposition of
gaseous pollutants is typically greater in woodlands than in shorter vegetation (Paoletti et al.,
2011). Makhelouf (2009) states that pollution concentrations are usually lower in parks than
outside them, but to motorised traffic and human activity.
It is important to note that vegetation also can have negative impacts by emitting so-called
volatile organic compounds that e.g., can enhance ozone pollution, and by being a source of
allergens (e.g., Pataki et al., 2011).
Search information
The primary search terms related to urban parks were combined with two groups of secondary
search terms: 1) “pollut*” OR “air quality” OR “particle*” OR “atmospheric*” OR “NO*” OR “SO*”
OR “dust” OR “CO”, as combined with (2): “reduc*” OR “buffer*” OR “captur*” OR “lower*” OR
“prevent*” OR “attenuat*”. The Scopus search resulted in 483 articles, with 17 identified as being
potentially relevant based on title and abstract. The Web of Science search resulted in 101 articles,
with 12 being potentially relevant. Out of these, 7 were overlapping, leading to 22 unique articles.
A more thorough analysis of the articles led to exclusion of 14 articles (1 due to lack of availability).
To the remaining 8 articles, 3 were added after snowballing, resulting in a total of 11 articles that
explicitly look at the impacts of parks on air quality and carbon sequestration (see Appendix, Table
Key findings
Parks contribute to reduction of air pollution
When excluding CO (which is dealt with below), 7 studies looked at the air pollution
reduction effect of urban parks. All of these studies found that urban parks help remove air
pollutants. Most of these studies were largely based on modelling work, applying for example
biomass and air pollution uptake relations are described in the literature. Two of the studies apply
the so-called UFORE model for studying air pollution uptake (Paoletti et al., 2011; Tallis et al.,
2011). The work by Beckett et al. (2000) included physiological measurements of the particles
captured by trees at five UK urban sites.
Five of the studies found that urban parks made substantial contributions to the removal of
particles, including PM10 (Beckett et al., 2000; McDonald et al., 2007; Paoletti et al., 2011; Tallis et
al., 2011; Yin et al., 2011), while four of the studies found that parks reduced the levels of other
pollutants, including NOx and SOx (Jim and Chen, 2008; Makhelouf, 2009; Paoletti et al., 2011; Yin
et al., 2011).
Paoletti et al. (2011) carried out a rare longitudinal study, applying the American UFORE
model to look at air pollution reduction by the largest park in Florence, Italy, comparing data for
1984 and 2004. Results showed that the forest growth compensated the losses due to cuttings
and damages by extreme climatic events, so that the overall amount of pollutants removed from
the air did not change (and remained positive) from 1985 to 2004. Although the removal of
pollutants per tree increased over time, the total amounts slightly decreased, still because of the
reduction in the number of trees, so that the total amount of pollutants removed from the air in
the eight plots showed just a small 5% reduction from 1985 to 2004. Modelling was also used by
Yin et al. (2011, 2012) for studies in Shanghai, China. The authors used seasonal monitoring data of
suspended particles (TSP), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) from six parks in the
Pudong district of Shanghai district. Findings showed that vegetation in parks can remove large
amount of airborne pollutants. It could be estimated by regression analysis that in summer, urban
vegetation in Pudong District could contribute to 9.1% of TSP removal, 5.3% of SO2 and 2.6% of
NO2 (Yin et al., 2011). The authors also stress, however, that the removal of air pollutants within
urban vegetation patches is a complex process, which might be affected by various factors, from
local atmospheric chemistry, meteorology, to leaf microstructure and cell physiology at the micro
The study by Jim and Chen (2008) for Guangzhou attempts to study the economic effect of
air pollution reduction by urban parks, and the removal of SO2 and NO2 in particular.
Work by Lam et al. (2005) did not look at air pollutant removal, but rather at differences in
air quality between parks and surrounding areas. The authors studied 70 parks in Hong Kong with
a hybrid approach of air quality measurements and modelling. Results showed that air quality
inside the parks was not substantially better than in the surrounding areas.
Contribution of parks to carbon sequestration
In the context of climate change, the sequestration of carbon by urban trees and other vegetation
plays an important role. Five of the articles included COx removal by urban parks, agreeing that
parks act as ‘carbon sinks’ (Jo, 2002; Makhelouf, 2009; Kordowski and Kuttler, 2010; Davies et al.,
2011; Paoletti et al., 2011). Once again, most of the studies are based on modelling (of vegetation
and pollution) rather than on on-site measurements. Kordowski and Kuttler (2010), however,
measured carbon levels above a park in the city of Essen, Germany for a period of 14 months,
deriving carbon fluxes in the area by modelling. The authors found a small carbon sequestration
effect of the park over the period of an entire year. The rather low net sequestration can be
attributed to the low but existent anthropogenic emissions from the single road crossing the area
and from maintenance activities in the park (lawn mowing, gardening).
Davies et al. (2011) combined modelling work with actual on-site measurements of
vegetation biomass. At the city wide scale, they found that an estimated 231 521 tonnes of carbon
were stored within the above-ground vegetation of Leicester, equating to 3.16 kg C m2 of urban
area, with 97.3% of this carbon pool being associated with trees rather than herbaceous and
woody vegetation. Paoletti et al. (2011) found in their longitudinal analysis of the main park in
Florence, Italy, that the average carbon storage per tree was similar in 1985 and 2004, but the
reduction in the number of trees over time implied a 43% decrease in the carbon store of the
whole forest. Also the annual carbon sequestration per tree was similar in the two years, with a
34% decrease in the total amount sequestered in 2004 relative to 1985.
Conclusion and strength of the evidence
The strength of the evidence of the respective papers was assessed based on e.g., the type of
paper (with e.g., meta-analysis and systematic reviews representing the strongest evidence),
rigidity of the scientific approach and the quality of the dataset (as outlined in the quality
assessment criteria presented in the Method chapter of this report). For this specific benefit, it can
be seen as a drawback that most studies rely on modelling rather than on on-site, physiological
and meteorological measurements. It was seen as strength if studies included data from multiple
sites and not just one city or park, and when the study was longitudinal rather than looking at one
moment in time. Based on these criteria, only one study was assessed as providing moderate to
strong evidence, namely Lam et al. (2005) who looked at air quality in 70 parks in Hong Kong,
combined measurements and modelling, and compared air quality within the parks with the
surrounding areas. Seven of the studies were assessed as providing moderate evidence, one weak
to moderate, and one weak.
Based on this quality assessment, there is weak to moderate evidence that urban parks
improve air quality by capturing pollutants such as SOx, NOx, COx and particles. In the case of COx,
parks thus contribute to carbon sequestration. The body of evidence for individual air pollutants,
however, is very limited (also Pataki et al., 2011). On the other hand, there is extensive literature
on the impact of urban trees in general (i.e. not specifically looking at urban parks) and several of
the studies included in the present review stress the important role of trees as compared to other
woody and non-woody vegetation.
