By Edward Kermode, Architectural Assistant at Grimshaw Architects and UD/MH Associate reflects on blue and green space in Fremantle, a suburb of Perth, where he is currently conducting a UD/MH city case study.
The correlation between exposure to nature and mental health benefits is arguably one of the more well-supported topics in literature that discuss links between health and the environment. Close proximity to greenery has been demonstrated to lower levels of stress and have positive impact towards users’ wellbeing, with studies have also suggesting that people living near green urban areas can help encourage more physical activity, thereby exerting a positive impact for people suffering with anxiety and depression (Cohen-Cline et. al, 2015). As I pursue my case study of Perth’s urban design in relation to mental health, this post hopes to serve as a snapshot and explore different ways green space is being implemented in one of Perth’s phoenix suburbs, otherwise known as Fremantle.
BOTTOM-UP GREEN SOLUTIONS AND PARTICIPATION
Fremantle’s newest pocket green-space, developed and built by the local community with council staff
The place close to my heart is the City of Fremantle, 22kms south of the Perth CBD in Western Australia. Situated as a port city at the intersection of the Swan River and the Indian Ocean, Fremantle was officially recognised as a leader in sustainability in 2015 when it became the world’s second city to achieve international One Planet Certification, which is an initiative offering a framework to drive sustainable living and green, circular economies.
Fremantle’s Strategy 2020 recognises the benefits that green urban environments have towards community cohesion and wellbeing. With an objective to aim that “every resident and worker to have access to public open space within a 400mm walkable catchment”, the Fremantle council have adopted a number of methods and urban design tools to improve better mental health, such as:
Not only are these bottom-up methods developing quick, efficient green solutions in the city, but they are also helping foster social connectivity and cohesion within Fremantle’s urban community – an incredibly important factor in benefitting individual mental health. Encouraging volunteering/community participation offers a sense of wholeness and purpose within their home and thus can offer positive well-being effects. The mere act of getting community members out and about in the sun can benefit mental wellbeing through boosting vitamin D supply, regulating the circadian rhythm and improve quality of sleep.
By promoting community engagement as a tool to improve and encourage access to green space, Fremantle’s greening strategies have proven to be successful and continue to improve the opportunities that urban design can bring towards mental health in the area.
BARRIERS TO GREEN SPACES IN THESE CITIES
However, urban design plays a significant role in the level of access urban communities have to green space; factors such as time, money, distance, and transport accessibility can serve as barriers for green space access. Throughout the urban sprawl of major Australian cities, studies have shown socially-disadvantaged areas had a lesser access to green space, and thereby had less opportunities for the mental health benefits that green space provides. Australia. To combat this spatial inequality, cities such as Perth urgently need to implement improved access towards transit-oriented development and encourage more positive attitudes towards higher-density development. Fremantle has a long way to go in integrating affordable and good-quality higher-density developments with the abundance of green space it offers.
BLUE HEALTH = MENTAL HEALTH
Quasi-public space along Fremantle’s boardwalks, offering areas of social interaction with views over the water.
As a port city, Fremantle is fortunate enough to be situated by both the ocean and river. Along the harbour there are restaurants, cafes, breweries and galleries that offer views over the water. This weekend I found myself having a coffee by the beach, sitting on an innovative piece of urban design that had reused Fremantle’s historic train lines. The water’s edge had attracted everyone from all sorts of age groups; kids dashing around in the sand, students along the benches in the sun, or the elderly peacefully strolling along the boardwalk. Intrigued by the success of Fremantle’s public activity as a low-density suburb, I had to further research into how the use of water in urban design can benefit one’s mental health or wellbeing.
Dr. Timothy Beatley, professor at University of Virginia and author of “Handbook of Biophilic City Planning and Design”, has discussed a lot about links between the sea, the city and mental health – terming the idea “Blue Urbanism”. It is no surprise that Fremantle, as a major port town, benefits from its adjacency to the Indian Ocean.
