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Designing Blue Green Infrastructure (BGI) for water management, human health, and wellbeing: summary of evidence and principles for design

report
posted on 05.10.2020 by Liz Sharp, Anna Kenyon, Eun Yeong Choe

This report has been prepared by researchers from the University of Sheffield for built environment, water, and public health professionals in the UK. It collates and presents evidence about the potential benefits of designing Blue Green Infrastructure (BGI) to enhance mental health, physical health, and wellbeing. We hope it will help professionals to advocate for health-promoting BGI to policymakers; to integrate health-promoting BGI into policy, investment, and master-planning; and to design BGI in a way that maximises health benefits.

The report identifies three key attributes of BGI that provide health-relevant environmental impacts. Firstly, BGI can be used to promote a healthy physical environment: to diminish noise, reduce heat stress, and improve air quality. Secondly, BGI has beneficial aesthetic and sensory qualities: its appearance, sounds, smells, and tactile qualities can have therapeutic potential even where communities are unable to walk through the area directly (e.g. a pocket park on private land). Thirdly, there are benefits to physically accessible BGI spaces, which can promote exercise and social interaction by allowing a wide range of people with varying mobility needs to pass through them.

Together, these aspects of BGI mean that well-designed spaces can make a very real difference. As well as helping to improve general health and wellbeing, they can reduce social and health inequalities in the UK. Research suggests that such health inequalities are currently widening, at a time when the impacts of climate change are also disproportionately impacting poorer communities. We show that BGI offers the opportunity to tackle these two problems together, and thus to build a society that is fair and sustainable for future generations. The COVID-19 pandemic has reemphasised the topicality of this focus, as the quality of people’s local environments is an issue that has been at the forefront of public debate during lockdown.

Sections 1 and 2 explain the scope of the report, outline key terminology, and summarise methodological issues. Sections 3-8 then review the literature on the contribution that BGI can make across six specific categories of health impact: noise reduction; heat stress reduction; improved air quality; stress reduction and cognitive restoration; decreased loneliness and enhanced social interaction; and increased physical activity. In section 9, evidence about the potential for BGI to address inequalities is considered. Section 10 then presents the evidence that these impacts can lead to improvements across five wider health outcomes: improved mental health and wellbeing; reduced physical illness; reduced mortality; improved birth outcomes; and healthier body weights. Key design findings are summarised in Section 11.


The work was carried out under University of Sheffield Ethics approval no. 022919

Funding

Blue Green Infrastructure through Social Innovation (BEGIN)

Mobilising Adaptation: Governance of Infrastructure through Coproduction (Topic B)

Natural Environment Research Council

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