Beckett, K. P., Freer-Smith, P. H., Taylor, G., 2000. The capture of particulate pollution by trees at five contrasting
urban sites. Arboricultural Journal 24, 209-230.
Cavanagh, J.-A.E., Zawar-Reza, P., Wilson, J.G., 2009. Spatial attenuation of ambient particulate matter air pollution
within an urbanised native forest patch. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 8(1), 21-30.
Davies, Z.G., Edmondson, J.L., Heinemeyer, A., Leake, J.R., Gaston, K.J., 2011. Mapping an urban ecosystem service:
Quantifying above-ground carbon storage at a city-wide scale. Journal of Applied Ecology 48(5), 1125-1134.
Escobedo, F.J., Nowak, D.J., 2009. Spatial heterogeneity and air pollution removal by an urban forest. Landscape and
Urban Planning 90(3-4), 102-110.
Jim, C.Y., Chen, W.Y., 2008. Assessing the ecosystem service of air pollutant removal by urban trees in Guangzhou
(China). Journal of Environmental Management 88(4), 665-676.
Jo, H.-K., 2002. Impacts of urban greenspace on offsetting carbon emissions for middle Korea. Journal of
Environmental Management 64, 115-126.
Kordowski, K., Kuttler, W., 2010. Carbon dioxide fluxes over an urban park area. Atmospheric Environment 44, 2722-
Lam, K.-C., Ng, S.-L., Hui, W.-C., Chan, P.-K., 2005. Environmental quality of urban parks and open spaces in Hong Kong.
Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 111(1-3), 55-73.
Makhelouf, A., 2009. The effect of green spaces on urban climate and pollution. Iranian Journal of Environmental
Health Science and Engineering 6(1), 35-40.
McDonald, A.G., Bealey, W.J., Fowler, D., Dragosits, U., Skiba, U., Smith, R.I., Donovan, R.G., Brett, H.E., Hewitt, C.N.,
Nemitz, E., 2007. Quantifying the effect of urban tree planting on concentrations and depositions of PM10 in
two UK conurbations. Atmospheric Environment 41(38), 8455-8467.
Nowak, D.J. , Crane, D.E., 2002. Carbon storage and sequestration by urban trees in the USA. Environmental Pollution,
116, 381389.
Nowak, D.J., Crane, D.E., Stevens, J.C., 2006. Air pollution removal by urban trees and shrubs in the United States.
Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, 4, 115123.
Pataki, D.E., Carreiro, M.M., Cherrier, J., Grulke, N.E., Jennings, V., Pincetl, S., Pouyat, R.V., Whitlow, T.H., Zipperer,
W.C. Coupling biogeochemical cycles in urban environments: ecosystem services, green solutions, and
misconceptions. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 9(1), 27-36.
Paoletti, E., Bardelli, T., Giovannini, G., Pecchioli, L., 2011. Air quality impact of an urban park over time. Procedia
Environmental Sciences 2011(4), 10-16.
Tallis, M, Taylor, G, Sinnett, D, Freer-Smith, P., 2011. Estimating the removal of atmospheric particulate pollution by
the urban tree canopy of London, under current and future environments. Landscape and Urban Planning
103(2), 129-138.
Yang, J., McBride, J., Zhou, J., Sun, Z., 2005. The urban forest in Beijing and its role in air pollution reduction. Urban
Forestry & Urban Greening 3, 65-78.
Yin, S., Shen, Z., Zhou, P., Zou, X., Che, S., Wang, W., 2011. Quantifying air pollution attenuation within urban parks: An
experimental approach in Shanghai, China. Environmental Pollution 159(8-9), 2155-2163.
Urban parks and water management
Introduction to the benefit
Water management is crucial to cities, particularly in times of climate change. Cities often import
water from surrounding areas in addition to converting land cover from vegetated surfaces to
buildings, pavement, and other impervious surfaces. This land-cover change radically alters the
pathways and magnitude of water and pollution flows into, within, and out of urban systems.
Surface water flooding describes the combined flooding in urban areas during heavy rainfall. As
such, it includes pluvial flooding, sewer flooding, flooding from small open-channel and culverted
urban watercourses, and overland flows from groundwater springs. Surface water flooding is
predominantly caused by short duration intense rainfall, occurring locally (Fryd et al., 2011; Pataki
et al., 2011).
Ecosystem-services-based approaches can help regulate the urban water cycle by reducing
the amount of stormwater runoff and to improve water quality by removing pollutants from
runoff. Bioswales, rain gardens, green roofs and other green infrastructure components can help
reduce runoff e.g., due increased infiltration rates for non-paved surfaces. Increased infiltration
would promote groundwater recharge and evapotranspiration from vegetated surfaces, and thus
help to improve climatic conditions in the city (Pauleit and Duhme, 2000; Pataki et al. 2011). Urban
landscapes with 5090% impervious cover can lose 4083% of rainfall to surface runoff (Pataki et
al., 2011).
This part of the review focused on the role of parks in urban water management, with focus
on evidence for reducing the amount of stormwater runoff.
Search information
The primary search terms related to urban parks were combined with the following secondary
search terms: “stormwater*” OR “drain*” OR “flood*” OR “drink*” OR “runoff”. This search
resulted in 127 articles found through Scopus and 68 in Web of Science. Based on title and
abstract, initially 11 resp. 5 were maintained. A more thorough analysis of the remaining papers
led to the including of 4 articles, to which 2 were added through snowballing, resulting in 6
relevant articles (see Appendix, Table A7).
Key findings
Background information
Five of the studies apply modelling to assess the water runoff impact of urban parks (Pauleit and
Duhme, 2000; Kaźmierczak and Cavan, 2011; Peng et al., 2008; Gill et al., 2007; Zhang et al., 2012)
while the remaining study used multi-criteria assessment (Kubal et al., 2009) for integrated flood
risk assessment. All studies were conducted at the level of a city or city region, in Greater
Manchester, UK (2 studies), Leipzig and Munich (Germany), and Beijing and Nanjing (China). In
Nanjing, the CITYgreen model was used to assess a range of environmental services provided by
the city’s urban green spaces (Peng et al., 2008).
Parks contribute to stormwater management
All studies find that urban parks (and urban green space in general) contribute to stormwater
management, with focus on the higher water infiltration rates in urban green spaces as compared
to other urban land use. However, the studies base themselves on previous research that
demonstrated the positive impact of urban green space on management of floods and
stormwater. For Munich, Pauleit and Duhme (2000) found a much lower average impervious
surface share in green spaces as compared to other types of urban land use. Thus parks,
wastelands, and farmlands significantly contributed to groundwater recharge with mean
infiltration rates between 30 and 38%. Moreover, these areas have a much lower surface run off.
