Increasing the awareness of and access to green space could create more health equality across socioeconomic groups in Japan, according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and partners in Japan.
Little research has been done in Japan to assess how health-promoting environments, such as urban parks, are distributed amongst different populations. But the physical, mental and emotional health benefits of time spent in green space are widely recognised and well documented.
Researchers from UEA in the UK and Chubu and Tohoku universities in Japan examined differences between wealthy and poorer areas of Osaka prefecture, to determine residents’ access to parks.
The study found that people living in underprivileged areas had reduced access to parks compared to more affluent neighbourhoods. This group also perceived parks as being less available in their neighbourhoods, irrespective of the actual accessibility, and therefore were less likely to use parks even if they were nearby.
This is of concern given that parks provide opportunities for physical activity and have the potential to enhance psychological health, while reducing the effects of air and noise pollution. Furthermore, streetscape greenery is positively associated with perceived social cohesion at the neighbourhood level.
Perceived accessibility to green spaces is shaped by factors such as income level and people’s assessments of traffic and crime.
The study, ‘Quantitative Environmental Equity Analysis of Perceived Accessibility to Urban Parks in Osaka Prefecture, Japan’, was published on October 17, 2020 in the Journal of Applied Spatial Analysis and Policy.
It has long been established that socially disadvantaged groups in Japan, the USA and elsewhere are more likely to live in less desirable areas, such as those exposed to environmental pollution. The research cited Japan’s Ashio Copper Mine Mineral pollution incident in the latter part of the 19th century and Minamata disease in 1950s as incidences of environmental contamination in which poor people were disproportionately affected.
Furthermore, large-scale development projects such as industrial complexes and power stations are likely to be disproportionately distributed in socioeconomically deprived areas..
The study determined that identifying poverty-related factors that undermine perceived green space accessibility is a first step toward improving environmental equity. But the solution isn’t as straightforward as improving or building new parks.
Prof Andy Jones, a professor of public health at UEA’s Norwich Medical School, co-authored the study.
Prof Jones said: “Our results suggest that establishing new urban parks in poorer areas is likely to be beneficial but may need to be accompanied by efforts to change culture so that local residents are encouraged to use the parks by feeling that they are provided for them.
“Simply establishing a new urban park may not sufficiently increase the perceived accessibility of socioeconomically deprived groups.”
Socioeconomically deprived people tend to have less leisure and activity time and poorer general health, which may also impact on their use of green space. Lack of efficient travel modes, such as a bicycle, also could be associated with lower perceived accessibility to parks.
The researchers suggest that reducing crime levels and improving safety and scenic aesthetics may improve perceived accessibility to green space. To mitigate risk of crime, placement of streetlights, more frequent patrols by police officers, and positive interaction with citizens could be helpful, as well as prevention measures against littering, such as security cameras, flowerbeds and signboards.
Dr Shinya Yasumoto, of the Chubu Institute for Advanced Studies at Chubu University, Kasugai, Japan, is a co-author of the study.
Dr Yasumoto said: “Urban parks are one of the most important amenities in a city, particularly for human health and safety. One case study even found that accessibility to green spaces was positively associated with the longevity of the elderly in Tokyo.
“We hope that by examining the disparities in objective and perceived access to green space in Osaka prefecture, we can begin to find ways of improving this important health aspect.”
The study, ‘Quantitative Environmental Equity Analysis of Perceived Accessibility to Urban Parks in Osaka Prefecture, Japan’, is published on October 17, 2020 in the Journal of Applied Spatial Analysis and Policy. Tomoki Nakaya of the Graduate School of Environmental Studies at Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan, also contributed to the study.