Human Health & Plants Research: Urban Park Characteristics that Promote Health and Restoration

Dr. Charles Guy

Recent “shelter in place” and “stay at home” orders have contributed to the increased stress that so many people are feeling these days. Moreover, this stress might be higher for those living in high-density urban areas where there are fewer opportunities to be outside in nature.

Numerous research studies have demonstrated the health and therapeutic benefits of being in natural environments and parks. For urban parks and green spaces, there is an increasing need for an evidence-based understanding of the characteristics that maximize benefits to human health and restorativeness.

A recent study published by Deng et al. (2020)1 in the journal Urban Forestry and Urban Greening explored the restorative and therapeutic effects of three different landscape environments containing water, a lawn area, or having changes in elevation in an urban forest park. The study recruited 60 volunteers, 30 women and 30 men with an average age of 21. Volunteers were randomly distributed into three groups of 20. The three treatment landscapes were Canglang Lake, the Lawn Area, and Wanshu Mountain (a man-made hill), all within Huanhuaxi Park in Chengdu, China. Each group visited one of the three treatment landscapes, then on subsequent days stepwise rotated so that all groups experienced each of the three landscape views once. Physiological factors and mood states of the participants were measured before and after they visited each landscape treatment site. EEG brainwave patterns were monitored for five minutes while each participant was experiencing the three different landscapes.

The researchers found that viewing each of the three landscapes lowered blood pressure and pulse rate, but had no effect on blood glucose levels. The Profile of Mood States self-report questionnaire revealed increased positive mood and reduced negative mood changes for all three landscapes. Scores on the Landscape Perceived Restorativeness Scale questionnaire suggested that time spent at Wanshu Mountain led to a higher level of restorativeness than did time spent in the lawn area. Canglang Lake experiences scored the lowest. Theta, alpha and beta brainwaves were highest in the Wanshu Mountain landscape, suggesting a greater effect on the state of relaxation than the two other landscapes.

When all study results were taken together, Wanshu Mountain elevational topography appeared to provide the greatest restorativeness, followed by the Lawn Area, and then Canglang Lake. This carefully designed study demonstrates that different types of landscapes and landscape characteristics influence the magnitude of the restorative benefits of being in a nature-like urban park. Follow-up studies may provide additional findings that can inform urban park design and better maximize the restorative and therapeutic benefits of urban parks.

1Deng, L., Li, X., Luo, H., Fu, E.-K., Ma, J., Sun, Huang, L.-X., Cai, S.-Z., Ji, Y. Empirical study of landscape types, landscape elements and landscape components of the urban park promoting physiological and psychological restoration. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 2020, 48, Article 126488.

Charles Guy, Emeritus and Courtesy Professor
Department of Environmental Horticulture, University of Florida