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Although great amount of literature support that contact with nature has positive effects on human health and well-being, several studies also indicated we need interpret influence of natural landscapes more carefully.

  Argument on relationship between green space and wellness


Green space can promote wellness is a widely accepted idea. To evaluate the mechanism and efficiency of green space, scientists from a host of disciplines have made much exploration for many decades. However, the causation of the green space and wellness is still ambiguous and debatable. In general, the green space can contribute the promotion to wellness according to findings. However, either green space or populations who have contact with green space always are discussed as general concepts. However, if we take the sub-divisional categories of green space, demographic characters of social groups, and other social, natural, cultural factors into consideration, it is possibly that there are many arguable issues about the causation of green space and promotion of wellness. In other words, green space doesn’t necessarily have significant effect on improvement of health under special circumstances. Furthermore, some typical green spaces have negative impact on people’ physical or psychological conditions.


To understand the relationship between green space and wellness, the concept of wellness or human health need be defined very clearly and carefully. The World health Organization defines human health as “ a state of complete physical, mental and social well beings and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (WHO, 1948, see from Tzoulas et al. 2007, p.168). To completely understand and define the concept of health a general array of related factors should be taken into consideration, for example, amongst others, biological, social and cultural (Tzoulas et al., 2007). In terms of concept of ecosystem health, Tzoulas and associate pointed out that healthy ecosystem is “though of as one that is free from distress and degradation, maintains its organization and autonomy over time and is resilient to stress” (Tzoulas et al., 2007). The evolutionary of human beings have developed diverse cultural and social structures all over the world, which have cast important impact on people’s definitions on nature, values, social expectations, and aesthetic. Moreover, the specific characters of individuals can also influence their behaviors and perceptions including the age, gender, healthy condition and lifestyles, etc. From this angle, it is very important to gauge all the concepts, including sense of safety, perception of health, and other related issues, within the context of multiple cultural, social, natural and individual conditions.


In terms with safety, green space can provide people great space for get psychological wellness. It has been proved that some typical green landscape can release people’s stress and make them have mental energy again. However, some typical green spaces can not bring such sorts of benefit to people. There are some key points about this issue:  Too densely planted green space can reduce people’s sense of safety; Some sorts of geographical characters of green space can set specific groups into dangerous situation; People with diverse backgrounds hold different, even conflict perceptions on safety of green spaces, etc.


Actually, some scholars have findings on the negative impact of green space concerned with safety. Milligan and Bingley pointed out that people’s physical and psychological responses to trees are strongly influenced by their cultural experience and social beliefs (Milligan and Bingley, 2007). Their study shows that woods can provide a peaceful and remedial environment for some young adults, however, it also possibly offer anxiety and uncertainty for some other young adults (Milligan and Bingley, 2007). Specifically, woods with following characters will let people get claustrophobic, such as, lack of light, densely planted area, narrow paths and overhanging trees and so on. Gobster (2004) argued that too densely planted green space has potential to stimulate crime, provide unsafe space for young gangs and derelicts. Some researchers have found that too dense planting which block people’s distant view can reduce people’s sense of safety (Kuo et al, 1998). Maintaining view distances for safety was recommended by Kuo and associate (1998).


Green spaces with some specific characters have possibility to bring people feeling of unsafety, such as stress, uncertainty, scary to special groups. Kuo and associate pointed out that poor management of grass land and trees in inner-city neighborhood can bring sense of unsafety to local residents.  For those who live in the suburban neighborhoods with low-density design, wildlife-transmitted disease is a threat to people’s wellness (Jackson, 2003). Some green spaces such as dense woods and canal with heavy green buffer in greenway may create sense of isolation (Milligan and Bingley, 2007; Gobster and Westphal, 2004), where are very unsafe to vulnerable people, for example, children, women and elders. Gobster and associate also mentioned greenway should create safety that prevent children fall into the river, and prevent people contact with polluted water directly, avoid “deep, dirty and dangerous” and “unguarded areas” for children (Gobster and Westphal, 2004, p.158).  Moreover, population who are vulnerable to specific symptoms, such as allergies and pulmonary conditions, should avoid contact with planting which possibly stimulate symptoms (Vries et al, 2003).