One of our UD/MH fellows, Jenny Roe, recently wrote for the Biophilic Cities Journal exploring this idea of blue health within the built environment (Roe 2018). Below I am going to briefly reiterate some of the literature Roe has discussed.
Studies have found that people living near coastal environments have lower Body Mass Index compared to people living inland (Wood et al. 2016; Witten et al. 2008). This evidence suggests that increasing users’ accessibility to water can improve one's chances of being physically active, which can have a range of benefits including reducing risk of obesity, diabetes, anxiety and depression. Living in marine or coastal areas has further shown people to report greater levels of happiness (MacKerron and Mourato, 2013); improved life satisfaction (Brereton et al. 2008); and better mental wellbeing (Alcock et al. 2015).
Access to blue space has also demonstrated its ability to reduce stress and benefit levels of wellbeing. This is supported from research done by Happy City, Street Plans, Space Syntax, and University of Virginia, which measured heart rate variability and self-reports from subjects who took a walk along a downtown waterfront in West Palm Beach (2015). The study found further positive impacts for water accessibility towards social well-being indicators (social trust and sense of belonging). The mixture of people evident during my brief time down by the Fremantle foreshore most certainly supported these results.
If you’d like to learn more about how green space accessibility and mental health go hand in hand, there’s a great literature review called Quality Green Space Supporting Health, Wellbeing and Biodiversity: A Literature Review. Written by Davern et al. (2017), the report offers a succinct summary of the factors involved in the design and delivery of green spaces that promote the health and wellbeing for people, with particular reference towards Australia cities. Another helpful report is Cities, Green Space and Mental Wellbeing by Jenny Roe. In terms of a specific focus on blue space, Beatley’s “Blue Urbanism” book and Roe’s feature article in the BCJ report on evidence-based studies that demonstrate how access to water within urban design can create positive mental health benefits.
Astell-Burt, T, Feng, X, Mavoa, S, Badland, HM, & Giles-Corti, B 2014, 'Do low-income neighbourhoods have the least green space? A cross-sectional study of Australia's most populous cities', BMC Public Health, vol. 14, p. 292. Available from: 10.1186/1471-2458-14-292. [20 May 2018].
Badland, H, Whitzman, C, Lowe, M, Davern, M, Aye, L, Butterworth, I, Hes, D, & Giles-Corti, B 2014, 'Review: Urban liveability: Emerging lessons from Australia for exploring the potential for indicators to measure the social determinants of health', Social Science & Medicine, vol. 111, pp. 64-73. Available from: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.04.003. [20 May 2018].
Beatley, T 2014, Blue urbanism : exploring connections between cities and oceans, Washington, DC : Island Press, .
Brereton, F., Clinch, J.P., Ferreira, S. (2008). Happiness, geography and the environment. Ecol. Econ. 65: 386-396. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2007.07.008.
Duncan, G, Cohen-Cline, H, Cohen-Cline, H, Duncan, GE, & Turkheimer, E 'Access to green space, physical activity and mental health: a twin study', JOURNAL OF EPIDEMIOLOGY AND COMMUNITY HEALTH, vol. 69, no. 6, pp. 523-529.
Happy City, University of Virginia, Street Plans Collaborative and Space Syntax (2017). Happier by Design. https://thehappycity.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/STC-reportfinal-version-v.5.pdf.
MacKerron, G., Mourato, S. (2013). Happiness is greater in natural environments. Glob. Environ. Chang. 23: 992–1000. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2013.03.010.
Roe J (2018). Blue Cities for Better Health. Biophilic Cities Journal.
Witten, K., Hiscock, R., Pearce, J., Blakely, T. (2008). Neighbourhood access to open spaces and the physical activity of residents: a national study. Prev. Med. 47: 299–303. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18533242.
Wood, S.L., Demougin, P.R., Higgins, S., Husk, K., Wheeler, B.W., White, M. (2016). Exploring the relationship between childhood obesity and proximity to the coast: a rural/ urban perspective. Health Place 40: 129–136. https://doi. org/10.1016/j.healthplace.2016.05.010.
About the Author
Sanity and Urbanity: