urban planning green spaces

Gardens and health: towards "healthy cities"?

Urban parks nowadays play an essential role in making the city a pleasant place to live. Living conditions have a strong influence on several health issues (1) and this he presence of natural elements contributes to the quality of life by bringing numerous benefits to social, economic, environmental and health functions. Six out of ten French people believe that the creation of green spaces should be a priority for municipalities, as their impact on health should become more important in urban planning choices, creating new wealth for living together.
Photo : " Le poussin " - Jardin des plantes - Nantes (44)

L’Union Nationale des Entreprises du Paysage (Unep) and Hortis, the association of nature area managers in cities, unveil the results of the fifth survey of theGreen Cities ObservatoryThe project will also explore the links between gardens and health, green spaces and healthy cities.
One of the main lessons learned from this survey is that while communities are driving their overall transition to "healthier" green spaces, they are still not sufficiently taking health into account in their thinking and projects. However, some cities stand out: Paris, Lyon, Nantes, Caen and Metz are forerunners in this field, with numerous actions implemented, such as the creation of therapeutic gardens, the development of sports trails, or the creation of new gardens to improve air quality.
- In order to promote mobility and physical activity, 8 out of 10 cities have installed sports courses in their green spaces.
- 9 out of 10 cities had anticipated "zero-phyto" and taken measures to facilitate the transition for at least three years.
- Only 1 out of 10 "Green Spaces" departments have strong links with the "Health" department.
September 10 saw the birth of the Coordination for the preservation of green and public spaces in the Ile de France region. Objective: to warn about the ongoing real estate speculation and the need to preserve green, public spaces and their surroundings from intensive concreting.
It is well known, and a multitude of studies prove it, that green spaces in cities are beneficial to health: they provide opportunities for physical activity. Their presence would also have positive effects on mental health, such as reducing symptoms of depression and reducing stress. They would positively affect mental well-being, feelings of recovery, good mood and vitality. They are also responsible for certain social benefits, helping to break social isolation by creating meeting places, tending to reduce neighbourhood crime and offering biodiversity that indirectly influences health. The magazine Brain and Psycho reports that psychologists had noted, as early as the beginning of the 20th century, that the rate of psychological disorders increases with the size of the living space. "City dwellers are 40 % more depressed than rural dwellers in every region of the world."says psychiatrist Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, director of the Central Institute for Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany. There are an additional 20 % of anxiety disorders.
Greening is on the rise in cities, particularly in order to adapt to climate change and its impacts, but also and above all for these health impacts. For example, the popularity of community gardening, which has a positive impact on mental health and social relationships, reducing stress and anxiety. It increases the gardeners' sense of personal development and self-confidence. This activity provides an opportunity to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Multiple initiatives have been launched throughout the territory over the last decade.

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Gardens & Health: pioneering initiatives are burgeoning in France

While the World Health Organization now states that "green spaces should be seen as an investment in the health, well-being and quality of life of citizens", the World Health Organization (WHO) now states that "green spaces should be seen as an investment in the health, well-being and quality of life of citizens". (2)The major French cities are innovating to create this link between green spaces and health: therapeutic gardens, applications to encourage sport in parks, soil decontamination, etc.
At the top of the ranking, the cities of Paris, Lyon, Nantes, Caen and Metz are those that act the most in favour of health through gardens. In Marseille, the creation of the Garden of Hospitalityin partnership with the Assistance Publique et l'Assistance Publique and the"Mediterranean Space of Adolescence."It is also a success: it allows adolescents to be cared for in a living environment conducive to well-being, relaxation and the creation of social ties. Indeed, the garden benefits everyone, and offers cultural activities and collaborative workshops throughout the year.

Physical activity, pollution control, therapeutic gardens: examples to follow

"The results show that cities have a real role to play in preventing disease and improving the health and well-being of city dwellers, explains Jean-Pierre Gueneau, President of Hortis, the association of nature area managers in the city.. Cities are gradually developing parks and gardens that are both respectful of health - without phytopharmaceutical products, on clean soil and very favourable for improving air quality, conducive to the development of sporting activities: those in charge of nature areas in cities are in the front line to generalise these exemplary initiatives! »

Lyon & Strasbourg: promoting sport through gardens

In the summer of 2017, the city of Lyon launched an application allowing city dwellers to make the most of their city's parks and gardens for their sports activities. Based on the model of applications launched by sports brands, it offers personalised programmes. In Strasbourg, every year the city organises training sessions open to all (Nordic walking, yoga, taïchi, ...) and the city's Green Spaces department, in partnership with the Sports department, has set up "vitaboucles", complete fitness trail.          

Caen & Metz: gardens that take care of citizens

The cities of Caen and Metz are implementing numerous actions to promote health in their parks and gardens. What do they have in common? They are projects thought out upstream by all the stakeholders. For example, in Caen, the green spaces department is involved in the design of the Regional Health and Environment Plan and is involved in air quality issues. In Metz, many partnerships have been signed with associations: planting workshops to develop the sociability of people with intellectual disabilities, creation of a "plants that care" trail, development of vegetable gardens in schools, etc.              

Healthier green spaces

In addition to actions aimed at bringing health to gardens, municipalities are at the heart of the dynamics of the transition to zero-phytopharmaceuticals: insecticides and pesticides have been banned in public spaces since January 2017. But the cities in the Observatory's panel go beyond this legal obligation and set an example for all stakeholders (individuals, social landlords, private companies, farmers, etc.), with the aim of cleaning up the territory on a larger scale. The city of Orléans, for example, is working in partnership with farmers near the city to combat diffuse pollution and protect water resources.                 
Efforts that allow city dwellers to enjoy the health benefits of urban greening. Indeed, the prevalence of common illnesses decreases sharply in areas dense with green spaces: back pain (- 34 %), anxiety (- 31 %), migraines (- 15 %), or risk of stroke (- 17 %). (3). A Canadian study also showed that in Toronto, adding ten trees per neighbourhood would on average result in an improvement in general health comparable to seven years of rejuvenation! These effects are all the more interesting because they are significant in the most fragile populations, thus contributing to the fight against social inequalities in health. (4).

Involvement of the Green Spaces services in the public health projects to be developed.

Last conclusion of the survey: the links between the "Green Spaces" service and the "Health" service of the cities remain weak, which does not facilitate the implementation of cross-cutting projects. Urban greening is not yet thought globally and is still too often limited to environmental issues. While these are important, this prism tends to minimise the essential role of green in the city on health.
However, some cities are setting an example: in Villeurbanne, green space development is designed by district, in the local plan carried by the municipal hygiene and public health service.         
"According to a recent study (5), by investing just €3.6 per inhabitant in tree planting, cities could save between 11,000 and 37,000 lives a year by reducing air pollution! concludes Catherine Muller, President of Unep. These figures should encourage municipal services (green spaces, health, urban planning, etc.) to set up more cross-cutting projects around urban greening. Cities at the cutting edge of the plant sector are developing ambitious actions: smartphone applications, study of the allergenic potential of plants, development of therapeutic gardens... So many initiatives to follow! »
(1)    Bergeron & Reyburn, 2010; Canadian Institute for Health Information, 2006; Robitaille, 2009).

(2) World Health Organization - Urban green spaces: a brief for action, July 2017
(3) Cabinet Asterès - Les espaces verts urbains - Lieux de santé publique, vectors of economic activity, Nicolas Bouzou and Christophe Marques, May 2016

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