News / Vancouver

Vancouver park index aims to improve mental health: UBC study

Researchers map quality and accessibility of parks in Vancouver.

A pedestrian walks along Vancouver's seawall near Stanley park on Sept. 28, 2017.

Jennifer Gauthier / For Metro

A pedestrian walks along Vancouver's seawall near Stanley park on Sept. 28, 2017.

More than four in five residents in the Lower Mainland live within 400 metres of a public park and that’s good for mental health in the region, according to a new UBC study.

Researchers already know that spending time in nature lowers stress and improves mood in the short term, but this study focuses on the benefits of long-term exposure to natural spaces. UBC PhD candidate Emily Rugel mapped out 2,000 parks in the Vancouver area and found that the majority of residents are a short walk away from a park.

“About 85 per cent of postal codes were within 400 metres of public green space. That’s really good,” she said.

Rugel, who studies at UBC's School of Population and Public Health, also ranked those green spaces according to accessibility, form, presence, and quality. She says the index will give policymakers detailed information about what is missing from parks that rank low. For the most part, entry fees and lack of playgrounds or sport fields will hurt a park’s performance in the index, she said.

"What they need to know is specifically how many trees, how far from a park, and what types of features at a park are linked to mental health benefits so they can work to provide those.” 

Rugel has completed the first step – the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index was recently published in the journal Environmental Research. Now, she is overlaying survey data from the Canadian Community Health Survey of Mental Health on top of the map.

The last step will be to overlay PharmaNet data on where anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication is prescribed on the map as well.

Those two data sets will help Rugel see the detailed relationship between mental health and continued access to parks.  

Rugel is also working on creating an interactive version of the index where people can look up their postal code and see how the quality of parks in their neighbourhood compares.

So far, the index shows there is little difference between the Lower Mainland’s rich and poor neighbourhoods.

"I picked 100 parks from high-income neighbourhoods and 100 from low-income neighbourhoods and there wasn’t any significant difference, which is really nice to see,” she said.

“It’s something we should be proud of.”

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