Empirical evidence is mounting that having nature nearby and contact with nature positively affect health and well-being. People living in a green neighbourhood are healthier and have a higher (healthy) life expectancy. Especially citizens with a low SES and with a poor health seem to benefit from good access to green spaces. Studies have shown that socioeconomic health disparities are smaller in green neighbourhoods than in less green ones. A challenge is that more vulnerable citizens generally have less access to green environments, that the quality of their green environment is often low and that they are generally less engaged in green activities than others. The overall aim of the project is to investigate how greening the living environment can stimulate contact with and use of the urban green infrastructure (UGI), by especially more vulnerable citizens, and in that way improve their health and well-being and at the same time reduce socioeconomic health disparities.
We developed a research agenda (see Annex 2 and Annex 3) based on a literature review, as well as on the challenges identified by the stakeholders in our consortium, including citizens with a low socioeconomic status (SES). Six overarching research questions were formulated: (1) Which type of green space and/or other natural element is able to contribute most to the health and wellbeing of citizens with low SES/living in (otherwise) deprived neighbourhoods? (2) How may this optimal type of green space be realised, at locations where it is likely to be the most effective? (3) How to take care that this green space, once realized, is used to its full extent, especially by citizens with low SES? (4) Does the (increased) use of the urban green infrastructure (esp. thanks to the new elements) have the intended positive health and well-being effects, especially for citizens with low SES? (5) How important is the involvement of citizens in the different phases of the process (planning, development, realization of green interventions, programming of related activities) for the success of that phase? (6) How does the involvement of a citizen in (a part of) the process affect the health and well-being of that citizen? Answering these questions will lead to a more optimal design and better use of UGI. This is important as socioeconomic health differences are large and difficult to tackle, and urban space is scarce and expensive.
The project will be executed by a consortium of renowned research organisations (Wageningen University, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Radboud University), the cities of Arnhem and Nijmegen, nature, landscape and societal organisations, citizens with low SES and green citizen initiatives. Within the consortium, there is expertise in the fields of nature-health interactions, participation of citizens with low SES, landscape architecture, health promotion, diversity and participatory action research.
The project will be carried out in Arnhem en Nijmegen, two cities that are already working on citizen participation and on incorporating the green environment in health and environmental policies. They are interested in learning from each other.
Activities are organised in 5 work packages:
WP1) Assess use and appreciation of parks in Arnhem and Nijmegen that have been established in vulnerable neighbourhoods and their value for citizens with low SES. Parks are selected which differ in the level of
participation of citizens in their development.
WP2) Sharing and analyzing experiences of citizen initiatives in Arnhem and Nijmegen on greening their neighbourhood and their interaction with local authorities, and monitor their success. Initiatives are selected that are eager to involve (more) citizens with low SES and to learn from others. The initiatives differ in their approach to involve citizens with low SES, in type of green activities and type of initiator.
WP3) Redesigning and greening of neighbourhoods. Both cities are reconstructing and greening streets in vulnerable neighbourhoods in which insights from WP1 and WP2 will be integrated as much as possible. Health and wellbeing outcomes of the citizens will be monitored.
WP4) Cooperation with three other Space for Health consortia that (partly) focus on greening. Experiences with respect to participation and use of U will be exchanged.
WP5) Knowledge transfer and implementation. Besides several scientific and practice oriented publications, a learning network of green citizen initiatives, a learning network of citizens with low SES participating in green activities and yearly meetings of these networks with municipalities and local partners will be set up. Social workers will be trained to include green activities in their work, and lessons will be shared with provincial and national programs and networks like G6 cities, “Leefbaarheidsalliantie” and “GezondIn”. Municipalities will be assisted in using the results and embedding them in their environmental vision.