In recent years, awareness around the importance of time spent in nature for our mental and physical wellbeing has been growing. Studies are increasingly showing how being in nature can have significant positive impacts on our brains and on our levels of stress, depression and anxiety. But access to nature is unequal across the UK and disadvantaged areas are less likely to have quality urban green spaces. The Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions that came with it have further highlighted this problem.
“Green poverty” refers to unequal access to green space relating to demographic and socio-economic factors. Disadvantaged communities have significantly less access to both private gardens and public green space within close proximity to their homes. Given the importance now placed on access to nature for physical and mental wellbeing, it is vital that this form of poverty be tackled by local authorities in order to improve the overall quality of life in disadvantaged areas.
There are numerous ways to tackle green poverty that can be implemented easily and quickly. To start with, studies can be undertaken to identify those most at risk of this form of poverty and efforts can be made to ensure they are aware of any nearby green spaces available to them and how to access them. Additional supervision of these spaces could be provided to see to it that the community feels they are safe places to spend time. Targeted support could also be provided to people living alone with mental illness and, through different partnerships, further land may be opened up for wider public use. Providing support and land for groups interested in setting up local community gardens could also be an easy way to facilitate greater access to nature as well as opportunities for people to learn new skills.
On a larger scale, planning and development could incorporate the need for nature across the board. This may include the mandatory creation of more tree-lined areas and open spaces as part of any new housing development projects. Greenways and similar infrastructure have also been shown to be hugely beneficial to local communities by providing closer access to nature and more pleasant ways to get to nearby parks and other natural spaces.
There are many kinds of poverty and green poverty represents another area of inequality where individuals and entire communities are deprived of something that has come to be recognised as vital to human development and wellbeing.