Kubal et al. (2009) confirm this for Leipzig, stating that green cover plays a role in the limitation of
flooding and thus recreational green space needs to be taken into account in decision-making on
urban flood risk. The role of green space in limiting of flooding is also stressed by Kaźmierczak and
Cavan (2011). In their study of Greater Manchester, the areas with a large proportion of land
susceptible to surface water flooding tended to have less green space. Gill et al. (2007) also
studied Greater Manchester and use their analyses to argue for more green space to make cities
more resilient and adapted to climate change. In their model, adding green cover reduced
stormwater run-off substantially. Moreover, the authors stress the important role of mature trees
in the water cycle, e.g., through evapotranspiration. The work by Zhang et al. (2012) in Beijing
found that 2494 cubic meters of potential runoff was reduced per hectare of green area and a
total volume of 154 million cubic meters rainwater was stored in these urban green spaces, which
almost corresponds to the annual water needs of the urban ecological landscape in Beijing. The
authors also assessed the economic benefit of this function (which was found to be considerable
and the equivalent of three-quarters of the maintenance costs of the city’s green spaces).
Conclusion and strength of the evidence
The strength of the evidence of the respective papers was assessed based on e.g., the type of
paper (with e.g., meta-analysis and systematic reviews representing the strongest evidence),
rigidity of the scientific approach and the quality of the dataset (as outlined in the quality
assessment criteria presented in the Method chapter of this report). For this specific benefit, it can
be seen as a drawback that the studies rely on modelling rather than on on-site, physiological and
meteorological measurements. It was seen as strength if studies included data from multiple sites
and not just one city or park, and when the study was longitudinal rather than looking at one
moment in time. However, none of the studies included longitudinal data.
Based on this quality assessment and only the studies listed here, there is weak evidence
that urban parks contribute to the management of run-off / stormwater. However, the lower
share of impervious surfaces in parks makes it obvious that infiltration rates are higher and a
range of previous articles (see Pataki et al., 2011 for an overview) indicate that the runoff
reduction benefit of parks is potentially very important. More on-site and experimental work
specifically also for urban parks is needed to strengthen the evidence base and find out more
about the mechanisms, the impact of differences in park size and structure, and so forth.
Fryd, O., Pauleit, S., Bühler, O., 2011. The role of urban green space and trees in relation to climate change. CAB
Reviews: Perspectives in Agriculture, Veterinary Science, Nutrition and Natural Resources 6(50).
Gill, S.E. Handley, J.F., Ennos, A.R., Pauleit, S., 2007. Adapting cities to climate change: The role of green infrastructure.
Built Environment 33(1), 115-133.
Kaźmierczak, A., Cavan, G., 2011. Surface water flooding risk to urban communities: Analysis of vulnerability, hazard
and exposure. Landscape and Urban Planning 103(2), 185-197.
Kubal, C., Haase, D., Meyer, V., Scheuer, S., 2009. Integrated urban flood risk assessment - Adapting a multicriteria
approach to a city. Natural Hazards and Earth System Science 9(6), 1881-1895.
Pataki, D.E., Carreiro, M.M., Cherrier, J., Grulke, N.E., Jennings, V., Pincetl, S., Pouyat, R.V., Whitlow, T.H., Zipperer,
W.C. Coupling biogeochemical cycles in urban environments: ecosystem services, green solutions, and
misconceptions. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 9(1), 27-36.
Pauleit, S., Duhme, F., 2000. Assessing the environmental performance of land cover types for urban planning.
Landscape and Urban Planning 52, 1-20.
Peng, L., Chen, S., Liu, Y., Wang, J., 2008. Application of CITYgreen model in benefit assessment of Nanjing urban green
space in carbon fixation and runoff reduction. Frontiers of Forestry in China 3(2), 177-182.
Zhang, B. , Xie, G. , Zhang, C., Zhang, J., 2012. The economic benefits of rainwater-runoff reduction by urban green
spaces: A case study in Beijing, China. Journal of Environmental Management 100, 65-71.
Urban parks and cooling
Introduction to the benefit
Increased air temperatures can be expected to be particularly problematic in urban areas, where
temperatures already tend to be higher than in the surrounding countryside (e.g., Oke, 1987).
Climate change has a range of consequences for human health, including e.g., intensity and
frequency of heat waves. Oke (1987) and others have studied the impact of urban vegetation in
terms of their possible cooling effect. Mechanisms at work in cooling by trees and other
vegetation include evapotranspiration loss of water from plants as vapour into the atmosphere,
which consumes energy from solar radiation and increasing latent rather than sensible heat,
cooling the leaf and the temperature of the air surrounding the leaf. Shading from trees, which
encompasses intercepting solar radiation and preventing the warming of the surface and air, is
another mechanism, at work. Mechanisms depend critically on the type of vegetation (Bowler et
al., 2010).
A systematic review of the cooling effects of urban greening, including specifically the
category of urban parks, was recently undertaken by Bowler et al. (2010). This review also
included a meta-analysis to statistically synthesise data on the temperature differences between
urban parks and non-green urban areas to quantify the average cooling effect of a park across
As this work was so recent, comprehensive and thorough, it was decided not to refrain from
a new systematic review of the cooling effects of urban parks, but rather to refer to Bowler et al.’s
main findings. It has to be noted, however, that these authors potentially included a larger range
of databases and sources for their review.
Information about the search
Bowler et al. (2010) followed a stringent protocol and included only those studies that measured
temperature at ground level in an urban area in any geographical location and that compared
temperatures in a green site(s) and a non-green site(s). One of the categories included in the
review was ‘parks or green areas’ (although the term ‘parks and gardens’ is also used sometimes).
The authors identified in all 47 articles found for greening interventions of interest, including 24
for parks and green areas (with 125 parks included in general). However, it should be noted that
only 11 of these studies were published during the time period studied in the present review
(2000-2012), while the other 13 appeared during the 1980s and 1990s.
Key findings
Parks are cooler than the surrounding urban areas. In their meta-analysis, Bowler et al. (2010)
found an average temperature reduction of 0.94 degrees C during the day, based on 26 effect
sizes from 16 studies. At night the temperature difference was 1.15 degrees C (12 effect sizes from
7 studies). However, a significant variation was noted in the effect size among different parks both
in the day and at night. Some initial support was found for a positive effect of park size on the
estimated cooling effect. A study of 61 parks in Taipei city showed that parks over 3 ha are cooler
than the surrounding urban area, while the temperature difference was much more variable for
parks less than 3 ha (Chang et al., 2007). The cooling effect of parks varies also with the
composition of the vegetation within the park, with e.g., the amount of (large) trees comprising an
important factor.
Bowler et al. (2010) found very limited evidence (comprising only a few studies) for parks
have any effect on the temperature of the wider surrounding area.
Conclusion and strength of the evidence
The strength of the evidence on the cooling effect of parks was assessed by Bowler et al. (2010).
Based on this quality assessment, there is moderate to strong evidence that urban parks cool the
environment, at least at the local scale. However most of the studies used an observational design
and the authors note a lack of more rigorous study designs such as experiments. Therefore the
impact of confounding variables needs to be kept in mind. Other factors to be kept in mind are
that most studies only looked at single park and true replication was lacking. Moreover, there
currently is weak evidence for the cooling effect of parks to extend beyond their boundaries.
