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23/06/2020

Why ‘lockdown’ needs to change the way we view and value green space

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Parks / iStock-108359509

Coronavirus and the resulting lockdown has exposed some weaknesses in the way our communities and neighbourhoods have been planned. One of them is access to green space. John Haxworth says new technology provides an opportunity to understand the value that the built and natural environment gives

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to alter the way we live, the UK’s public parks and green spaces have provided a lifeline for millions of adults and children in search of their daily exercise and a ‘dose’ of green. They have become a particularly important resource for anyone who lives in apartments and house shares, where private space indoors and out is at a premium. 

However, the ongoing lockdown has also seen parks across the UK being placed under threat of closure. Victoria Park in Hackney, Brockwell Park in Brixton, and Middlesbrough’s Stewart Park were perhaps the most high-profile closures as local authorities worried about people not adhering to social distancing rules. All have since reopened, but their closure and the subsequent local outrage has brought into the spotlight the importance of these spaces to communities. 

For the last two years, a team of economic analysts, urban development specialists and academics have been exploring the role that green spaces play in urban living and how we might measure the value it delivers to local communities. The resultant tool, Greenkeeper, has been developed to quantify this value; informing their future management and enhancement; and informing the debate around urban intensification and the type and volume of green space needed to best support communities. 

The research behind the tool quantifies the physical health and wellbeing benefits for those who use green space, while uncovering details around the wider social value it delivers, as well as its economic and environmental contributions.

It is widely predicted that Covid-19 and the resulting downturn will lead to a significant increase in social and economic inequality, and these green spaces have the capacity to be progressive equalisers – used and enjoyed by everyone, but giving greater benefit to those without private outdoor space of their own.

Brockwell Park for instance, which hit headlines when it was closed temporarily due to overcrowding, sits in the high-density, high-inequality borough of Lambeth. It offers a diversity of landscape free to use for all its visitors. Greenkeeper estimates that it receives an average of 2.5 million visitors each year, and as a result is delivering over £46 million in physical health and wellbeing value to those visitors every year. By mapping origin of visitors against socio-demographics, Greenkeeper also demonstrates the significant role it is playing in everyday life for people from a wide variety of housing, as well as a diverse range of cultures and socio-economic groups. The impact of removing this resource, however temporarily, would be immediate and significant. 

Greenkeeper and other advancements in measuring social value give us the opportunity to understand the value that the built and natural environment gives. This is key to ensuring we are properly providing, enhancing and supplementing these resources. We must deliver resilience in our urban spaces – whether in existing or new development – via new green spaces or improving the current spaces.

By understanding true social value, governments, planners, and developers will be able to make our future greener, cleaner, and more equal.

John Haxworth, is a partner and landscape design team lead at Barton Willmore

Image credit | iStock

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