Public Open Space

Vibrant neighbourhoods have a well-distributed network of natural areas, as well as walkable, attractive and public open spaces. These spaces allow the community to meet, play, chat and connect. The mix of public open space can be formal or informal, natural or man-made, sporting or passive but they all help meet a community’s recreational, sporting, play and social needs. In this section, find information on the relationship between park size and exercise rates, the mood-altering qualities of urban parks and how the rates of hospitalisation are related to easy access to green space. And that’s only the beginning.

Source: Giles-Corti B, et al. Increasing walking: How important is distance to, attractiveness, and size of public open space? American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2005;28(2, Supplement 2):169-76.
Source: Giles-Corti B, et al. Increasing walking: How important is distance to, attractiveness, and size of public open space? American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2005;28(2, Supplement 2):169-76.

Residents with a larger neighbourhood parks within 1600m engage in 150 minutes more recreational walking per week than those with smaller parks.

What do we mean by 'Public Open Space'?

The term public open space is an over-arching concept that encompasses a variety of spaces within the urban environment that are readily and freely accessible to the wider community, regardless of size, design or physical features and which is intended primarily for amenity or recreation purposes – whether active or passive.

Throughout the physical activity literature however, the use of the term has generally referred to all areas of land reserved for the provision of green space (sometimes called ‘green infrastructure') and natural environments (e.g. parks, reserves, bushland) and intended for use for recreation purposes (active or passive) by the general public. 

Source: Hartig T, et al (1991). Restorative Effects of Natural Environments Experiences. Environment and Behaviour. 23 (1): 3-26
Source: Hartig T, et al (1991). Restorative Effects of Natural Environments Experiences. Environment and Behaviour. 23 (1): 3-26

Walkers exercising in urban parks report greater happiness and lower anger and depression scores.

Parks

The terms ‘parks’ and ‘public open space’ are often used interchangeably throughout the physical activity literature.  However, studies focussed on examining the associations of public open space with physical activity have generally been focused around ‘parks’, referring to areas typically designed for a range of different leisure or recreational needs – both active and passive. These included landscaped, ornamental and manicured gardens or parks and playgrounds as well as publicly accessible (i.e. free to use) sports fields and ovals.  

Parks have tended to be classified as either active or passive spaces. Active spaces typically provide for more formal recreational pursuits and organised sporting activities (e.g., ovals, soccer pitches).  Active spaces within parks may also be hard non-green spaces, such as basketball and tennis courts which are important facilities for physical activity and exercise.  Passive public open spaces often refer to areas with features such as lawns, trees, landscaped gardens and shrubbery, lakes, fountains, picnic areas, seating and/or walking trails that promote less active or lighter physical activities, or as places for gathering and socialising. 

Source: Pereira, G, et al. (2012). “The association between neighborhood greenness and cardiovascular disease: an observational study”. BMC Public Health 12: 466.
Source: Pereira, G, et al. (2012). “The association between neighborhood greenness and cardiovascular disease: an observational study”. BMC Public Health 12: 466.

Adults with a wide range of green spaces around their hime report 37% lower hospitalisation rates and 16% lower self-report rates of heart disease or stroke.

Plazas, piazzas, squares etc

These refer to paved open pedestrian spaces commonly found at the heart of a town centre.  These provide important gathering places and important spaces for a range of activities, public interactions and the development and enhancement of community cohesion and social capital. Whilst activities undertaken in piazzas and squares do not normally promote vigorous physical activity they are an important aspect of urban fabric and community wellbeing.

Download the Public Open Space infographic