Our Green Space Index is a barometer of park and green space provision across five key indices. Of those, four are variations on measuring provision based upon area of green space whether in total, per person or against a standard. The fifth, however, measures the access to parks and green spaces based on the number of people not living within a ten-minute walking distance. This raises two key questions - why is it important to measure this, and why ten-minutes?
Measuring provision in this way is important because it shows just how unequal access to parks and green spaces is - the most universal of our public services. The Green Space Index in 2020 finds that 2.69 million people across Great Britain fall into this category. That's 2.69 million people who are not within easy walking distance of a publicly accessible local green space to relax, go for a walk, enjoy nature or take part in sport.
The health and wellbeing benefits associated with living in close proximity to parks and green spaces are increasingly well documented. For example, our Revaluing Parks and Green Spaces research, published last year, found that the Wellbeing Value associated with the frequent use of local parks and green spaces is worth £34.2 billion per year to the entire UK adult population. In addition, these spaces are estimated to save the NHS around £111 million per year based solely on a reduction in GP visits and excluding any additional savings from prescribing or referrals. A lack of provision within a ten-minute walk means people are more likely to be missing out on the benefits that these spaces provide.
Considering the number of people not within proximity of a park or green space also gives us another way of gauging provision though. As discussed in our staff blog on compiling the Green Space Index from 2019, there is not necessarily a correlation between provision and access, two factors which must go hand-in-hand if there is to be true equity of provision. The Green Space Index in 2020 finds that London, for example, has just over 12,000 people who do not live within a ten-minute walk of a park or green space, by far the lowest number across Britain, but it also has almost half the amount of local green space per person at 18.96 square metres, compared to the Great Britain average (32.94 sqm per person). The neighbouring South East region, by contrast, has the second largest level of provision per person at 39.86 square metres but also has the second highest number of people not within a ten-minute walk at over 402,000. London fares well for local access to parks but not on overall provision, the South East vice-versa.
The Green Space Index is our barometer of publicly accessible park and green space provision. Discover the Index and explore provision near you using our interactive maps.
That's why analysing the number of people living within a ten-minute walk of a green space provides a useful additional dimension to the Green Space Index, but why ten minutes?
We have used ten-minutes as a proxy for distance, which helps to even out differences between benchmark guidelines on walking distances for different types of green spaces. Of course, different people will walk at varying paces and so we use a distance of 800m to represent an average ten-minute walk. Our Guidance for Outdoor Sport and Play document gives benchmark guidelines across different typologies, ranging from 100m for local areas for play (LAPs) up to 1,200 metres for playing pitches, with 800m giving a single measure which encapsulates all the different types of green space included in the index. We have used the ten-minute walking distance in our Green Spaces for Good strategy to define our target of protecting spaces within an accessible walking distance of a majority of the population. The ten-minute walk is also used across the pond by The Trust for Public Land, in partnership with the National Recreation and Park Association and the Urban Land Institute, who are campaigning for all Americans to have a park or green space within a ten-minute walk of where they live.
Just as our Guidance for Outdoor Sport and Play gives different measures for different green space typologies, other studies within the sector also use their own indicators, with some choosing five-minutes as an indicative walking distance to green and blue space provision. We agree that this shorter distance is a valuable tool for capturing either a wider range of typologies of green infrastructure in an analysis or for giving more finely tuned analysis within built-up areas, such as big cities where, as already discussed, fewer people will be more than ten-minute walk from a park or green space due to the higher density of people living there, but there will also be more people sharing provision, meaning a more detailed measure is required to capture local nuances.
We also recognise the importance that quality and long-term protection of parks and green spaces have on our health and wellbeing; they are vital to our everyday experiences. So whether ten-minutes, five-minutes or another distance again though, in all of these measures it is interesting to consider whether a single standard of proximity to green space can really capture what is important about how and where people are using them to connect with the environment and other people. As noted, our Guidance for Outdoor Sport and Play gives different walking distances for different types of green space ranging from short distances for local play areas to longer distances for formal sports provision. It seems logical that someone would be less willing to travel a long distance to take their children to the swings, but would be more willing to spend more time making their way to a destination park or somewhere which has facilities which are less commonly found.
We'd also like to know what you think. How far would you be willing to walk to reach your local park or green space? Would you be willing to travel further if the park had facilities you wanted to use and what would influence your choice of where and how far to travel? Let us know by tweeting your thoughts and tagging @FieldsInTrust.
This article was originally published on 1st June 2019. It was updated on 27th May 2020 to reflect the findings of the latest release of the Green Space Index.