Bowler, D.E., Buyung-Ali, L., Knight, T.M., Pullin, A.S., 2010. Urban greening to cool towns and cities: A systematic
review of the empirical evidence. Landscape and Urban Planning 97, 147-155.
Chang, C.R., Li, M.H., Chang, S.D., 2007. A preliminary study on the local cool-island intensity of Taipei city parks.
Landscape and Urban Planning 80, 386-395.
Oke, T.R., 1989. The micrometeorology of the urban forest. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London,
Series B, Biological sciences 324, 335-349.
Table 2 provides an overview of this systematic review of the benefits of urban parks, based on
peer-reviewed scientific publications during the time period 1 January 2000 until 1 April 2012. The
table lists the benefit categories from those with the strongest to those with the weakest evidence
base. In all, 201 articles were found to document one (or several) of the eight benefits of urban
parks selected for this review. Additionally, by summarising the work by Bowler et al. (2010) on
the cooling effect of urban parks, 24 articles were included indirectly.
Overall, it can be concluded that there is evidence for a range of benefits of urban parks, i.e.
that we have sound scientific evidence that parks contribute to human and social wellbeing. This
can be either directly (for example by making us more physically active) or indirectly (by their high
biodiversity enhancing opportunities for nature experience and recreation). Evidence is (moderate
to) strong for the positive impacts of parks on 1) biodiversity (as measured through species
richness); 2) property prices; 3) physical activity and reduced obesity; and 4) local cooling. These
benefits thus provide the strongest, scientifically supported arguments in favour of urban parks.
For other health-related benefits, namely contributions to stress reduction and improved self-
reported health and mental health; and indirect health effects through reduced noise and cooling,
and increased longevity, the evidence base is moderate.
The matter of urban parks as a means to improving public health is a topic of the day with
increasing actuality, given the global urbanization and an epidemic of non-communicable diseases,
where people’s living environment and lifestyles become of growing significance. These issues
generate a focus on urban environments that can potentially contribute to healthy behaviours or
even intrinsically create health effects. Another aspect is the augmenting health inequalities which
is a major focus in health research and policies. In this perspective parks can be perceived as a
possible planning tool to reduce environmental injustice, since it seems as if parks are especially
important in deprived communities and for ethnic minorities. Subsequently urban planners should
focus on high quality parks in such areas, where the case is currently that parks are scarce and
often poorly maintained. Given e.g., the strong evidence for parks as promoting physical activity
and reducing obesity, more thoughts should be given to how parks are planned and established
with good opportunities and amenities for exerting varied kinds of physical activity, such as
walking and biking.
It has also been proven that urban parks are biodiversity hotspots in urban areas. This does
not only hold potential for attracting leisure seekers and tourists interested in nature, but also for
using parks as areas for nature education and interpretation. Moreover, biodiversity is crucial for
ecosystem functionality and thus for the ecosystem services provided by the paper. The review
provides some evidence that the diversity of habitats and microhabitat heterogeneity contained in
parks is the most decisive factor for the overall species richness and composition. Opportunities
for biodiversity promotion in urban parks related to conscious habitat design and management
therefore provide an interesting angle for the future that could contribute to the continued
development of innovative ways to conserve and promote biodiversity in urban areas - not at least
because the habitat qualities are largely within the control of park designers and managers. In
regards for future research, adopting multi-species group approaches or coordination of study sites
between studies of individual species groups can create important synergy effects that would
advance the understanding of and evidence for the overall biodiversity of urban parks and its
confounding variables.
Although especially the regulating ecosystem services of urban green space have been
stressed during recent years, apart from cooling these services are not (yet) very well documented
specifically for urban parks. The evidence base for contributions of parks to air pollution reduction
and water regulation is weak (to moderate). The same can be said for the cultural services of
contributing to tourism and social cohesion, where very limited sound scientific work has
considered the specific role of urban parks.
Table 2. Summary of main study findings. Benefits of urban parks are listed according to strength of the
evidence (for the benefit category).
Benefit category Nr. of
Main findings Strength of the evidence
Biodiversity 62 Parks harbour higher species richness than other types of
urban green space.
Note: part of this diversity is due to a large share of exotic
House prices 23 Nearby parks mostly have a positive impact on property
prices thus demonstrating people’s appreciation for
parks in people’s living environment
Moderate to strong
Health and
86 1.
Parks contribute to increased physical activity and
reduced obesity
2. Parks contribute to stress reduction and to improved self-
reported health and mental health
3. Parks have indirect health effects through offering
opportunities for recreation, psychological wellbeing, and
social support
4. Parks have indirect health effects through reduced noise
and cooling, and increased longevity
Note: only one high-quality study each on reduced stroke
mortality, reduction of ADHD-symptoms, and reduced
cardiovascular/respiratory morbidity thus making it difficult
to say something about strength of the evidence at this stage
Strong (and
moderate to strong
for obesity)
2. Moderate
3. Weak to moderate
4. Moderate
Cooling 24
Parks contribute to cooling as they have lower day and
night temperatures than surrounding areas.
Moderate to strong
Air quality and
11 Parks contribute to air pollution removal.
Parks contribute to carbon sequestration.
Weak to moderate
Water regulation 6 Parks contribute to stormwater / run off management.
Tourism 8 Parks are attractive to tourists and are among their
motivations to visit certain cities.
Social cohesion 5
Urban parks contribute to social inclusion and cohesion.
Total 225
1Findings for cooling are entirely based on Bowler et al. (2010), who reviewed 24 studies specifically on urban parks.
Out of these, 11 were published during the years 2000-2012.
2Of which 220 (+ Bowler et al., 2010) analysed by the researchers themselves.
Table A1. Overview of the evidence for the direct and indirect health effects of urban parks
Article Research design Geographic scope Main findings Strength of the
Ahmad et al.
Observational survey Park (in Tabriz, Iran) Appreciation of exploration of
nature was the most preferred
activity in parks
Weak to
Akbar et al.
Observational study,
Park (in Yazd, Iran)
Mental encounter is crucial
contribution. Relaxed,
refreshedafter visiting green
Arnberger & Eder
Observational study,
City (Vienna,
Association between perceived
supply and quality of green space
and community attachment
Babey et al.
Observational random-
digit-dial survey study.
Self-reported physical
activity and access to park
Regional (California,
Parks are particularly important for
promoting physical activity among
urban adolescents, less for rural.
Adolescents with access to a safe
park were less likely to be inactive.
Bell et al. (2008) Prospective cohort data,
geocoded addresses
Regional (Marion
County, Indiana,
Higher greenness in urban green
spaces significantly associated with
lower BMI-scores at follow-up.
Higher greenness also significantly
associated with lower odds of
increasing BMI-scores.
et al. (2010)
Observational, register
data, linked GIS
Cities (in USA) Availability of major
neighbourhood parks associated
with higher participation in active
sports, and in females wheel-based
activity and reporting >5 Moderate
to Vigorous Physical Activity bouts
per week.
Bowler et al.
