The Link Between Green Spaces & Happiness

July 5th, 2021
If you've ever felt happy when visiting a park, garden, or reserve, you're certainly not alone. According to a recent study, there is a recognised link between green spaces in urban environments and the happiness of residents, workers, and city visitors. From inner-city botanical gardens to manicured parkland and riverside pathways, access to green spaces provides much more than aesthetic pleasure. As city planners and politicians attempt to reinvigorate central business districts in a post-COVID world, we have a unique opportunity to create vibrant new green spaces.

The study was a joint research project headed by Professor Meeyoung Cha from The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). It looked at the relationship between green spaces and the happiness of global citizens. This unique study was based on satellite imagery, with big data sourced from above in 60 countries at all stages of economic development. The global ambition and birds-eye scope of this research offered more accurate correlations than previous studies.

Images were taken from the European Space Agency (ESA), including 90 green spaces from 60 different countries around the world. Global cities with very high population densities were studied, with areas of urban green space then quantified and crossed with GDP data and information from the World Happiness Report. The results of the study were clear. In all cities, the happiness of citizens was positively correlated with the area of urban green space.

According to Professor Meeyoung Cha, "There has recently been an increase in the number of studies using big data from satellite images to solve social conundrums... The tool developed for this investigation can also be used to quantify the area of aquatic environments like lakes and the seaside, and it will now be possible to analyze the relationship between citizen happiness and aquatic environments in future studies."

In a somewhat surprising finding, a positive correlation existed regardless of the country's economic state. The economic prosperity of each country did have an impact, however, with the lower 30 nations in terms of GDP showing a stronger correlation between happiness and economic growth. In the top 30 nations in terms of GDP, especially those with a gross national income higher than USD$38,000, green space had more of an impact on happiness than economic growth.

Results from this study have a number of profound implications when it comes to urban planning and public policy decisions. Lessons are timely and increasingly critical, especially in a post-COVID world where the value of urban space is changing all the time. With inner-city environments continuing to struggle with reduced foot and vehicle traffic, low office occupancy rates, and fewer hospitality customers, there is a unique opportunity to repurpose unused space and transform tired urban environments. ; ; ; ;

The authors of the study highlight many of these implications. First, they say public green space should be made accessible and safe to urban dwellers as a form of social support. Second, they say urban planning is needed across the board, both for developed and developing countries. It's almost impossible to create green urban spaces after an area has been developed, with pro-active city planning needed prior to urban expansion. Third, they say more attention is needed to help predict and tackle climate change events in urban areas. ;