Assessing allergenicity in urban parks: A nature-based solution to reduce the impact on public health

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Abstract

Urban parks play a key role in the provision of ecosystem services, actively participating in improving the quality of life and welfare of local residents. This paper reports on the application of an index designed to quantify the allergenicity of urban parks in a number of Spanish cities. The index, which records biological and biometric parameters for the tree species growing there, classifies parks in terms of the risk they pose for allergy sufferers, graded as null, low, moderate or high. In this initial phase, the index was applied to 26 green areas in 24 Spanish cities; green areas varied in type (urban park, historical or modern garden, boulevard, square or urban forest), size 1–100 ha), geographical location, species richness, number of trees and tree density (number of trees / ha.). The data obtained were used to calculate the percentage of allergenic species in each park, which varied between 17–67%; density ranged from 100 to 300 trees/ha. The index values recorded ranged from a minimum of .07 to a maximum of .87; a significant correlation was found between index value and both number of trees and tree density. Taking an index value of .30 as the threshold considered sufficient to trigger allergy symptoms in the sensitive population, 12 of the parks studied may be regarded as unhealthy at any time of the year. Corrective measures to mitigate the impact of pollen emissions include the implementation of nature-based solutions at various levels: planning and design, handling and management, and strengthening of urban green-infrastructure elements. The index proved to be a useful tool for environmental analysis, and complies with the principles of portability and scalability central to current and horizon scientific research.

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