The health benefits of nature-based solutions to urbanization challenges for children and the elderly – A systematic review

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Abstract

Urban green and blue spaces promote health by offering areas for physical activity, stress relief, and social interaction, which may be considered as cultural ecosystem services. They also provide a number of regulating ecosystem services that can be regarded as nature-based solutions to mitigate impacts from urbanization-induced challenges. Urban trees and other vegetation provide cooling through shade and evapotranspiration, which reduce the impact of the urban heat island on hot summer days. Urban vegetation may improve air quality by removing air pollutants. Open areas in cities, such as parks, gardens, playgrounds and cemeteries, are unsealed spaces that also improve infiltration during extreme precipitation events providing water regulating functions. All these services have the potential to improve the health of urban residents, particularly of specific vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly. The aim of this paper is to provide an overview of the current state of evidence on the relationship between the health of children and the elderly and urban green and blue spaces that can account as nature-based solutions to urbanization-induced challenges. We discuss potential confounding factors and refer to the different green space metrics used to identify associations to health. From the results, we cannot conclude on a universal protective health effect of urban green and blue spaces for children and the elderly. While the association trend is positive, the results remain inconclusive, context dependent and are partly overridden by socioeconomic confounders. However, the research area is consistently increasing, and we advance important prospects for future research on urban green and blue spaces in the face of global challenges such as urbanization.

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