Systematic review International Meta-analysis showed that on
average a park was 0.94°C cooler in
the day. However, mostly based on
observational studies of small
number of green sites.
Article Research design Geographic scope Main findings Strength of the
Bowler et al.
Systematic review International Some evidence for positive benefit
of a walk or run in a natural
environment in comparison to
synthetic environment. Also some
support for greater attention in
comparison. Less evidence of
consistent difference in terms of
blood pressure or cortisol.
Brockman et al.
Focus groups with
primary school children
City (Bristol, UK) Presence of urban green spaces
facilitated children's active play
Chen & Jim
Questionnaire survey,
randomly chosen
households; cost-benefit
City (Zhuhai, China) 65.7% of respondents use public
green spaces for leisure frequently.
Chiesura (2004) Observational, survey.
Quantitative and
Park (in
Feelings of freedom, self-unity,
luck, adventure, happiness were all
experienced in the park. These
were considered as highly
important for people's wellbeing.
Low to moderate
Chung-do et al.
Observational, data from
standardized collection
City (Honolulu,
Hawaii, USA)
In Asian and Pacific areas 60% of
users were sedentary, 26%
engaged in moderate activities,
14% in vigorous activities. Men and
boys were most active.
Cochrane et al.
Multi-level regression
analysis on observational
data; cross-section
City (Stoke-on-
Trent, UK)
Access to green space was
important in explaining variation in
physical activity, together with
traffic, road casualties, and criminal
Weak to
Cohen et al.
Cross-sectional study,
middle-school girls
Cities (6 in USA) Adolescent girls living near more
parks, especially if parks have
amenities conducive to walking and
active features engage in more
non-school metabolic equivalent-
weighted moderate/vigorous
physical activity than those with
fewer parks. No causal inference
could be drawn.
Moderate to
Cohen et al.
Observational studies,
systematic direct
observations, interviews
Parks (8, in Los
Angeles, California,
Park use and self-reported exercise
level were predicted by proximity
to park, especially in urban
minority communities.
Weak to
Article Research design Geographic scope Main findings Strength of the
Coombes et al.
Data from Bristol Quality
of Life in your
Neighbourhood survey,
GIS analysis.
Bristol, UK Access to park, closest living had
higher level of PA (corresponding
to the recommended 30 min., 5
days per week). No effect on
obesity when controlled for
Cronan et al.
National, multiyear,
multisite study of Latino
Population. Onsite
Parks (in 3 cities in
the USA)
Latinos use parks for physical
activity repeatedly and also for
social activities.
Cutts et al. (2009) Observational,
distribution of vulnerable
populations in relation to
parks and walkable
City (Phoenix,
Arizona, USA)
No relationship between obese
population and lower access to
green spaces. Benefits probably
offset by social characteristics.
Dadvand et al.
Cohort study City (Barcelona,
None of the indicators of green
exposure was associated with birth
weight or gestational age. But
there was such a relationship in the
lower education group.
Moderate to
De Vries et al.
Cross-sectional study.
Univariate and
multivariate analyses
(10, in 6 cities,
Association between physical
activity and proportion of green
space in neighbourhood.
Elmqvist et al.
Case study, narrative
literature review
Stockholm, Sweden Recreational use of parks in
Stockholm is among the most
important ecosystem services.
Epstein et al.
Cohort intervention
study, within-subjects
crossover design
Metropolitan area
Falls, USA)
During intervened more sedentary
behaviour, access to parks
increased youths' physical activity.
As access to television and targeted
sedentary behaviours are reduced,
children chose how to allocate their
increased leisure time.
Fan et al. (2011)
Community health
survey, cross-sectional.
Two-stage instrument
variables regression
City (Chicago, USA)
Parks are associated with better
social support than other
neighbourhood green spaces,
which have a negative association.
Parks also increase physical activity.
Fleischer & Tsur
Aggregated measures of
recreational value of
open spaces (travel cost
expense method as proxy
for willingness to pay)
Country (Israel) Beaches generate the greatest
economic value for recreation,
parks are substitutable to some
Moderate to
Article Research design Geographic scope Main findings Strength of the
Foster et al.
GIS analysis,
observational study, self-
reported physical activity
City (Norwich, UK) Access to green space was not
related with walking for recreation.
Weak to
Fuller et al. (2007) Observational studies and
City (Sheffield, UK) Significant correlation between
species richness and psychological
benefit, stronger relationship than
for green-space area
Gunnarsson &
Öhrström (2007)
Observational, cross-
sectional. Questionnaire,
Residential areas in
Gothenburg and
Stockholm, Sweden
”Better” availability to nearby
green areas associated with well-
being and daily behaviour and
reduced long-term noise
Giles-Corti et al.
Observational study City (Perth,
Access to attractive, large public
open spaces was associated with
higher levels of walking.
González-Oreja et
al. (2010)
Observational, field study City (Puebla,
Park size and total tree canopy sign
reduced noise levels, irrespectively
of park location and tree species
Moderate to
Guite et al. (2006) Observational,
questionnaire, cross-
City (district)
London, UK)
Association between dissatisfaction
of urban green space and poor
mental health.
Hanibuchi et al.
Observational, cross-
sectional study
Regional (multiple
Presence of parks had positive
association with frequency of
sports activity, total walking time
only few associations.
Hansmann et al.
Field survey, cross-
sectional, interviews
Parks (park and
forest in Zurich,
Both city forest and park associated
with 87% recovery ratio for stress,
52% reduction in headache, 40%
enhancement of positive feeling
well-balanced, Increased positive
effects of length of visit and
physical activity.
Hillsdon et al.
Cross-sectional study,
respondents from
European Prospective
Investigation into Cancer
and Nutrition
City (Norwich, UK) No association between neither
access, size of park, quality of park
and recreational physical activity
Ho et al. (2005) Observational, survey.
Sampling according to
Metropolitan areas
(2 in USA)
All ethnic groups described positive
effects and scored them sign higher
than negative effects; negative
effect that scored highest (although
low) was that parks attract crime
and created unsafe conditions.
Article Research design Geographic scope Main findings Strength of the
Hu et al. (2008) Ecological geographical
approach with stroke
data at census tract level,
modelling by dasymetric
Region (Northwest
Florida, USA)
High risk of stroke mortality was
found in areas of low level of
exposure to green space
Hung & Chang
Experimental, EEG,
comparing photos of
different landscape
Lab setting (photos
from US)
Natural recreational setting
showed better pattern of EEG
indicating positive mood, and
relaxation, compared to urban
parks. Otherwise no differences in
physiological measures. For
psychological measures all scores
were sign higher for natural
recreation setting.
Weak to
Hung & Crompton
interviews, elderly
respondents from both
within and outside the
Park (in Hong Kong,
All the indirect benefits of the
urban park were mentioned by the
Weak to
Hussain et al.
Observational studies,
Parks (2, in
Association between all outcomes
(e.g., less stress, tension) and park
Kaczynski &
Henderson (2007)
Review (50 articles) International Difficult to draw conclusions about
the importance of proximity to
parks due to mixed results and
wide variety of descriptors used to
measure access and proximity.
However, 80% of the articles
showed some significant
relationship between parks and
physical activity
Kaczynski &
Henderson (2008)
Review (50 articles) International 40% reported significant positive
associations between parks and
physical activity, 2% reported
negative relationship, 18% were
non-significant associations. 20
reported mixed findings, some
positive relationships between
parks and physical activity
Korpela et al.
Cities (Helsinki and
Tampere, Finland)
Restorative experiences and
reduced stress were significantly
more associated with exercise &
activity in outdoor areas, waterside
areas and urban woodlands than in
Article Research design Geographic scope Main findings Strength of the
Krenichyn (2006) Qualitative, semi-
structured interviews
Park (Brooklyn,
New York, USA)
The park provided support for all
the mentioned benefits. Park
considered as important nearby
outdoor resource.
Lachowycz et al.
Observational data
(cohort), GPS-and GIS-
measuring of place and
accelerometer for
physical activity
City (Bristol, UK) Although the general activity level
was low it showed that time spent
on play and physical activity was
approx. 50% in parks
Lafortezza et al.
Questionnaire, self-
perceived heat stress
Parks (in Gateshead
in the UK, Milano
and Bari in Italy)
Longer and frequent visits to parks
generate sign improvements of the
outcomes in terms of reduced heat
Lee and
Review of academic and
grey literature (35 articles
International Weak evidence for relationship
between health benefits and urban
green spaces
Lovasi et al.
Observational field study.
measurements and geo-
coded areas.
City (New York,
Among other indicators such as
street trees, park access was
associated with smaller skinfold
amongst urban preschool children.
Maas et al. (2006) Observational, cross-
section, self-administered
Percentage of Urban green areas is
associated with perceived general
Maas et al. (2009) Observational, national
health survey data, health
interview survey, national
land cover data
People with more green in their
neighbourhood (< 1 km) felt
healthier, lesser number of health
complaints, lower mental health
problems. People with more green
space felt less lonely and less
experience of shortage of social
Moderate to high
Mahmoud (2011) Observational study Park (in Cairo,
Different thermal comfort between
different parts of the park; parks in
general contribute to thermal
McCormack et al.
Systematic review (of
qualitative studies)
Both physical and social features
impact the use of parks.
Mofawi et al.
Multilevel analyses of
register data; BMI
measured on site; GIS
analysis of land data
Neighbourhood (of
Cairo, Egypt)
No significant green space-BMI
(obesity) association.
Article Research design Geographic scope Main findings Strength of the
Neuvonen et al.
Observational, self-
reports in mailed
City (Helsinki,
Easier access and more green area
in the city increased the number of
Nielsen & Hansen
Observational survey Country (Denmark) Significant correlation between
reduced obesity and reduced
experienced stress, and distance to
publicly accessible green areas.
Özgüner (2011) Observational survey
study on site
Parks (in Isparta,
People experience personal safety
in parks, and experience benefits,
such as sense of relaxation,
calmness, peace and quiet, social
Weak to
questionnaire and
physiological measure
Parks (Cleveland
Metroparks, USA)
Stress and lower systolic blood
pressure significantly interacted
with length of park stay. Direct
relationship between park
companionship and perceived
physical health.
Payne et al.
Questionnaire, self-
perceived health
City (Cleveland,
Park users had sign higher
perceived mental and physical
health scores. Non-park users were
sign more sedentary. People with
parks in walking distance use them
more frequently and are in better
health and more physically active.
Pearce &
Madisson (2011)
Review International Likely that urban open space and
street connectivity have positive
effect on physical activity
behaviour and related beneficial
health outcomes. However low
quality of many former studies, so
no definite conclusions can be
Potestio et al.
Observational studies,
BMI measurements, GIS
City (Calgary,
No significant association between
spatial access to parks and
childhood overweight/obesity.
Interpreted as specific for Calgary,
very much dependent on car
Potestio et al.
Multivariate, multilevel
analysis. Observational.
Geocoding with GIS.
City (Calgary,
No association with access to parks
and obesity. Maybe due to high
level of car travel in Calgary,
Moderate to high
Article Research design Geographic scope Main findings Strength of the
Potwarka et al.
Cohort study (children) Neighbourhood of
mid-sized city
(Ontario, Canada)
No significant correlation between
proximity to park space and healthy
weight. But parks with playgrounds
were correlated to healthy weight.
Prince et al.
Cross-sectional study,
based on data from
International physical
activity questionnaire;
City (Ottawa,
No significant effect on obesity in
areas with more park areas.
Quigg et al.
Cohort, intervention
study (children aged 5 to
Country (New
No benefit was proven, only 2% of
Total Daily Physical Activity
occurred in parks with playgrounds
Richardson &
Mitchell (2010)
Ecological approach,
observational, 28.6
million adults, aged 16-
United Kingdom Male cardiovascular disease and
respiratory disease mortality
decreased with increasing green
space; no sign association for
Richardson et al.
Observational register
study, GIS-data to make
Country (urban
areas of New
No sign association between usable
or total green space and mortality,
though inability to adjust for
individual-level factors.
Richardson et al.
Ecological cross-sectional
study, land-use dataset
for quantifying green
Cities (49 largest
cities in USA)
No association btw greenness and
suggested health benefits, probably
overruled by other factors such as
the tendency in US cities of
association between green cities
and higher levels of urban sprawl
and car dependency. Mortality
from all causes even higher in
green cities.
Moderate to
Roemmich et al.
observational analysis.
Accelerometer measuring
physical activity and GIS
for neighbourhood
County (Eric
County, NY, USA)
Neighbourhoods with parks were
associated with greater physical
activity among kids
Moderate to
Reed & Price
Random controlled trial County (in
Michigan, USA)
No sign correlation between
general physical activity and park
visitors. Though for ethnic
minorities (non-white) a sign
correlation was found btw park use
and PA.
Article Research design Geographic scope Main findings Strength of the
Rung et al. (2011) Observational interview
City (New Orleans,
Louisiana, USA)
Post-disaster visitors' main reasons
for going to the park were escape
and physical activity, more so than
for non-disaster visitors. Hence
parks may play a role in post-
disaster recovery.
Weak to
Seeland et al.
Empirical survey of pupils
and teachers
City (Zurich,
Public urban spaces play important
role for children and youths in
making contact across cultures -
prerequisite for social inclusion.
Weak to
Shores & West
Observational, onsite,
method: System for
Observing Play and
Recreation in
Parks (4 urban, 4
rural, USA)
Rural parks were visited more
often, but visitors to urban parks
were more physically active.
Stodolska et al.
Focus groups City (Chicago,
Illinois, USA)
Parks offer (health and other)
benefits also to minority groups.
