Research urges decision-makers to take account of broad ranging cultural benefits gained from green spaces in our towns and cities

The cultural benefits of green spaces, sometimes referred to as ‘green infrastructure’, are difficult to measure and value. As a result they lack integration into decision making about how to design and manage green infrastructure. Many methods have been used to capture the breadth of benefits, however these are not used as much as they could be by decision makers as they are less easy to quickly sum up in a way that they can be easily used.

Now the findings have been published from a review of literature which investigated the cultural benefits associated with different types of urban and peri-urban green infrastructure (including urban forests). In particular the review explored the activities which people undertake in different types of green infrastructure and the cultural benefits that they gain as a result.

The evidence uncovered in the work supports the suggestion that the cultural benefits of green infrastructure are multiple and wide ranging and arise from a diverse range of interactions people have with green spaces. The benefits include those relating to health, well-being and learning, and feelings of social connection and identity. They are of symbolic and cultural importance, and can contribute to the local economy, as well as connect people with nature, and provide sensory experiences. The research urges that the broad ranging and multiple uses of green infrastructure be accounted for in decision making so that wide ranging cultural benefits can be delivered.

With this in mind, the research presents a matrix containing the spectrum of the different types of uses made of green infrastructure (from physical activities such as cycling and running, to relaxing activities like bird watching and reading), and the spectrum of the different cultural benefits people gain from these interactions (from tangible benefits like improved fitness to intangible benefits such as a sense of place and connection with nature). It is hoped the matrix will be useful in helping the managers of green infrastructure to understand and account for the range of cultural benefits of urban and peri-urban green spaces and the activities people pursue in order to gain these benefits.

This work was carried out as part of EU Cost Action FP1204 on green infrastructure and forms part of Forest Research’s work exploring the cultural values associated with trees, forests and woodlands.