Urban greenery helps people endure the Corona pandemic – it will remain an essential resource even after the crisis

With the easing of strict measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, city residents are once again heading outdoors in large numbers. The restrictions imposed by the pandemic have brought home in drastic fashion the enormous importance of local urban green space for our well-being – especially in times of crisis, but also in our normal daily lives. Research at the Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development (IOER) demonstrates the fundamental role of green space in the city.

three people are walking through a parc

(Photo: R. Vigh/IÖR-Media)

In the current COVID-19 pandemic, many people are forced to spend large parts of their day in their own four walls. It is forbidden to travel long distances and even trips to nearby surroundings are strictly regulated. For this reason, the World Health Organization has recently issued a warning about the pandemic’s negative impact on our mental health. The strict measures are promoting stress and anxiety as well as depression and feelings of loneliness. In this situation, services provided by nature (so-called "ecosystem services") are essential for the functioning of cities and the well-being of their inhabitants.

Services provided by urban green space: recreation is the top priority

Clearly, it is vital for people to be able to find and visit green spaces near their homes. Small and large green spaces between apartment blocks as well as parks, river meadows and urban woodland all improve the quality of life and offer recreational opportunities. This is confirmed by a survey of Dresden’s urban population. In the BIDELIN project, the IOER project team asked 286 citizens which services provided by urban greenery (ecosystem services) are particularly important to them. 94 % of those questioned said that they particularly value the recreational opportunities of public green spaces. 89 % stated that the improvement in air quality through urban vegetation was especially important. The results of the survey also highlight the beneficial impact of urban greenery on well-being. Four-fifths of those questioned feel more relaxed and rested in green surroundings; 70 % feel more satisfied and happy; 68 % feel better physically; and half of those surveyed claim higher energy levels.

The accessibility of urban greenery

In order for urban greenery to develop its many positive effects, it is necessary that local residents be able to access green spaces quickly and easily. Particularly during a crisis such as the current pandemic, we see that urban green spaces must be located in the immediate home environment, i. e. within walking distance. For this topic, the IOER’s Monitor of Settlement and Open Space Development (IOER-Monitor) provides the indicator "accessibility of urban green spaces". This gives the percentage of the population that have public green spaces within easy walking distance of their homes or neighbourhoods. Here any green space of one hectare or more within a radius of 300 metres is counted as being close to a resident’s home; green spaces of ten hectares or more within a radius of 700 metres are counted as being close to a neighbourhood. Studies of 182 cities and large towns in Germany with at least 50,000 inhabitants have given some positive results: Around 80 % of residents in such large urban settlements (a total of 25.6 million people) have access to green spaces in their immediate home area, and around 88 % (28 million people) are able to access larger green spaces easily and quickly.

Although these figures sound positive, they also show that not everyone in Germany has access to urban greenery close to their homes. At a time of restricted movement (but also in normal daily life), this can have negative repercussions on their mental health.

meinGrün web app – an easy way to find and access green space

Together with partners, the IOER is currently developing a web app to enable everyone to quickly enjoy the beneficial services of urban greenery. The app addresses the problem that city residents are often unaware of all the green spaces in their immediate surroundings. Currently in the test phase (beta version), the meinGrün web app aims to help users locate nearby green spaces that best suit their own needs. Initially available for the pilot cities of Dresden and Heidelberg, the app not only gives the location of green spaces but also their amenities, such as whether there are playgrounds, peaceful benches or areas for sunbathing. In addition, the web app tells users how to reach a park, meadow or lake on foot or by bike, i. e. in the most environmentally-friendly way possible. It will offer the latest routing functions to help you choose not just the shortest, but also the greenest, quietest or most shaded route.

The project team is itself affected by the restrictions imposed by the current Corona pandemic: public events to present the app in the pilot cities have been cancelled. However, the beta version is already available for testing (registration at: http://meingruen.ioer.info/). The app will be officially launched in Dresden and Heidelberg in June.

The compact or green city? – Combining concepts sensibly

The Corona crisis has underlined the benefit to cities from having sufficient green space in built-up areas. Yet many municipalities are currently facing pressures to provide additional living space. Where possible, new residential developments should be located in existing built-up areas in order to protect nature and landscapes on the city outskirts and ensure an efficient use of urban space. However, the danger of this concept of the "compact city" is obvious: urban green spaces will be built over. Researchers at the IOER have investigated how to reconcile these two notions of the "compact city" and the "green city". In the journal Ecological Indicators, they have presented their concept of an "intelligent compact-green city", showing the importance and feasibility of preserving extensive green space even in compact cities.

Original Publications
Artmann, Martina; Kohler, Manon; Meinel, Gotthard; Gan, Jing; Ioja, Ioan-Cristian: How smart growth and green infrastructure can mutually support each other – A conceptual framework for compact and green cities. In: Ecological Indicators 96 (2019) Part 2, S.10-22.

Grunewald, Karsten; Bastian, Olaf; Brzoska, Patrycia; Kochan, Birgit; Neumann, Ina; Syrbe, Ralf-Uwe: Natur in der Stadt Dresden: Was sie leistet, wie sie nützt. Dresden: IÖR, 2020.

Grunewald, Karsten; Richter, Benjamin; Behnisch, Martin: Multi-indicator approach for characterising urban green space provision at city and city-district level in Germany. In: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 16(13 (2019) 2300, S.1-20. 

Grunewald, Karsten; Richter, Benjamin; Meinel, Gotthard; Herold, Hendrik; Syrbe, Ralf-Uwe: Vorschlag bundesweiter Indikatoren zur Erreichbarkeit öffentlicher Grünflächen: Bewertung der Ökosystemleistung "Erholung in der Stadt". In: Naturschutz und Landschaftsplanung 48 (2016) 7, S. 218-226.

Analysis results of the IOER-Monitor

Comparison of accessibility of urban green spaces in cities (in German only)

Projekte zum Thema Stadtgrün (Auswahl)

BIDELIN (The value of ecosystem services, biodiversity and blue-green infrastructures in cities, exemplified by Dresden, Liberec and Děčín) 

meinGrün (Information and navigation to urban green spaces in cities) Registation as tester for the beta version of the meinGrün-WebApp

Contact at the Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development (IOER)
Prof. Dr. Marc Wolfram (Director of the IOER), E-Mail: M.Wolfram[im]ioer.de,
Dr. Karsten Grunewald (BIDELIN project), E-Mail: bidelin[im]mail.ioer.de
Dr. Robert Hecht (meinGrün project), E-Mail: meingruen[im]ioer.de
Dr. Martina Artmann (Paper on smart-compact-green cities), E-Mail: M.Artmann[im]ioer.de

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