Su et al. (2011) Field study, experimental
pollution sampling and
modelling; census tract
data for socioeconomic
and racial-ethnic
City (Los Angeles,
Public parks had lowest pollutant
concentrations of NO₂ and PO₂.₅,
but relatively high O₃. Evidence of
socioeconomic and racial-ethnic
gradients was found in air pollution
exposure and inhalation doses in
and around urban parks in Los
Moderate to high
Takano et al.
Observational by
calculating relationships
btw mortalities and urban
City (Shanghai,
Age-adjusted mortalities were
inversely related with a larger
proportion of parks, gardens and
green areas per total land area.
This was one factor among many
Takano et al.
Cohort study, follow-up
survey from records,
City (Tokyo, Japan) Probability of 5-year survival of
senior citizens increased in
accordance with green space for
taking a stroll, parks, and tree lined
streets near residence.
Moderate to high
Taylor and Kuo
Within subjects design,
three different
environments (city park
and two other well-kept
urban settings, more or
less built), children.
City (unknown,
20 minutes of park setting elevated
attention performance of children
with ADHD, no such effect in the
other settings.
Article Research design Geographic scope Main findings Strength of the
Tinsley et al.
Observational data from
structured interviews of
park visitors of different
Park (in Chicago,
Illinois, USA)
All groups described immediate
sense of pleasure or gratification
and non-pressing environment and
activities as important features of
the parks. Differences between
ethnic groups in grading
importance. Opportunity to be with
others and to get vigorous physical
activity also rated as important;
opportunities for stress recovery
slightly to moderately important.
Toftager et al.
Cross-sectional national
survey, observational;
self-reported data for
both distance and
physical activity
Country (Denmark) Relationship between
moderate/vigorous physical activity
during leisure time and distance to
green space. Persons living more
than 1 km from green space had
higher odds of being obese (>30).
Van Dillen et al.
Observational, cross-
sectional, questionnaire,
Country (80 urban
neighbourhoods in
the Netherlands)
Both quality and quantity of green
space were correlated to general
health, health-related complaints
and general mental health
Ward Thompson
et al. (2012)
Exploratory stud; Saliva
Cortisol sampling, GIS-
based assessment of
green spaces
City (Dundee, UK) Sign relationships between self-
reported stress, diurnal patterns of
cortisol, and proportion green
space in living environment.
Percentage of green space is
significant and independent
predictor of circadian cortisol cycle
and physical activity.
Wendel-Vos et al.
Observational, self-
questionnaire on
demographic factors and
physical activity, GIS
City (Maastricht,
No associations between parks and
walking. Parks within 300 m radius
was associated with bicycling for
commuting purposes.
Moderate to
Witten et al.
Observational, cross-
sectional survey; GIS-data
on distance to parks and
Country (New
No association between access to
parks and BMI, sedentary
behaviour or physical activity.
Some evidence on relationship btw
beach access and BMI and physical
Moderate to
Article Research design Geographic scope Main findings Strength of the
Wolch et al.
Longitudinal cohort,
multilevel growth curve,
GIS analysis
Regional (S.
California, USA)
Significant negative relationship
btw access to parks and BMI. Over
half of the population had no
access to parks within 500m.
Sustained influence of parks on
Yang et al. (2011) Observational with
questionnaire and
experimental study of
Lab setting (in
Hangzhou, China)
90% of the participants believed
that parks and urban plants
contribute to noise reduction, 55%
overrated the actual effect.
Zenk et al. (2011) Quasi-experimental pilot-
study and exploratory
observational design;
City (Detroit,
Michigan, USA)
Among many other variables, park
land use in neighbourhood area
and activity space was examined.
No association between park use
and physical activity, neither in
neighbourhood nor activity area.
Moderate to
Table A2. Overview of the evidence for the impact of urban parks on social cohesion.
Article Research design Geographic
Main findings Strength of the
Fan et al.
Interviews, secondary
City (Chicago,
Neighbourhood green is found to
encourage both social support and physical
Maas et al.
Interviews, secondary
There appeared no significant relation
between the percentage of green space
and whether ot not people often contacted
neighbours or friends in the
Peters (2010) Observations,
Parks (two parks
in the
Although not many interethnic interactions
occurred, people from various ethnic
backgrounds valued being together in
Peters et al.
Survey, observations,
City (Arnhem,
Haarlem, Utrecht
in the
Urban parks are sites where different
ethnic groups mingle and where informal
and cursory interactions can stimulate
social cohesion.
Ravenscroft &
Parks (8, in
Reading, UK)
Youngster’s communication and recreation
patterns can allow them to make friends in
public green spaces. Some evidence to
suggest that green spaces have the
potential to cater for more than one ethnic
group particularly where there are
specialist facilities and equipment available
for teenagers.
Seeland et al.
interviews, focus
City (Zurich,
Public urban green spaces play an
important role for children and youths in
making contacts and friends across
Table A3. Overview of the evidence for the impact of urban parks on tourism.
Article Research design Geographic scope Main findings Strength of the
Chaudhry &
Survey, travel cost
City (Chandigarh,
Urban ecotourism of importance, especially for
domestic tourists. Green areas play a role in
attracting tourists.
Weak to moderate
Deng et al.
Survey (on-site) City (Savannah,
Georgio, USA)
The results indicate that urban forests can
positively and significantly contribute to the
enrichment of tourist experience, e.g., as a
supplement to cultural experiences.
Liaghati et
al. (2010)
Survey City (Tehran, Iran) Urban ecotourism occurring in Tehran local
landscapes of importance
et al. (2011)
valuation, survey
City (Savannah,
Georgia, USA)
According to the willingness to pay of tourists
for the urban forests of the city, the annual
economic value of these ranges from 81 to 167
million USD
Villella et al.
Survey (on-site) Park (London, UK) Results suggested that the park had been as
successful in attracting local and non-local
Wong &
Survey (on-site) Park (in Kowloon,
Hong Kong)
Kowloon park is among the most preferred
parks, also among tourists; greenery as main
component of appreciation
Wong &
Survey (on-site) Park (in Kowloon,
Hong Kong)
Scenic beauty of parks appreciated by both
residents and tourists
Wu et al.
Delphi study Country (Taiwan) Green areas ranked among the factors for
supporting urban ecotourism
Table A4. Overview of the evidence for the impact of urban parks on house prices.
Article Research design Geographic
Main findings Strength of the
Amrusch &
Hedonic pricing City (Vienna,
Environmental factors (including open
space) are valued by property owners
Weak to moderate
Anderson &
West (2006)
Hedonic pricing City region
Paul, USA)
The value of proximity to open space is
higher in neighborhoods that are dense,
near the central business district, high-
income, high-crime
Moderate to strong
Bark et al.
Hedonic pricing,
landscape metrics
Watershed (Tucson
area, AZ, USA)
Homeowners pay premiums for proximity
to green space amenities
Bishop et al.
valuation, GIS,
City (centre of
View of green space has positive impact on
high-rice apartment prices
Bolitzer &
Netuzil (2000)
Hedonic pricing City (Portland,
Oregon, USA)
Proximity to an open space and open-space
type can have a statistically significant
effect on a home’s sale price
Moderate to strong
Brander et al.