Safety is not a rigid concept, which means different people have diverse criterions to judge green space is safe or not. The perception of certain green space is up to multiple factors, such as cultural experience, lifestyles, health conditions, collective memory or values of social groups and so on. In terms of spatial definition, some populations prefer landscape with greater levels of spatial definition (Herbert, 1981; Kaplan, 1985). However, different income groups and ethic groups have significant differences in choosing natural settings (Kuo et al, 1998). For example, Black residents dislike closed-in landscape more frequently than did Whites (Kaplan & Talbot, 1988, but see from Kuo et al, 1998). Kuo and associate also pointed out that trees have different impact on inner-city neighborhood and more wealthy urban areas. That is, the positive affect of trees on sense of safety may significantly outweigh the negative. As a contrast, negative impact of trees might outweigh the positive in wealthy urban areas ( Kuo et al, 1998). Milligan and Bingley pointed out that fears to forest may be relative to people’s social background (Milligan and Bingley, 2007). They also believe that people’s exposure to media, myth, fairy tales within specific cultural context has strong influence on increasing their fear to woods (Milligan and Bingley, 2007).


In terms of other perceptions of green space besides safety, there are many factors might influence people’s sense of nature.  Purpose of using green space is one important factor to influence promotion of wellness. As Hartig ( 1993 ) argued, understanding environmental perception need study people’s purposes and explorative behaviors. In other words, place is possibly realized by people in different ways which are up to specific purposes ( Hartig, 1993 ).   A person who walks through green space just for a shortcut to office has different perception to environment comparing with a person who is wandering in it only for relax purpose.  Difference of social-economic status cast important influence on people’s connection with green spaces, furthermore, have impact on people’s appreciation and frequency of using green space to promote wellness. A good case is walking, which is regarded as one of main human activities in green spaces. Although many people choose walking as a way to exercise appreciate nature and green space, Pinder and associate’s survey show that main purpose of walking is a mode of commute or transport for some people who live in deprived communites ( Pinder, et al. 2008).  As a result, the impacts of green space for walking people with different purposes might be different.


Lifestyle of different population is also an important factor.  Research shows that there is less healthy lifestyle in more urban areas ( Verheij, 1995 ).Jacksonshows that urban residents and low-income women generally have low engagement in exercise during spare time (Jackson, 2003). Vries and associate argued three groups have more time in their directly living spaces and contact with green spaces with longer time: children, housewives and elder population.  Consequently, they might have a stronger relationship between wellness and green space comparing with the general population ( Vries et al., 2003 ).  Moreover, the lower socio-ecomomic groups possibly spend more time on adjacent green space than wealthy population since rich people have more capability to travel for realizing healthy life styles ( Vries et al., 2003 ).  Maat and Vries pointed out that some household characteristics also play as important roles to influence how people spend their spare time, for example, number of children, richness of green space in the residential center, and so on (Maat and Vries, 2005).  Vries also pointed out there is “selection mechanism” driving healthy people to move to greener living environments, which cause majority of people who residents in greener areas is healthy people, even if there is no health-promoting effect of living in a green space as such ( Vries et al., 2003, p. 1718). Another point is that many people prefer urban entertainment and recreation to spend their leisure time in green space: shopping, watching movie, have fun in clubs etc.  As a result, their healthy conditions have less significant relationship with green spaces located in neighborhood and city where they live comparing to population in general.


Over-emphasize of contribution of green space without calculating negative impact of specific sort of green space or impact of pattern of development on green space is another misunderstanding on relationship of green space and wellness.  For example, many families in US choose lawn cover for homes, schools, businesses and public open spaces. However, lawn is neither sustainable nor healthy green space. The planting and management of lawn create huge cost of water, energy, toxic exposures and wildlife habitat (Jackson, 2003).  Sanda Steingraber (2002) pointed that lawn-care pesticides can lead to cancer in people and animals, exposing people for extended time when the pesticides are brought to interior space of family. Homogenous lawn also squeezes the living space for native planting and sacrifice the biological diversity and cultural identity of spaces.  Lyman (2000) finds that total emissions from lawn mowers (together with tractors) have exceeded pollutions produced by cars that cause problem of ozone layer.  Agricultural green spaces also have some negative impact on environment and human health.  For example, huge pollutant produced by fertilization in middle-westAmericahas been proved by researchers (Driscoll et al, 2007; Kovacic et al, 2000).  As Kovacic and associate (2000) pointed out, the agriculture altered the landscape dramatically into cropland without enough green buffer, the nutrient, heavy metal are directly load to pool and river through ditch.

In sum, the widely accepted concept that green space has effect of promotion of wellness is correct generally. However, it is not equal to all kinds of green space within all different context can have positive impact on human’s health.  People’s perceptions of safety about green space differ according to density of planting, individually physical and psychological characters, cultural experience and different socio-economic backgrounds.  Moreover, purposes of using green space, lifestyles of populations are also important factors to influence the effect of green space on promoting wellness.  In addition, some specific green spaces such as lawn, agricultural land also have negative impact on health to some extent.