Greenery in a city is of importance. But what impact does it have on our health? And does it make a difference how we design the green spaces in our cities? Marcel Cardinali is researching how greener urban environments help reduce non-communicable diseases. And how we should design our built environment to optimise the effects of nature on our health. "It seems to be much less about how many square metres of nature there is per resident, but mainly about whether people live near green corridors that run through a city."

In the past few years, Marcel was part of the URBiNAT project, that focuses on nature in public spaces and co-creation with residents in this area. "We work according to a holistic approach where the physical, mental, and social well-being of people are central," he says. In this respect, his current research was a logical continuation, especially since he could use URBiNAT’s extensive datasets. "We interviewed a total of 1,650 people from different neighbourhoods in a number of cities. We asked them about how they felt, their well-being, how active they were, and about the social cohesion in their neighbourhood. The most important detail: we had the precise address of all participants." 

My research indicates that positive health effects of green space differ by type and disappear at a certain distance.

Marcel Cardinali

Different types of greenery

Based on this data on health and health-related indicators, Marcel carefully analysed the environment of all respondents. How far from greenery did they live? What did that look like, were there small parks, streets with many trees or green corridors? He linked this type of data to how they felt. This gave him a detailed picture of how different types of greenery, health, and well-being relate to each other. The outcome was striking. "It seems to be much less about how many square meters of nature there is per resident, but especially whether people live near green corridors that run through a city."

Multifunctional green spaces

Marcel: "We already knew that nature is good for our health, but now do we know how to apply this in the design of our cities. Often, the focus is mainly on square meters of greenery per inhabitant, but now we can work much more targeted by creating space for green corridors that act as a mobility network in the city." In addition, it is important that the green spaces are multifunctional according to Marcel’s research. It’s about places where people can move, do sports, relax, and meet each other. Examples of cities that already have green corridors are already there. "There are cities where green corridors run from the centre to the suburbs. The Featherplan in Hamburg and the Finger plan in Copenhagen are good examples."

We need multifunctional, green corridors in our cities.

Marcel Cardinali

Ready for Climate Change

According to Marcel, the green corridors are not only important for our well-being, but they are also a way to prepare cities for the future. "They help us adapt cities to climate change by reducing the risks linked to extreme weather events.  For example, greenery helps with cooling the city during high temperatures and soaking up water from heavy rainfall. It also helps to reduce carbon, not only because greenery reduces air pollution, but also because people are more likely to walk or cycle instead of taking the car. Furthermore, green corridors support biodiversity. Through these connections, animals and pollinators can move much better than when there are only green islands, where they are stuck."

More information

  • On Monday 22 April 2024, Marcel Cardinali will defend his PhD thesis 'Green Health. Examining the role of green space characteristics and their proximity in green space health pathways'. 
  • The URBiNAT project, is an EU-funded program.

Marcel Cardinali

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