Improving Our Urban Places

A 5 year project is taking place which will look at how urban areas can transform into more healthy living spaces.

The research will be developed by a group from Queen’s University Belfast, University of Edinburgh and University of Liverpool. It has been awarded over £7.1 million from the UK Prevention Research Partnership (UKPRP) as part of a consortium to investigate the impact that nature can have in helping to prevent and reduce health inequalities in urban areas. 

The Consortium, ‘GroundsWell: Community-engaged and Data-informed Systems Transformation of Urban Green and Blue Space for Population Health’ will explore how transforming cities with nature can reduce health inequalities, primarily around chronic and non-infectious diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and mental health.  

When we went into lockdown last year, exploring their immediate vicinity became the only chance people had to get out of their house. Mental health and wellbeing has become a focus as never before as loneliness, isolation and our living space has been put under the spotlight.

The project aims to develop innovative approaches to work with communities where there are high levels of health inequalities. They want to develop and implement ways to improve health inequalities and prevent a range of chronic illnesses through harnessing the positive impact of nature.   

Dr Ruth Hunter, from the Centre of Public Health at Queen’s University Belfast and Groundswell Co-Director, said:

“There is strong evidence that natural environments within urban areas, such as parks, woodlands (green spaces) as well as lakes and beaches (blue spaces), have positive impacts on health. 

“These urban green and blue spaces could be huge assets for protecting and equalising health if they were available, accessible, valued and well-used, particularly by less advantaged groups. The problem is that they are not, which is what this project aims to address. 

“We are delighted to receive this funding from UK Prevention Research Partnership. Working with a range of experts across health, data and community engagement, over the next five years we will seek solutions to improve our urban environment that will in-turn improve population health.” 

Patrick Geddes

There’s nothing new about these ideas. The great Scots pioneer Patrick Geddes, put forward and indeed implemented all of these ideas in his town planning.

‘By leaves we live’

‘How many people think twice about a leaf? Yet the leaf is the chief product and phenomenon of Life: this is a green world, with animals comparatively few and small, and all dependent upon the leaves.’

“This quote from Geddes shows that gardens were an important feature of his social experiments and town planning initiatives. He believed that gardens and green spaces were essential for:

  • Encouraging people to be active and to be outdoors
  • Producing local food
  • Brightening up and improving the local environment
  • Community cohesion
  • Learning about bio-diversity, life forms, and the changing seasons
  • Taking responsibility and stewardship for the local environment

In Edinburgh, as well as other cities, Geddes made use of disused and derelict spaces, however small, to create green spaces and gardens for the local inhabitants to tend and enjoy.” National Library of Scotland

Commenting on the Groundswell project, Professor Ruth Jepson, from the University of Edinburgh and Groundswell Co-Director, added:

“We propose a new way of working which encourages communities and citizens to work with our partner organisations to plan, design and manage urban green and blue spaces so that they benefit everyone, especially those who need it most. 

” Through our partnerships and with the active involvement of our communities, we will identify small and large scale projects which can be developed and evaluated.

“We will involve communities and citizens in all stages of the work; from planning and prioritizing, to collecting data through citizen science apps, to writing, speaking and blogging on what is working well and what is not.” 

Image credit Noel Donaldson

2 replies »

  1. You might find it interesting, on the subject of urban gardening/urban green that in the old Arab medinas there were two helpful issues.
    First, water was not supplied directly to houses. There were community fountains where family members went daily to gather water for home. Definitely a hardship; but it resulted in very careful use of water.
    Second, many of the houses in these densely packed medinas were essentially open central courtyards with rooms around the perimeter. People grew small amounts of useful plants in the courtyard (flowers, fragrance, fruits, health).
    Recently I posted ‘Urban Green…600yrs ago?’ wherein an American student on a term abroad study in Morocco finds himself deep in the Tangier medina searching for urban green.

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