Meta-analysis (of
hedonic pricing
International Positive relationship found between the
value of open space and population density
Chen & Jim
Hedonic pricing
City (centre of
Shenzhen, China)
Nearby parks higher prices of apartments,
but private gardens have higher effect
Cho et al.
Hedonic pricing,
landscape metrics
Regional (Knox
county, Tennessee
Parks have a positive impact on property
prices, but many factors influence the price
Moderate to strong
Damigos &
Fuzzy Delphi
Regional (Greater
Athens, Greece)
A pleasant view could considerably increase
the price of a house
Dehring &
Dunse (2006)
Hedonic pricing,
landscape metrics
City (Aberdeen, UK) Flat price increase with proximity to open
space, but not for lower density housing.
Moderate to strong
Hoshino &
Hedonic pricing City district (Tokyo,
The effect of parks on property values
varied with the buffer distance and park
Jiao & Liu
Hedonic pricing,
geographic field
City (Wuhan, China) City level parks have significant amenity
values, but district level parks do not
Moderate to strong
Jim & Chen
Hedonic pricing City (Hong Kong,
View of green spaces raised housing price Moderate
Article Research design Geographic
Main findings Strength of the
Jim & Chen
Hedonic pricing,
stated preference
City (Guangzhou,
Good outdoor environment, including green
space provision, proximity to parks, and
views of green space and water has
significant hedonic values.
Moderate to strong
Hedonic pricing,
City (Tabriz, Iran) Green spaces result in higher property
prices / willingness to pay
Kong et al.
Hedonic pricing,
landscape metris
City (Jinan, China) Positive amenity impact of proximate urban
green spaces on house prices
Kumagai &
GIS analysis,
relating house
prices and green
City (centre of
Tokyo, Japan)
Correlation between house value and green
coverage found
Lutzenhiser &
Netusil (2001)
Hedonic pricing City (Portland, OR,
Positive impact of proximity to parks on
property sales price (but urban parks less
popular than natural area parks)
Moderate to strong
Hedonic pricing City (Castellon,
Inverse relationship between selling price of
dwelling and distance from a green area
Qui et al.
Hedonic pricing,
Watershed (St.
Louis metropolitan
area, USA)
Residents' willingness to pay was consistent
with the economic values of open space
and proximity to streams embedded in
existing home prices.
Weak to moderate
Sander &
Hedonic pricing,
landscape metrics
Regional (Ramsey
County, Minnesota,
Environmental amenities, particularly views
and open space access, impact prices. Parks
have 2nd largest impact, after lakes
Moderate to strong
Tajima (2003) Hedonic pricing,
landscape metrics
City (Boston, USA) Proximity to open space has positive impact
on property value
Moderate to strong
Troy & Grove
Hedonic pricing,
landscape metrics,
crime statistics
City (Baltimore,
Maryland, USA)
Park proximity is positively valued by the
housing market where the combined
robbery and rape rates for a neighbourhood
are below a certain threshold rate but
negatively valued where above that
Moderate to strong
Table A5. Studies used as data sources for this review, with specification of (from left to right) country; species group(s) studied; explanatory variables included in
the analysis; number of sites and parks surveyed. N.B. the strength of the evidence in the individual papers has been assessed specifically for the aspect of overall
species richness in the parks, i.e. not simply for the species groups in focus in the individual studies. n.a. = not applicable; Amph. = Amphibians; gra. = gradient.
Nr of sites
Nr of parks
Research Design
Vascular plants
Woody plants
Park - other sites
Native - exotic
Isolation effects
Habitat qualities
Urban-rural gra.
Main findings
Strength of
Bräuniger et al. (2010) Germany,
27 n.a. Observational, field
survey, species
selected to represent
different dispersal
1 1 1 1 1 1 Park size was the best predictor for species richness, but also
isolation and habitat qualities affected significantly. Vascular plant
species richness explained total richness.
Hermy & Cornelis
1 1 Develop monitoring
1 1 1 1 1 Identification of 20 biodiversity indicators of urban parks. n.a.
Cornelis & Hermy
Country (15
cities in
15 15 Observational, field
survey, biodiversity
1 1 1 1 1 Park size could explain the variation in biodiversity. Number of
habitat units, plant taxa and amphibian species all correlated with
park area.
Gao et al. (2011) City
6 3 Observational, field
survey, biotope
1 1 1 1 Vegetation structure and age influence the richness and abundance
of the avian fauna and rabbits.
Lizee et al. (2011) City
15 15 Observational, field
survey, Principal
Component Analysis
1 1 1 Park isolation acts as an environmental filter inducing a biotic
homogenization through loss of specialist species and over-
representation of generalist species.
Forrest & St. Clair
1 1 Observational, field
1 1 Off-leash dogs have no effect on the diversity of birds and small
mammals in urban parks.
Sorace (2001)
City (Rome,
Observation, point
count field survey
Bird species richness was higher in an urban-agricultural park
compared to urban park and peri-urban agricultural area, while
richness of small mammal species was similar.
Carbó-Ramírez &
Zuria (2011)
City (Pachuca
City, Mexico)
19 6 Observation, field
survey, winter and
1 1 1 1 Bird species richness was higher in parks than gardens and road
strip corridors. Green space size was the most important variable for
species richness in both summer and winter.
Kler (2006) City
City, India)
13 4 Observation, field
survey, only
descriptive statistics
1 1 Only urban parks contained all bird species registered (n=29). Weak
Nr of sites
Nr of parks
Research Design
Vascular plants
Woody plants
Park - other sites
Native - exotic
Isolation effects
Habitat qualities
Urban-rural gra.
Main findings
Strength of
Vallejo et al. (2009) City (Manila,
4 2 Observation, field
survey, TWINSPAN
ordination and logistic
1 1 1 1 Four out of 70 bird species were exotics. Isolation degree
determined species richness where uncommon and rare species
preferred undisturbed areas and remnant vegetation.
Platt & Lill (2006)
Observational, field
survey on five
Five of 51 bird species were exotics. Pedestrian traffic rate was not
correlated with species richness. Isolation influenced species
richness less than park area
Fitzsimons et al.
39 9 Observational, field
survey, focus on
remnant vegetation
1 1 1 Of 106 bird species 8 were exotics. Species richness was positively
correlated with park size, and some species were either restricted to
or more abundant in, larger parks.
Weak to
de Toledo et al.
City (Taubaté
City, Brazil)
10 10 Observational, field
survey, multiple
1 1 1 1 Two out of 64 bird species were exotics. Abundance and diversity of
tree species were better predictors of bird diversity than isolation
degree and park size.
Weak to
Imai & Nakashizuka
City (Sendai
City, Japan)
20 10 Observational, field
survey, canonical
1 1 1 1 Two of 31 bird species were exotics. Species richness decreased in
highly urbanized areas. Insectivores and foliage foraging species
contributed to species richness, but ground foraging species
affected negatively.
Weak to
Shwartz et al. (2008)