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Scholars find irregularly shaped parks reduce mortality risk

Image credit: Tatyana Tomsickova - Dreamstime

Researchers from Texas A&M University in the US have found that mortality risks are lower for residents living near irregularly shaped parks compared with those living near regularly shaped ones.

According to the study, conducted by Huaquing Wang, a PhD Urban and Regional Sciences student, and Lou Tassinary, a professor of visualisation at the university, the association between urban green-space and mortality risk is well known, but less is known about how the spatial arrangement of green space affects population health.

To gain a better understanding of these correlations, the duo investigated the relationship between urban green-space distribution and mortality risk.

“Nearly all studies investigating the effects of natural environments on human health are focused on the amount of a community’s green space,” the scholars said in a paper describing their project. “We found that the shape or form of green space has an important role in this association.”

In the study, Wang and Tassinary performed statistical analyses of Philadelphia land cover data to assess links between landscape spatial metrics and health outcomes.

As a result, the duo found that residents in census tracts with more connected, aggregated, and complex-shaped green spaces had a lower mortality risk.

Irregularly shaped parks reduce mortality risk

The figure shows the landscape metrics selected in reflecting greenspace spatial distribution. The top two graphics show the area-weighted mean shape index metrics. Meanwhile, the bottom two graphics show the greenspace connectiveness of the landscape.

Image credit: Texas A&M University

“Our results suggest that linking existing parks with greenways or adding new, connected parks might be fiscally accessible strategies for promoting health,” said Wang and Tassinary in the paper.

“We showed that the complexity of the park shape was positively associated with a lower risk of mortality. This association might be attributable to the increased number of access points provided by complex-shaped green spaces.”

Irregularly shaped parks are either designed that way or shaped by the parcel they’re established in, said Wang. Lower mortality risk wasn’t associated with any particular form; however, the data collected supports the idea that the more complex the park shape, the better, she added.

The relationship between park shape and mortality is important to city designers and planners who seek to create healthier living environments, they said in the paper.

“Our findings bring us closer to understanding the mechanisms underlying the protective effects of green space on mortality,” they said.

The paper was published in the November 2019 issue of The Lancet Planetary Health.

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