Town planners underestimate the importance of urban green spaces

Compact towns with high population density can have social, environmental, and economic benefits. The supply of high-density urban housing has increased, but people continue to choose to live in suburbs and commuter towns. The result is continued "urban sprawl" and longer commuting times.

For the first time, a team of researchers* has used mathematical analysis and a computer simulation model to demonstrate that facilitating access to high quality parks, woodland and other green spaces is central to making town living much more attractive and sustainable. The research results were published recently in the interdisciplinary journal "Computers, Environment and Urban Systems"*. Associate professor Geoffrey Caruso from the University of Luxembourg was on this international team.

This work suggests that mistakes have been made in the way residential projects are planned. "Local politicians have sought to increase town centre populations by encouraging the supply of high density urban housing on almost every available plot of land. Despite this, demand remains strong for more spacious homes in the suburbs and in commuter towns. Thus attempts to boost urban density may be having the opposite effect," he noted.

Town planners may not have understood the high importance residents put on easy access to generous amounts of green space in urban areas. "Having parks, woodlands and green play areas nearby could very strongly encourage people to move into smaller town houses and apartments," associate professor Caruso said.

Advocates of urban living see it as way to boost well-being, as it brings lower levels of social isolation and easier access to workplaces, shops, and public services. There are also environment benefits, as town dwellers are more likely to walk or take public transport, and smaller homes are cheaper to heat. Plus it is cheaper to supply transport infrastructure and public services to urban populations.

The research team used mathematical analysis and a computer simulation model to represent the evolution of an idealised town of about 200,000 inhabitants. "We demonstrate that increasing the availability of close, convenient parks, woods and green play-areas, encourages people to live in smaller homes in town. This reduces the cost and inconvenience of commuting, and has a strong positive impact on welfare" Geoffrey Caruso said. He also recommends creating more local footpaths and bicycle lanes to access green spaces. The next step is to apply this theoretical breakthrough in urban areas. This could be the key to one of the central problems faced by town planners.

More information: Geoffrey Caruso et al. Greener and larger neighbourhoods make cities more sustainable! A 2D urban economics perspective, Computers, Environment and Urban Systems (2015). DOI: 10.1016/j.compenvurbsys.2015.06.002