New Case Studies Show Nature’s Public Health and Economic Benefits
Greenbelt Foundation and EcoHealth Ontario Highlight the Importance of Investing in Natural Spaces
TORONTO, May 26, 2021—The Greenbelt Foundation and EcoHealth Ontario have released two new case studies and one survey design that showcase the economic, public health and community well-being benefits of urban greenspace. Previous studies in the region have examined the health benefits of greenspace, but these are the first to calculate the health savings from those benefits using a framework developed by the EcoHealth collaborative. The framework can be used on future projects to inform policy and land-use decisions and can estimate total health system savings that would result from natural infrastructure investments.
The framework can be used on future projects to inform policy and land-use decisions and can estimate total health system savings that would result from natural infrastructure investments."
The case studies that use this framework are: Increasing Tree Canopy, Brampton, Ontario and Downtown Urban Park, Peterborough, Ontario. The survey design is a mental health program with Credit Valley Conservation and Punjabi Community Health Services to engage with seniors about outdoor programming and their time spent in nature but was not fully implemented due to COVID-19 restrictions.
As the climate continues to change, extreme heat days will become more frequent in southern Ontario. In the Brampton case study, it was found that additional tree coverage could dramatically reduce extreme heat days in the community. By increasing tree canopy by up to 80 per in Brampton communities, it could prevent over half of the number of expected extreme heat days annually in the city by 2080. The resulting health systems savings from increasing the tree canopy could be up to $3.2 million annually.
The Peterborough case study is for a 1.1-acre urban park that is currently under development in the downtown core of the city. Research shows that time spent in nature can have a number of positive health effects and urban parks can encourage physical activity, improve mental health, and reduce the effects of air pollution in the community. In this case study it was found that upon completion of the park, the local community can expect an annual value of $4.2 million due to health systems savings and increased life satisfaction of the community. Factors like mental wellbeing and happiness contribute to an individual’s overall life satisfaction.
“Previous research by EcoHealth Ontario has shown nature is important for community health and well-being, and these case studies now help to also understand the true economic value from a health system resources perspective,” says Edward McDonnell, Greenbelt Foundation CEO. “Natural assets and investments in nature provide many services including improving population health and reducing health system demands and related costs.”
The reports show that investments in greenspace can have a positive return-on-investment over the long term. Economic benefits include health system savings due to reduced adverse effects from extreme heat or low air quality, energy savings, and lower direct costs for hospital care and drugs due to physical inactivity. Health benefits identified in these case studies include lower rates of obesity and chronic health problems, such as cardiovascular disease and respiratory problems associated with air pollution. The case studies also highlight mental health benefits like reduced stress and lower rates of depression in communities with easy access to greenspaces.
“Ecological goods and service valuations for natural assets have been used to inform decisions about land-use planning, conservation, and ecological restoration projects. Many municipalities in the Greater Golden Horseshoe are currently assessing the infrastructure services provided by natural assets to identify cost effective management options for maintaining service levels in a changing climate,” says Thomas Bowers on behalf of EcoHealth Ontario, Senior Manager, Research and Policy, Greenbelt Foundation. “In much the same way, these new case studies consider the important healthcare services provided by urban greenspace or ‘green infrastructure’ and can similarly inform decisions about the design and composition of our cities and towns.”
To view the full case studies, click HERE.
To read the full project backgrounder, click HERE.
About EcoHealth Ontario
EcoHealth Ontario (EHO) is a collaborative of professionals in the fields of public health, medicine, education, planning and the environment who are working together to increase the quality and diversity of the urban and rural spaces in which we live.
About Greenbelt Foundation:
Greenbelt Foundation is a charitable organization, solely dedicated to ensuring the Greenbelt remains permanent, protected and prosperous. We make the right investments in its interconnected natural, agricultural and economic systems, to ensure a working, thriving Greenbelt for all. Ontario's Greenbelt is the world's largest, with over two million acres of farmland, forests, wetlands and rivers working together to provide clean air, fresh water, and a reliable local food source.
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