This review presents the research evidence linking human health, well-being and green space using a life-course approach. This research evidence is then used as a basis for developing a framework for planning and designing green spaces in urban environments that meet the varying needs of people across all life-course stages.
Environmental health research has until recently focused primarily on the negative impacts of an unhealthy environment. This focus led to policies and practices designed to remove or minimize such unhealthy elements as air and water pollution from the environments in which people live. A more recent emphasis in environmental health research and design is on identifying and maximizing environmental elements promoting human health and well-being.
This focus has led to health-enhancement initiatives encouraging people to be more physically active and to spend more time in nature for relaxation and socialization. A concern, however, is that such initiatives are not planned around the specific needs and interests of different groups of people, including different age groups. Another concern is the tendency in the planning and design of urban green spaces to treat green space as a singular type of environment. While research generally supports the idea that living close to urban green space promotes the health and well-being of city residents, the results have varied by population cohort and their perceptions of green space.
The discussion in this paper is organized around five life-span periods: pre-natal, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and later life. Environmental health research findings, along with related implications for green space design, are presented for each life-course period. An integrated green space framework for promoting human health and well-being in an urban environment is presented in Table format. This framework includes four interventions applicable across all population cohorts. These interventions are then subdivided into “planning,” “design” and “management” categories. Five additional interventions span health promoting requirements specific to different age groups. This framework can be used by planners of green space to target specific interventions to meet the needs and interests of multiple user groups.